Colour, Counting and Fun with Lucy Cousins

Legendary author – illustrator Lucy Cousins of the Maisy fame and the effervescent Hooray for… (Fish / Birds) series returns with some gloriously colourful newbies for little ones. Best known for her captivating learning books and ingenious simplicity over a range of age-appropriate topics for toddlers, these current titles are suitably superb. And here they are…

Splish, Splash, Ducky!, with its medley of bold, vibrant colours, intoxicating rhyme and adorably animated characters is like a toddler’s favourite play time come true in a picture book. The main character, Ducky Duckling, is the ultimate depiction of a curious, enthusiastic, and adventurous youngster up for anything that involves splashing in water, schmoozing with slimy critters and some playful activities. The book contains a scrumptious blend of small creatures one might find in the garden or around the pond on a rainy day, and the way Ducky interacts with them is just infectious. Cousins cleverly integrates the repetitive phrase, ‘Quack, quack, quack’ along with some onomatopoeia to add to the characters’ pure delight in their little games. And of course, no book for young children is complete without a bonding experience between parent and child as daddy duck provides the duckling with a sense of security, comfort, fun and love.
Two to five year olds will adore this playful story and happy-go-lucky Ducky, knowing after a busy adventure with friends there is always a soft spot awaiting them at the end of the day.

We’ve seen Lucy Cousins’ gorgeous counting books with Maisy and friends. In this ‘A Little Fish Book’ series, Count with Little Fish is yet another kinesthetically mesmerising board book for little hands. Exploring numbers from one through to ten, a progressive counting pattern of fish find their way swimming into our hearts and minds. Being able to touch and feel the embossed, decorated shiny numerals and their associated fish on the opposite page provides the young audience with a highly interactive mathematical reading experience. The language facet is also fetchingly engaging with its exuberant rhyme. “Three counting fish…one, two, three! Four flying fish, flapping wild and free.” “Seven scary fish, with sharp teeth to feed. Eight shy fish hiding in seaweed.” Cousins keeps the colour palette appropriately eye-catching with blue and green backgrounds to offset the vibrant, and often contrasting, cartoon fish.
Brilliant fun and learning, perfect as a first book for babies and as a repeat read for toddlers.

Where is Little Fish? is another new title in the ‘A Little Fish Book’ series. This time, it’s a game of seek and find with a lift-the-flap component. Little Fish, as featured in sparkling gold on the front cover, engages his friends, and us, to find him in amongst the underwater nursery of coral, shells and even a treasure chest. With the continual questioning, ‘Is Little Fish in the…’, or ‘Is Little Fish behind the…’, readers are encouraged to make predictions and experience trial and error as they open the flap to discover the actual identities. Naturally, it is only on the final page where we succeed, but not without a little surprise to enlighten all the senses. Friendly fishy faces grace the vivid pages set in simple primary-based colours and patterned accents to create the maximum impact. This perfectly sturdy and compact book makes for a terrific accompaniment to the other Lucy Cousins board books for children up to age three.

Walker Books UK, March 2018.

Review: A Taxonomy of Love by Rachael Allen

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A Taxonomy of Love by Rachael Allen is an entirely adorable story that mixes fluff and angst until you have a book you absolutely can’t put down. I really appreciated how it hit some hard topics too, and gave me a lot to think about, in between a slow burn romance, lots of smiles, and some super cute moments to melt into. I also was absolutely keen to read this one because it features a character with Tourette’s Syndrome, and disabilities definitely need to be more prominent in YA! There is no disappointment to be had here at all.

The story follows Spencer from age 13 to 19 and beings the day he sees Hope move in next door. She’s something special (magical!) and he’s sort of half in love with her from the moment he sees her. But life isn’t a Disney film and things don’t quite go like they have in his head. But she’s not scared off by his Tourette’s and she loves the same things he does, like hiking and climbing and planning wild adventures around the world. But as Spencer and Hope grow up, things aren’t super clear cut anymore and complications arise: like older brothers swooping in to woe a girl you like, or terrible tragedies, or medication that screws you around, or trying to fit in to a world that has no interest in catering for you. Spencer draws taxonomies to try and figure everything out, but sometimes things don’t fit in boxes, do they?

I particularly loved how Tourette’s Syndrome and disabilities were handled in this book! Spencer is such a winning and relatable character, and I really loved reading about his highs and lows as he dealt with his disability. The book does discuss medication and treatments too, the good and the bad of it. Sometimes Spencer’s tics were so bad they physically hurt him, but other times his neurodiversity was a huge plus for his wrestling. And it was also refreshing and glorious that this book gives us a character with a disability where the focus of the story isn’t just Tourette’s and it never turns into Spencer’s tragedy. Neurodiverse kids deserve fluffy amazing books too, and I’m so glad this exists.

It also takes place over 7 years. Spencer starts off as a gawky 13 year old, desperate to impress Hope who just moved in next door while she has heart eyes for his older brother. It gives about 3 or so chapters to each year and fills the book with super great formatting, like some texts, letters, and lots of taxonomies drawn by Spencer. It unwinds Spencer and Hope’s relationship, which is never simple and sometimes poisonous, and it takes you on “will they, won’t they” roller coaster ride.

Spencer’s narration was absolutely the best. He’s simultaneously dorky and nerdy but a little bit of  a jock with his foray into wrestling (which he’s super good at). As the book takes us through the years, we watch him grow up and his voice on the page matures and changes too to reflect this. It’s so well written. The message of “being different sometimes sucks, but it is also cool when you find your people and can just find a place to fit into the world in your own way” was so lovingly and respectfully woven through the pages. It just makes your heart feel full to read.

A Taxonomy of Love is definitely going on your to-be-read list. It’s a lovely story, but also hits some tough subjects like grief, discrimination, and ableism, and it does everything so well. It’s about messy people who make mistakes and second (or third or fourth) chances. Plus it’s an addictive and fun read. What more could you want?!

Food Glorious Food – Delectable Picture Books

Food glorious food – I cannot get enough of it. Nor picture books that feature it. It’s hard not to over-indulge on food-inspired stories. Fill up on these satisfying little morsels.

Food is Fun

My Magnificent Jelly Bean Tree by Maura Finn and Aura Parker

After a small boy’s imagination takes root, a magical tree grows producing mouthfuls of marvellously juicy jelly beans under a canopy of cheerfulness and fun allowing the boy to be whomever he pleases and gad about ‘rudie nude’ in the rain. Filled with Parker’s delicious linear illustrations, …Jelly Bean Tree is an exuberant testimony to the potency of imagination and belief.

Amply appetising for 4 – 8-year-olds.

New Frontier Publishing May 2016

Continue reading Food Glorious Food – Delectable Picture Books

Different Ways of Learning: ‘Found in Melbourne’ & ‘Oi Cat!’

In ground-breaking publishing, two versions of a children’s picture book will be published simultaneously in English and Chinese by a mainstream Australian publisher. Found in Melbourne is written by Joanne O’Callaghan, illustrated by Kori Song, and the Chinese edition translated by Kevin Yang. It is published by Allen & Unwin.

The two hardcover books have identical illustrations, but one has a text in English and the other in ‘Simplified Chinese’.  It is set in Melbourne and further afield with locations such as Luna Park, the State Library of Victoria, the Great Ocean Road and Puffing Billy Railway. These places and further information about them is also given at the end of the books.

Beginning or ESL readers are assisted by the simple rhyming text. For example, ‘4 Four bicycles on the path by the bay. A trip to Tasmania sailing away… 10 Ten clocks at the station where we meet for the train. Bring an umbrella, it could start to rain!’

