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.

Review – Wild Alphabet

If you’re anything like me – completely obsessed with pop-up books, you’ll need only take a peek at the very first page of Wild Alphabet to know it’s a must-add to any collector shelf.

Yes yes, I’m ashamed to say it’s one of those books you’re reluctant to hand to a child under 12 – not lest they get too much joy from it, because that’s a given – bur rather because they might want to tug a little too hard at it or even eat it.

Indeed – I want to eat it.

So, if you’re happy enough to buy two copies – one for eating and tugging, and one for standing on a shelf to pluck and hold and gently turn pages and ooh and ahh over before replacing on said shelf – you will thoroughly enjoy this book without a heart-wrenching page rip in earshot.

Featuring animals from A to Z, each letter of the alphabet magically pops open to reveal a beautifully-crafted, artistic pop-up of said animal. Each left hand page also features a full animal drawing and jaunty text on that animal, complete with delightful typesetting.

With concept and design by Mike Haines and paper engineering by Julia Frohlich, this is true gorgeousness. And it’s fun. Even for kids.

Wild Alphabet is published by Kingfisher.

 

A Cool Dad’s Day

Happy belated Father’s Day, dads! I hope you were spoiled and adored, as Dad should be on this very special day. In celebration of fathers everywhere, here are my picks for the best new release Father’s Day books.

My Dad’s the Coolest (Scholastic)

Rosie Smith and Bruce Whatley are back in this sequel to My Mum’s the Best – this time featuring ultra cool dads of all shapes, sizes and orientation, from a strutting rooster (with tickly feathers) to a mouse-shy lion, a mud-rollicking pig and a kooky-looking penguin.

Ideal for the very young, Bruce Whatley’s divine animal friends parade across the page with typical humour and charm. Simple text makes this ideal for a bedtime read.

Dads: A Field Guide (Random House)

Justin Ractliffe’s striking, modern and totally funky book on dads is taken to great heights with Cathie Glassby’s kooky, childlike and immensely whimsical illustrations.

Dads, en masse, are totally represented in this low text book, making it ideal for tots, and I love how they are represented in totally out-there ways – from a dad who wears undies and one who wears boxers, to a dad who’s ever-smart and one a little scruffy.

Charming, colourful and fun.

What Makes My Dad Happy (Allen & Unwin)

What makes had Happy?

Well, a lot of different things, for it really depends on what dad you have.

Maybe it’s building towers or picking flowers. Maybe it’s a note, strategically placed in a coat pocket, or when he becomes a launching pad for little aeroplanes. Every dad is different and that’s what makes them special.

Loretta Broekstra’s charming illustrations make for a sweet book for the younger set.

Also in this series by Tania Cox – What Makes my Mum Happy.

 

Five Very Bookish Questions with author Sophie Masson

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

I can’t just pick one genre: my top four are fantasy, adventure, history and mystery – and if these can be combined in the one book, that’s the best of all! I also love a little tingle of romance in the blend.

So here are some titles as example: the Harry Potter series; Northern Lights, (Philip Pullman – this is my top favourite of His Dark Materials series – the other two fall off considerably), The Hunger Games; Leon Garfield’s novels (especially Black Jack and Devil in the Fog), Alan Garner’s books, especially The Owl Service, the Narnia series, the Moomintroll books, Allan Campbell McLean’s The Hill of the Red Fox, Nicholas Stuart Gray’s The Stone Cage. And more. Lots more!

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

All the above (of course, excluding the modern titles), plus books of fairytales and myths: Roger Lancelyn Green’s Tales of the Greek Heroes, the Hamish Hamilton collections of stories of  fairies, dragons, mermaids, giants, etc, stories of King Arthur; all the Tintin books in English and French, plus heaps of French titles in abridged form, such as Michel Strogoff by Jules Verne, The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas and Capitaine Fracasse by Theophile Gautier.

Enid Blyton’s Famous Five and Secret Seven were big favourites (but I didn’t much like her school or fantasy series, for some reason.) I also loved Nancy Drew and Donna Parker mystery series.  I loved ghost stories too and scared myself silly reading them till late at night!

I also remember reading also lots and lots of random books I loved, such as James Thurber’s The 13 Clocks, Cynthia Harnett’s The Wool-Pack, Mary Mapes Dodge’s Hans Brinker or The Silver Skates.

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

All these books I’ve quoted have the right attributes: gripping stories, vivid characters, memorable voice. Pretty much the same attributes as for any great book full stop!

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

Let them read what they want but don’t be afraid to introduce them to new things. And show them by example rather than lecture how exciting reading is!

Name three books you wish you’d written.

You mean, apart from Harry Potter? Black Jack by Leon Garfield. Northern Lights by Philip Pullman. The Seven Crystal Balls, by Herge.

About Sophie

Born in Indonesia of French parents, Sophie Masson came to Australia at the age of 5 and spent most of her childhood shuttling between France and Australia, an experience which underlies much of her work. She is the author of more than 50 books, mainly for children and young adults, published in Australia and internationally. Her recent historical novel for children, The Hunt for Ned Kelly, won the Patricia Wrightson Prize for Children’s Literature in the 2011 NSW Premier’s Literary awards. Her most recent novels are The Boggle Hunters (Scholastic), Moonlight and Ashes (Random House) and Ned Kelly’s Secret (Scholastic).

www.sophiemasson.org

 

Review – Belonging


Next to Mirror, this is possibly my favourite of Jeannie Baker’s incredibly beautiful picture books. Not only is the imagery stunning, but the power of its wordless form is something Jeannie does with consummate style.

Belonging is deceptive in its simplicity. It features repeat double page spreads of a square window, showing an outdoor scene that truly affects the heart.

In the first double page spread, we see a young couple in the backyard with a new baby. There are lacy knickers on the line and a neighbour is planting in his garden next door. Behind the fence line of the house, we see an inner city scene, complete with a Smash Repair and a Pizza Hut.

As time goes by, the grass grows and so does the child and so does the city skyline behind the house. The weather changes, the toys in the window change. The hand-drawn height chart on the wall next to the window gets higher and higher as our young baby turns into a fine girl and then young woman, who one day has a child of her own.

So much changes over time – and our emotions change, too. We grow and feel and move with each and every page.

I love the cyclical nature of this book. I love the iconic detail which is truly astonishing in its variety, from a Picnic chocolate bar wrapper on the windowsill to the updated buses on the street. This 2008 version of the book – originally published in 2004 – has even been updated with some sky writing . . . the word SORRY appears in the sky on one page.

I most especially love the fact that as the story goes along, the streetscapes become more and more ‘green’.

This is a book of change, growth and hope. It is a wordless book but it speaks volumes about life and all its idiosyncratic beauty. It is a celebration of Australian life, of all life  – and it can be viewed and reviewed over and over – and each time the eyes are filled with more.

If you haven’t Jeannie-Bakered your life yet, start with this book. You won’t regret it.

Belonging is published by Walker Books.

Hot New Junior Fiction Titles

It’s a delight to see a flood of brand new fiction titles for kids in recent months. If your children devour books like mine do, you’ll be thrilled with this line-up of new releases. There’s truly something for everyone. My only problem is trying to wend these copies out of my kids’ clutches. These titles will suit children aged anywhere from 8 to 16. Enjoy!

Fizzlebert Stump: the boy who ran away from the circus and joined the library by A F Harrold (Bloomsbury)

There are many boys in the world, all slightly different from one another, and most of them are referred to by names. These are often John or Jack or Desmond, but sometimes they are James or Philip or Simon. Once, and once only, there was a boy whose name was Fizzlebert.

Fizzlebert Stump lives in a travelling circus. But although he gets to hang around with acrobats, play the fool with clowns, and put his head in a lion’s mouth every night, he’s the only kid there – and he’s bored. But then Fizz decides to join a library, and life suddenly gets a lot more exciting, when a simple library card application leads to him being kidnapped by a pair of crazed pensioners! Will he ever see the circus again?

Girl V the World by Chrissie Keighery (Hardie Grant Egmont)

There’s something wrong with Hazel Athertons he just knows it. She’s not a kid anymore, but she’s not grown-up either. Hazel hasn’t even kissed a boy and she’s not sure she ever will. Although that doesn’t stop her from thinking about Leo in the year above…

Hazel wishes she could talk to her mum about it u but these days her mum is too busy doing hanging out with her new boyfriend. Does anyone understand what’s going on with Hazel?

Part of a four-book series.

Artemis Fowl and the Last Guardian by Eoin Colfer (Penguin)

The unbelievable finale to the multi award-winning Artemis Fowl series. Will the thrilling climax to this globally bestselling series end happily ever after?

