Five Very Bookish Questions with author Ursula Dubosarsky

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

It’s hard to say as an adult, but as a child I loved time travel stories the best. The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge was one I really loved, and The Ghosts by Antonia Barber. The first children’s book I wrote was a time travel adventure for this reason – Zizzy Zing.

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

As a young child I really loved Gone is Gone by Wanda Gag. It’s a retelling of a Bohemian folk story with beautiful black and white illustrations. I seem to have preferred black and white or minimally coloured illustrations for some reason!

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

I like rich, natural child-centred language. I like books that look at life and the world through a child’s eye, rather than at childhood through an adult’s eye. I want a book to make the child reading it feel loved.

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

I think these days it’s probably important to have times where there is nothing to do but read, ie: the only entertainment around is books. If there’s an electronic device around, it’s pretty hard to get children (um, or adults) to pick up a book, but if there’s nothing else I think they can be surprised and delighted by the pleasures of reading.

Name three books you wish you’d written.

What do you say, dear? by Sesyle Joslin, illustrated by Maurice Sendak

The Mousewife by Rumer Godden

The Muddleheaded Wombat by Ruth Park



About Ursula

Ursula was born in Sydney and always wanted to be a writer. Now she has written over 30 books and won several national literary awards. Her latest books are the picture book The Carousel illustrated by Walter di Qual, the young adult novel The Golden Day and just out, the non-fiction The Word Spy’s Activity Book.


Review – Sophie Scott Goes South

‘Woohoo! I’m going to Antarctica!’

Can you imagine? Hang the snow-white ice, I’m turning jungle green that this nine-year-old is in for the experience of a lifetime – something many adults would knock polar bears over for. Oh wait – make that penguins – because there are no polar bears in Antarctica, you see. Only penguins. Whales, too. And seals. And lots and lots of ice.

Young Sophie has scored big time. Her dad just happens to be the captain of the Aurora Australis – a great hulking red icebreaker of a ship that travels south to deliver supplies to Mawson Station. It takes nearly two weeks to get there, so Sophie will be away over a month. She’s so excited. And I’m excited for her!

Alison Lester has penned yet another classic picture book in Sophie Scott Goes South. Drawing from her own experiences aboard the Aurora Australis in 2005, Alison’s brand new book is not only a visual feast, it’s an information bounty, told in a diary-style format by young Sophie. Indeed, during Alison’s own 6-week voyage, she sent daily emails to schools and families around the world about her trip, and in response, children sent Alison stories and drawings which were eventually compiled into an exhibition which has toured both Australia and overseas.

An extension of this exhibition, this beautiful book contains images from the exhibition, all wrapped up in a warm journalistic story, told by a fictional girl I wish was me. From the informative photos of the icebreaker, icebergs and Antarctic scenes, to the gorgeous author-illustrations and beautiful children’s drawings, this is one enviable journey, told in a way only Alison knows how.

Threading a delightful story with stamps, diagrams, photos and notelets, this high text picture book will thoroughly engage kids – both entertaining and educating them in one fell swoop. This book is not only a delight to look at and learn from, it is one of those stories that make your pulse quicken and bring out the inherent adventurer within. I’m off to pack my parka . . .

Sophie Scott Goes South is published by Penguin.

Five Very Bookish Questions with author/illustrator Gus Gordon

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

Picture books are my favourite genre because there is so much going on. There are so many layers of story – in the visuals and the narrative and I enjoy the challenge of making it work in order to marry the two as seamlessly as possible. I like that there can be something for everybody – old or young. I also love picture books for their ability to tell a good story with rich, affective illustrations, sometimes with no words at all. Shaun Tan’s book The Arrival is a good example of the power of clever storytelling through strong visuals.

I am particularly attracted to well written picture books that are just plain funny – the nonsensical the better. Mr. Chicken Goes To Paris by Leigh Hobbs is off-the-wall in terms of silliness and the illustrations amplify the wonderful oddness of the whole thing. It’s deceptively clever and Leigh is a master of this type of book. Intelligent, funny picture books never get the credit they deserve.

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

1. Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Graham
2. Harry The Dirty Dog by Gene Zion
3. Everything by Roald Dahl
4. Busy, Busy World by Richard Scarry
5. The Lord of The Rings by J.R.R.Tolkien

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

1. For me the story has to start well; with a bang or a promise that the book is going to be a great book. The opening line (especially in a picture book) or paragraph has got to say to the reader ‘you’re going to love this book!’ Otherwise, what’s the point.

Oliver Jeffers’ opening line from his picture book Lost and Found is a good example. It begins ‘Once there was a boy and one day he found a penguin at his door.’ It asks so many questions – we have to find out what happens. Another is Tomi Ungerers’ book Adelaide. It begins: ‘Adelaide’s parents were surprised when they saw that their daughter Adelaide had wings.’ Brilliant – I’m in!

2. Well-rounded, strong character/s. The character needs to be believable, memorable and interesting if the reader is going to give them their time and invest in the story. Olivia by Ian Falconer is a great character that kids can relate to. They love her inquisitiveness and her naughty side. Plus she is interesting to look at which always helps.

3. Respect for the reader. I have trouble with books that hand feed everything to the reader, not allowing them to piece the story together themselves – spelling every detail out. It’s insulting. The reader feels much more involved in the story when they are able to form their own visuals and own summations of what they are reading. There is a greater sense of gratification for the reader when they have worked for their meal. They empathise better with the books’ characters and their journeys. They then feel more committed to turning the page.

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

Aside from reading to them, I would say ‘be seen reading.’ Children grow up mimicking their parents and if both parents read there is a greater chance that their children will want to read too. Makes sense to me anyway.

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

1. Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

2. The Iron Man by Ted Hughes

3. Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Graham

About Gus

Gus Gordon is an author and illustrator based in Sydney Australia. He has written and illustrated over 70 books for children. His picture book, Wendy, about a motorcycle riding stunt chicken, was selected as a Children’s Book Council of Australia (CBCA) Notable Book in the 2010 Book of the Year Awards. His new picture book, recently sold to the US and due out in Australia in September, is called Herman and Rosie.

Review – The Emperor’s New Clothes Horse

Fortunate is the author who happens to have a book illustrated by the über talented Sue deGennaro. What I love about Sue’s work is that she takes risks and uses so many varying styles and mediums – it’s like opening a beautifully-wrapped present every time you spy her name on a cover.

These striking illustrations were an absolute joy to meander through. Featuring a 1920s-Pinocchio-come-Swiss-Alps-come-Italianesque style (yes, I am taking creative license on my presumed illustration-inspiration!), the delicate shapes, lines and colours deGennaro uses are absolutely scrumptious.

But what of the story?

Happily, Tony Wilson has penned a fabulous story that no doubt provided such illustration inspiration. In his story, we meet a horse racing emperor who is so good at racing horses, he’s won every single race except the Cristobel Cup. Sending his royal trainers on a grand hunt to find a horse capable of the Cup, the Emperor is charmed by some ‘international’ trainers who wear fancy hats and smile a lot.


The trainers (who appear to have been heftily trained in psychological warfare) warn the Emperor – ‘This is a very magical horse.’ Indeed. It would have to be, being that it’s made of wood, and is designed to hang damp clothes on.

The moment when young Frankie the stablehand goes to mention his mum has one of those in her laundry is laugh-out-loud funny. Watching the clothes horse train for the big race is laugh-out-loud funny. But the last line of the book – post-race – is beyond that. It’s spurt-your-coffee funny.

I love this book. I love the tone, the humour, the voice, the images. I’m also absolutely loving the page layout. Obviously reluctant to place a single comma into the striking landscapes of deGennaro’s work, text columns down the page edges provide the perfect spot for wordage, while smiling eyes can scan the imagery, completely unfettered. Brilliant.

A must-have for any picture book lover. And get one for the kids, too.

The Emperor’s New Clothes Horse is published by Scholastic.

Review – Meet Snuggle Pot and Cuddlepie

So lovely to see classic characters from a classic Aussie author, consistently revised and updated and brought into the current kid consciousness. And how can anyone resist these adorable May Gibbs icons – let alone kids?

This large format, hard cover book opens with a wallpaper of character endpapers, then introduces the reader to Snugglepot and Cuddlepie, high in a gum tree, resplendent in their gumnut hats and loin cloth leaves.

Through the book, readers will be treated to an abridged version of the tale, introducing us to Mrs Kookaburra, Mr Lizard, Ragged Blossom and a trapped possum, who needs help from his new friends.

Minimal text makes this an introduction children aged 2 and up can thoroughly enjoy – and Gibbs’ gorgeous images have been zoomed in on and enlarged – with each image washing over double page spreads. I love how the book ends with a beginning – ‘And so began the adventures of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie … ‘

Meet Snuggle Pot and Cuddlepie is published by Scholastic Australia.

Five Very Bookish Questions with author Tania Cox

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

I just love children’s picture books. I love the way the words and pictures are read together to tell the story. Every word must count and not be there merely for decoration. Love it! One of my favourite picture books is Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak which I discovered when I was about six. I love every word in this book and its timelessness. Another of my favourites is Wombat Divine by Mem Fox which I discovered when I was in my twenties. Wombat is one of the most lovable characters I’ve ever met in a book.

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

Where the Wild Things Are, The Very Hungry Caterpillar and the Dr Seuss books, especially Yertle the Turtle. I would borrow these books quite a lot from the school library and my mother would complain, “Not again!” Now of course, I have my own copies of these books.

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

I believe in emotion, suspense and humour, for example – Where the Wild Things Are.

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

Read books with topics that interest you.

Name three books you wish you’d written.

Where the Wild Things Are, Wombat Divine and Goodnight Moon.

About Tania

My sixth grade teacher gave the class an assignment of creating a picture book. I loved  the entire process. The seed of being a writer was planted there but I only started writing seriously in my mid twenties. I spent about four years doing external writing courses. After I’d finished, I was extremely fortunate to be mentored by the wonderful Ann James. My new books released this year are With Nan, Millie’s Special Something, What Makes My Mum Happy and What Makes My Dad Happy.


Review – The Coat

Once there was a coat, stuffed with straw and languishing in a field all alone. The coat is a proud coat – and it’s also angry. Angry to be nothing more than a quasi-scarecrow in a field. “What a waste of me!” it cries to the sun and the sky.

Soon, a man walks by. He becomes intrigued by the coat and when he puts it on, it’s far too big for him. Nonetheless, the coat says “splendid” and so does the man.

The coat also tells the man he wants to go to town, where the two feast on a beautiful café meal of Rare Glissandro and Bass Magnifico. Alas, they have no money to pay for the meal, but the coast insists they earn their supper by entertaining the patrons.

Donning a pair of white gloves and taking an accordion in hand, the previously totally untalented man becomes a masestro musician, his fingers flying across the keys of the accordion in a white blur.

The man and the coat play together – a feast of music that entrances the audience, and as they play, the man grows into his coat, his voice becomes richer and the colours on the book’s pages become more active, more vibrant and colourful.

This is a fable-like book, with a strange and magical feel to it. The book has no real ending, but perhaps therein lies the mystique, as the man and the coat disappear to who-knows-where, ready to weave another major musical spell.