As well as exploring Melbourne, these are counting books. Young readers have the opportunity to learn or practise numerals from 1 to 12, then the big numbers 100, 1000 and 1,000,000.

There are many interesting details such as one of Sidney Nolan’s iconic Ned Kelly paintings which makes an incognito appearance in the scene set at the National Gallery of Victoria. The girl and boy protagonists have red and black hair respectively.

Part of the rationale behind the books is that Victoria recently had almost 600,000 Chinese people visit annually, the Chinese population of Melbourne is increasing and over 75,000 schoolchildren are learning Mandarin in Victoria.

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I was excited to see a new picture book by Essex-based Kes Grey, funny man creator of laugh-out-loud Billy’s Bucket and many other books. Oi Cat! (Hachette) is another picture book where Grey collaborates with illustrator Jim Field. It follows Oi Frog! and Oi Dog! 

 Like Found in Melbourne, Oi Cat! uses a rhyming text that is perfect for young readers. The rhyme, humour and anticipation will keep children reading and their vocabulary and spelling will be extended along the way, particularly by some of the animals’ names such as ‘alpaca’ (which rhymes with ‘cream cracker’), ‘armadillo’ (which rhymes with ‘pillow’), ‘dingoes’ (which rhymes with ‘flamingos’) and ‘gnats’, which cats sit on here instead of on ‘mats’. The narrative follows the dilemma of what cats could alternatively sit on and this creates playful reinforcement of the ‘-at’ *rime. There is also sly discussion about what hogs and mogs sit on: generating many ‘-og’ words such as ‘clog … cog … jog’ and a surprise and somewhat painful-looking ending. 

*rime Separate phonemes in a syllable can normally be broken into two parts. The rime is a vowel and any subsequent consonants (for example, in the word ‘cat’ the rime is /at/). Word families can be constructed using common rimes such as /at/ in ‘cat’, ‘pat’. (from the Australian Curriculum)

Missing by Sue Whiting

Sue Whiting is a stalwart of Australian literature for young people. She writes across categories, including picture books, non-fiction and novels for children and young adults and has had a successful career in publishing for Walker Books Australia. Her most recent work is Missing, a novel for middle grade.

Thanks for speaking with Boomerang Books, Sue.

Where are you based and what is your background? 

I am based in a small coastal village about an hour south of Sydney. I started my working life as a primary school teacher, specialising in literacy education and Reading Recovery. In 2005, I left teaching to pursue a career in publishing and was Publishing Manager and Senior Commissioning Editor at Walker Books for ten years.

What led to your career in children’s books and what are some highlights? 

I developed a passion for children’s books as a young teacher and this eventually led me to want to write my own books. It took me about ten years before I was brave enough to give this writing caper a crack though. Editing, well, I fell into editing by extreme accident – through submitting a manuscript to a small start-up publisher and ending up with the job as editor of their children’s list – but once I started working in this field, I found that I loved this side of the process equally as much as writing. And I learnt a heck of a lot about writing along the way too!

Highlights! Wow, that’s really tricky, because there have been so many. Holding your book baby for the first time is always very special, but the unexpected letter or email or message from someone who has been touched by your work in some way is without doubt the best feeling ever. Just last week, I received a video message from a three-year-old boy telling me how much he loved one of my early novelty books. That was pretty awesome.

In terms of my publishing career, I think nurturing the early careers of wonderful writers such Meg McKinlay, Sandy Fussell and Anna Branford, to name but a few, stands out as a highlight and what I am most proud of.

Could you tell us about some of the books you’ve written? 

I write across many age groups and genres, from picture books through to YA. My bestseller is The Firefighters, illustrated by Donna Rawlins. It celebrates its tenth year in print this year, which is wonderful, as books don’t tend to stay in print for very long these days. My award winner is A Swim in the Sea, illustrated by Meredith Thomas and my last published book was the nonfiction picture book, Platypus, illustrated by Mark Jackson. It was such a joy to write because I was able to write lyrically about this unique Australian animal. The Firefighters, Platypus and my YA novel, Portraits of Celina have all been published in the US and Platypus has just recently been published in Korea. Missing is my first middle grade novel since Get a Grip, Cooper Jones, which was published eight years ago

What genre is your new book Missing and what is the significance of its title?

Missing is a contemporary mystery/suspense novel for readers 10+. The story revolves around the disappearance of the mother of my central character, Mackenzie. So the title refers directly to the fact that Mackenzie’s mother is missing. But the word “missing” has many connotations. I love that it also relates to Mackenzie missing her mother, her missing out on so many things because her mother is missing and also her quest to find the missing pieces in the puzzle of her disappearance.

Could you tell us about your protagonist Mackenzie and some other characters?

Mackenzie is a pretty typical twelve-year-old girl. She lives in southern Sydney and is caught up in the excitement of the last weeks of primary school when her mother goes missing. She loves art, particularly working in black and white.

Maggie da Luca is Mackenzie’s mother. She is a bat biologist and academic who works for a scientific magazine. She often travels to remote corners of the globe to study and photograph bats for the magazine.

Joe is Mackenzie’s father. He is an insurance salesman. He falls to pieces when Maggie goes missing. He is a man with many secrets.

Lois Simpson is Mackenzie’s gran. She is a scientist and academic and is the person who Mackenzie leans on as she tries to deal with this tragic situation. She too has secrets.

At high school, Mackenzie befriends Billie. Billie is lively and impetuous and a great foil to Mackenzie’s grief. In Panama, Mackenzie meets Carlo. Carlo is fourteen and helps his uncle at the hotel Mackenzie and her father is staying at. His indifference infuriates Mackenzie, but she eventually discovers that he is someone she can trust.

Why have you given Mackenzie a gift for art?

I wanted Mackenzie to have a passion that was in opposition to her mother and grandmother’s love of science. Art was the obvious place and very early on I saw Mackenzie, in my mind’s eye, sketching bats. A trip to the NSW Art Gallery where I happened upon a sculpture of fruit bats hanging from a washing line was the moment that sealed the deal.

Much of the story is set in the jungles of Panama. It’s hard to believe you’ve never been there. How did you create such an exciting and authentic-seeming setting? What was your most surprising discovery about Panama?

I have to admit to feeling a tad guilty that I didn’t jump on a plane and spend weeks in the country to ensure I got it right, but truthfully, I just didn’t have the funds to do that. So I resolved to do everything I could to bring Boquete and Panama to life on the page through diligent research from afar. I researched Panama for about a year – mostly through the Internet. Boquete is a tourist town, which also has a large expat community, mostly American retirees. This worked in my favour as there were many blogs and vlogs I could access depicting everyday life in the town.

I also had two really lucky breaks. One was making contact with Dianne Heidke (sister of Australian author Lisa Heidke) who has lived in Boquete for a decade or more. Dianne was able to answer those questions I couldn’t find answers to on the Internet, and was able to give me access to that all-important local knowledge. She also read the final manuscript and acted as my sensitivity reader.

My second lucky break was the discovery that the local council streamed 24-hour feed of Boquete’s main square live on the Internet. I was able to watch the comings and goings across the square day and night. It felt slightly creepy and very stalkerish, but it really helped me to understand the rhythms of the town.

My most surprising discovery was the lack of resources of the police force in Boquete – to the point that sometimes they don’t have enough petrol to run their police car!

Why have you structured the story as ‘then’ and ‘now’?