Eoin Colfer was born and raised in the south-east of Ireland. Artemis Fowl, his first book featuring the young anti-hero, was an immediate international bestseller and won several prestigious awards. It was followed by The Arctic IncidentThe Eternity CodeThe Opal Deception and The Lost Colony.

Phyllis Wong and the Forgotten Secrets of Mr Okyto by Geoffrey McSkimming (Allen & Unwin)

Conjuring is in Phyllis Wong’s veins. It was passed down from her great-grandfather who, before his mysterious disappearance, was one of the world’s most brilliant and successful magicians.

Now Phyllis lives in what was his grand old home, converted into a number of apartments, in the middle of the city with her father and her loyal dog Daisy.

When a series of incomprehensible robberies takes place in the city, Phyllis realises there is much more to the crimes than meets the eye. It may be baffling her friend Chief Inspector Inglis, but Phyllis is determined to find out more. Who is this thief? What does he want? And how is he achieving the impossible?

The Terrible Thing That Happened to Barnaby Brocket by John Boyne (Doubleday)

There’s nothing unusual about the Brockets. Normal, respectable, and proud of it, they turn up their noses at anyone strange or different. But from the moment Barnaby Brocket comes into the world, it’s clear he’s anything but ordinary.

To his parents’ horror, Barnaby defies the laws of gravity – and floats. Desperate to please his parents, Barnaby does his best to keep both feet on the ground – but he just can’t do it.

One fateful day, the Brockets decide enough is enough. They never asked for a weird, abnormal, floating child. Barnaby has to go … Betrayed, frightened and alone, Barnaby floats into the path of a very special hot air balloon – and so begins a magical journey around the world, with a cast of extraordinary new friends.

Louis Beside Himself by Anna Fienberg (Allen & Unwin)

Louis’s best mates, Singo and Hassan, are into basketball and skateboarding, and his dad is into arm-wrestling. Dad wants to build Louis up with wrestling moves like the Walls of Jericho or the Five Star Frog Splash, but Louis is better at flexing words than flexing his muscles.

This summer Louis is put to the test, starting with the Phenomenon of the broken mirror, leading to the Paralysing burglar incident, and finally the night when he comes face to face with Peril. It’s a larger-than-life week when the friends hide a runaway girl named Cordelia in the backyard tent, Dad falls for Doreen, and Louis tries the Top Roll Move on a big burly burglar.

Alice Miranda Shows the Way by Jacqueline Harvey (Random House)

Alice-Miranda has a birthday to celebrate and a village show to look forward to! Miss Grimm is allowing the girls to attend the annual Winchesterfield show for the first time.

One of the highlights of the Winchesterfield show is the Queen’s Cup horse race. But Aunty Gee’s prize racehorse, Rockstar, is refusing to leave the stables. That is, until Alice-Miranda introduces him to her own naughty pony, Bonaparte.

Preparations are coming along well until a series of thefts rock the community. Things quickly go from bad to worse when Alice-Miranda’s beloved Bony is horse-napped. Can Alice-Miranda uncover the culprit and get her horse back in time for Rockstar to compete in the race?

S.C.U.M. by Danny Katz (Allen & Unwin)

It’s just an ordinary day for Tom Zurbo-Goldblatt. The possibility of romance with his dream girl. Powerful friendships to forge. Wrongs to right. The ultimate test of survival against the Badass Ninjas of Stupidity of Death. And his first-ever sighting of a girl-pube.

Who says you don’t learn anything at school? The Students Combined Underground Movement (S.C.U.M.) is a society for outcasts, weirdos and massive losers. At their headquarters on the bench beside the bin behind the canteen, they plot their revolutionary ideas for a better schoolyard. Divided they may be weak, but as S.C.U.M., they’re still weak; but at least they have somewhere to sit.

The Beginner’s Guide to Revenge by Marianne Musgrove (Woolshed Press)

As a soldier’s daughter, Romola’s been to six schools in eight years, always having to make new friends a and now enemies. Meanwhile, Sebastian’s mum is about to make the biggest mistake of their lives, unless Sebastian can find his dad in time to stop her.

Thrown together by chance, these two thirteen-year-olds set out to even the score. But once that big old ball of revenge starts rolling down the hill, there’s not an awful lot they can do to stop it a or is there?

 

 

 

Review – Too Many Elephants in this House

Author Ursula Dubosarsky? Check. Illustrator Andrew Joyner? Check. Elephants? Check. But not too many at all. In fact, this book wouldn’t be even half way as cool if it didn’t have simply too many elephants, which raises the question: can anyone really have too many elephants?

Eric really likes elephants. He has them everywhere. In the living room, in the kitchen, in the hallway, bathroom and bedroom. There’s an entire herd of rollicking elephants delighting and engaging this young lad from dawn ’til dusk.

BUT his mother doesn’t like it. Not one little bit. ‘There are too many elephants in this house,’ she says. ‘They’ve got to go.’

Naturally, Eric is devastated and will try anything to keep his baggy friends safe, including thinking up a very efficient means of elephant storage.

Dubosarsky’s penchant for childlike fun shines through in this adorable book, with Andy Joyner’s timeless and joy-filled illustrations taking her text to even greater heights. With a deliciously retro feel, this is imaginative, childhood magic at its best.

A must for picture book collectors – and kids.

Too Many Elephants in this House is published by Penguin.

Five Very Bookish Questions with author Sally Odgers

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

I like fantasy and science fiction best – and a lot of my favourites are cross-genre. I generally like books for readers of 10 and up, and especially the ones where authors have thought out their settings rather than just grabbing something someone else has invented. Below are some specific titles and what I like about them.

Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones. I love this one for the writing style (DWJ has such a way with words) and for the characters of Howl and Sophie who are so far from the generic hero/heroine but still so much fun to be around. Love the humour, too, and the way Sophie discovers the ‘givens’ she believed were not really so.

The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope has another staunch but odd heroine and another flawed but ultimately likable hero. It has one of the best descriptions of love I’ve ever seen – one that goes way beyond ‘romance’. I love the way the setting (Tudor era) plays with ideas and the way the truth shifts as you look at it.

Polymer by Sally Rogers Davidson. Polly Meridian goes from a cheerful high school graduate to someone who has to think on her feet and learn a lot about relationships. She’s utterly determined to get back something taken from her but manages to stay human through it all. This is a wonderful (Australian) take on the sf invasion theme.

Memory’s Wake by Selina Fenech is another cracking story by an Australian author. Memory has lost her memory and when she finds herself in a fantasy world with a princess, fairies, a thief and a wild boy she has to find a way to survive with the tatters of her self intact. Mem, like Sophie, Kate and Polly in the stories above, is a powerful character in more ways than one.

Replay by Sally Odgers. Okay, so I wrote this one myself, but if a writer can’t write a book she loves herself why is she writing? Replay‘s heroine is Aelfthryth, a Saxon girl who is blessed or cursed to never live beyond the age of fourteen. Her husband Harry can never get beyond sixteen, but in every generation for over a thousand years they have met and loved in different places and different guises. This time round, Ellie is an Australian cancer survivor and Harry is a schnauzer…

Halloween Romance by Donaya Haymond. This is the first of the Laconia series and is the funny, odd story of werewolf Selene Davidson who just wants to get through college without biting anyone by mistake. She’s drawn to melancholy Ferdinand Anghel who has a strange aversion to some kinds of cuisine.

For younger readers . . . The Angel of Nitshill Road by Anne Fine is a lovely funny story about bullying in a primary school and how a new pupil sorted out the problem. This one is for younger children and I’d love to see it in every primary school in the land. It is so utterly different from most books on this theme and treats adults and children with a clear-eyed honesty.

The Jack Russell series – Darrel and Sally Odgers. Once again, I had a hand in this, but the same argument (as for Replay) applies. Jack is a dog who acts like a dog. His concerns are doggish ones and although he talks to his canine pals (he thinks of them as colleagues) he has to use every bit of wit he has to get his point across to his beloved humans.

Poppy and Max by Amanda O’Shea is a glorious AE Wakefield-ish adventure through the Australian bush by Poppy the possum and her companion Max the echidna. Poppy is selfish, scheming and shrewd as a Swiss watch… and great fun.

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

I enjoyed books by Monica Edwards (who wrote two long series set in Sussex and Surrey), historical stories by Geoffrey Trease, the Pippi Longstocking stories by Astrid Lindgren and the Narnia stories by CS Lewis.