Illustrations by the award-winning Ron Brooks are a fusion of reed pen, brush, ink and shellac on watercolour paper, making for a lustrous set of images. I particularly love the endpapers and gorgeously monochromatic earlier vignettes of both city and country.

The Coat is a picture book ideal for older readers, aged 7+. It’s published by Allen & Unwin.

Five Very Bookish Questions with author Adam Wallace

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

This is so hard! I love different things about different genres. And reading and writing probably give me different favourites too. Oh man, what to say? I have to lean towards picture books I think, but still, oh, I can’t decide! Can I say I like children’s books as an entire genre? Two I LOVE are Huge Harold and The BFG.

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

Well, I sort of got into reading horror books quite young, but that’s probably not the answer you were after! My favourite books as a young child (before I became a bit twisted as a slightly older child) were Roald Dahl and Bill Peet books. I love how they have the underdog coming through and finding their place. And they’re funny, and brilliant, and awesome!

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

For me, it has to have humour. It doesn’t have to be laugh out loud funny, or slapstick type writing, but I need something that gets me grinning. The Thirteen Storey Treehouse by Andy Griffiths got me straight away and had me laughing out loud. The Princess Bride, book or movie, is so funny. Inconceivable!

Number 2 attribute (he he, number 2) would be to work on different levels.

Where you can read the book and take the fun and the laughs, or you can go deeper and find the message, or deeper still and find something the author may not even have known about! It can’t just be: “YOU MUST NOTICE AND LEARN OR THIS BOOK WILL BE WASTED ON YOU!” We should be able to take out of it what we will.

Oh, The Places You’ll Go! is one where although the message is blatantly obvious, the brilliance of the writing, the funny words, the amazing rhyme make you love the story and then go, “Oh. Right. Got it.”

Another great example of this are the Bill Peet books. The main character is usually an outcast, someone different, who needs to find their place in the world. But everything about these books is story and rhythm, and then there are themes to be discussed.

Atttribute number 3 would be rhythm. This can mean rhyme, but it doesn’t have to. It can be the flow of the words, or the flow of the entire story. Stargirl has amazing rhythm. It’s in prose, but it’s like the words sing to you. In rhyming rhythm, I think The Lorax is just about number one. It is brilliant.

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

Make it fun. Don’t make it seem like something they have to do, and most definitely do not make them read things they don’t want to read. Kids are put off so easily, and understandably, when they are forced to read books that they just don’t like. Let them see that reading is something to enjoy, a whole new world to explore, and that the creation of that world is in their hands and mind.

Name three books you wish you’d written.

Harry Potter, for the obvious reason – I love the name Hermione and now it’s been taken – dammit!

The Princess Bride, because there are passages in that book where I have actually gasped out loud at how amazingly well written they are.

Stargirl, because it is a life-changing book housed in a touching, funny, heartwarming, brilliant story.

Adam Wallace was an engineer. Then he realised that writing books for kids was WAY more fun, so he did that instead. Some of his books are funny and inspiring (The Incredible Journey of Pete McGee), and some are just plain gross (Better Out Than In). With 20 books published, and more on the way, Adam is fast becoming a well-known name in the world of children’s books.

Review – Pom Pom: Where Are You?

Loving any book set in Paris, but even better when an adorable little puppy dog named Pom Pom is involved.

Pom Pom lives in a tall building in the heart of Paris. Every day, Henriette and her parents, walk him down the Rue Sainte-Geneviève to the post office. Keen to see ‘more of the world’, Pom Pom one day escapes, trotting off into the great Unknown.

This is a simple story, following the journey of a wee dog as he blunders his way into limousines, onto boats, skateboards and bicycles, into baby strollers, through an art gallery and into the home of a well-meaning family who think Pom Pom is helplessly lost and lonely.

Of course, it’s not until Pom Pom realises how much he misses his own family, that he knows he must try to find his way home. Can he make it back to Henriette?

Natalie Jane Prior’s story takes the reader on a glorious romp through Paris (who ever needs an excuse?). Her delightful little character will enchant children, as he scurries around the pages of this beautiful book.

Cheryl Orsini’s absolutely divine illustrations are some of my favourite in a picture book this year. From the endpapers, through the book proper and the covers, too, her utterly whimsical illustrations are so eye-engaging, it’s a delight to turn each page and witness a new surprise.

If you’re someone who appreciates really beautiful picture books, then Pom Pom is for you.

Pom Pom: where are you? is published by Penguin/Viking.

Review – The Word Spy Activity Book

Okay, I’ll admit it – if there’s one book series I wish I wrote, it’s Ursula Dubosarky’s The Word Spy. And to have Tohby Riddle illustrate, too – well. Yes, I’m green.

I love Dubosarsky’s enormously clever take on the English language via her Word Spy character. Not only has she made grammar, punctuation and word structure cool, she’s made it a whole lot of fun for kids, and many’s the hour both my children and myself have pored over her extraordinary journeys into the complexity of words.

This brand new (released today) activity book is the perfect foil for those of us wanting to scribble madly in The Word Spy books, but have never dared because they’re so beautiful.

Deliciously thick and beautifully produced, The Word Spy Activity Book is a feast of wordish fun, with tonnes of brain-stretching exercises to complete – and ideas to ponder on. Divided into several chapters including Favourite Words, Words and Feelings, Words and Pictures, Words and Writing, Word and Punctuation, Riddle’s beautiful silhouetted illustrations and design layout complement a series of fun activities.

Kids can enjoy creating a shadowy puppet show or creating their own rebuses (1 of my fave things in the world 2 do). I love how the author even compares rebuses to text messaging. There are riddles, visual word play, clues, and codes to crack. Visual kids can get visual, cerebral kids can get cerebral. They can close their eyes to write, invent their own script and learn Guinea Pig language.

A must-have for school holidays, travel or just everyday, the creativity and variety in this book is so Ursula Duboskarsky – intelligent, intensely clever and so very much FUN. Brilliant, but be prepped to fight the kids for it.

The Word Spy Activity Book is published by Penguin.

Five Very Bookish Questions with author Michael Wagner

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

Humour’s my favourite children’s book genre, although I do like horror, magic-realism and sport as well. I’m not sure what it is about humour that I like so much, but it certainly does lift my spirits and make me feel happy. Maybe that’s a good enough reason to like it.

The books in this genre I’d recommend are anything by Roald Dahl, Paul Jennings and Dav Pilkey. And lots of stuff by Anthony Horowitz as well!

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

I loved reading Asterix and a series called Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators. I loved that series so much that my friends and I formed our own little trio of investigators, complete with our own business card. Didn’t get any business unfortunately – which is probably why I’m an author now rather than a private eye.

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

Lovable characters
Interesting or funny problems to solve
A believable or hilarious world

The above authors do this well – but throw in Morris Gleitzman while I’m at it.

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

Read to them every night until they’re surprisingly old – like 12 or even up to 15 (if they’ll let you). Just make reading a daily, enjoyable habit.

Name three books you wish you’d written.

To Kill A Mocking Bird
The Big Honey Hunt

Michael Wagner is the author of 50 children’s books, including the funny, action-packed Maxx Rumble series, The Undys, Dog Wars, Destiny’s Right Hand, and the delightful new adventures of stuffed survivalist, Ted – Ted Goes Wild, Ted Gets Lost, Ted Hits Town. As well as writing books, Michael sings and composes songs for his band, The Grownups, and has previously worked in radio with the ABC, written and produced award-winning television, and written and performed comedy.

Review – The Pirates Next Door

I often become visually disabled when I see such stunning artwork in a picture book. I sort of go into a bit of a trance and just sit there, staring, unable to even dive into the text. Even before I start reading the book, I’m left wondering – “how do they DO that?”

Indeed, how the talented Jonny Duddle (great name) can possibly create such images is beyond me, but what’s not beyond me is the ability to enjoy them, even in my semi-permanent sense of wonder. From the priceless emotion plastered across faces to the humour, the sleeting raindrops, the hair, the colour, the light, the sheer beauty of the imagery . . . wowzers.

But onto the story, which is really why we’re here.

Starring the indefatigable Jolley-Rogers, the story is told in limerick rhythm (thankfully done really well) and follows the tale of bored little Tilda, who hopes against hope that into the house next door will move another little girl, just like her. Instead, who should move in but a pirate boy, complete with eye patch, a wooden legged dog, treasure chests and barrels full of grog!

It’s the Jolley-Rogers! They’ve been sailing the seven seas but after a wee bit of landsickness, they’re keen for a rest onshore.

Of course, Tilda’s parents aren’t keen for their daughter to get involved with a family of buccaneering layabouts, but Tilda is thrilled – life certainly won’t be boring any more. But it’s not only the little girl’s parents who are keen to give the Jolley-Rogers the old heave-ho. The entire neighbourhood have issues with a pirate ship eyesore and scurvy dog shenanigans in the street.

But before the neighbourhood can sharpen their pitchforks and drive out the Jolley-Rogers, the pirates up and leave, back to their seven seas, leaving a very large and very curious X on the back lawns of each and every resident.

Wait ‘til you see how quickly the neighcours change their tune!

Featuring a mix-up of full page imagery with cartoon-style strips and speech bubbles, this is a beautifully-produced book with stunning imagery, layout and design – and most happily, has a clever, funny and totally entertaining storyline to boot.

I’m loving the so-totally-adult-oriented details in this book – the town sign on the endpapers – ‘Dull-on-Sea’ twinned with Ennui-sur-Mer’, for example, and the gorgeous ending which leaves me wanting more more more. Utterly delightful, in that landlubbing kind of way.


The Pirates Next Door is published by Koala Books.

I often become visually disabled when I see such stunning artwork in a picture book. I sort of go into a bit of a trance and just sit there, staring, unable to even dive into the text. Even before I start reading the book, I’m left wondering – “how do they DO that?” 

Indeed, how the talented Jonny Duddle (great name) can possibly create such images is beyond me, but what’s not beyond me is the ability to enjoy them, even in my semi-permanent sense of wonder. From the priceless emotion plastered across faces to the humour, the sleeting raindrops, the hair, the colour, the light, the sheer beauty of the imagery . . . wowzers.

But onto the story, which is really why we’re here.

Starring the indefatigable Jolley-Rogers, the story is told in limerick rhythm (thankfully done really well) and follows the tale of bored little Tilda, who hopes against hope that into the house next door will move another little girl, just like her. Instead, who should move in but a pirate boy, complete with eye patch, a wooden legged dog, treasure chests and barrels full of grog!

It’s the Jolley-Rogers! They’ve been sailing the seven seas but after a wee bit of landsickness, they’re keen for a rest onshore.

Of course, Tilda’s parents aren’t keen for their daughter to get involved with a family of buccaneering layabouts, but Tilda is thrilled – life certainly won’t be boring any more. But it’s not only the little girl’s parents who are keen to give the Jolley-Rogers the old heave-ho. The entire neighbourhood have issues with a pirate ship eyesore and scurvy dog shenanigans in the street.