Initially, I chose to structure the story this way so that I could move the story on from those early days when the family had just learned of the disappearance and when their grief would be too raw and impossible to bear. But as the story idea progressed, I quickly realised that the ‘then’ and ‘now’ structure was allowing me to create suspense and tension in an intriguing way. It was challenging to maintain, but I loved slotting in key information at just the right places.

How have you used bats as a symbol?

I used bats more as a link between Mackenzie and her mother than as a symbol. It was Mackenzie’s way to stay connected with her mother and her mother’s passion. However, bats do symbolise our ability to see our way through even the darkest times. Mackenzie and her family have to navigate through some very dark days through much of the story, but by the end, I hope to show them stepping out into the light. This was a happy accident that gave extra meaning to the final pages in particular.

During the novel you tantalise characters and readers with mention of gelatos. What’s your favourite flavour?

The gelatos were a nod to my time at Walker Books. There was an excellent gelato bar at the bottom of the building and we often had Gelato Fridays. My favourite was definitely salted caramel Greek yoghurt.

You are known for promoting your books in interesting and skilled interactions with children. How will you be promoting Missing?

Thank you for that! I love sharing my books and stories with groups of kids – it’s my favourite part of my job.

I am about to embark on a schools tour of Brisbane and Sydney, so have been busy preparing my presentations. My reasons for writing the story and my research and how I have used it will be the centre of my talks, as well as some scene-setting with a bit drumming, a lot of drama, and concluding with a “breaking news” report. I will also be doing writing workshops in Sydney and Melbourne – exploring how to create suspense in stories.

What have you enjoyed reading recently? 

I have just reread (for the fifth time) A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness. It is one of my favourite books of all time – so beautifully crafted and emotive. I also recently enjoyed The Golden Age by Joan London and All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr.

What’s next workwise for you?

I am working on a new middle grade novel with the working title of Chance. It too has a core mystery and is about truth and lies and the grey area between the two.

I also have a new picture book Beware the Deep Dark Forest illustrated by Annie White, which is due for release in October.

Thanks for your generous and enlightening answers Sue, and all the best with Missing. It is a gripping and original work with great appeal for young readers.

Review: Someday Somewhere by Lindsay Champion

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SOMEDAY, SOMEWHERE by Lindsay Champion was an absolute excellent and heart shredding book. All I knew going in was it’s about music, and being a musician who writes about music and also spent my entire teenagerdom listening to Beethoven on repeat…oh hello there book. You are mine. It absolutely didn’t disappoint and I was so teary at the end. It balanced emotion and complex characters and had such tight pacing that I couldn’t stop reading. I could feel myself speeding up with the book, like a classical piece just going faster and faster, until the string snaps at the end.

The story follows two teens, Ben and Dominique, who meet at a Carnegie Hall concert and a spark is lit. They both have their passions, music and dancing respectively, but connecting proves difficult as they go their separate ways without knowing even each other’s names. But finally they find each other again and Dom spins some impressive lies, thinking famous-music-prodigy-Ben won’t like her if he knows she’s super poor and works at her mum’s laundromat. And Ben’s obsessive need to conquer a Beethoven piece is breaking him into pieces, as much as he denies it. Their lives tangle and splinter as secrets and obsessions collide.

It’s about music and mental illness and wanting more. I think the music aspect was done nicely and felt authentic enough even though the author wasn’t a musician. I loved the parts where Ben was so into his music that nothing else mattered, because I really felt THERE with him. Even though I also ached for how unhealthy his obsession was and wanting someone to help him.

It’s dual narrated by Ben and Dominique. Ben is a rich musical prodigy and Dom is super poor and watching her mum struggle to run a laundromat and has had to give up her dream of being a dancer due to money. (She’s also half Ecuadorian.) Dom and Ben meet at a concert and then — SPARKS. Their get-together-story was super cute and I loved how they had to find each other with no information. It wasn’t instalove at all, but insta-connection, and it was perfectly done. They were also both equally winning, although Ben was a bit conceited (but there are reasons for that) and I rooted for Dom to have a better life and for Ben and her to work out.

I also loved the writing! It had a lot of cute and fun dialogue, some banter, some excellent side-characters (Cass was great and I hope he has a wonderful life too!) and how real it all felt. The details made the settings leap off the page. And every character felt real and complex, even if they weren’t mentioned very often.

Honestly SOMEDAY, SOMEWHERE is amazing and I totally loved the combination of music and #meetcutes and two teens who just want more from their life. I’m just sitting here with heart eyes. It’s definitely the kind of story that is quick to read but stays with you long after you finish the last page.

Review: Hangman by Jack Heath & The Perfect Girlfriend by Karen Hamilton

I’ve read two debut thrillers this month I’d like to share.


The first is by Australian author Jack Heath who has published over 20 YA novels but has now burst onto the adult fiction scene in a very big way with Hangman.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Sociopath Tim Blake goes by the codename Hangman and is contracted by the FBI as a last resort for his crime solving genius in complex cases. His genius comes with a hefty price tag though and in a despicable arrangement known only to one person within the FBI, he is permitted to take a life for every one he saves.

Despite the unpalatable agreement, Tim Blake is an anti-hero you find yourself backing and the pace of the plot is equivalent to any James Patterson crime novel.

Hangman is the first in a gruesomely dark series to feature Tim Blake and I can’t wait to find out what happens next. Warning: you’ll need a strong stomach though.

Hangman has also been optioned for television by the ABC in USA so fingers crossed we see Tim Blake on the big screen soon.


The Perfect Girlfriend by Karen Hamilton is an explosive and impressive debut. Juliette is a sociopath and not coping well after her boyfriend Nate broke up with her six months ago. Juliette is determined to win Nate back at all odds, including joining his airline and training as an airline steward in order to be closer to him.

Juliette really will stop at nothing to achieve her goal, including a little digital stalking, breaking and entering and general harassment. And that’s just for starters. Her daring made me nervous and more than a little edgy at times and the pages flew by as I admired her ingenuity and cringed at her constant need for Nate.

Juliette’s obsession and stalking extends to a few supporting female characters and I hope I never come across a woman like her in real life. Juliette’s master plan is slowly revealed to the reader and her motivations come into shocking focus.

The author’s experience working as a cabin crew member in the airline industry has given her the tools to portray the industry encompassing both characters to perfection. I enjoyed this setting enormously and relished the details of their work schedule, airline culture and lifestyle.

The Perfect Girlfriend by Karen Hamilton is a psychological thriller and one of the most exciting books I’ve read this year.

Cheers for Women on International Women’s Day – Picture Book Reviews

International Women’s Day is celebrated annually on March 8th to commemorate the women’s right movement. Surrounded by much controversy over the years, global marches still signify and stand for a shift in gender equality and mistreatment. So, with a strengthening power in facilitating strong girls and women, and equally credible boys and men, let’s celebrate this significant day with a couple of influential and empowering picture books for children in the early years.

Inspired by one of the largest political demonstrations in history, the Women’s March in January 2017, The Pink Hat by Andrew Joyner is a jubilant celebration of women’s rights in a subtle and playful tone. This is not a book that shoves political issues at children, but rather a quiet sentiment of coming together as a community with a sound common ground and purpose. The entirety of the book culminates with the focus on the pink hat, the symbolic object uniting the town – the women, the children, the mixture of cultures and races, and ages, and even some men. All of Joyner’s superlative illustrations present in shaded black and white line drawings, except for the pop of the fuchsia pink beanie and some pink rosy cheeks.