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

For me, the attributes are – first, an innovative but not over-strange writing style. I like precise description and tend to remember specific passages that appeal to me. For example, in Howl’s Moving Castle, Sophie “weedkills her way along the drive”… and can tell her disguised sister’s identity because of the merry whirl of her thumbs.

Next comes characterisation. I don’t EVER want generic characters. I want them to be individual and a convincing mix of flaws and virtues.

Finally, I want sparkle. This is difficult to describe, but it’s the aspect of a book that makes it instantly memorable. It is like hitting just the right note singing, or that flawless dive into water, or a swift canter across a paddock when the pony is eager but not pulling. Every one of the titles above has this for me. (Yes, even my own two examples. As I said before…)

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

Give them interesting stories, not EVER stories that are thinly disguised therapy. Reading should be a joy. Just like food, it is perfectly possible for books to be wholesome, healthy AND tasty. My grandson loves grapes. No doubt he loves lollies too, but it’s the grapes he takes from the fridge where his parents thoughtfully store them low down so he can reach them. He’s two years old. He loves books with rhythm, action and bright pictures.

Name three books you wish you’d written.

Any of the above that I didn’t in fact write! Kate Thompson’s The New Policeman and Kate Forsyth’s Chain of Charms series, too.

About Sally

Sally Odgers is a Tasmanian writer and manuscript assessor. She loves reading, writing, walking, Jack Russells, flowers, names and naming and her family which consists in order of acquisition of one (living) parent, one sister, one husband, one son, one daughter, one daughter-in-law, one grandson and one granddaughter.

www.sallyodgers.com

Review – Katie and the Lephrechaun

Katie is running late for school. Again. Dashing through the park, past the nooks of huddled trees, Katie trips on a tree root and falls sprawling to the ground. That’s when she hears the voice.

A high-pitched squeaky voice – with a funny accent. Katie can hardly believe her eyes when a little man with a red beard and lawn green ensemble appears before her, sitting on a tree branch, swinging his legs merrily. It’s Patrick Fitzpatrick – a cheeky sprite who bamboozles young Katie with his fast talk and jittery ways.

Patrick tells Katie he is indeed a leprechaun – or leith broghan, as it’s known in the magic trade. It means ‘one-shoe maker’ and of course, Katie can’t for the life of her understand why  anyone would be employed to make only one shoe. Patrick, of course, explains that many one shoes make up plenty of shoe pairs – and so begins a mind-bending banter for poor Katie, who finds herself both frustrated and oddly intrigued by the little green man. Is he for real, or is this all a strange dream?

Katie and the Leprechaun is part of the new Little Rockets reader range from New Frontier. Kids will giggle along with Katie and her magical new friend as she helps him find the perfect model shoe . . . a shoe that may surprise you. At the end of the book, kids can pop out a cute cardboard rocket to make for themselves.

A gorgeously-written story, colourful illustrations on almost every second page will help keep reluctant readers engaged, while advanced readers will equally enjoy this magical little tale.

Katie and the Leprechaun is published by New Frontier.

Review – The Wattle Tree

Molly misses her grandma. It makes her feel awfully sad. She misses her hugs, her smells, her baking scones and biscuits in the kitchen.

Molly’s mum is also sad. How Molly wishes Grandma would come back again.

One day, Molly finds Grandma’s big straw hat. She puts it on and wanders into the garden where she finds a beautiful wattle tree with dark green leaves like a dress her gran used to wear, and gentle curves like the curls of her hair. Molly feels at peace here.

The next week, she returns to the tree, which is now covered in blousey, golden wattle flower. Molly puts her arms around the trunk and hugs it tight. It becomes her special place for Grandma and she liked keeping it secret.

Until one day when she sees Mum crying over Grandma. So she decides to share her special place.

This is a heartfelt, sweet book about loss but also about remembering, and finding solace in both the objects that once belonged to someone we love – and the comfort to be found in nature.

This book was particularly poignant for me, as I have my own very special tree that brings back the fondest memories, and connects me to those long gone. This book shows children there is a way to honour our dearly departed, and therefore keep them close.

Beautifully warm, pastelly illustrations by Ben Wood perfectly convey the tender emotion of this book – illustrations that are firmly carving this artist a place in the beloved Australian children’s book niche.

The Wattle Tree is published by Lothian. Published tomorrow.

Review – Florentine and Pig Have a Very Lovely Lunch

The sun is sparkling in that lovely way it sometimes does, and Florentine suggests some fun outdoors. A picnic sounds wonderful and Pig agrees. Florentine begins taking comprehensive notes and Pig’s eyes boggle at her picnic schedule – apple and carrot muffins, rainbow sprinkle cookies, green pea tarts and pink lemonade, just to name a few delectable treats.

But there’s a problem. Pig has eaten the last of the apples – how on earth will Florentine make those apple and carrot muffins? Pig has an idea. He runs for his telescope and spies not one but three juicy apples at the tippety top of their apple tree. But how will they reach them? Pig – the clever solver of all problems – knows how.

Very soon, with apples in hand, Pig and Florentine are whipping up their picnic feast, which they enjoy on a blanket under the apple tree.

This is a basic plot in terms of storytelling. Its strengths are in the striking artwork and the author’s lovely ‘voice’ and creative use of words. I particularly enjoyed the use of onomatopoeia, especially when it came to whipping up that menu.

Kids will adore the galloping, super sweet illustrations, not to mention the recipes at the end of the book, and instructions on how to make Pig’s very pretty picnic bunting.

Florentine and Pig Have a Very Lovely Lunch is published by Bloomsbury.

Review – The Queen’s Maid

It may be a relatively low text book but this junior fiction title by June Crebbin ticked all the boxes for me. Sophisticated writing that is totally appropriate for the book’s 7- to 12-year-old target market, this is a fabulous read, least of all for its balanced, beautifully-written and edited prose, but especially for its rollicking storyline.

Crebbin has a real knack for creating luscious imagery with her words – and yes, children also deserve such clever writing – a clarity and sophistication that is normally reserved for adults. I love how she doesn’t talk down to her readers, but uses full, glorious wording and dialogue perfectly suited to the times – that of Queen Elizabeth I and the young Will Shakespeare.

Lady Jane Hargrave is thrilled to bits when none other than Elizabeth I pays visit to their family home in Dorsetshire, England. Astride her steed, Delphine, she waits at the top of the hill for the royal procession, which descends too quickly upon the house. Panicked, Jane flees back to the courtyard where she arrives just in time to greet the Queen.

Elizabeth I takes immediately to young Jane – and wants to learn more about her languages and horse riding and interests. Jane obliges in her candidly youthful way. Little does she know her candour is something the Queen covets and – much to her horror, at the end of her visit, Elizabeth asks Jane to become her sixth maid of honour. Of course, being so young, Jane is not ready to leave her mother, but her mother gently insists, for this is not an honour anyone could turn down.

Life at court is very different for young Jane, but she soon settles in and begins many a fascinating adventure. She even befriends a young stable lad who introduces her to William Shakespeare! Jane is fascinated with theatre life and manages to accidentally take part in a play at the Globe Theatre, much to her delight.

On her way back to court from visiting her ailing mother, Jane also finds herself aboard a ship in the midst of the approach of the Spanish Armada. So much excitement for such a young lass, and such a joy to be part of her adventures – and to feel first-hand the hot breath of history through Crebbin’s work.

Warm, clever, approachable and packed with superb line drawings that will keep more reluctant readers engaged, this is one of my favourite rapid reads this year.

The Queen’s Maid is published by Walker Books and is part of their Racing Reads series.

Featured Author: Mo Willems

Sometimes it’s nice to take a little peek into the work of some of the world’s most successful authors, and in the coming months I’ll be adding a post or two on authors and illustrators I personally admire, and who continue to delight children (and adults) with their impressive line-up of work. In this first post, I’ll be revealing a little more about Mo Willems – a US author whose Knuffle Bunny books had me in stitches when my kids were really little. I hope you enjoy this profile. Email me with your author profile suggestions . . . who would you like to know more about?

Mo Willems

Mo Willems was raised in New Orleans. He studied at Tisch School of the Arts at New York University, and when he was done, he travelled the world, drawing a carton every day. This work was later published in the book You Can Never Find a Rickshaw When it Monsoons.

Mo began his career as a writer and animator for Sesame Street. He also performed stand up comedy in NYC and recorded essays for BBC Radio. Mo has worked for The Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon, and has created two animated TV series – The Off-Beats and Sheep in the Big City.

Since 2003, Mo has authored many books for children. Three of his books have been awarded a Caldecott Honor: Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! (2004), Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale (2005), and Knuffle Bunny Too: A Case of Mistaken Identity (2008).