But before the neighbourhood can sharpen their pitchforks and drive out the Jolley-Rogers, the pirates up and leave, back to their seven seas, leaving a very large and very curious X on the back lawns of each and every resident.

Wait ‘til you see how quickly the neighcours change their tune!

Featuring a mix-up of full page imagery with cartoon-style strips and speech bubbles, this is a beautifully-produced book with stunning imagery, layout and design – and most happily, has a clever, funny and totally entertaining storyline to boot.

I’m loving the so-totally-adult-oriented details in this book – the town sign on the endpapers – ‘Dull-on-Sea’ twinned with Ennui-sur-Mer’, for example – and the gorgeous ending which leaves me wanting more more more.

Utterly delightful – in that landlubbing kind of way.

Review: The Greatest Liar on Earth

From tramp to world explorer extraordinaire, with adventurous tales to boggle the mind and cause the eyes to pop wide like saucers? Is it possible? Who was this man? Swiss-born footman, butler and jack-of-all-trades Henri Louis Grin – or world traveller Louis de Rougemont? Or both?

When an impoverished Henri began studying the diaries and tales of some of the world’s greatest explorers and travellers at the British Museum, an entire world formed in his imagination. Soon after, he began writing illustrated tales – The Adventures of Louis de Rougemont – for Wide World magazine, and soon became a sensation, attracting the attention of both the enraptured and the sceptical.

Claiming to have lived with Aborigines in the outback for 30 years, to have travelled to New Guinea in search of pearls and gold, to have seen monsters arise from the deepest oceans, flying wombats and fish falling from the sky, this formidable man even claimed to have the knack for riding sea turtles and wrestling crocodiles.

But was it all an elaborate hoax – or did he indeed pay witness to these stunning events?

Author Mark Greenwood explores the life of Henri Louis Grin with a gentle humour but moreover an innate sense of curiosity – a bit like the man himself. At the end of the book, he poses questions to the reader, allowing them to form their own opinion on truth v reality. I really enjoyed Greenwood’s use of sophisticated language and evocative wording, that not only help illustrate the complexity of Grin’s world, but stretch the reader.

Frané Lessac’s gorgeous, folksy illustrations similarly open Grin’s world to the reader and take them on a fantastical ride where the border between fact and fiction begin to blur. This combination of word and illustration by an award winning husband and wife team makes for a book that draws you in as effectively as the highfalutin tales of this masterful Swiss storyteller, who both delighted and appalled a rapt world audience.

“Truth is stranger than fiction but De Rougemont is stranger than both.” – The Wide World Magazine, June 1899

A curious, enriching and entertaining picture book for older readers.

The Greatest Liar on Earth is published by Walker Books Australia.

Truth is stranger than fiction
But De Rougemont is stranger than both

The Wide World Magazine, June 1899, No. 14

Interview – CBCA Shortlisted Author Michael Gerard Bauer

KBC is delighted to welcome the talented Michael Gerard Bauer with this insightful interview into the life of a very interesting (and funny!) author. I hope you enjoy his story as much as I have.

Hello, MGB. What’s your story?

I was born, grew up and went to school in Ashgrove Brisbane Queensland (the setting of The Running Man). I also had my very first teaching appointment at a school in Ashgrove. Teaching was my career before writing, but as a struggling Uni student I did a variety of things to earn money such as mowing lawns and working in a pineapple cannery. I was also a car park attendant, a letter box stuffer and a very nervous target operator at a rifle range (just one mistake and you pay for it the rest of your life!).

I’m married to Adriana (who considers herself the luckiest woman in the world and yet has stated openly she would drop me in a flash for Hugh Jackman) and we have two grown up children Meg and Joe. I now live in Enoggera, the suburb that borders on Ashgrove. Yes, I’ve come a long way.

Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?

Not really.  I would have written some stories for school in English classes but I don’t ever remember writing stories just for me while I was at school. I started writing more after I left and went to Uni. The first things I wrote were poems, songs and comedy sketches.

I would have written my first short story when I was teaching. I was always going to write and send off short stories to see if I could get them published in magazines. I never did. There was one short story I was going to write based on a poem I’d written around a childhood memory of me looking for silkworms in our backyard mulberry tree. I never did write that one, but eventually it grew into a much larger story in my head and became The Running Man

What inspired you to write for young readers?

Being a high school English teacher and developing a love of YA novels had a lot to do with it. But I’d like to think that what I write isn’t just for young readers. I actually don’t often find myself thinking consciously of writing for a particular audience or year level. When I wrote The Running Man and the Ishmael series and even Just a Dog I was writing basically for myself. I wrote the stories that made me laugh or cry – the ones that were important to me. Those stories all happened to have young people as their focus and I think that’s because adolescence is a time of such raw and heightened feelings and emotions, and that makes for powerful and engaging stories.

How did you get your first book published? Come on, spill!

I resigned from my full-time teaching job halfway through 2000 to have a go at writing the story that had been in my head for more than a year. When I resigned I hadn’t written a single word of it. Over the next two and half years, in between a various short teaching contracts, I eventually finished a manuscript in 2003. It was called In Dream Too Deep.

I researched publishers (important to do) using the Australian Writer’s Marketplace (a very useful publication) and made a list of the top ten companies that I thought would be most likely to be interested in my story if it was any good.

My plan was to send the manuscript out in multiple submissions and when I got rejected ten times I would return to teaching being able to say that at least I gave it a reasonable shot. (Over-confidence is not one of my strong points.) The first reply I received was a phone call from Dyan Blacklock at Omnibus Books/Scholastic Australia with an offer to publish. Still the best phone-call of my life. Dyan told me she loved the ms but said if she published it she would like to change the title to The Running Man. (That was the title I always wanted but I thought I couldn’t use it, because some up-start writer called Stephen King had already written a story called that!)

Ishmael and the Hoops of Steel has recently been shortlisted for the CBCA Book of the Year Award 2012 (Older Readers category). How did it feel to receive this news?

Bitterly disappointing! I just assumed the CBCA would scrap the whole short-list business this year and immediately anoint Hoops of Steel as the obvious undisputed winner!

Ok, seriously?

It was a huge thrill and an honour. You always hope for miracles, but I really didn’t expect it. I’m extremely proud of how Ishmael and the Hoops of Steel turned out, and I’m so glad I had the opportunity to finish the series in the style I thought it deserved. But as a third book in a trilogy and also a comedy, I didn’t give it much hope. Making the Notables list was great, so I’m over the moon to go that step further and so thankful to the CBCA and the judges for including my book on what is an outstanding shortlist.

What are the greatest blocks or obstacles you have experienced on your writing journey?

I actually feel my writing journey has been blessed so far. The biggest obstacle I faced, especially at the beginning, was my lack of confidence and self belief.  But I don’t think I’m alone with that one.

[Ed: You’re not alone with that one.]

Describe a typical writing day.

I wish it were a more ‘typical’ day, but a ‘good’ writing day for me would start with getting up at about 6 am and going for an hour’s walk. This is a great way to sort things out in your mind and to come up with ideas and inspiration.

After a shower and breakfast I would write pretty much through to lunch. Then after lunch I’d go till around 4 or 5pm. I don’t often write at night. I do everything on the computer even though I’m pathetically slow on the keyboard. Thankfully I type at just the right speed for my brain. (Make of that what you will!)

I’m also not a ‘fast’ writer. I tend to change and edit a lot as a go along. I like my first draft to be as strong and as close to the final product as I can get it. If I managed to get down 2000 words in a day I’d be so proud of myself I’d probably take the rest of the week off! Perhaps I could be a ­touch more disciplined in my approach to my writing . . .

If you couldn’t be a writer, what would you be?

Realistically I’d be a teacher but in my dreams I’d be a singer-songwriter in the style of Bob Dylan or Jackson Brown or Tom Waits. In Ishmael and the Return of the Dugongs, I made Ishmael’s dad the singer-song writer of the band The Dugongs, so I could write lyrics for their songs and include them in the story. I had fun pretending to be a songwriter. Then a couple of years ago I got to play and sing those songs at the White Ravens Children’s Literature Festival in Munich along with the band that performed them on the German Audio version of the book. My dream of being a singer-songwriter finally came true – for one night only!

Which book did you wish you’d written?

Here’s a few I’d kill to have my name on: The Messenger or The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. The Chaos Walking Triolgy by Patrick Ness. Catch 22 by Joseph Heller.  The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. There are plenty of others.

Describe yourself in five words:

Indecisive, no wait, more like …

Which children’s book character are you most like and why?

Ishmael Lesuer from the Ishmael trilogy. Mainly because I based him quite a bit of me, particularly when I was young. I think I shared his humour and his ability to make weird and loyal friends, and also his lack of self-belief and his dread of speaking in public. Plus I’d like to think we both had our hearts in the right place. And definitely like Ishmael, my special subject at school was ‘unrequited love’. The really tragic thing is that by the end of Year 12, Ishmael ends up having more success with his ‘Kelly Faulkner’ than I ever had with mine!

What one piece of advice do you have on writing for kids?

Try not to grow up too much, and then write for that kid inside you.

What’s next for MGB?

Some time this year I hope to start work on a serious YA novel; something in the mould of The Running Man. However at the moment I doing the final edits on a funny (he says optimistically!) 20,000 word story for younger readers. It’s about the trials and tribulations of a boy in Grade 5. All things going well, it will be the first of a three or four book series. But what I’m most excited about with this project, is that my totally awesome and brilliant son Joe, will be the illustrator! (Proud Dad alert!)

Thanks to the gorgeous Tania and Kids Book Capers for letting me ramble on!

Learn more about Michael and his amazing books at [email protected] or visit him on Facebook: Michael Gerard Bauer. You can also access teacher’s notes for Ishmael and the Hoops of Steel right here, and to see what all the fuss is about (and read a sensational story, to boot!) check out Ishmael and the Hoops of Steel.


Review – Demolition

Grab your safety gear, it’s time to get moving! There’s some demolition going on and a parade of banging, clacking and roaring machines are making the job a whole lot easier.

Whack! goes the wrecking ball and down comes the building. Crunch! goes the mobile crusher turning slabs of stone into gravel for new concrete. Scrunch! goes the wood chipper, shredding wood into sawdust and mulch. It’s a riot of noise and action as a cruddy old building site is transformed into a serene park for kids to play in.

Children with a love of machinery will absolutely adore this book, onomatopoeia hollering from its action-packed pages.

Brian Lovelock’s vibrant illustrations are a riot of movement and the exhilarating text, with staccato sentences and beautifully kid-oriented wordage (“Dinosaurs had teeth like this!”) is pure delight for the younger set. I can imagine many a repeat read of this thoroughly entertaining book.

Machine Facts on the final page will fulfill those wanting a little more information on each machine, with their correct names and a short explanation and diagram.

Perfect for 3 – 8 year olds. And maybe even for middle-aged women, too.

Demolition is published by Walker Book Australia.

Easter Book Special!

Easter has snuck up on us once again – and surprised me like that first glimpse of eggy tinsel in the grass. I love this time of year, when the weather is beginning to cool, hot cross buns are fragrant from the oven, and families and friends come together to celebrate a very special time on the calendar. I, for one, am so happy to see a four-day stretch of rest ahead, and of course, when I’m happy, I think of books.