The hat begins with a grandma, a beautiful representation of a dignified, and very tech-savvy, woman who loves to knit. The cosy knit is then transported on its progressive journey as it is passed from the paws of her playful cat, to a ‘hard-to-reach’ place, acts as a comforter for a baby to the snatching jaws of a runaway dog, and into the hands of a young girl who enjoys its many uses. And one day the girl discovers that her beloved pink hat has begun a movement of its own, with a rally of pink hat-wearing people gesturing placards with “Women’s Rights are Human Rights”, “Girl Power”, “The Future is Feminist”, plus more.

The Pink Hat is a story that promotes awareness and discussion of the events of the social campaign, without being didactic or heavy-handed. It is rather an engaging and enlightening read that sparks the thought for cause and effect, in more ways than one.

Random House Australia, January 2018.

Now here’s a book that celebrates women! With over 70 inspirational women in history, it’s Three Cheers for Women! by Marcia Williams. This large face non-fiction title is jam-packed with fascinating information, vivacious cartoons and fun commentary by supporting characters. It is a terrific resource for the primary classroom or bookshelf at home, with so much to pore over and discover.

Beginning back in Ancient Egyptian times, the first female to feature is Cleopatra VII, Queen of Egypt c. 69 BC – 30 BC. In comic-style, illustrated text boxes and speech bubbles we learn about how Cleopatra came to rule at eighteen years old, to be overpowered by her younger brother and then regained the throne by raising a winning army until her death at age 39.

To follow in the same page formatting are fearless fighters like Boudicca; Warrior Queen of the Iceni, and Joan of Arc; the Teenage Warrior. As eras progress we meet queens such as Elizabeth 1, legendary authors like Jane Austen, pioneers in health including Florence Nightingale and Marie Curie. There are the Human Rights Activists, Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962), and Malala Yousafzai (1997- ) who became champions in helping underprivileged people and standing up for equal rights. Our own Cathy Freeman features, too, as Olympic hero for uniting a nation and fighting for the rights of Indigenous Australians.

The book concludes with pages identical to the classifieds section of the paper, listing more amazing women in leadership, sports, creative, pioneering and scientific roles. And a final note from the author leaves a task for the reader; many women had to be left out of the book, but who will you add to your list of inspirational women and girls?

Three Cheers for Women! is absolutely fascinating, written with a mixture of factual interest and candid anecdotes to keep readers engaged at their own pace. Never discounting the achievements or abilities of boys, this one really empowers girls with the power to do something world changing.

Walker Books U.K., November 2017.

Happy International Women’s Day!

Small Spaces by Sarah Epstein

Small Spaces is such a riveting, scary story, I was worried that I would still be reading when night fell. I was still reading … but had to keep going even though I knew I would be terrified. Congratulations on your stunning thriller, Sarah, and thanks for speaking with Boomerang Books blog.

Thanks so much! It’s a pleasure to be here.

Where are you based and how are you involved in the YA literary community? 

I live in Melbourne, which has a thriving bookish community. There are always so many fantastic events, book launches and meet-ups happening, and I try to get along to as many as I can because I always come away feeling more connected and inspired. I’ve also been involved with the online YA community for the last decade, which is how I’ve met some wonderful critique partners and writing buddies, as well as participating in online conferences and pitching contests. Facebook groups and Twitter have been a fantastic way for me to connect with other kidlit writers and readers, not just in Australia but internationally.

What is the significance of the title, Small Spaces

For Tash, the protagonist of the story, it’s a very real phobia stemming from incidents that happened to her as a child. But from the opening lines of the novel it’s clear that it also refers to Tash’s psychological state and whether she can trust her own mind – the small space inside her head. In broader terms, it’s a reflection of how we all can sometimes feel isolated, lonely and vulnerable in our own small spaces, and forging connections and trusting others can often be challenging and scary.

You’ve used a distinctly Australian setting. Where is it set and why?

The story is set in two fictional locations – the small coastal town of Port Bellamy, and the rural area of Greenwillow and Willow Creek – which are about an hour’s drive apart on the NSW mid north coast. When I’m brainstorming a novel, I picture scenes very cinematically and start writing before I know exactly where the story is going to be set. Then I have to stop and start researching areas that tick all the boxes of my fictional setting and can feasibly accommodate all the major plot points and any secondary locations that are referenced in the story. I was born in NSW and wanted to set a story there, and having visited the mid north coast a number of times, it really helped me narrow things down, and became the perfect setting for the story.

Could you introduce your major characters to us …

Tash is seventeen and in her final year of school, craving independence and planning her future at an interstate university. But earning her parents’ trust is difficult because of childhood behavioural issues that seem to be cropping up again. Sadie is Tash’s best friend, the one who knows her best and her fiercest ally, trying to help Tash navigate through her phobias and unsettling memories. Two of those unsettling memories return in the form of Morgan and Mallory Fisher, a brother and sister who shared a disturbing day at the carnival with Tash nine years ago during a summer holiday at her Aunt Ally’s house. And then there’s Sparrow, Tash’s imaginary friend from childhood who looms heavily throughout all aspects of the plot, past and present.

Why have you given Tash an interest in photography and Morgan a gift in the visual arts?

This stems from my own creative background and the design degree I completed at university which included both visual arts and photography. I knew I wanted Tash and Morgan to collaborate on a project that played into the themes of the novel, and art was such a huge part of my life when I was a teen. It came very naturally to give Tash, Morgan and other characters in the story a creative outlet to express themselves.

Could you tell us about the ‘Now’ and ‘Then’ structure?

As soon as I started writing, I knew a large number of flashbacks would be required to properly explain what happened in Tash’s past. But I didn’t want to tell all of these in the passive past-tense voice of Tash recollecting them, because I felt this would dilute the tension and affect the pacing. Instead, I wrote these chapters in present tense using Tash’s childhood voice so the reader can see how things played out in real-time through her eyes. I also introduced therapy session transcripts and newspaper articles written in a clinical tone, so readers can form their own theories about what happened based on other evidence that isn’t skewed by Tash’s point of view.

As you wrote, how were you able to lay out the plot without giving too much away?

It wasn’t easy! I really had to think about the order I wanted snippets of information revealed because of how the past and present chapters feed into one another. There was a lot of shifting scenes and chapters around, and I had a large colour-coded plot outline which I’d lay out across my desk to give me a clear overview of what was happening and where. I had to pare back scenes and dialogue in revisions so as not to be too obvious, but at the same time reveal enough so that readers wouldn’t become frustrated about the storyline being too vague. It’s a real balancing act, and some days I cursed myself for choosing such a complicated narrative structure.

Without causing you to give away spoilers, which part of the plot, characterisation or symbolism was difficult to resolve?

I found the climax the most challenging part to write – I wanted it to do so many things while at the same time be fast-paced and absolutely gripping. I think endings are always tricky – they need to feel completely satisfying for the reader while tying up all the loose threads and illuminating the story’s themes. I never start writing a story until I know how the ending is going to play out. Then my challenge is figuring out how I’m going to get my characters there.

Carnivals and funfairs are some of my favourite locations in literature. They’re supposed to be fun but often are the opposite. What is so creepy about these places and what gives them (particularly derelict ones) such potential for horror?

I think for me the crowds and bustle of a busy carnival always poses the threat of a lost child, or the potential for someone to be swallowed up by it all before their companions even notice they’re missing. There are so many nooks and crannies to lurk and hide in! The noisy rides and all the squealing is so distracting and jarring, and there’s always exaggerated character art leering at you everywhere you turn. Carnivals are a bit too much of everything all at once, which makes us feel a bit queasy and disorientated. Derelict places add a whole other layer of creepiness because they conjure up ideas about ghosts and dead things. Plus, they’re deserted, so if anything bad happens, nobody’s coming to help!