His Elephant and Piggie books, an early reader series about a friendly elephant and pig, are a huge hit with the littlies, and Elephant and Piggie won the Theodor Seuss Geisel Medal in 2008 and 2009, and a Geisel Honor in 2011.

In 2010, Mo began writing a new series of books featuring Cat the Cat, also aimed at early readers.

Mo’s books have been translated into many languages. They have even spawned animated shorts and have been developed into musical productions. His work, including illustrations, wire sculpture and ceramics have been shown in exhibitions all over the US.

Mo married his wife Cheryl Camp in 1997 and now lives in Masschusetts.

Learn more at www.mowillems.com.

 

Five Very Bookish Questions with author Janeen Brian

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

For my own pleasure I adore reading picture books (as well as poetry and novels – just had to sneak those in – can’t bear to leave them out!). Picture Books tap into the part of my psyche that loves the essence, the pared down selection of words and text combined with art: colour, flow, energy and an emotional impact. It’s like fabric and thread, and the best picture books are the best woven.

Some of my favourite picture books are The Incredible Book Eating Boy (Oliver Jeffers), Pog (Lyn Lee, Kim Gamble), Wombat Divine (Mem Fox, Kerry Argent), Water Witcher and Lizzie Nonsense (both by Jan Ormerod), Belinda (Pamela Allen) and other books by Pamela Allen, Margaret Wild, Dr Seuss and Joy Cowley.

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

I wish I could give you a list but I can’t because of the lack of books at home and at school. I borrowed from friends if I could. I remember my mother once reading me The Story about Ping, and have tracked down an old copy of it because it made an impact when I was about four.

I tried to read The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens when I was about seven, because I found a copy in a little bookshelf in the lounge, but I couldn’t manage it. We had ‘readers’ at school, which we all had to take turns in reading around the class and I loved the stories and poems in them. I also remember reading titles by Enid Blyton and imagining similar adventure scenarios with friends.

Other than that it was books like What Katy Did, Little Women and Heidi, books received for birthday or Christmas.

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

– great writing (Hatchet by Gary Paulsen, The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo,)

– something that moves the heart and/or the head (The True Story of Lillie Stubeck by James Aldridge; All in the Blue Unclouded Weather by Robin Klein)

– something which the children take away with them once the book is finished. (A Rose for the Anzac Boys by Jackie French; The Illustrated Mum by Jacqueline Wilson; Marrying Ameera by Rosanne Hawke)

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

Children must have time and opportunities to read.

Name three books you wish you’d written.

 

The Mousehole Cat – a picture book by Antonia Barber and Nicola Bayley (Walker Books). Based on a Cornish legend, it tells the story of an old fisherman, Tom, his cat, Mowzer and the metaphorical Great Storm-Cat which prowled the seas creating havok. Story, language and a warm, satisfying ending.

 

Because of Winn-Dixie a novel by Kate DiCamillo. An intensely strong, moving story about a girl, her preacher father and a stray dog which changes their lives. Succinct writing and a unique voice that makes you say, Yes, that’s how it would’ve been; that’s how she would’ve felt.

 

A Ute Picnic – and other Australian Poems by Lorraine Marwood. The poems are so wonderfully Australian and yet universal. Every word and phrase is taut with perfect words and phrasing that spear straight to the emotions.

About Janeen

Janeen Brian is an award-winning children’s author and has been writing full time for over 20 years. Janeen writes all sorts – picture books, poetry, short fiction, novels, information books and short stories. She has had 75 books published and three more are due soon for release – Where’s your Flipper, Eddie Pipper? with New Frontier, Meet Ned Kelly with Random House and I’m a Dirty Dinosaur with Penguin.) She also writes for children’s magazines with approximately 200 stories, poems, plays and articles published. She is well-known for her award-winning books, Where Does Thursday Go?, Hoosh! Camels in Australia and Pilawuk – When I was Young.

www.janeenbrian.com

Review – Fredrik Goes Bananas!

Fredrik the gull lives on an icy island where everyone loves fish. Fish for breakfast. Fish for lunch. Fish for dinner. Fish of all types and sizes.

It’s clearly no wonder that one day – whilst tucking into his rotten shark fin soup – Fredrik realises something. He’s sick of fish. The townsfolk are so shocked, they think he’s gone bananas.

Fredrik knows he has to do something about his fishy problem, so he sends away for some mysterious supplies and starts building a mysterious object. It has a wooden frame and glass panels and is built directly over the hot springs that pouf warm steam into the air. What on earth could he be doing? The townsfolk are baffled, his wife is verklempt – she is so dazed and upset by her husband’s antics, she can only be revived by the smell of fresh mackerel!

After some time, a very special plant grows in the mysterious greenhouse. I won’t spoil the surprise but let’s just say it’s not only Fredrik who ends up going bananas!

This is a sweet, simple story with kooky undertones – my kind of kids’ book – and of course, it’s so easy to love Cheryl Orsini’s divine imagery, as evocative and delightful, as always.

Fun.

Fredrik Goes Bananas! is published by Scholastic.

 

Review – I Love You Book

I totally empathise with the characters in this book by well-loved author Libby Hathorn. Yes, I too love the paper smell and consistently fight the desire to take a bite from a book I truly adore. Yes books are delicious. And yes, they are lovable.

The rustle of the pages. The sound as the book shuts tight. The dreams they conjure, the magical places they take us, the short, hippety-hoppety words and the laughter and the commas, dots and question marks. Libby expresses it all in this book – so perfectly, the reader will nod in appreciation the whole way through.

Told in rhyming text, the book’s illustrations are bright, dynamic, Seussy, delight. Heath McKenzie’s divine talent shines through and he takes a flying leap into the imaginative possibility Libby has penned – and comes up with page after page of beautiful imagery both kids and adults will adore.

I love you, book.

I Love You Book is published by IP Kidz.

Review – The Terrible Suitcase

Can a suitcase can be terrible? What could be so terrible about it? Could it be the way it looks, the way it drags on the ground, its awfully bad manners? Or is it what’s contained inside?

I must admit I was little nervous about this and was intrigued to find out, but I should have known the secret would simply lie in outward appearances. Clunky old suitcases aren’t cool for just-about-to-start-school kids – no way. Everyone else has super cool backpacks. With torches and drink bottle compartments and super cute stickers.

But not our little heroine, who is inexplicably condemned to ugly suitcase hell. Golly, I truly felt horrified for this child, lumbered with this daggy old clunker for no apparent reason at all.

As her first day at school unfolds, as grumbly as can be, the suitcase soon becomes a magical focal point for our narrator and her classmates. It’s a toolkit, it’s a super computer, it’s an integral part of a spaceship game – and a vessel for those all important spacefood sticks. In this way, its super presence brings a group of uneasy first-day kids together, offering comfort as well as friendship.

This is a lovely story on not what a suitcase is but what it could potentially be, however, the ending is confusing, with no tie in to preceding text or imagery and no effective wrap-up.

Freya Blackwood’s iconically sketchy illustrations are beautifully and most typically whimsical and gorgeous, and help lend form to an otherwise charming story.

The Terrible Suitcase is published by Scholastic.

 

Five Very Bookish Questions with author Phillip Gwynne

1. Which genre of children’s books do you like most and why? Can you name a book or two in this genre that you particularly love?

Recently I’ve written quite a few picture book texts and have become very interested in this form. The interplay between text and image, the impactof rhythm, the importance of succinctness – there might not be many words but there’s a lot going on!

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

Any I could get my hands on! I grew up in a house that didn’t have many books so was always desperate to find something to read.

But looking back one of the books that had a profound affect on me was The Catcher in the Rye. In fact I think I saw the fictional Holden Caulfield as almost a friend. I think that shows you just how powerful literature can be.

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

I actually don’t read much of it at all. Instead of reading books to my kids (3 yo and 5 yo girls) at night, I make them up stories instead. Some of these stories have actually gone on – or are in the process of going on – to become picture books.

No matter what the genre, I like books that are funny and that pack a punch, by that I mean books that have something insightful to say about the world. As far as picture books go, I’ve always loved the work of Bob Graham – A Bus Called Heaven, How to Heal a Broken Wing, Spirit of Hope.

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

I’ve always thought that if kids see adults reading all the time then they are more likely to read themselves.