In the spirit of Easter, I share with you some of my very favourite Easter titles. Some are old, some are new, but all are festive to this choc-dipped season celebrating the miracle of life and rebirth. I hope you find a new treasure or revisit an old one.

Happy Easter, everyone!

The Great Big Aussie Easter Egg Hunt
Its Easter time in Australia, mate And were searching high and low. Its the great big Aussie Easter egg hunt… Get ready, get set, and GO! Journey with lots of Aussie animals through iconic Australian landmarks and landscapes in this fun tale about a great big Aussie Easter egg hunt. Can you spot the bilby as it hides the Easter eggs? (Scholastic)

The Biggest Easter Basket Ever
As Mouseville prepares for a gala Easter celebration on the village green, complete with a biggest Easter Basket contest, two lovable mice learn a lesson in cooperation – and fun! Town mouse Clayton and country mouse Desmond continue to teach the benefits of collaboration and friendship in this sweet story centred around a joyful holiday. This edition features a foil cover and stickers, so you can join in the fun! (Scholastic)

My Little Easter Egg
A small child in a bunny suit hides Easter eggs for her fuzzy friends, the duck, lamb, and bumblebee. On the final spread the child shares an Easter treat with a chick-a-dee. With festive die-cut pages, fabric-collage artwork, and an adorable felt finger puppet, My Little Easter Basket is a perfect Easter gift, and great for holiday reading and playtime fun! (Chronicle Books)

The Easter Egg
Hoppi, the lovable bunny hero, and her remarkable Easter Rabbit will enchant readers as they pore over illustrations of dazzling eggs made by Flora Bunny, Aunt Sassyfrass and other adorable characters. If Hoppi can make the best Easter egg, he will get to help the Easter Rabbit deliver the eggs on Easter morning. But it’s not an easy task. Discouraged, he goes into the woods to think. There, he finds a blue robin’s egg which has fallen out of its nest. Hoppi feels sorry for the egg and keeps it safe and warm until the egg hatches – but she’s in for a surprise. (Putnam Publishing Group)

The Great Easter Egg Scramble
Oh dear, the Easter Bunny’s in a bit of a muddle. He’s been so busy preparing for his party that he’s forgotten to deliver eggs to all of his friends! So off he scrambles at top speed. But when Mrs Duck hatches a baby croc and the Turtles become parents to a penguin chick, the Easter Bunny’s mix-up soon becomes clear. Will he be able to sort out the muddle? And let’s hope it doesn’t spoil the party! A fabulously funny rhyming text with adorable illustrations. (Macmillan Children’s Books)

If I Were the Easter Bunny
Hop into Easter with this sweet, seasonal picture book! A little rabbit dreams of being the Easter Bunny; hiding lots and lots of Easter eggs all over the meadow, having tea parties, making Easter bonnets and leading the way in the Easter Parade. It’s certainly a busy job, but full of chocolate fun! (HarperCollins)

Spot’s First Easter
It’s Easter! There’s lots of fun (and chocolate!) to be had for Spot and all his friends in this charming outing for a classic character. (Puffin)

The Smallest Bilby and the Easter Games
When the rabbits decide to stop delivering Easter eggs, all the bush animals want to be the new Easter Bunny. After all, Easter wouldn’t be the same without eggs! But how can the rabbits choose the best animal for the job? The lop-eared rabbit has an idea – and that’s when the Easter games begin. (Working Title Press)

The Berenstain Bears and the Real Easter Eggs
Discover the wonder of spring with The Berenstain Bears! With visions of chocolate bunnies and jellybeans dancing in her head, it’s no wonder why Sister can’t wait for Easter and the Giant Beartown Easter Egg Hunt. Mama Bear worries though. Is the true meaning of Easter getting lost in the hunt? Or will the miracle of spring help Sister Bear find a whole new appreciation for the season? (Random House)

Fair Dinkum Aussie Easter
There are so many truly Aussie Easter activities, from going on holiday with the family to giving and receiving Easter eggs to hot cross buns and Easter hat parades! This book is a celebration of the Australian Easter experience with songs for all the family to enjoy. Colin Buchanan’s often humorous lyrics are sung to original compositions as well as to such favourite tunes as ‘Click Go the Shears’, ‘Little Peter Rabbit’ and ‘Advance Australia Fair’. (Scholastic)

My First Story of Easter
My First Story of Easter helps young children understand the true meaning of the Easter season. The carefully written story is brought to life by the endearing illustrations of artist Roger Langton. (Candle Books)

Bunny’s Easter Egg
Bunny has spent a long night hiding Easter eggs, and now it’s time to get some rest. But when she burrows down to sleep, something disturbs her, and everywhere else she tries to nap just isn’t right. She tries the old oak tree–“too noisy!” She tries a little boat on the lily pond–“too wet!” She tries the greenhouse–“oh no!” “Where will Bunny go?” Anne Mortimer’s charming story is just right for Easter-time sharing. (Katherine Tegen Books)

The Biggest Easter Egg
Emily Elizabeth and Clifford love decorating Easter eggs. But are there any eggs big enough for Clifford to color? An ostrich has the answer! (Scholastic)

Easter in the Garden
Pamela Kennedy deftly weaves a touching retelling of the first Easter as seen through a child’s eyes. Micah experiences first-hand both the loss of Jesus when he is crucified and the joy of his Resurrection. ‘The man told the women that Jesus was not dead! He was alive! …Micah was so excited he almost fell out of the tree!’ Alive with rich illustrations, this original retelling is sure to captivate children of all ages. (Ideals Publishing Corporation)

I Love Easter
Meet Ollie, a gorgeous, lively zebra, Fred the dog and all of Ollie’s friends. In I Love Easter, join Ollie and Fred as they visit the Easter fair, make hats for the Easter parade, and have fun on the egg hunt. (Scholastic)

The Easter Party
It is a windy day, so Rocky Rabbit and Chubby Chick are out flying their kite. When it gets taken by the wind, everyone else is too busy to help them find it. The two friends spy their brightly-coloured kite tapping at a strange door in a tree trunk. A sleepy-eyed bunny comes to answer the tapping and takes the two chums back home in time to enjoy a special Easter surprise. (Frances Lincoln Childrens Books)

Easter ABCs
This Easter book helps children learn the wonderful things that took place on Easter and how to respond to them. (Concordia Publishing House)

The Legend of the Easter Egg
While preparing for Easter in his small prairie town, Thomas hears the story of the resurrection of Jesus and discovers the meaning of new life through the symbolism of the Easter egg. Includes an information page about the traditions and symbols of Lent and Easter. (Zondervan)

The Story of Easter
An informative look at the most holy of Christian holidays. After reading about the events of Jesus’ death and resurrection, children learn how Easter got its name and about the practices and traditions that arc a part of the holiday in different parts of the world. (Little Golden Books)

Easter Day Alphabet
“No need to bring a basket. No need to walk or run. Here is another Easter-egg hunt that will be just as fun.” A bunny artist has hidden a golden egg on every beautifully illustrated page of the Easter Day Alphabet. Through ham to hunts, knock eggs to nests and zigzags to bonnets, can you find all of the eggs from A to Z? Easter Day Alphabet is a simple way for children to learn more about the origins of popular holiday happenings while mastering their ABCs. Did you know that people believed playing games with eggs would help their plants grow? That white Easter lilies were brought to America from Bermuda more than 100 years ago? (Pelican Publishing)

My Little Easter Story
Bright illustrations help the story along, telling little children about all the events of the first Easter: Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem and Palm Sunday; Jesus’ clearing of the Temple; the Last Supper and Judas’ betrayal; Jesus’ Crucifixion and Resurrection; the appearance of the risen Jesus to the women at the tomb; and the spreading of the good news throughout the world. (Lion Hudson)

Learn about Easter eggs and try out a delicious recipe for an edible bird’s nest. Kids discover the meaning of and pastimes associated with Easter. This title teaches children about traditions passed down through the ages and explores how Easter is celebrated today. (Child’s World)


Review – Where is Fred?

Fred may be a snowy white fuzzball of a caterpillar but he’s also a master of disguise. When Gerald the Crow gets a little peckish, he’s forced to resort to a series of giggle-inducing, highly camouflaged antics, to save his fuzzy hide.

First it’s the necklace of a stylish passerby. Then it’s the busy white eyebrows of a man on a park bench. Then it’s the princess-like headband of a tea-party hosting girl. And what about the moustachey fuzz on the upper lip of the man selling helium balloons?

Fred certainly knows how to keep Gerald guessing, and what’s even more priceless than his super-creative hiding places, is the look on Gerald’s face as he peers intently at Fred-in-disguise, musing to himself about how extremely familiar these moustaches and necklaces and eyebrows appear.

I’m absolutely loving Ali Pye’s eye-boggling illustrations in Where is Fred? They remarkably skirt the divide between pastel and bright, and her placement of images, including occasional cartoon-strip style layouts, make this book a visual feast.

Creative typography beautifully highlights a somewhat higher-than-average amount of text, that nonetheless flows beautifully and is pocked with enormously entertaining dry wit and lolloping dialogue that’s an absolute pleasure to read.

Great fun for both kids and adults.

Where is Fred? is published by Hardie Grant Egmont.

Review – Hugless Douglas and the Big Sleep

Douglas is packing for a sleepover at Rabbit’s. He’s a bit beside himself at the prospect, and on the way to Rabbit’s warren, he gets a wee bit lost. Climbing a sapling to see where he’s going, the twig-like tree breaks under Douglas’s weight and he ends up almost squishing Little Sheep (and friends).

Feeling very sorry about that, Douglas invites Little Sheep along for the sleepover, certain it will be okay – “. . . there’s plenty of room at Rabbit’s.” Perhaps not so much room, however, when a stack of sweet little sheep inadvertently attach themselves to Douglas’s backpack, and come along for the ride.

Seeing Rabbit attempt to graciously host a mighty bleat of sheep in his modest warren for the night, is comedy magic – something Melling does so very well. With a bit of shoving, cramming and cross-section imagery to see what’s going on inside Rabbit’s warren, kids will delight in the critters’ hilarious attempt at brushing teeth, snaffling some blanket and prepping for Rabbit’s bedtime story.

But wait – Rabbit can’t fit! How on earth can he read everyone their goodnight tale?

One whopping great sneeze and some cork-popping sheep quickly necessitates a change of venue, and the large group of sleepyheads finally get some shuteye.

This is my favourite yet of the Douglas picture books. Melling’s stunning illustrations have yet again nailed the comedy and detail he is renowned for. With each little sheep (loving the one with the striped bloomers and glasses!) hosting a priceless facial expression, it’s pure pleasure meandering the pages to delight in the scene. And our big Hugless Douglas is as charming as ever.

A winner for the younger set.

Hugless Douglas and the Big Sleep is published by Hodder Children’s Books.

Review – What’s the Matter, Aunty May?