What sort of movies do you watch?

I don’t read a huge amount of science fiction, but I absolutely love watching sci-fi movies! I also love anything with zombies, ghosts or aliens. I’m a big fan of bingeing a good Netflix series, and mostly enjoy intriguing supernatural shows like Stranger Things and The OA. I also love Nordic crime thrillers. I have a tendency to lean towards darker content.

Who have you written this book for?

It might be a cliché, but I definitely wrote this book for teenaged me. This is exactly the sort of story I was craving when I was a teen but had difficulty finding – something twisty and gripping, but with characters my age and themes I could relate to. I loved Christopher Pike’s books but struggled to find them in my school library and local bookshops (which was my whole world since the internet and online shopping didn’t yet exist), so I read a lot of adult crime and horror novels in my teens. But many of those stories were a hard slog with themes and situations that were very adult. I wrote this novel for teen readers who enjoy thrillers and creepy stories, but want characters and situations they can see themselves in.

What books are you reading at the moment (or recently)? 

I recently finished The Dry by Jane Harper and Wimmera by Mark Brandi, both of which I thoroughly enjoyed, especially since I am working on another suspenseful mystery set in a small Australian town. I’m currently reading two #LoveOzYA novels: The Fall by Tristan Bancks and Untidy Towns by Kate O’Donnell. My favourite genres to read are contemporaries, thrillers and domestic noir, and I have Sarah Bailey’s Dark Lake and A.J. Finn’s The Woman in the Window next up on my reading pile.

Thanks for your illuminating answers, Sarah and all the best with Small Spaces (Walker Books Australia) and your next book.

Thanks so much, Joy. Great questions! I’ve really enjoyed answering them.

Review: Boomerang by Helene Dunbar

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Boomerang by Helene Dunbar was one of those beautifully written books that sort of creeps up on you. I can’t even stop thinking about it! It was actually also quite stressful, because there’s lots of complicated relationships going on here and you can’t help but panic a little hoping it all works out. It’s about messy kids and messy feelings and the heartfelt angst of brokenness. Definitely a book I’d recommend in a heartbeat!

The story is about Sean Woodhouse who’s returning home after 5 years of being “kidnapped”. Except he wasn’t kidnapped…he ran away from a neglectful mum and found an old loving couple who took him in and kept him safe. He fell in love with the boy nextdoor and he liked his new life. But something happens and Sean realises he has to go home. He’s #1 goal is to see if he can get use of his college fund and then leave again, but things get messy as his mother has changed and is a good person now and his whole town treats him like this poor rescued child. He’s torn between staying and going. Staying may be the “right” thing to do, but there will be brutally heartbreaking consequences if he doesn’t go.

The tension is the top thing I’ll rave about for this one! It had me so hooked I couldn’t do anything but keep reading. You just desperately want to know if Sean will stay or go, and as things escalate with the boy he left behind, Trip, who has a terrible life and needs Sean to come back…you just don’t know what the right choice will be.

I also liked that it was this “missing child” story, but with a twist. Admittedly I have read this twist before, but not for a while! And it was done SO well. And it was bittersweet knowing how much Sean needed to be loved, and that’s why he ran, but all the while his true family and childhood friends thought he’d been murdered. Imagine living with that?!

I also adored the love interest, Trip Marchette. He’s the boy next door and Sean’s childhood crush, but it’s complicated. It’s messy and their feelings for each other are unnamed and sometimes their relationship is downright poisonous. Trip’s abused by his uncle, but won’t leave. And Sean gets caught up in his own self-righteousness of not understanding the situation. I got hair-tearingly frustrated at BOTH of them. But madly wanted it to work out.

There is a little love triangle, which I found a huge drawback, except that it was really well written! Sean, back at home now, meets Emery who is absolutely lovely and dynamic and complex. It was hard to be mad at her for stealing Sean’s attention, when she was a fantastic person! It added another layer of tension to the story too, wondering if their relationship would unfold or if Sean wouldn’t lose focus of what he came home to do.

I also appreciated the diversity! There’s no labels, but most of the characters would probably identify as queer, plus Trip has dyslexia and it was portrayed so well.

Boomerang is seriously the kind of book you can’t put down! It’s complex and really unpacks thoughts about consequences and actions, what love means, and the difference between selflessness and selfishness. The pacing will keep you glued to the page and the characters will make and break your heart.

Lessons in Acceptance – Picture Books About Self-Love

For small children, many life-firsts can be a harrowing and daunting experience. Starting school is a prime example. However, many other situations also call for emotional resilience and understanding. These next few picture books provide helpful lessons in acceptance, each demonstrating for youngsters that is it okay to doubt, fear and ultimately embrace who you are.

Glitch by Michelle Worthington and Andrew Plant

Glitch is a nervous, twitchy kind of bug who trembles through his days in the rubbish heap, always full of self-doubt. June is his best mate who exudes calm and reason. Together they make a formidable team, building and racing billycarts. However, they have never won a race thanks to Glitch’s inability to handle the pressure and his severe lack of self-belief. It is not until he is forced to take the reins, aka steering wheel in their next big race that Glitch learns that it is not about winning or losing, but rather being brave enough to give it your best and enjoy the ride. Glitch is an exhilarating tale spiced with plenty of entertaining alliteration and action to keep readers glued to their seats and cheering for their new hero until the very end. An encouraging read for pre-school and early primary aged readers.

Ford Street Publishing 2017

Continue reading Lessons in Acceptance – Picture Books About Self-Love

School in Focus – Picture Book Reviews

We’re well and truly in to the school routine now, although some mornings seem to lack that ideal, perfect-world motivation and drive. But with these following picture books at the ready, your kids will be inspired to remember their purpose and excitement for the day ahead.

Time for School, Daddy is a gorgeously humorous role reversal-type situation, in the same as essence as the previous title by Dave Hackett, Time for Bed, Daddy. Most often than not it is in fact us parents struggling to get out of bed, greeted each morning with the bombardment of children eager to get the day started. And here, this is no different. The little girl wakes a dozy, grumbling Daddy so they can get ready for school. She gives him his favourite breakfast, which always ends in a mess. She washes and dresses him in his work clothes, not without a bit of chaos. She packs him a mighty fine lunch, a tad of grooming and then it’s time to walk out the door. But who’s going to school today?
Tonnes of energy emanate from both the text and the images, with an innocently grown-up voice from the girl’s perspective as she guides her father through the hectic routine. The bright and vibrant cartoon illustrations work beautifully in a simplistic, obvious focus on the actions, which are the perfect linchpin for the irony that makes this book so witty. Time for School, Daddy is adorable, motivating fun for children from age four.

University of Queensland Press, January 2018.

The school or public library may just be the best place to get inspired, excited and transported (figuratively) during a normally busy day. So for anyone who loves to read, a chance to dive into books would be plenty of motivation to leave the house in a hurry in the morning. But for one little girl, there is one book in particular that she can’t get enough of. Lucy’s Book, written by Natalie Jane Prior and illustrated by Cheryl Orsini, is one special story that follows one special story on many adventures as it is shared by Lucy to all her friends.
Lucy and her mum visit the library every Saturday. The enchanted red book, of which we speak, is recommended by Mrs Bruce and borrowed a multitude of times from the library. Lucy loves it so much, all her friends are dazzled by its charm and it makes its way into their hands too. The book is escorted on holidays to Honeycomb Bay and China, to the zoo, and even made into a banana sandwich. But what happens when the book is no longer available for borrowing? Do you believe in destiny?
Just like the premise of this story, the lively illustrations pronounce a real community feel; one of shared values, togetherness and spirit. With influences from real people (Mrs Bruce is a friend of the author and also the image of Megan the librarian at the local school), Lucy’s Book feels like a real-life fairytale where everyone gets to be involved in the swirl of magical bookishness and where fate is a reality. Dreamy for book lovers of any age.