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

Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
Greetings from Sandy Beach by Bob Graham
Magic Beach by Alison Lester

About Phillip

Phillip Gwynne has written books for kids, young readers, teenagers and adults as well as the screenplay for the feature film Australian Rules, which was based on his highly awarded first novel Deadly Unna? Currently based in Bali, Phillip is writing The Debt, a six-part high-octane thriller series for young adult readers which will be released by Allen and Unwin in 2013.  He has also found the time – and the inspiration! – to write eight picture books, the first of which – The Queen With The Wobbly Bottom – has this year been published by Little Hare.

www.laterallearning.com/authors/gwynne.html

 

Review – Moonlight and Ashes

Selena’s mother died some time ago. She lives with her father, a nobleman of deep emotional weakness, in a grand old house with her wicked stepmother and two self-absorbed stepsisters. She is virtually enslaved to her stepmother, spending her days cleaning, sewing, running errands and copping the humiliation of a life bound with emotional and physical slavery.

Sound familiar?

Moonlight and Ashes is indeed inspired by Cinderella, but the belly of this story not only touches on fairytales, it writhes in evil magic, steeps in human deception, glimmers with enchantment, and in matters of love – transcends life itself. Set in several towns and villages of the Faustine Empire (which author Sophie Masson says is based, in part, on the late 19th century Austro-Hungarian Empire), it follows the journey of Selena and a magical cast of characters – in search of freedom from oppression.

When Selena learns she is the last of the Moon Sister blood line – a line virtually wiped out by the all-powerful order of the Mancers, she knows she may now finally find the power to escape the misery of her life. Upon the announcement that the King of Ashberg will soon be holding a grand ball in honour of Crown Prince Leopold, Selena sets about finding her way to the ball where she meets not only the Prince but his bestie Maximilian von Gildenstein – a young man she is oddly drawn to.

The Prince, however, unnerves Selena, and there sets in motion an astonishing series of events that lead Selena to a Mancer prison, a magical escape, a kidnapping, a werewolf, a giant boatman, a magical hazel tree, a long journey, a timely meeting and a plot stuffed with sophisticated turns and twists and alleyways that gather up the reader and carry them forward to an uncertain end.

I adored the opening to this book. Masson paints a visual world so evocatively with her words, and indeed, as the book unfolds, this world becomes richer and more woven, as the plot careens towards an ending that will both surprise and delight. Faced with deceit, confusion, haunting memories – even murder – can Selena set herself and her friends free? And will she snag the prince and live happily ever after?

Moonlight and Ashes is published by Random House

 

 

 

Review – Ten Tiny Things

Tessa and Zachary have a cruisy, comfy, clean and calm machine. They use it to ride to school each day. It is climate-controlled, quiet and smooth. When it’s hot, they put on the aircon, when it’s cold, they put on the heat.

It’s comfort personified. No effort required. A lot like modern life in the West, actually, most especially for our kids, who both enjoy and live snugly in the concept of Comfort.

As humans, we strive for Comfort in life. But in our eternal quest to achieve it, we quickly miss out on Life.

We miss out on the huffpuffing strain of climbing mountains, the pulse-pushing agony of running marathons, the cold-bearing discomfort of finding the perfect snowflake or the heat-crushing agony of making it across a sizzling beach to the ocean.

And author Meg McKinlay totally gets this. She pushes her characters out of their machine and out of their comfort zone and into the real world where Things reside. Strange things. Challenging things. Breathtakingly beautiful things.

And her characters respond most excellently.

I totally appreciate Meg’s voice in this book – it’s gorgeously-crafted and a delight to read. Illustrations by Kyle Hughes-Odgers are strikingly different and as enticing as chocolate. With a folksy/block-print feel and stunning knack for pattern, Kyle uses acrylic paint and stain on wood panels which lend an authentic, earthy, ecological feel to this truly beautiful book.

A must-own – not only for its beauty, but for its subtle and important messaging.

Ten Tiny Things is published by Fremantle Press

 

Review – My Home: Broome

Home to the Yawuru people, Broome was heavily populated in the 1880s by pearl-hunters, keen to snaffle their share in the rich waters around this far north-western town. People from all over the world inhabited Broome, and indeed, its population is as still as much a cultural melting pot as ever.

This glorious tour around this remotely tropical place is a feast for the senses. Fascinating snippets of text have been written by an author who spent her first ten years in Broome – in fact, she’s only spent a total of ten years in Broome, because she is ten. Yes, that’s right. Tamzyne Richardson is descended from the Yawuru and Bardi people of the Kimberley region of WA, and this amazing young girl actually penned the bones for the book when she was home sick with the swine flu when she was eight.

Taking the reader all over town, Tamzyne’s love for Broome is than apparent as she lauds the beauty of this highly-desirable destination. She also includes information on the weather and seasons, local foods and industry, history, local flora and fauna, the local people, legends and more.

The book has been lusciously illustrated with a collage-like effect of images coordinated and contributed to by author/illustrator Bronwyn Houston, a descendent of the Nyiyaparli clan of the Pilbara region. Bronwyn led a series of art workshops with school children to both learn a variety of illustrating techniques, and provide images for the book.

The result is a fine collaboration and a striking collection of varied image and style and colour that works beautifully, with that childlike appeal that warms the heart. A must-own for schools and libraries all over Australia.

My Home: Broome is published by Magabala Books.

Featured Author – Lane Smith

Lane Smith was born in Oklahoma but moved to California as a child. He studied art at Art Center, College of Design in Pasadena, California, and helped pay his tuition by working as a janitor at Disneyland. Graduating with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in illustration, he moved to New York where he began his life as illustrator, working for several publications including Time, Mother Jones, and Ms.

Lane has both written and illustrated many books but has also collaborated with authors such as the talented Jon Scieszka. The Stinky Cheese Man and The True Story of the Three Little Pigs are two striking examples of their work.

Lane has worked in other mediums, too. He was an art director for the 1996 movie adaptation of Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach. He has also worked for Disney and Pixar as a conceptual designer, working on Monsters, Inc. and How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

Smith’s earlier books include Pinocchio: The Boy (2002), John, Paul, George, and Ben (2006) and his latest include the fabulous It’s a Book and Grandpa Green (a Caldecott Honor Book).

Other books include Madam President (2008), The Big Elephant In The Room (2009) and It’s a Little Book (2011).

Lane is married to book designer Molly Leach, who has designed nearly all of his books. Lane says “When she designed the Stinky Cheese Man back in 1992, folks called it a ‘watershed moment’. Suddenly every designer wanted to make books with crazy type and upside-down pages. The problem is it is very hard to do unless you know how. Molly knows how. She is also very funny and very pretty.”

Lane and Molly live in Connecticut and New York City.

www.lanesmithbooks.com

Review – Stargirl

Stargirl is one of the strangest and most memorable fiction novels I’ve read in a long time. Aimed roughly at 11 – 15 year olds, it has enormous crossover appeal – and would readily be enjoyed by younger readers and adult readers.

Author Jerry Spinelli has created a bizarre, romantic and fanciful character in Stargirl – a hippy-like teen who enters Mica Area High School one year and sparks the curiosity of fellow student Leo, a wannabe television producer who runs an in-school TV show called Hot Seat.

Leo and his friend Kevin, like the rest of the school, become emotionally embroiled in the antics of Stargirl who walks the canteen at lunch time, strumming her ukelele and singing Happy Birthday to unsuspecting victims. Who leaves congratulatory or Get Well Soon cards on the doorsteps of random people in the community. Who wears long floaty dresses and carries a bag with a sunflower on the side. Who dances on her own. Who cheers for the other team as well as her own and causes a right sensation on the basketball court. So much so, she is asked to join the cheerleading team, but when Stargirl takes it too far by helping a member of the opposing basketball team, things begin to go awry.

Things also begin to go awry for Leo, who becomes strangely attracted to Stargirl and, as the curious popularity of his love interest begins to turn to outright ostracism, Leo finds himself embroiled in a Lord of the Flies style hate campaign that boggles Stargirl and her elegantly childlike and innocent way of being.

Set in the haunting Arizona desert, this is a haunting and moving story of teenhood, of love, of being different. It’s about the Blue Eyed/Brown Eyed consequences of refusing to ‘fit in’ and be like everyone else. It is moving, a little frightening, tender and peculiar. It’s different – and Lord knows the literary world needs different.

This book is immensely rewarding and its ending is as poignantly peculiar as its subject matter. In fact, its ending left me lingering in the air – like that microsecond before freefall. I couldn’t even breathe – I just sort of sat there and waited for the ground to catch me.

If you want unusual, this is your read.