Our wee little man is a helpful lad. He loves to help his Aunty May clean her stunning house, teetering with priceless antiques and tidyness, by sweeping, polishing and washing up – antique cups and vases, naturellement. But alas, it seems our little one is a tad clumsy, a smidge over-eager, teensy bit of a klutz.

Whilst Aunty May plucks at a harp in le salon, our lad sets about poking holes in screen doors with long-handled brooms, soaking the cat in red ink, sucking the budgie into the vacuum cleaner and causing a book avalanche. Poor Aunty May’s world is turned upside down and by the end of the book, she – and her house – a right schemozzle.

Can a little bit of help actually be a hindrance?

Author Peter Friend has penned a hilarious tale, in rhyming text, that will make kids shiny-eyed with amusement. Illustrations by Andrew Joyner take this already rollicking story to even greater heights with his truly divine, retro-inspired illustrations that a pure eye-candy.

The looks on Aunty May’s face, the nonchalance on the face of a little boy who really means well, the scrumptious detail like the shattered-and-glued plates on the rack in the kitchen that imply rather consistent well-meant aide – this is a book resplendent with cartoonish hilarity, whilst still packing scrumptious literary punch.

With somewhat Seussy undertones, in terms of the rhyming text and outrageous happenings – floods, avalanches, Aunty May caught in the ceiling fan – What’s the Matter Aunty May? is a must for picture book lovers – and is a truly beautiful all-rounder of a production. . . something we’ve come to expect from Little Hare.

What’s the Matter, Aunty May? is published by Little Hare.

Interview – Dr Virginia Lowe of Create a Kids’ Book

Who are you? Virginia Lowe – I do have a PhD, so I can call myself ‘Doctor’ – but I usually don’t. I am author of Stories, Pictures and Reality: Two Children Tell, about two children’s responses to books from birth, and of chapters in academic books on poetry, early literacy and Beatrix Potter. I have been involved with the Children’s Book Council of Australia (Victorian Branch) for over forty years. Wife of John for 42 years, mother of two, grandmother of one adolescent.

What do you do? I have been proprietor of Create a Kids’ Book for about fifteen years.

How did Create a Kids’ Book come to be? After finishing Year 12, I became a librarian, and during the course studied children’s literature. I found that I loved it, and got a job as the first Children’s Librarian at the brand new Moonee Valley Regional Library – selecting the whole children’s collection of about forty thousand books.

Despite not having been to university, I lectured in English and Children’s Literature at ACU for four years, and at 38, I began university. It wasn’t easy with a job, husband John doing his Masters, kids Ralph in primary and Rebecca in secondary, but I pressed on, with John’s full support again.

I did Honours, then a Master’s on English women poets in anthologies, then later again began my PhD. Lecturing in children’s literature, I often had students asking for advice on stories they had written. One student had a sister who was an artist illustrating her picture book, so I worked with her, too. She and I decided we could teach others the skills in a workshop situation, so Create a Kids’ Book was born. Jackie Young worked with me for about eight years, then went off to concentrate on her art work.

Jo Thompson took over the illustrator side of the workshops, and other assessors joined up to help with the manuscript assessment and e-course side of the business. They are all wonderful people – Jennifer Dabbs, Beck Lowe, Eileen Nelson, June Colbert and Marlo Garnsworthy (now living in America). We assess writing and illustrations for children from toddlers to YA novels. About forty books have been published through commercial publishers, and many self-published. They are listed on the successes page on our website.

What inspired Create a Kids’ Book? The fact that I was well known in the children’s book world, and had already helped many people write their stories. It seemed like the ideal job – and useful as well.

What does the site provide readers? There are writing tips, especially on how to write a picture book. So many people think this must be easy because there are so few words, but in fact it is as difficult as writing poetry – every word must be exactly right. And you have to know about the 32 page rule, and the way the illustrations can tell the story, replacing many words.  There is also information on the workshops, e-courses, mentoring and manuscript assessment. Also there is information about my parent-observer records and my other publications.

What have you yourself written? My book Stories, Pictures and Reality: Two Children Tell and about thirty academic articles. Also three chapters in academic books. An unpublished picture book, Yabby, is now doing good service on my website.

You are a published poet. Is this your favourite genre to write in? Yes I think so. It is certainly more fun than the academic writing, but I don’t do it as often as I might. John is the real poet in the household. I also have half a children’s novel, but it has been sitting there for eight years – who knows when I will find time to get back to it?

What makes a great picture book? The text needs to be original, and have that something extra that will make the editor take notice of it. This is where the professional assessment helps. As well as copy editing (and your spelling and grammar must be correct) we are also able to make suggestions about extra aspects that would make it more attractive to the publishers. We may not even want authors to change the words, but rather make a suggestion about the illustrations which might mean that it also teaches children about perspective, for instance.

What is your greatest writerly dream? I would like the parent-observer diaries to be used more extensively. I would like to be asked to submit chapters to many academic books, where they would be relevant. There is so much work in them, and no one can use them apart from me. My goal is to have young children less likely to be underestimated. So even though the academic writing is harder work and less fun than fiction or poetry, I guess that is what I will continue to do.


If you weren’t involved in literature, what would you be doing? Had I been able to go to university straight from school, I would have studied science. I am still very interested in science. Like Margaret Mahy, I read New Scientist regularly. But I guess my preferred reading is what is called ‘literary fiction’. I’ve belonged to the same book group for thirty-seven years, and in the last three years have joined another, reading and discussing children’s books. I’d probably be retired, actually, with all the time to read all the books I’d like.

How has the children’s book scene changed in the last 10 years and where is it headed? It’s harder to get commercially published, it’s easier to self-publish and e-books are having an impact – but I can’t predict where that will go, particularly for picture books. The interactive ones trouble me, because I’m not sure that young children will have enough concentration to understand the narrative when they’re busy pushing things to make things happen.

Name five children’s books you adore.

Moominsummer Madness (Tove Jansson)

For All Creatures (Glenda Millard/Rebecca Cool)

The Rabbits (John Marsden/Shaun Tan)

Where the Wild Things Are (Maurice Sendak)

The Just So Stories (Rudyard Kipling)

Tell us your perfect day. A stiff breeze, cloudy or sunny (I could do without rain). Some good research/writing or manuscript assessment done, and a poem written too, then a walk on the beach.

Which children’s book character is most like you and why? Well I’d like to be like Moominmamma – accepting, unflappable, optimistic and thoroughly supportive to her whole family adopted or otherwise. But I’m afraid I’m more like the Hemulin – collecting, classifying, studying, vague and a bit self-centred.

What’s next for Virginia Lowe and Create a Kids’ Book? The business will keep going as long as there is a demand for it, though I may be less involved – still keeping an overview though, and writing recommendatory letters to go to the publishers with stories I think particularly good.  Lots of academic writing, lots of reading, writing poetry and maybe get back to that children’s novel.

See Virginia’s work at


Review – Show Day

Author Penny Matthews takes us to the country in this lovely picture book on the iconic Australian Agricultural Show. Country or city kid alike, who doesn’t love Show Day?

Lil wakes to a special day. It’s Show Day. She goes to check on Best Heifer – Princess Marigold (Goldie to the family) – then it’s into the kitchen to catch up with Dad who’s up to his elbows in his best orange marmalade yet. He’s in the wood-chopping contest today, too – and he’ll also lead Goldie into the ring.

Mum is going for the Biggest Pumpkin award. She’s also entering three kinds of jam and a plate of scones and a birthday cake. Albert the rooster has been entered in the poultry section and brother Henry is hoping Bart the guinea pig will trump Best Pet. Lil wants to submit a secret entry into Most Unusual Pet, too.

As the family enters the Show, we’re treated to iconic Show Day sites and sights, thanks to gorgeous, watercoloury illustrations by Andrew McLean. The smell of fresh popcorn, the side-stepping of puddles and animal poop, the echo of the wood chopping – it’s all here.

Mum’s birthday cake wins first prize. But she doesn’t go so well in the enormous pumpkin race. Dad wins second place for his marmalade, though all he gets for the woodchopping is a clap for being a good sport. But which spectacular pet will Lil enter into the Most Unusual Pet?

Kids will wholeheartedly enjoy this lovely slice-of-life day at the Show.

Show Day is published by Scholastic.

National Year of Reading – Publisher Profile – Hardie Grant Egmont

KBC warmly welcomes publicist Jennifer Kean with this insight into the world of Hardie Grant Egmont. We hope you enjoy this peek into the world of the people who make the books.

What kind of books do you publish? At Hardie Grant Egmont (HGE) we publish a variety books – beautiful picture books, popular series to engage reluctant readers, fabulous middle-grade and YA fiction – all aimed at capturing the readers imagination.

We publish best-selling and recognised series that include Zac Power, Go Girl and Billie B. Brown. And our YA list is just as strong, with The Phoenix Files series by Chris Morphew and the Gone series by Michael Grant, continuing to grow their fan base of students and teachers alike with each subsequent release.

Through our Little Hare imprint, we also publish a mix of literary and award-winning picture books by some of Australia’s most respected and loved talents. As well as this, we market, sell and distribute the iconic Egmont UK list which features best-loved authors such as Enid Blyton, A.A. Milne and Michael Morpurgo as well as well-known brands like Thomas & Friends, Miffy and Bob the Builder.

What do you love most about your work? I love that there is variety in my role, particularly because of the way our company is structured. I am working across a variety of titles that are both local and UK originated releases, so the publicity requirements for these books and their authors and illustrators differ greatly. I get to work with a variety of media – newspapers, magazines, teacher and librarian journals, industry publications, as well as TV/radio and bloggers – to get review coverage, media coverage and interviews.

I have also been fortunate to make contacts at many bookstores, schools and libraries as well as a number of writing festival committees and publishing industry groups to organise book launches, book signing events and author/illustrator appearances.

I also love the accompanying authors on tour or to instore events where I also get to meet our audience first hand. It’s so great to see the fans reaction (regardless of their age) when they get to meet their favourite author in person. I can relate because I still get that same buzz when I meet a favourite author even as an adult.

What is the hardest thing about promoting books? I guess one of the most frustrating things, especially when promoting children’s picture books, is that they can often be hard to secure review coverage for. Newspapers, for example, don’t always have a designated children’s review section or if they do it is tiny, so terrific avenues such as Kids Book Capers are a godsend.

2012 is The National Year of Reading. Why do you think reading is important for both children and adults? Introducing children to reading at a young age is only going to help them when they are adults. There are practical reasons why reading is important. For example, learning to read as a child will help with tasks such as reading a footy fixture or computer game instructions. Such practical uses also apply when you’re an adult, reading a recipe or flight and travel information. We don’t realise how much we do read every day, and not just books.

Then there is the fun side of reading actual stories. A child who reads develops imagination and I believe this a wonderful thing that stays with you into adulthood. Reading as an adult also provides a wonderful escapism from our busy world. And an adult parent reading to their child is something that both should be able to enjoy together.

Where do you see the children’s book market in five years’ time? Firstly, I think there will always be books, particularly for children. I don’t think they will ever be completely replaced, perhaps only enhanced with technology. I hope kids in five years will still want to collect and display books on their bookcases in their bedrooms, but that they will also be able to appreciate being able to take their entire bookcase with them on an iPad on long road trips.