Lothian Children’s Books, February 2017.

Ruby Lee is a highly enthusiastic student with a big imagination. But when it comes to being chosen as classroom helper, she’s not always the most efficient. Hark, it’s me, Ruby Lee! is a wild and animated tale of learning patience, working to your skillset and being yourself.
Award-winning author Lisa Shanahan, together with graphic illustrator Binny, provide a linguistic and visual treat with their eccentric blend of humour and design. Shanahan’s quirky names are just the beginning of the literary goodness, with dialogue that perks in all the right places, and a storyline that is so authentically realistic despite all the crazy and creative figments Ruby Lee imagines in her mind. And flawlessly, Binny’s fantastical, detailed illustrations with blocks of colour and line work add that extra depth and meaning to both Ruby Lee’s real and made-up worlds.
Preschool and early years children will adore being taken into Ruby Lee’s school life as messenger as she discovers not how to be like someone else, but where her own strengths lie. Hark, it’s me, Ruby Lee! plays out like a set of comical and whimsical scenes that will be requested to be delivered over and over again.

Lothian Children’s Books, July 2017.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Review: Stalking Jack The Ripper by Kerri Maniscalco

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Stalking Jack The Ripper by Kerri Maniscalco was a fabulous story full of science and cadavers and a spot o’ tea, which is such a nice compilation. I just need a moment to shout out to the finale where Audrey Rose tries to calm everyone down by getting them all to have tea…and she is the only sensible person around. But that aside! It was just epic to see a book centring around the infamous murderer, Jack the Ripper, and also covering topics of feminism and female scientists back in an era where that wasn’t acceptable. Audrey Rose is a fantastic heroine!

The story follows Audrey Rose who is desperate to become a forensic doctor, dissecting corpses to ascertain the cause of death. She wants to solve crimes and help people…but it’s unheard of for a lady of her station to even attempt it. She works (secretly) as her uncle’s student, but things get complicated when a serial killer is on the loose, attacking girls very close to home. And her uncle also has a very cocky and extremely clever new assistant, Thomas, who is as insufferable as he is distracting. The two together start unravelling the mystery while Audrey Rose’s home life falls apart around her and the killer closes in.

I really enjoyed the look at forensic doctors in the 1900s here! It was such a new thing that most police didn’t even take the job seriously and Audrey Rose’s uncle’s love of cutting up corpses was just seen as disturbing, instead of helpful to science and crime solving. The book does get a little gruesome in these parts, but you learn so much! And I loved that it wasn’t afraid to share details of how injuries can tell the story of the crime.

It’s also completely feminist, which was so refreshing. Obviously sexism is stampeding through the streets because it’s women are “too delicate” to do anything but cross-stitch. It was annoying to read, but also fascinating as Audrey . Rose dismantled those notions and kept on just being herself. I also appreciated that femininity wasn’t aligned with weakness, with Audrey Rose fully embracing makeup and pretty clothes as well as wanting to be a forensic doctor. She wants to go to medical school and wear lipstick. And why is that anyone’s business but her own?! The whole book was very refreshing!

The love interest, Thomas Cresswell, just turned out to be a sassy-mouthed gift to this world. He comes across as arrogant and vain, but he has a secretly huge crush on Audrey Rose and their antagonism turns to banter and then to something more. It was obviously bound to happen, but satisfying the whole way!

The plot is a combination of avoided tea parties, family strain, dead corpses, and a murderer running about. Which obviously doesn’t leave you much room for napping. I loved the pacing and how it felt balanced between quieter chapters and full-on exciting scenes.

Basically if you’re looking for a book about medicine and murder, look no further! Stalking Jack The Ripper is fabulously entertaining with great banter and a plot with a dark side. It also left me seriously indignant that I didn’t have book 2 on hand to start straight away. Must rectify that!

Doodles and Drafts – Robyn Osborne on her canine obession

Today we invite Robyn Osborne to the draft table. Robyn has a penchant for pooches and writing for kids. Fortunately when she combines the two, magic happens.

Her latest picture book release, My Dog Socks is a winning combination of pure doggy delight. Robyn’s lyrical prose works in perfect harmony with  Sadami Konchi’s animated illustrations. Together they gambol and scarper through the book filling every page with barely suppressed  energy and exuberant colour. Pleasing alliteration, satisfying rhythm and an enticing parallel visual narrative invite readers into Sock’s secret world, where he is anything and everything in the eyes (and imagination) of his young owner.  Konchi’s representation of Socks  suggests an Australian Shepard type breed, however Sock’s irrepressible benevolent doggy nature could be any little person’s best four-legged friend. My Dog Socks is a winsome celebration of young people, dogs, the ineffable attachments they make and the incredible joie de vivre they both possess.

Grab yourself a copy, soon – here (paperback available next week). Now grab a cuppa and settle back with Robyn.

Continue reading Doodles and Drafts – Robyn Osborne on her canine obession

Review: Warcross by Marie Lu

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Warcross by Marie Lu is the rainbow explosion of gaming, bounty hunting, and secret identities that you’ve all been waiting for. I’ve read a few Marie Lu books but I feel this is my new favourite! I picked it up on impulse and devoured it a day, so if that doesn’t say something, what does?!

The story follows Emika Chen, a bounty-hunter who’s absolutely broke and looking at eviction and a life of nothing since she’s been a convicted criminal. Oh joy. She lives in a world in the not-so-distant future where everyone is obsessed with this nation-wide phenomenon game called Warcross. It’s a virtual reality that you can tap into with just a pair of glasses and it changes lives and worlds. Plus it was created by a genius teenager, who also happens to be Emika’s idol. But all that is far away in her life, when just surviving day-to-day equals eating packaged noodles and hunting for criminals the cops can’t quite catch…except that all changes when Emika accidentally hacks into Warcross and draws the attention of the billionaire genius creator himself: Hideo Tanaka.

Hideo ends up hiring her to catch a rogue player in his virtual reality Warcross game, and she travels to Japan to compete in the championships. But the things she uncovers while poking about behind-the-scenes of the company and game…well, wow. That’s not what she expected.

The settings and the descriptions were really the stand-out highlights for this book for me! For starters, I loved getting to “see” Japan, and it was made a little more incredible by the sci-fi elements thrown in. When wearing the Warcross glasses, you can see another reality on top of this one, so it could just make everything a bit more surreal and special. Emika goes from being dirt poor to having anything she could want while working for Hideo and those rags-to-riches stories are always captivating.

Plus of course we know there’s going to be a little something between Emika and Hideo. He’s been her idol forever, but now she’s met him, she can see the stressed teen side that he has to hide from the media. His life isn’t as golden as it seems and I loved these dimensions of Hideo that we got to find out! The romance is also sweet and light and doesn’t draw away from Emika’s struggle to find an attacker hidden inside a computer game while not giving herself away.

However the gaming aspect didn’t really light up my world...which, I mean, it didn’t stop me from enjoying the book?! But I’m not a gamer! And I also struggled to believe that, in this future, 90% of the world would be playing a virtual reality game…I feel like there’d be more people who wouldn’t be interested in it? But maybe that’s just me who’s always had my nose in a book instead of gaming! Still I think this’ll really excite gamer-bookworms.