Stargirl is published by Orchard Books

News – The Famous Five 70th Anniversary

To celebrate the 70th anniversary of Enid Blyton’s much-loved Famous Five series, five of the world’s most illustrious children’s illustrators have teamed up with Hodder Children’s Books to present new special anniversary covers for the first five adventures in the series. Quentin Blake, Oliver Jeffers, Helen Oxenbury, Emma Chichester Clark and Chris Riddell have all turned their hand to illustrating the covers of this wonderful set of books.

Available in this new version of the series (published May 2012) are:

Five on a Treasure Island (Quentin Blake)

Five Go Adventuring Again (Helen Oxenbury)

Five Run Away Together (Emma Chichester Clark)

Five Go to Smuggler’s Top (Oliver Jeffers)

Five Go Off in a Caravan (Chris Riddell)

This wonderful illustration initiative is in support of the House of Illustration charity, the world’s first dedicated home for the art of illustration. Developed by Quentin Blake, the charity puts on exhibitions, runs competitions and organises events with some of the UK’s leading illustrators. It also works in schools and acts as a hub for emerging and established artists. Their ambition remains to create a permanent home to celebrate the past, present and future of illustration.

A percentage of royalties from each of the 70th anniversary edition books will go to the House of Illustration.

How well do you know your Famous Five? Head here to test your knowledge!

The Famous Five series is published by Hodder Children’s.

Review – Look, Baby!

I’m totally obsessed with Cheryl Orsini’s work, and I’m yet to encounter a Penny Matthews book I didn’t like, so Look, Baby! seemed a winner to me. And I wasn’t disappointed.

This simple and sweet toddler book follows the travails of a wee baby as he navigates his day – from waking in his cot, through dressing and breakfast, to banging pots in the kitchen, a visit to the park, dinner, bath and bed.

Rhyming text on each verso page underpins a full page illustration of baby in action, and each opposing recto page features a line-up of objects that can be seen from the main picture, each labelled.

Perfect for very young children, the book is not only designed for word comprehension but contains a lovely narrative that pulls the reader through the book.

Orsini’s illustrations are pure delight and will readily engage the very young, through to toddlers.

Would love to see this as a board book, as I’m sure it would be dog-eared in no time.

Look, Baby! is published by Working Title Press.

Five Very Bookish Questions with author Lorraine Marwood

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

I love verse novels, poetry, fantasy and historical narrative.  Ooh sorry for liking so many – I’m sure there are more also. There are so many enthralling genres for children’s books now and I love verse novels and poetry for the concentrated does of emotion and sensory experiences they bring to the reader. And fantasy novels are so rich and varied now and the writing so powerful.

Historical fiction has always been a special delight to me as the atmosphere and the unique details bring to life a rich journey undertaken by people similar to us, yet reacting and living in a differently orientated world.

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

One I especially love (and still have the copy) is Princess and Curdie by George MacDonald.  Fairy tales, my sister’s books… English school girl comics… horse books. Once I arrived at high school I was bewildered by a school library (no such thing in my primary school) and borrowed vociferously.  I remember discovering Nancy Drew there – books about Egypt, historical romance, adventure, A Wrinkle in Time – I read and read and read.

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

Atmosphere, a feisty character who draws empathy from the reader and a surprise-laden plot.

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

Read aloud to your young toddler; read aloud and share with your young child at all ages; taking trips to the local library together; sharing choices in the local bookshop; subscribing to a magazine; showing the love you yourself have for books and bookcases!!

And also starting a family diary or journal, where you all write a sentence each- about your day, your week – extra chances to read!

Name three books you wish you’d written.

Divergent by Veronica Roth

Love that Dog by Sharon Creech

The Truth about Verity Sparks by Susan green

About Lorraine

Lorraine Marwood is a poet and author. Her fifth book with Walker books will be published in 2013.  She has written two verse novels and five collections of poetry. Her verse novel Star Jumps won the Prime Minister’s award for children’s fiction in 2010. She is also the author of two Aussie Nibbles and loves taking poetry/creative writing workshops with both children and adults.

www.lorrainemarwood.com

Review – Zac and Zeb and the Make-Believe Birthday Party

Zac and Zeb are good friends. They love to paint, dance, cheer and have proper adventures together. They also love to celebrate together.

It’s Zac’s birthday. There are friends and food and games and fabulous things that go pop! Zac has a wonderful time but at the end of the party, his friend Zeb is glum. He isn’t happy for Zac. He wants his own birthday party. An upbeat Zac assures his friend his birthday is coming up next.

Of course, Zeb races home with excitement, thinking ‘next’ means tomorrow, and when he wakes the next day, he spins and dances, waiting for his friend to arrive. But nobody comes (those dratted imaginary invitations).

When Zac stops by and finds an even more glum Zeb, he gets an idea. A make-believe birthday party! complete with a space rocket present (made from a box) that takes them on a make-believe journey to the moon where they feast on an imaginary birthday picnic.

While I must admit Zeb irritated me a little, Zac is the sweetest (and smartest) little thing, and this is a story kids will enjoy for its action and gorgeous illustrations. Sarah Massini has created beautiful images, awash with cute characters. Varied typefacing is also creatively done, making for a well-rounded book.

Zac and Zeb and the Make-Believe Birthday Party is published by Nosy Crow.

Review – The Children Who Loved Books

So lovely to review another Peter Carnavas book, an author/illustrator who has been going great guns with a consistently fabulous book list for New Frontier. Peter’s emotive, subtle and visually beautiful books have enormous crossover appeal, and with the addition of ‘books’ in the title of this newbie, well – I couldn’t get it out of the envelope fast enough.

Angus and Lucy are simple kids. They don’t have a lot. No TV. No car. Not even a house. Instead, their teensy caravan is jammed to the ceiling with piles and piles of books. Now, books – they do have. Balanced, propped, stacked, teetering . . . books, books everywhere.

Of course, you can imagine what happens when the books become too much for the teensy caravan. They have to go. And what happens when books are removed from children’s lives?

The answer may surprise you.

This charming book, with its central theme of the impossibility of living without the lure of a great book, is another Carnavas winner. Iconic, whimsical illustrations perfectly reflect the tone and nuance of the carefully-edited text. bringing meaning and volume into the clean white spaces he does so well.

A must-have for your Carnavas collection.

The Children Who Loved Books is published by New Frontier.

Five Very Bookish Questions with author Claire Saxby

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

I love all the genres! No, I guess that’s not answering the questions. I love picture books because they are the starting point for new readers. They are designed for sharing and they give the opportunity for so much discovery in and beyond language. I love The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle because it is ageless, and combines fiction and non fiction in such a beautiful way. Another favourite are the Hairy MacClary books by Lynley Dodd. I love the language and the illustrations. Perhaps that’s why I don’t mind that Hairy MacClary is one of my nicknames … hmm … not sure I should own that in public!

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

Oh, that’s always a hard question. I read so many. Outstanding favourites though? A large and very heavy collection of fairy tales that I returned and returned to. I loved Heidi. I also loved adventure books. I remember a series where a boy and a girl were the main characters in a series of adventures: in jungles and a range of other settings. I wish I could remember the name of them.

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

Re-readability.
Racing start.
Twists and turns, page-turning action.
A current YA contender is The Hunger Games series. Not for really young readers, but a fast paced action story with plenty of issues for discussion. I think it would be a great series to discuss in an English class. So many themes, wrapped in a commercial fiction package.

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

Let them choose what they want to read.

Name three books you wish you’d written.

Nup, that’s too hard. There are plenty of books both recent and less so that I’ve loved for different reasons, but I don’t wish I’d written them. I’m just glad someone did. Recent loves? Crow Country by Kate Constable, Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley, Sally Murphy’s verse novels Pearl Verses the World and Toppling. Anything by Glenda Millard.

About Claire

Claire Saxby has been writing for children for about 15 years. She has been inspired by her own children, memories of childhood and by the children around her. She became an author because she loves playing with words. She will happily talk about books and writing with anyone who asks. Claire lives in Melbourne and loves it, despite what people say about the weather. Her latest books are The Carrum Sailing Club (Windy Hollow Books), and There Was an Old Sailor (Walker Books).

www.clairesaxby.com

Which genre of children’s books do you like most and why?
I love picture book biographies because they breathe life into stories about real people for young people. I recently picked about two beauties; A Nation’s Hope – The Story of Boxing Legend Joe Louis. The artwork by Caldecott winner Kadir Nelson is exquisite.  And My Hands Sing the Blues – Romare Bearden’s Childhood Journey. Illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon, she honours Bearden’s work by creating the art in collage.

Which books did you love to read as a young child?
Every Beatrix Potter Peter Rabbit book. Love that Peter was nearly as naughty as me.