What is your current submissions process for authors and illustrators? We have submission guidelines on our website

What were some of your favourite HGE book titles from 2011? It’s hard for me to go passed Cat Patrick’s debut YA novel, Forgotten. The whole office fell in love with this manuscript when we read it two years earlier, so when we won the Australian and New Zealand rights to publish it, we couldn’t wait! So, it was a long time coming, but the publicity for this book was fun to do and the book sold really well for us.

The July 2011 release of Bronwyn Bancroft’s Kangaroo and Crocodile was another highlight for me. The main reason being that so much work went into organising the launch with Her Excellency, The Governor General’s office that I was so pleased when it all went off without a hitch!

And of course, Billie B Brown was another big series for us in 2011 with each new release becoming my new favourite (I want her wardrobe!). So much so, I’ve heard whispers that Sally is naming a character Jennifer in one of her upcoming titles.

There are so many more titles to mention, Shift by Em Bailey and Look, a Book! by Libby Gleeson were probably the other two main stand outs for 2011 for me. Shift is Em’s first YA novel and it received great coverage and reviews. And it was such a pleasure to work with Libby Gleeson, Freya Blackwood and Maurice Saxby who officially launched Look, a Book! in the magnificent museum of Sydney University.

What titles do you have coming up that you’re really excited about? In April 2012 we’re releasing Cat Patrick’s next YA novel, Revived, so I’m looking forward to publicising this and making lots of YA bloggers really happy. She developing a growing fan base in Australia which is great to watch.

June release Of Poseidon by Anna Banks is creating internet buzz already – mermaids are the new vampires! Here’s hoping…

Then of course in July we’re releasing Silhouette, the debut YA novel from Thalia Kalkipsakis one of our favourite Go Girl authors. We’re all so proud of this book!

Later in the year there are some gorgeous picture books for KBC followers to enjoy – Tree by Danny Parker and illustrated by Matt Ottley and A Hare, a Hound and  Shy Mousey Brown illustrated by Jonathan Bentley is just adorable.

And  I couldn’t go past the world-wide October release of Lemony Snicket’s new series All the Wrong Questions – now that’s going to be like nothing I’ve ever experienced publicising before!

Learn more about Hardie Grant’s books at their website.

Review – Shy The Platypus

It’s so lovely to see a classic Australian story brought to life for a new generation of children – and even more lovely to see it done using the exquisite collection of images from the National Library image collection.

First published in 1944, this hard cover, dust-jacketed version with its aqua cover is beautifully-designed, with an introduction by Leslie Rees’ daughter Dymphna Rees Peterson. This introduction takes us back to a time where few ‘local’ books, particularly those featuring iconic local animals, were available to Australian children. Yes, there were badgers and squirrels and other British critters, but few books harnessing the character and charm of our native fauna.

After the success of his first book in 1943 – Digit Dick on the Great Barrier Reef (oh my goodness, I’m having a flashback!) – Rees wrote a new series of books entitled The Australian Nature Series. Essentially a series of bios on indigenous animals and birds, these books have become true Australian classics.

This posthumous re-issue (Rees died in 2000, at 95 years old) celebrates a warm and detailed story that beautifully encapsulates the precious biodiversity our country enjoys.

The first thing Shy remembers is the nest in which she was born. She remembers the darkness, the soft needle leaves of river oaks, and playing with her sibling, Spur. Then one day, her mother says she’s leaving the nest. “You stay here,” she says, before pushing her bill through the earth into a long black tunnel. And off she goes to find them some food.

Very soon, Shy and Spur are allowed out of the nest to take their first swim. The description of these babies leaving the burrow and entering the outside world for the first time is mesmerising. From the steepish earth banks to the flowing water, burnished with copper and pearly grey colours reflected from the sunset – the language Rees uses is not only evocative but delicious to read – and surprisingly ‘modern’ in tone.

As the book unfolds, we follow young Shy as she learns to dive, as the dangers of the river are revealed and as her mother becomes desperately ill. There’s other platypuses and rapids to navigate and even encounters with humans – will Shy escape the clutches of this most dangerous threat of all? Along the way, we also learn more about this most elusive animal and her natural surrounds – making this much more than just a storybook – but rather an enriching journey to another world.

This is an engagingly-written story, beautifully-laid out and designed with striking images from the National Library Collection. Naomi Zouwer’s truly gorgeous pencil illustrations head each chapter, and photographs and original typescripts make this book a precious addition to any Australian library.

Shy The Platypus is published by the National Library of Australia.

Review – Kick It To Me

Don’t you just love it when you learn something you didn’t know before? Don’t you love it even more when that something surprises and delights you?

The origins of Australian Rules Football are laid bare in this beautiful book by footy fanatic and author of Side-by-Side (the Collingwood FC story), Neridah McMullen.

Young Tom is feeling blue. The cricket season is over and there’s nothing to do. He drags his feet in the ochre dust, but suddenly he hears singing. It’s his friend Jirra from the Djab Wurrung camp who tries to cheer Tom up with a different kind of ball game. It’s called Marn-grook and . . . it’s truly awesome.

Tom joins in a large group of Indigenous kids who toss, kick, leap and climb each others’ backs in pursuit of that ball. The descriptions of the boys kicking and lobbing that ball in the sunshine are joyful and full of action, and Tom’s face as he gets into the full swing of the game is priceless. You can simply feel his breath being stolen away.

Vibrant, emotive illustrations by Peter Hudson beautifully showcase not only the land but the sunshine and effervescence in the boys’ faces.

A fascinating postscript gives some historical background on young Tom Wills, who once lived near and befriended children of the Djab Wurrung tribe, near the Gariwerd Grampians of Western Victoria. After spending a childhood on the land, Tom was sent to boarding school in Melbourne then onto England where he attended Rugby School and Cambridge.

After returning to Australia in 1856, Tom captained the Victorian colony in cricket, but it wasn’t until 1858 when he sent a letter to a Victorian newspaper explaining the importance of fitness that he suggested football club be formed. “We shall have a game of our own,” he declared – and so this letter changed the course of Australian sporting history.

Aussie Rules was born. Helping develop, champion, officiate and administrate AFL, Tom Wills was certainly a key player in the formation of this glorious Indigenous sport. A priceless story for anyone with a love of history – or anyone with a serious addiction to our great Aussie game.

Kick It To Me is published by One Day Hill.

Review – The Way Back Home

Hello. My name is Tania and I’m an Oliver Jeffers addict.

I’ve actually never laid eyes on The Way Back Home before, which is saying something because I have all book by Mr Jeffers. Somehow this one just kept escaping me. Maybe because every time I went to a shop to look for it, everyone else had bought it. And there’s a reason everyone else keeps buying books by Mr Jeffers.

They are glorious.

In The Way Back Home, we meet a little boy who finds a long-forgotten aeroplane in his closet. So he takes it for a straight-away whirl. As you do. The plane goes higher and higher and higher – until it sputters out of petrol and has to land on the moon.

In a parallel universe (actually, OUR universe), a wee Martian’s spaceship breaks down – and lands on the moon. That’s where the two youngsters meet.

Keen to return home and to help the Martian return home, the little boy jumps down from the moon into the ocean, swims to shore then scurries home for supplies. On the way back to the moon, the Martian drops him a rope and hauls him back up to fix the plane and spaceship. Then it’s time to say goodbye. Will they ever see each other again?

This is a sweetly simply story but it’s the divine, iconic illustrations and delicious subtleties that make Jeffers’ books stand out. His use of emotion and ‘real life kid’ propensity are just beautiful – and have enormous crossover appeal. A story about friendship, adventure and home – this book is wholeheartedly added to my joyful Jeffers collection.

The Way Back Home is published by HarperCollins.


Review – With Nan

I started reading With Nan, and it started out very well. Then suddenly, it made me grin so wide, my teeth hurt. Through the book, goosebumps popped up on my skin, I giggled out loud and then on the last page, I went “Awwwwwwwwwww…”

How many books have done that to you lately?

Simon goes walking with his Nan. And she shows him things. Things that aren’t always what they seem. A leaf … that ups and flies away. A rock … that hippety hops into the distance. A prickle bush … that burrows. This delightful walk unexpectedly uncovers all those camouflaged beauties found in nature that are really living, breathing creatures.

I love the quirky yet charmingly traditional illustrations in this book – segmented and splashed about the pages in a Bob-Graham-esque way. One of the most delicious visual surprises with these illustrations is the series of wordless pages showing Nan interacting with Simon, imitating the animal they had just seen in the world. Adorable.

This book smacks of retro, 70s books that I grew up with as a child, both in regard to the illustrations and typography, but the storyline is modern, succinct and utterly heartfelt – so much so, you really hope you’ll run into Simon and Nan at the local shops one day.

It’s love.

With Nan is published by Windy Hollow Books.


Review – These are my Hands/These are my Feet

One of my daughter’s very favourite books, when she was little, was a bi-covered book – where flipping the story over and reading half from one end and half from the other was part of the fun. Memories therefore came flooding back when Judy Horacek’s new book arrived – a hard cover picture book for littlies, that upends a couple of kids and takes us through the joys of those wiggly, squiggly hands and feet, that get into so much toddler mischief.

These are my Feet follows a wee poppet on her travels around the yard, the park, the beach, inside, outside and all sorts of adventurous places. We also learn she has shoes with faces and rainbow laces – oh the envy! So cute.

In These are my Hands, we meet a young tot who uses his hands to pick up things, gobble down cookies, hold hands, and of course – finger paint. We also learn he uses them to reach for things, and get buttons all mixed up on his pyjamas.

I actually use ‘he’ and ‘she’ lightly here – for both characters could indeed be either gender, which makes for greater child-relatability and is refreshingly anti-stereotypical. I particularly love how the ‘boy’ picks up both a doll and a truck.

Rhyming text gives the book a pleasing rhythm – and Horacek’s typically charming, brightly-coloured illustrations are prime visual real estate for little ones – busting with character and movement. I actually smiled whilst reading this book because it so beautifully typifies very young children, and books that do that are always a winner with the toddler set.

Complete with dustjacket and thick, sturdy pages, this would be a gorgeous gift book for kids, from one of Australia’s iconic author/illustrators.

These are my Hands/These are my Feet is published by the National Library of Australia.


Review – Pompeii: A Roman Girl’s Diary AD78-79

Claudia is the daughter of a well-to-do baker, in the great city of Pompeii, southern Italy. She is an everyday teen living in a world so far removed from our own, it was entrancing to follow her on this dusty, rumbling journey. Living in the shadow Mt Vesuvius, Claudia has felt unsettled for some time. The Gods are angry. There have been trembles. Cracks have been appearing in the mud walls of their house and dog Pollux has been acting strangely.

Nonetheless, life goes on behind the walls of Pompeii. Slaves are bought and sold, chariots rumble through the streets, gladiators fight to the death in the ring – all the usual things.