Emika was also a hopeless do-gooder with a badass side and rainbow dyed hair. I mean how awesome is that all together?! She was definitely the smart and capable heroine you want to root for, and with Hideo’s complex and interesting backstory and actions, the two make a plot you don’t want to look away from.

Basically Warcross is the kind of book that should definitely be on your radar! It’s clever and fast-paced, with a futuristic Tokyo of gorgeous colours, technology and the dark side that comes with a world that’s mostly online.

Secrets and Small Places – Sensational MG and YA reads

Being a Piscean, secrets and small spaces do not faze me much. I’m one of those little fishes who loves a bit of enigmatic seclusion and the stimulation of guesswork, which is why I absolutely, nuts and crackers enjoyed the following titles. Each possesses a fluidity of story and cast of characters so cleverly crafted, I felt like I was sharing their experience as if it were my own. These books take you in deep, which for me makes them terrifically satisfying and just a little be frightening – in a can’t-get-enough-of-way.

Middle Grade Fiction

The Secrets We Keep and The Secrets We Share by Nova Weetman

Fire – both compelling and repelling. Catastrophic and cleansing. This sums up the sweep of emotions and characters Weetman explores with Clem Timmins. Clem’s secret begins with a flicker but soon ignites into something she struggles to contain upon losing everything after her house burns down – her clothes, her treasures and her mum. Timmins and her pre-pubescent peers totter on the edge of change with remarkable poise and a raw, heart-wrenching genuineness that will bring the sting of tears to your eyes and a smile to your lips. They clutch at various emotional straws, each wanting happy outcomes but in Clem’s case, too frightened of losing even more, thus retreating into secrecy. This is good old honest storytelling, where enigmatic poignancy tempers robust reality.

Continue reading Secrets and Small Places – Sensational MG and YA reads

Review: The Dangerous Art of Blending In by Angelo Surmelis

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The Dangerous Art of Blending In by Angelo Surmelis was equal parts heartbreaking, hopeful, and brutal. I knew it was going to be an emotional one from the start, but it really has you feeling all of the things from the very first page. It’s so heartfelt that I couldn’t even put it down while I watched Evan’s complicated and ruined life unfold. This isn’t easy or lighthearted YA, but it’s so so needful. It’s full of art and abuse and the agony of hiding your true self from the world after people who should love you prove they don’t. Get yourself some chocolate before reading this, trust me.

The story centres around Evan Panos: son of Greek parents, artist, anxious and shy nerd, and very gay. Which is completely unacceptable to his family. He can’t even show them his art, let alone tell them he likes boys, and his life is a maze of trying to avoid confrontation with his abusive mother and his father who won’t step in. It’s all Evan can do to stay afloat, even though the boy he’s always loved could help him. Or ruin him if things got out. Either Evan loses the truest and best parts of himself in an effort to appease his terrible mother, or he finds a way to fight back.

The domestic violence parts are so heartbreaking, but very well written. Evan’s mother engages in a lot of psychological abuse too, leaving Evan feeling worthless as she calls him “wicked and sinful” for doing anything from not being the perfect Greek son, to doing art, to having his hair wrong. He truly does believe he’s unworthy and ugly and evil…until he gets a friend who refuses to let Evan think like that. Which I think is really important! The book steered away from any “love cures and saves” tropes, but it did underline the importance of being told again and again that you are worth something and that’s crucial for Evan believing in himself enough to fight back.

Evan is honestly the sweetest boy too. He’s an artist, but has a very low opinion of his work, and he always draws back from attention. But he’s just so unfailingly sweet and kind and the way he lights up when people are nice to him is beyond heartbreaking. I told you. Prepare to have your feels ruined. Also it’s really important that the book also showed the effects of a lifetime of abuse for Evan. He’s anxious and depressed and has PTSD and the book really highlights those aspects.

Evan’s relationship with Henry is also super sweet. Slow at first! And then tumbling into something faster. I do wish Henry had just had a little more deepness as a character, because we’re introduced to him as Evan’s childhood BFF, so they have history and we don’t “learn” as much about Henry as I’d have liked. But they were supportive and great together. Bless.

Also I appreciated the delving into Greek culture. The author is Greek and you can really tell as the writing covers Greek food and religion and family dynamics.

The pacing isn’t super fast, but in a good way! You can get see Evan’s life and it makes you feel like you’re in the story — from visiting his school to getting donuts with his dad, to the heart-in-the-mouth feeling of watching Evan try to avoid a run in with his unstable and horrible mother.

Basically The Dangerous Art of Blending In is an excellent story you really need to get your clammy paws on. It takes a very personal and #ownvoices look at what it’s like to be a closeted gay Greek teenager and it’s full of brittle agony and fragile hope.

P is for Pearl by Eliza Henry Jones

P is for Pearl is the first YA novel by Eliza Henry Jones. She has been acclaimed for her debut novel for adults, In the Quiet. 

Thanks for speaking with Boomerang Books blog, Eliza.

Where are you based and what are your interests?

I’m based on a little farm in the Yarra Valley of Victoria. I love gardening – particularly growing and preserving our own food. I love knitting, yoga and have two horses that I compete a little bit in dressage. I also adore reading,

Could you describe your writing process?

I’m a very haphazard writer – I write fast in big chunks and then will take time away from the story to percolate ideas. Sometimes I’ll be really happy with the idea for a story, but the characters won’t fit. Or sometimes the characters will be really vivid, but it takes me a while to find a story for them.

How are you involved in the literary community?

I’ve never been asked this question before! I’ve taught creative writing at community centres, judged quite a few short story competitions, spoken a festivals, libraries and bookstores and do my best to support other writers by buying books and requesting them at libraries. I have also worked briefly as a bookseller and interned at a publishing house. I think the most important way I’m involved in the literary community is through being a reader – readers are the lifeblood.

What is your experience of being part of writers’ festivals?

I love it – writing and reading are generally quite solitary activities and there’s something so magical about being part of an event where everyone comes together to celebrate their love of stories.

I wrote In the Quiet quite quickly and without a lot of expectation. It’s the easiest story I’ve ever written – it just flowed. It’s narrated by a woman who’s recently died, watching her family on their rural horse property. It’s not sci-fi or fantasy or anything like that. She’s just watching and reflecting and hoping.

My other novel, Ache, is focused on the recovery of an unconventional family after a bushfire ravages their community.

I’ve also written quite a few short stories and articles – most of my writing deals (in various degrees) with trauma and grief.

How has this led to having your YA novel, P is for Pearl (HarperCollins) being published?

I’ve written a manuscript every year since I was fourteen – that’s a lot of novels! Pearl was the story I wrote as a sixteen year old and then tucked away in a drawer because I was convinced it wasn’t good enough. If I hadn’t had my adult fiction titles published, I’m not sure I would’ve had the confidence to go through my old stories.

What genre within YA fiction is it?

P is for Pearl is contemporary YA fiction.

What is the significance of the title?

The title has gone through some changes since I was sixteen (back then it was called Wade’s Point – bit boring, hey?!). P is for Pearl fits it perfectly – Pearl is Gwen’s middle name and it symbolises her grabbling with who she actually is versus who she thinks her mother wanted her to be.

Could you introduce your major characters to us …

Gwen is the main character in P is for Pearl. She doesn’t realise it, but she’s still recovering from the trauma that her family went through years ago. She’s obsessed with running and is often confused and feels conflicted about what she should be feeling.