Which three attributes make for a great children’s book?
Engaging, Enriching and Empowering. The The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams

What is your number one tip for encouraging children to read?
Make it fun.

Name three books you wish you’d written.
Fox by Margaret Wild
My Farm by Alison Lester
Where the Wild Things Are Maurice Sendak

 

 

About Frané

Frané Lessac joins the National Year of Reading 2012 initiative as a State Ambassador for Western Australia.  She’s the Illustrator Liaison for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators for Australia West. In 2010, Frané was awarded The Muriel Barwell Award for Distinguished Service to Children’s Literature. She constantly visits schools, libraries and festivals sharing the process of writing and illustrating books, empowering both children and adults.  Her latest book is The Greatest Liar on Earth – A True Story by Walker Books.

www.franelessac.com

Review – Darius Bell and the Crystal Bees

Darius Bell, the irrepressibly divine hero of Darius Bell and the Crystal Pool (CBCA Book of the Year 2010 winner) is back in this second installment by well-loved Australian author Odo Hirsch.

The bees are dying. And not only the bees from Mr and Mrs Deaver’s hives. All the bees in the region are carking it. They’re not swarming. There’s no suspected foul play. What on earth could be going on?

And worse – how will Mr Fisher – the gardener of the Bell Estate, responsible for feeding the Bell family and most of the township with luscious fruit and veg – harvest an unpollinated crop? An unfertilised orchard? A pollen-free field? Blossoms are poised to open, and without bees – things are looking rather dire for the entire township.

Then there’s the honey. How on earth will the Bell’s cook, Mrs Simpson, make her famous cakes and pies without honey?

Darius is desperate to help. He doesn’t want the town to lose its fresh produce crop. He doesn’t want Mr and Mrs Fisher and their daughter Margeurite to move away to find work, so with the aid of his school chums Oliver Roberts and Paul Klasky (of the warmly funny adage-repeating fame), he sets about discovering how on earth he can replace the bees.

Crashing an Apiarists’ meeting at the council chambers, Darius is heartened by the possibility that bees could be brought in from other regions for temporary respite, but as he does so villainously in the first book, awful mayor – Mr Podcock  – stops at nothing to kybosh their plans.

With a delightful subplot featuring a lovely science teacher, a prickly principal and a kooky costume parade, this is another round of old-fashioned story-telling by Hirsch. The divine, almost comical characters and dialogue are definitely Hirch’s forté – there is a real knack for creating the good, the bad and the ugly in his books, and Darius and his cast of characters are pure delight.

Plotting is similarly beautifully-executed, though I was disappointed with the seemingly endless repetition in the book – to the point of eye-rolling. Either this is an editing fault or the author is underestimating the ability of children to ‘get it’ the first time. Although the reiteration of the fact that plants need bees to pollinate them in order to fruit was aggravating, Hirsch used this repetition well when it came to the bumbling inability of Hector Bell to absorb anything on a scientific level, being that his sensibilities dwelt solely within the literary world.

I was also disappointed with the misnomer in the Crystal Bees title. I had conjured great, anticipatory images of some fantastical, magical, mechanical bees created with some of the light-as-feather magic contained in the first book, but this failed to materialise, and indeed, the only reference to crystal is that Darius gets his Big Idea for finally solving the bee crisis, whilst visiting the Crystal Pool.

Nevertheless, this is another entertaining read, with a catalogue of endearing characters and another beautifully-crafted comeuppance ending that will satisfy the humanitarian in us all.

Did you know? Odo Hirsch was born in Melbourne. His real name is David Kausman.

Darius Bell and the Crystal Bees is published by Allen & Unwin.

Five Very Bookish Questions with author/illustrator Frané Lessac

Which genre of children’s books do you like most and why?
I love picture book biographies because they breathe life into stories about real people for young people. I recently picked about two beauties; A Nation’s Hope – The Story of Boxing Legend Joe Louis. The artwork by Caldecott winner Kadir Nelson is exquisite.  And My Hands Sing the Blues – Romare Bearden’s Childhood Journey. Illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon, she honours Bearden’s work by creating the art in collage.

Which books did you love to read as a young child?
Every Beatrix Potter Peter Rabbit book. Love that Peter was nearly as naughty as me.

Which three attributes make for a great children’s book?
Engaging, Enriching and Empowering. The The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams

What is your number one tip for encouraging children to read?
Make it fun.

Name three books you wish you’d written.
Fox by Margaret Wild
My Farm by Alison Lester
Where the Wild Things Are Maurice Sendak

 

 

About Frané

Frané Lessac joins the National Year of Reading 2012 initiative as a State Ambassador for Western Australia.  She’s the Illustrator Liaison for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators for Australia West. In 2010, Frané was awarded The Muriel Barwell Award for Distinguished Service to Children’s Literature. She constantly visits schools, libraries and festivals sharing the process of writing and illustrating books, empowering both children and adults.  Her latest book is The Greatest Liar on Earth – A True Story by Walker Books.

www.franelessac.com

Review – Banjo Bounces Back

Banjo is a hoofball star. He loves hoofball so much, he can barely sleep before a game. He practises every afternoon with his friend Bella, and on Saturdays he plays with his team the Whinnies.

But one day, Banjo flies too high. He takes a tumble – and is laid up for six weeks. The worst possible scenario for a hoofball star.

During his recuperation, Banjo becomes bored. He eats too much molasses, and when he finally returns to the hoofball field, his sedentary, molasses-slurping days are on show. He gets puffed easily. His uniform is a tad too small. When he accidentally falls on the ball . . . it, er – pops.

Poor Banjo. He’s so depressed over his larger-than-life state, he becomes despondent and refuses to join in the game. It’s not until his best friend Bella gets sick and has to go to horspital, that Banjo realises exactly what must be done.

Funny and gorgeously illustrated, Banjo Bounces Back is a book with a very gentle moralistic punch. Hume’s delightful (and very equine) word play is loads of fun; his dry humour equally so. Banjo is a character many children will instantly relate to and warm to, and the spirit-of-the-team and being-there-for-each-other themes (not to mention keeping physically active) don’t present at a gallop, but rather a gentle trot.

My only small criticism would be the ending – due to the clever and humorous nature of the book proper, I had expected a similar ending, and although the ending is certainly pleasant, I just feel it could have been something ‘more’. Nevertheless, Lachie Hume, son of author/illustrator Alison Lester, certainly has book writing and illustrating in his blood.

Banjo Bounces Back is published by Omnibus.

Review – Alex and the Watermelon Boat

Alex is lounging around at home when his mum tells him not to go outside.

Of course, what does a child do when you tell them not to do something? Alex is compelled. Especially as his favourite stuffed toy, Rabbit, has hopped out the window, and of course, Alex has to go find him.

But outside, the river has burst its banks. The dam had overflowed. The water is rising and more fat rain clouds are hovering around menacingly. Binky the Cat is stuck on a roof. Merilyn Kafoops and her dog Dyson are also stranded on a roof, cooking up a storm on the barbie. But where is Merilyn’s twin? And where is Rabbit?

In search of his friend, Alex embarks in a watermelon boat, past empty shops and robbers stealing sausages from the butcher. Past pots and pans and memories being washed down the river. Past stranded people, and misplaced furniture and a shark which is blocking the freeway and causing a terrible traffic jam.

Does Alex find Rabbit or does he become terribly lost in the flooded confusion?

McKimmie’s iconic illustrations are also a flood, washing each double page spread with colour, vigour and complementary mediums that make for a striking visual feast. This collage-like effect has been created using both acrylic and oil paints, gouache, ink, pastels, pencils, pens, stamps, sticky tape and more.

First person tense and scattered, varying typography make for a layered, newspaper/journal feel to the book, which perfectly harnesses McKimmie’s childlike imagery. Although the book has a somewhat dark feel – thanks to its haunting images of the devastation of flood – it is ultimately a story of hope and renewal.

Alex and the Watermelon Boat is published by Allen & Unwin.

 

Five Very Bookish Questions with author Libby Hathorn

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

My taste is far reaching depending on mood from realism to fantasy but a recent wonderful read is the novel Jasper Jones and a hum-dinger of a fantasy is The Night Circus.

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

I adored family stories such as Seven Little Australians, was an early fan of May Gibbs Scotty in Gumnutland series and  would be transported by a story such as The Secret Garden or The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. A favourite picture book was The Red Balloon.

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

Freshness of characters (unless a sequel), a smooth flowing style that makes you want to turn pages (like the Harry Potter series) and an original idea.