It’s when she spies a red-headed British slave called Aengus that things begin to change for Claudia. Entranced by the boy, she is horrified when, after performing a heroic public feat, he is sold into the Gladiator ring. Poor Aengus will now never be free, and will never be able to find his young sister, who has also been sold into slavery.

Intent on helping Aengus anyway she can, whilst simultaneously avoiding meddling, hoity family friend Aemilia, Claudia instead befriends Aemilia’s cousin Calpurnia, who soon learns of her passion for Aengus. With the shadow of the massive eruption of Mt Vesuvius over their heads, can Claudia follow both her gut feel and her heart – and steer her family, and new friends, away from Pompeii at just the right time?

Sue Reid has done a remarkable job of taking us back in time via the pages of this beautifully-penned diary. Her central character is endearing, very real and compassionate, and sub-characters are also well-fleshed and enjoyable. The fine detail of life at this time in Italian history is evocative and thoroughly entertaining – from the way paving is laid in the streets, to the food eaten and the vicious happenings in the gladiator ring, a trip into the past is guaranteed. Subplots and very real relationships and difficulties are threaded through the book, with all the while – that haunting undercurrent of imminent explosion bubbling just below the surface.

Although I enjoyed the entire book, I was particularly thrilled with the dramatic way Reid describes the explosion itself, and the way she handles her characters. Talk about page-turning. Relationships, survival and questions are left open-ended at the conclusion of the book, so although we may never know how things finished in the end for the book’s characters, a sense of completion is still afforded by the philosophical and heartwarming voice of this young teen, a voice Reid has done so well.

Pompeii: A Roman Girl’s Diary AD78-79 is published by Scholastic.

Review – The Grouchies/Sometimes I’m Scared

I’m always wary of books helping kids through their nightmares or foul moods. Tending to be on the preachy side, I honestly think the message just gets lost, and schmaltzy storylines and substandard illustrations usually go with them, hand-in-hand.

Not so here.

The Grouchies is a gorgeously-illustrated picture book, and was one of the reasons I first leaned towards reviewing it. Funky, retro images combine with warm humour and divine colours to form a really eye-pleasing book. And what of the text?

Today, the grouchies have got hold of our wee lad. They chase him down the hallway and tell him to be grumpy with everyone he meets. They hover over him, blocking out the sun and any chance of a fun thought. They grump him up during his sister’s tea party. They grump him in the playground and they even give him the grumps during construction of a puzzle.

You can imagine what happens to the puzzle.

At bedtime, our little one reflects on his rotten, grouchy day – and chats things over with his mum and dad, who tell him that everyone gets overrun by grumpy thoughts and that the key to squashing them is to think positive, happy thoughts, that shield the grouchies from attack. The next morning, he wakes refreshed and positive, surrounded by smiling suns – and no sign of those grouchy clouds.

this book gets to the point, yes, but it’s low on schmaltz. Rhyming text and notes to parents on negative feelings and the psychology behind them round out a pleasant storyline and super fab images.

In Sometimes I’m Scared, we meet a series of kids who admit to their fears – from Halloween costumes to spiders, storms, dogs barking, the dark, and of course . . . the terrifying circus clown. This is not a storybook per se, even though it’s presented in a picture book format. The voice of the book is aimed directly at kids, like a warm, fuzzy voice talking them through the varying possibilities of fear and then showing them how to circumnavigate those fears.

Told very simply and to the point, kids can read the book on their own, or be guided by an adult. The narrator offers varying ways to ‘rethink’ the reasons they are scared, and offers really insightful techniques on changing their mindset. Even breathing techniques are offered.

Sweet illustrations showcasing a wide range of kids in different situations round out a book that would be a priceless addition to the library of children suffering a modicum of anxiety at some time in their childhood (and isn’t that most kids?).

The Grouchies and Sometimes I’m Scared are published by Magination Press, in association with the American Psychological Association.

Review – A Bear and a Tree

It’s so nice to hold a new Stephen Michael King book in your hands. It always has that squeal-with-glee feel to it. The illustrations are so iconic, the language is always utterly heartfelt, and the characters that lovely combination of meltingly sweet, and strong.

Ren is outdoors, sitting under her favourite tree. She is a tad bereft because the tree has lost its leaves. Bear, who is collecting the leaves for his winter bed, finds Ren crying, offers her his brolly, then sits with her for as long as is needed.

Soon it begins to snow and Bear knows he shortly needs to hunker down for hibernation. But for now, he will spend a day with Ren. It will be their first ever winter’s day together – exploring, making patterns in the snow, creating bendy creations with tree branches and melting icicles into stunning creations.

Together, they play, dance, twirl and just . . . be. That is, until it’s time for Bear to go.

This is a story about friendship yes, but its seasonality brings with it a sense of both finality – and the promise of rebirth and new life. Ink and watercolour pages are awash with both the thick silence of snow, falling leaves and letting go – but similarly, they are awash with the tinkle of icicles and laughter, and the lovely dynamics between good friends.

Tender, sweet, simple and stunningly illustrated, this is yet another special book from an emotive and masterful talent.

A Bear and a Tree is published by Penguin.

Review – Sydney Harbour Bridge

The construction of the Sydney Harbour Bridge (or Lang’s Coathanger) in the late 1920s/early 1930s was not only a feat in engineering but an economic miracle, as Australia was in the grips of the Great Depression and New South Wales was firmly in the grip of governmental mismanagement. Headed by controversial premier Jack Lang, costs for the bridge spiraled out of control during a time when money was scarce and jobs were for begging.

Despite the exciting and heartening site of the bridge under construction, hundreds of families were tossed from their homes and rehoused in tented communities with little recompense, in order to make way for this monstrous harbour-straddling creation. Sixteen people died during the bridge’s construction, and workers had no safety equipment to protect themselves let alone appropriate clothing. Even the donkeymen who dangled from cables and risked their lives daily were relying on their own physical strength – and little more.

This remarkable account of the construction of the world’s widest single span arch was one of the most enriching historical experiences I’ve enjoyed in years. Told through the eyes of two tweens – Billy, son of a donkeyman living in The Rocks, right beneath the Bridge, and Alice, daughter of an engineer living in the ritzier northern suburbs – this book took me sailing back to 1930s Sydney – to a time of massive highs and lows for the local people, as they battled abject poverty, a fragile economy, and the thrilling, soaring creation of one of the world’s finest bridges – right over their impoverished heads.

Farrer has left no stone unturned in Sydney Harbour Bridge. Packed with statistics and facts about the construction process that are quite mind-boggling, especially for the time, Farrer has also managed to emotively describe the minute detail of daily life during the Great Depression, from the way hair is curled to way a parent reprimands a child – and the deft with which she combines fact with emotional tenderness is quite extraordinary.

Very quickly you are drawn into Billy’s difficult life – and very quickly you learn that, compared to other children like Billy’s friend Bluey, who was evicted and now lives a less than happy life in the tented commune at Happy Valley – things aren’t so bad. Sure, his mum needs to get creative with the meals and glue the shoes back together, but at least Billy’s dad has a job, even if it means dangling from a cable in the sky. There are a lot worse off.

It’s intriguing to witness this time in Australian history through the eyes of two children living very different socio-economic lives. Alice’s life is far better off, living in a fine house with a father earning a solid wage, yet she is as impassioned as the next child to help out and ‘do her bit’ for those in need, albeit through tennis tournaments and unwanted clothing drives. Hearing these two children opine on the politics of the time and what is ‘right and wrong’ as the bridge construction process unfolds, is also fascinating and enlightening. I particularly love it when Billy and Alice meet up at the end of the story – and hint at the possibility of greater equality amongst all Australians.

But the most remarkable thing was how Farrer managed to turn something potentially quite dull (steel stats and cranes) into a story of emotional beauty, drama and hope. This is a intensely researched and beautifully written book, with heartwarming and well-rounded characters. Farrer uses clear and very real voices for her children, complete with delicious and timely slang.

She isn’t afraid to tell it like it is – opening wide the horror of life at that time – yet also openly celebrating the thrill experienced by the people of Australia at this stunning engineering feat. A moment in time, beautifully-captured and revealed for all to enjoy. I’m loving learning the intimate details of our country’s extraordinary history through such superbly researched books, and yes, this book is planted firmly in historical fact – but it’s also, quite simply, great storytelling.

Sydney Harbour Bridge is published by Scholastic.


National Year of Reading Launch at the National Library of Australia

Today I had the privilege of attending the national launch of the National Year of Reading 2012, held at the National Library of Australia, Canberra.

The National Library was abuzz with superstars from the literary world – but the NLA wasn’t the only literary hot spot. All around the country, at libraries and halls and schools and centres, a mass celebration took place – and all for an amazing cause.

Our right royal bonanza was held in NLA’s theatre. First we heard from Anne-Marie Schwirtlic, Director-General of the NLA, then glorious book-loving host Jennifer Byrne, First Tuesday Book Club patron, introduced us to the likes of the hilarious William McInnes (author, actor and NYR12 Patron), ministers Simon Crean and Peter Garrett (OMG, Midnight Oil concert flashbacks) and – drum roll, please – PM Julia Gillard herself.

After Julia’s inspiring speech, we heard from William McInnes and next it was the fabulous Boori Monty Pryor – children’s author, NYR12 ambassador and Children’s Laureate – who brought in a classroom of school kids. Monty knocked their socks off with a resounding tale about didgeridoo spit – and had everyone in serious stitches.

The event was also peppered with some wonderful short films and snippets, including a piece from co-Children’s Laureate Alison Lester. We also heard about the NYR12’s aims, upcoming events and initiatives, and the glorious news that Disney have paired with NYR12’s Reading Hour (25 August).

We also heard from Education Minister Peter Garrett, who asked the kids to make the NYR12’s official signing – LOVE 2 READ – with their hands.

Afterwards, there was time to meet up with new and old friends, nibble some delicious sandwiches and have a cup of tea. It was fabulous to meet so many amazing people, to finally meet the amazing Monty and to have a cuddle with William McInnes. But most of all, it was a thrill to see the passion and support that is driving this phenomenal national initiative.

This is a very exciting year ahead – make sure you check out the NYR12 website for more on how you can get involved!

Boori Monty Prior, Chris Cheng and me
ACT NYR12 ambassadors, including Jack Heath and Senator Kate Lundy (either side of me at centre) and local NYR12 organisers Rachel Davis and Vanessa Little (centre front)



Review – Alice-Miranda in New York

Alice-Miranda Highton-Smith-Kennington-Jones may live in a hoity toity world of mega wealth and out-of-our-league boarding schools, but this down-to-earth seven-year-old (seven and three-quarters, actually) has the wisdom and clarity of a Buddhist monk. This sweet little girl is daughter to Hugh and Cecelia, owners of the stunning Highton department store – a luxurious establishment about to undergo a refurbishment and relaunch in that most desirable of cities – the Big Apple.

Alice-Miranda and her parents are spending a month in New York, overseeing the re-opening of the store, and Alice-Miranda is delighted to be attending Mrs Kimmel’s School for Girls, headed by her mother’s dear friend, Miss Jilly Hobbs. There, she quickly makes friends with two very ‘ordinary’ girls – Ava and Quincy – and also the monumentally wealthy Lucinda, daughter to Morrie Finkelstein, owner of a rival luxury department store. Continue reading Review – Alice-Miranda in New York

Review – Seen Art?