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

If anyone wants to write then they must read a lot and more than that, they must write a lot, too. Journals and diaries, scraps and fragments all can build into a new idea and thus into a new story. So my tip is to both read and write a lot!

Name three books you wish you’d written.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Alice in Wonderland and The Wind in the Willows.

 

About Libby

Libby Hathorn is an award-winning Australian author of more than fifty books for children. Her stories have been translated into several languages and adapted for stage and screen. Her work has won honours in Australia as well as in the United States, United Kingdom and Holland. She was awarded a Centenary Medal in 2003. She lives in Sydney’s eastern suburbs.

libbyhathorn.com

Review – The 13-Storey Treehouse

Now, I ask you this. Who would NOT want to live in a thirteen-storey treehouse? Or a treehouse at all, for that matter. And most particularly, who wouldn’t want to live in a thirteen-storey treehouse with a see-through swimming pool? An underground laboratory? A flying machine that shoots marshmallows into your mouth?

No one, that’s who. And to top it all off (as if you could want more) – you’d get to live with Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton and their whackadoodle lifestyle, where cats fly, gorillas scale your exterior walls and sea monkeys turn into great hulking monsters (that may or may not have first made Terry fall in love with them).

This is a kooky-good book that was tremendous fun to read. I loved not only the shenanigans this clever pair got up to, but I loved taking a glimpse into the lives and working processes of two very dedicated kid-lit professionals, who clearly take their work very seriously. And making kids laugh and stretching their imaginations wide – well, that’s very serious business indeed.

Coupled with funny, scratchy illustrations that will engage even younger readers, The 13-Storey Treehouse is another triumph in the get-kids-reading junior fiction world. That is, I’m sure, until The 26-Storey Treehouse comes out this September.

Watch this space.

The 13-Storey Treehouse is published by Pan Macmillan.

Review – Let’s Count Kisses

Kisses? Koalas? Butterflies? Always a hit with the toddler set, and this adorable book, illustrated by Karen Hull is bound to be a winner – not only for its truly gorgeous images, but for its Aussie animal content, and lift-the-flap pages.

Launching into a tribe of kissing butterflies, scattered across the first double page spread, kids will delight in finding and counting said butterflies as they scatter across pages and under the right hand page flap, past a series of adorable critters. A koala, a wallaby and her joey, a galah and kookaburra, an echidna, wombat and more – all sleepy little creatures, getting ready for bed.

As each flap is lifted, kids can count the butterflies quietly, in a lovely wind-down for bedtime. Large illustrations of sleepy animals are calming and truly beautiful to look at – and the sleeping wombat at the end made me want to snuggle under the covers, post haste.

At the end of the book, kids are invited to blow kisses to the butterflies as they drift off to sleep. A visually sweet book, it would make a lovely gift for overseas friends or Aussies on post.

Let’s Count Kisses is published by Lothian Children’s Books.

Review – Two Mates

Jack and Raf are good mates. They live in Broome, Western Australia, and have lived there since they were babies.

They love their life in the Kimberley. During the dry season, it’s a little cooler  but in the wet season, it’s hot and sticky. That’s when Jack and Raf catch big green frogs on Jack’s Nan’s verandah.

Sometimes the boys go fishing with Raf’s Dad. He knows where all the good fishing spots are. Salmon is a specialty. They also hunt with Uncle Ned, who knows all about bush tucker and spotting barni (goanna). On Saturdays, both boys love to go to the Courthouse markets where they nibble satay with rice and watch the buskers. They also love to swim, ride on quad bikes and play imaginary games – flying through the cosmos, stopping off at planets along the way.

But there’s something a little different about this friendship. Although it’s not noticeable through the story, young Raf never stands or walks in this book. He is wheelchair bound with spina bifida yet this lovely, simple tale reveals nothing until the very end of the story – in so doing, proving that disability is in the eye of the beholder – and no disability can kybosh true friendship and an inherent zest for life.

This book has been written about two real life boys living in Broome, and the boys and their families are introduced at the end of the book, complete with photos. Author Melanie Prewett not only reveals the boys’ abiding friendship, she takes the reader on a delightful tour of the Kimberley that is a joy to share in, and is glaring in its polarity to the life of many modern city kids.

Illustrator Maggie Prewett has beautifully captured the vitality and mateship of these two young boys, with vibrant illustrations, awash with colour and warmth.

Both author and illustrator are descended from the Ngarluma people of the Pilbara region of WA. Melanie and Maggie are mother and grandmother to Jack, respectively. A note from Raf’s mum Kim at the end of the book adds an inspiring touch to this lovely story, encouraging kids to view others by seeing what they can do rather than what they can’t.

Two Mates is published by Magabala Books.

Five Very Bookish Questions with illustrator Cheryl Orsini

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

I’m a big fan of all sorts of picture books and have to fight my 9-year-old daughter for ownership – quite often we have to buy two copies. My favourite author/illustrator is Maira Kalman; she embraces all manner of nonsense in her writing and her illustrations are wonky and wonderful. A couple of her books include Chicken Soup Boots and What Pete Ate From A-Z.

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

Always, always picture books for me. I still have a few very weather beaten (and page eaten) copies of The Man Who Didn’t Wash His Dishes by Phyllis Krasilovsky, I Can Fly by Ruth Krauss and illustrated by the prolific Mary Blair, and a much loved copy of Babar’s Voyage by Jean de Brunhoff.

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

vanallsburgA curious surprise – I’m quietly thrilled by a story that takes an unexpected turn. A good example that comes to mind is The Sweetest Fig by Chris Van Allsburg. I won’t say much more about that, I don’t want to spoil the ending!

Quietly funny – It’s quite wonderful when a book is able to make you smile each time you read it. Big Rabbit’s Bad Mood by Ramona Badescu, illustrated by Delphine Durand.

Thoughtful detail – There’s nothing more exciting than coming to the pages in Eloise in Moscow when you open up to reveal Russia in all its glory. Amazing!

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

Let them choose want they want to read, give them plenty of time in the bookstore to browse the books and have them choose one themselves.

Name three books you wish you’d written.

Lost and Found by Oliver Jeffers, Irving the Magician by Tohby Riddle and Each Peach Pear Plum by Janet and Allan Ahlberg.

About Cheryl

With a love of colour and a weakness for a good story, Cheryl Orsini’s illustrations regularly appear in many Australian magazines including The Australian Women’s Weekly and Gardening Australia Magazine. Best known for her children’s books, Cheryl has over 20 titles to her name, her most recent being Pom Pom, Where Are You?, The ABC Book of Rockets, Planets and Outer Space and Wibbly Wobbly Street.

cherylorsiniillustration.blogspot.com

cherylorsini.com

 

Review – I Love My ABC, I Love My 123

Toddlers aplenty know and love Anna Walker’s gorgeous Ollie books, featuring a zebra-like softie and his charming friends, resplendently illustrated in Walker’s inimitable style that remind me of a soft shoe shuffle – gentle, heartwarming and so sweet to watch.

In these new board books for toddlers, released tomorrow, Ollie takes little ones through their ABCs and their 123s, with luscious yet simple illustrations that make you want to tear out the pages and pin them to your child’s wall (yes, this has been done in our house in the past, though I always stock up on a readable copy, too!).

Thick card pages mean longevity, and if your toddler is anything like the discerning modern toddler, who likes a little art with their ABCs, there will be a lot of page flicking going on. Cute.

I Love My ABC and I Love My 123 are published by Scholastic.

Review – Little Red Hood

The iconic little red is given the avant-garde treatment in this stunning book by author/illustrator Marjolaine Leray. Originally published in French under the title un petit chaperon rouge, this striking book packs a visual punch – but its clever, minimalist text is the perfect nest for a series of scratchy illustrations that can be – dare I say it, a tad unnerving.

Like the irreverent new release I Want My Hat Back, this seemingly unassuming little book pulls weight against the bully – and this nasty pants wolf is in for a big surprise after he dares throw his weight around with gutsy little Red.

When Red is snatched by this intimidating ectomorphic creature, with razor sharp teeth and rapier-like claws, Red most drily talks through the old ‘visiting-grandma-my-what-big-teeth-you-have’ rigmarole, with hilarious wolfish reaction. And when it comes to the climax of the story – something about eating someone with very sharp teeth – let’s just say it’s just so lovely to witness a bit of girl power.

Clever, funny, a tad dark, this book would suit kids aged 7+ . . . or a little younger if your kids are not a big fat chicken like me. A must-have for lovers of artistic, clever books, with morals so deeply embedded, a bloodhound couldn’t sniff them out. Perfect.

Little Red Hood is published by Phoenix Yard books.