I am falling head over heels with the work of John Scieszka. Lane Smith’s work is already close to my heart – but combining these two talents into one book (which has thankfully happened on more than one occasion) is true book bliss.

In Seen Art?, Scieszka takes images from the Museum of Modern Art and splashes them throughout a gorgeous landscape book so we can do some seriously drooling (and, of course, so kids can witness the splendour). Trailing us through this collection is a whimsical little character who is looking for . . . well, he’s looking for his friend Art. The only problem is, no one seems to understand what he’s talking about.

‘Have you seen Art?’ he asks a lady walking up Fifth Avenue. But before he can add ‘I was meant to meet him here on the corner of Fifth and Fifty-third’, the lady asks ‘MoMA?’

‘Uh . . . no, he’s just a friend.’ says our art-seeking fellow.

And so begins a series of well-meaning adults, showing our fellow through the kaleidoscope of stunning (and very famous) artworks on the walls of the Museum of Modern Art.

Illustrations by Lane Smith bring this achingly beautiful book to life, and striking typography and design take it to a level above and beyond your average picture book. Children will love the warm humour of the text, the cleverness of the storyline and the fascinating peeks at a beautifully-curated selection of artwork. Adults will just love it all.

Notes on the artwork are provided at the end of the book, as is a gorgeously satisfying story ending. Call me greedy, but it’s a bonus that children will also be entranced by this book. One of my favourites in a very long time and a must for serious collectors.

Seen Art? is published by The Museum of Modern Art/Viking

Review – Animal Rescue Series

Leo is an odd kid. And, alas, odd kids rarely have friends. Well, actually, he does have one friend . . . his guinea pig, Alan Nesbit Kirk; a guinea pig who believes nothing special ever happens to Leo. He even tells him so.

‘Nothing interesting ever happens to you,’ Alan Nesbit Kirk says to Leo one sunny day by the guinea pig cage.

Leo agrees. Nothing interesting ever happens when other kids think you’re weird.

I must say, being able to talk to a guinea pig doesn’t, in my book, count as weird. It kind of counts as super cool. And it’s not only guinea pigs Leo can talk to. Pigeons. Dogs. School lab rats. He can truly talk to the animals, and little does he know that Mozz – the coolest, smartest girl in school – knows this. She knows because Alan Nesbit Kirk told the cat next door who told a passing cockatoo who told Mozz’s gran’s giraffe who told Charlie the gorilla, who then told Mozz and her gran, the very clever Dr Drizzsock.

Frankly, you won’t believe what Mozz and her gran are up to behind closed doors. Astonishing stuff. When Leo is approached by a gorilla on a skateboard who leads him through a mysterious, hologramed volcano to Dr Drizzsock’s hideout, well – that’s only the tip of the iceberg in this rollicking eco-warrior adventure.

After a trip in a supersonic aircraft made of recycled drink bottles and fueled by rotting banana skins and disposable nappies, Leo finds himself on an Indonesian island, tasked with saving a group of endangered elephants, about to be swamped by a tsunami. This may all sound far-fetched, but much of the bones of this story and its sustainability and endangered-species messages, are very real.

For an early reader book, this is some highly-detailed, richly woven story, nonetheless told clearly, simply, engagingly and with a hefty dose of humour . . . a combination author Jackie French does so very beautifully.

Leo and his first animal rescue adventure is a madcap read that hones in strongly on several important messages that don’t charge at children like a spurned elephant, but rather implant themselves gently into sponge-like little heads.

I’m loving the factual references at the end of the book that add an extra dimension to this mostly-fiction tale, and I’m gagging to grapple with that gorgeous gorilla in Gorilla Grab. These books are really great fun, and I’m sure the astonishing adventures of Leo and Mozz have only just begun.

Elephant Alert and Gorilla Grab are out this month, published by Scholastic. Ideal for early readers or for kids struggling to read – ages 6 – 10.


Review – Scholastic Ready to Read

I can still remember laying eyes on my first hologram as a child – and, many decades later, they’re still so much fun. I’m loving the covers of this new Ready to Read (pre-level 1 through 3) series from Scholastic, written by Sarah Creese and designed by Karen Morrison.

The full front cover is hologramed, with some pretty full-on imagery (that shark is freaking me out! but isn’t that what kids love?) and yes – it features that lovely scratchy texture that scrits and scratches like a DJ on a pop rock high.

Designed for kids to read alone and introducing longer sentences and fact boxes, the books run to thirty pages and feature large text and fabulous full page photos, labeling, phonics and plenty of ‘Did You Know’s.

A quiz and dictionary at the end of each book are ideal for extension, as are references to key words. Excellent for schools, homeschooling and parents who want to extend their younger children with interesting facts.

Given the topics covered and the sophisticated information contained within, these books would be ideal for older boys who are struggling to read.

The Ready to Read series is published by Scholastic.

Ready to Read Level 1
Slithering Snakes

Extreme Animals
Mighty Machines

Ready to Read Level 2
Dangerous Dinos


Review – What Animals Really Like

Mr Herbert Timberteeth, a pedantic conducting/ song-composing beaver, is launching a new song. The animals are lined up, at the ready, prepped for their part in the song… the audience is hushed, the red curtain double page spread opens… and the song begins. A-one, a-two…

We are lions and we like to prowl.

We are wolves and we like to howl.

We are pigeons and we like to coo.

We are cows and we like to …

Well, it’s not what you think. In fact, as the songs unfold, the animals reveal or should I say ‘poo-poo’ many preconceived notions on what animals REALLY like.

Did you know shrimp like to ski? Oh yes they do. And they have the holiday snaps from Switzerland to show it. Did you know that warthogs like to parachute? And blow enormous bubbles? And change their mind? And that horses really love to deep sea dive?

Herbert Timberteeth barely tolerates these totally whacky admissions, least of all because they totally ruin the rhyme and rhythm of his song. Will the debut of his new work be a failure or a resounding success?

Robinson’s dry humour and quirky illustrations make for a rollicking and fun storybook for kids, with a charming cast of characters and giggle-worthy antics.

What Animals Really Like is published by Abrams.

Review – Children’s Book of Sport

It’s Australia Day and we’re a nation of sport-lovers. Want to know the score? This is what you need. DK’s remarkable and very visual stylings bring sport alive in this encyclopedic hardcover book.

Starting with Team Sports, the astonishing photos begin with a double-page photo of a mid-play NFL tackle, followed by football (soccer or ‘le foot’), baseball, basketball, volleyball, netball – and, well . . . practically anything ending in ‘ball’ or using a ball.

Racket Sports, Athletics and Gymnastics, Target Sports and Water Sports sections are next, followed by Combat, Winter, Horse, Wheels and Motors, Extreme Sports and of course – the crème de la crème – the Olympic Games.

There’s so much included, sports enthusiasts will suffer an endorphin rush without even contracting a single muscle, let alone breaking a sweat.

Each entry is awash with the striking photography DK is renowned for, as well as information on the way the game is played, the equipment used, techniques, scoring, the ‘essentials’ and the aim of the game. There’s even ‘jargon busters’.

A glossary and index round out this comprehensive yet clearly laid-out book that will attract both younger and older kids.

Children’s Book of Sport is published by Dorling Kindersley.

National Year of Reading 2012 – get involved!

When I first heard about the National Year of Reading initiative organised for 2012, I was ecstatic. Literacy is dear to my heart and is a major reason I review and blog on children’s books for both Kids’ Book Capers and Kids Book Review.

When I first friended and partnered Kids Book Review with NYR12 last year, I never dreamed I would be asked to become an NYR ambassador for the ACT. It was one of the proudest moments of my life as an author and I’m looking forward to a year of promotional events, espousing the importance of literacy, not only for children, but adults, too.

Led by Australian public libraries, the National Year of Reading 2012 is about people discovering and rediscovering the magic of books and stories. Libraries around the nation are heavily involved, as are school, special and other libraries, and partners in the book trade. You can see NYR12’s friends – including KBC blogger Dee White – here. Check out the partners here (there’s loads!), and the ambassadors here.

I’ll be posting on many of the events at both KBR and right here on Kids’ Book Capers, and in the meantime, have you thought about becoming involved? It’s so easy to do.

Throughout 2012, there will be a wash of fabulous events and initiatives around the country, for both adults and children, including The Reading Hour, writers in residence, the Creative Reading Prize, the Festival of Indigenous Reading, Writing and Storytelling in Darwin and the It’s Never too Late to Learn to Read initiative (see my highly commended short story for this adult initiative here).

Keep an eye on an event near you by checking out the NYR12 website. There’s also a frequently-updated events calendar on the right hand site of the site . . . I hope to see you at one of these fabulous events! With 46 per cent of Australians struggling to read, NYR12 is a timely initiative. Get involved!


Review – The Mellops

I first fell in love with the Mellops last Christmas, with their festive adventure Christmas Eve at the Mellops. Although I knew and adored Tomi Ungerer’s work well, I had never heard of this adorable little piglet family.

It was with much happiness, then, that I recently threw myself into two more adventures – The Mellops Go Diving for Treasure and The Mellops Strike Oil. I particularly love the subject matter for Ungerer uses for his characters . . . the chances of a family of pigs deep sea diving and striking oil are probably pretty slim in real life – so why not send them to such heights through the pages of a book. These kind of imaginative settings truly enchant children (and Ungerer-obsessed adults, too).

Featuring the pricelessly retro, monochromatic work the series is known for, Diving for Treasure is set under a sea of aqua pages, and sees the Mellop brothers searching for a sunken ship from 1765. Alas, the ship is occupied by a rather shirty octopus, but thanks to a beautiful merpig, bedazzled with pearls and holding a harp, the octopus is charmed away.

Tragedy strikes, however, when the pigs notice their own boat over an undersea hill, laying at the bottom of the ocean! How on earth would they ever get home? Of course, being the enterprising and very clever piglets they are, the brothers soon come up with a plan that leads them to a desert island – and an unexpected haul.

In The Mellops Strike Oil, our porcine brothers bike ride with their dad through cantaloupe-coloured pages to a lovely picnic spot, where Mr Mellops samples water from a local brook and discovers it tastes like oil. Excited about the possibility of finding this elusive elixir, the family sets about creating their very own derrick – or wooden pumping tower – that may just help them reach oil . . . or near disaster.

I love how, during their drilling escapades, Ungerer takes his characters on little ‘asides’. The boys set up a tent. Isidor chases butterflies. Mrs Mellops comes along to cook on the campfire for her boys. I also love how, despite the trials of pumping oil and the fact that things hardly go as expected, the Mellops are a family of ‘try-ers’. They give things a go. They show initiative and creativity and drive.

These sweet books are a hoot for modern kids because they rely on a tried and tested traditional format that may not pack powerful punches and surprises but works so beautifully with its subtly and charm. Gorgeous.

The Mellops Go Diving for Treasure and The Mellops Strike Oil are published by Phaidon.