Loretta is Gwen’s best friend. She’s fiercely intelligent, fiery and protective.

Gordon is Gwen’s other best friend. He’s quiet, funny, very artistic and often bickers with Loretta as thought they’re an old married couple.

Ben’s the new kid in town and Gwen’s crush – clever, kind and insightful, he’s intrigued by Gwen but also distracted by his own family secrets.

What is the importance of the setting?

Setting is very important in all my novels. P is for Pearl is set in a small (fictional) town on the west coast of Tasmania. The rugged coastal landscape is crucial to the plot.

Who have you written this book for?

Eliza Henry Jones

I wrote this book when I was sixteen and – if I’m honest – I wrote it for myself. It was a cathartic book for me to write. Reworking it into the novel it is now, I wrote it for young people who perhaps are grappling with what mental illness looks like and how to reconcile the reality of the people you love experiencing mental illness.

I know P is for Pearl is very new, but have you received any responses that have particularly resonated with you from early readers?

I’ve had people getting in touch to tell me that the family and representations of mental illness really resonated with them – which means a lot to me.

What are you writing at the moment?

I’m working on my next adult fiction novel.

What books are you reading at the moment (or recently)?
At the moment I’m reading Penelope Lively’s Life in the Garden and absolutely adoring it.

Thanks Eliza and all the best with P is for Pearl.

Eliza’s website

Review: Everless by Sara Holland

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Everless by Sara Holland is a gorgeous fantasy where time is, literally, money. And you know what really captivated me?! The plot twists! Holy wow they did not stop coming and I was constantly surprised, which is exactly what I want from a novel. The imagination behind this book is superb and I will definitely keep my eye on this author in the future!

The story centres around Jules Ember, who lives in Sempera where you can draw blood and turn it into coins that count as money. Ergo the rich can live forever and the poor die so young. (It’s such a fascinating world!) Jules father is one of the unlucky ones caught deep in debt and poverty, his life nearly drained just trying to stay alive, so Jules decides to go work in the Everless estate, which is run by the infamous and filthy rich Gerling family. Fun part? She used to work there as a child but she and her father were forced to run away after an accident no one can know about. But if Jules goes back, hopefully no one will recognise her and she can earn enough to keep her father alive. But Jules ends up discovering her family is more entwined with the Gerlings than she knew, plus she stumbles over her childhood crush…now betrothed to a princess. But even putting her feelings aside, Jules knows there’s more to herself, this princess, and the gnarly old queen then meets the eye. And she’s running out of time to find out why.

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I totally loved the premise, with time-turning-to-money! It’s clever (although I have seen it in the movie In Time) and interesting to read about people who can measure their life spans and what they choose to do with that information. I also loved how the world building was really caught up around this, with lots of the language translating to time-references, and society functioning more on blood coins. It was super impressive how beautifully the world was crafted.

Jules was a very admirable heroine. She wasn’t my favourite person ever just because she was very very GOOD. But I still loved her curious streak and how she wouldn’t let other people tell her “what was best”. Jules took charge of her own fate and THAT is what I love to read about in YA!

The plot twists at the end just came so thick and fast. The villain reveals were so very good. It’s brimming with morally grey characters and mind twisters and I love ending a book feeling betrayed and elated at being successfully tricked!

It actually had a marvellous focus on female friendship too. Which is something that I’m sorely in need of. Jules befriends a ton of the other servants at Everless, and ends up working for the queen-to-be, who treats her so well and they actually end up being epic friends, despite the class difference. Seeing complex females on every page just made my day.

The romance is very very slight, too, in case you enjoy books that focus on mysteries over romance. I think it was well done, but Jules was not here to be distracted by a boy. (Go her.) Her childhood sweetheart was charismatic but clueless and Jules was also shadowed by his older brother, Liam, who her father’s always told her to steer clear of. And Jules has an excellent reason to hate him, as you’ll find out.

Basically Everless is definitely the fantasy you don’t want to let slip through your fingers! It’s built on an interesting and wonderfully crafted world and full of characters you’ll definitely root for. Some of the tropes are a little overdone in there, but it still brings epicness to the table.

Birds in Flight – Picture Book Reviews

There’s something about birds in books that literally makes my heart sing, whether it be the pleasurable sense of freedom they so naturally possess, or their resourceful grit and determination, or their cheeky personalities that are just so loveable, or all of the above. Here I share some astounding picture books that soar with beguiling and triumphant goodness.

Bird to Bird, Claire Saxby (text), Wayne Harris (illus.), Black Dog Walker Books, March 2018.

The story of one bird, one seed, one tree.” We follow this enlightening path as a bird inadvertently helps to create a sapling with the drop of a seed, and that older, fallen tree thus serves many a use, finally being carved into the shape of a bird for a little boy to treasure forevermore.
A gorgeous collaboration between author and illustrator brings life to life in this tale of the journey of one tree. With an essence of Bob Graham’s perceptual and consequential nature, Claire Saxby writes her circular narrative with a similar gentle, poetic style and light repetition. Wayne Harris’ illustrations carry the story forward in a flawless sequence of artistic beauty, combining texture, movement, light and vivid colour with every page turn. Never feeling a dull moment, the story sets intrigue whilst subtly weaving important discussion themes around timber harvesting, usage and recycling, convicts, wool looms, and wood carving. It also acknowledges historical changes through time without ever losing focus on the tree and its transformations. Bird to Bird; a beautiful, thoughtful tale for primary-aged children, reflecting the value of nature, sustainability and art.

Bird Builds a Nest: A Science Storybook about Forces, Martin Jenkins (author), Richard Jones (illus.), Walker Books, March 2018.

Explaining science to preschoolers is not always easy, or fun. But here in Bird Builds a Nest, nonfiction expert Martin Jenkins (Fox in the Night and The Squirrels’ Busy Year) writes a fascinating and entertaining account of a bird experimenting with forces and the concept of pushing and pulling. The book is written with easy-to-follow dual narrative, one of Bird’s story building her nest, the other of smaller print, factual text describing each concept in simple terms.
Bird’s first mission as she awakes is to acquire her morning meal. By applying a force towards her, Bird attempts to ‘pull’ a big, strong worm from its tunnel. Her hunt for twigs is not always straightforward; she hasn’t got enough force to ‘lift’ the weight of the larger sticks. With trial and error, fetching and carrying, pushing and pulling, Bird manages to find suitable materials to successfully build her nest.
The illustrations by Richard Jones are both playful and artful with their mixed-media and mixed-technique sharp, contemporary style and modern colours. Bird Builds a Nest is a witty, clever and sweet approach to the science in nature and the everyday forces used all around us. This one will ‘pull’ little ones in, for sure!

Gary, Leila Rudge (author, illus.), Walker Books, PB, November 2017.

Originally published in 2016, Gary by Leila Rudge returns with his own paperback edition. This story, awarded Honour Book in The Children’s Book Council of the Year Awards 2017, never gets tired, no matter how many outings or roads it travels. We still love this tale of a passionate racing pigeon (with a difference) driving this adventure story home with his boundless grit and determination.
Recounts from the other pigeons’ expeditions, and his scrapbook collection of mementos, give Gary a sense of place in the world despite only knowing his own backyard. Then one day he mistakingly falls into a travel basket and is taken a long way from home. But how could Gary feel lost when he had already studied the city from back to front? How will he find his way back to the loft? Gary’s adventure concludes with a little ingenuity and a whole lot of inspiration.
Rudge’s sensitive and dynamic narrative beautifully marries with her character’s accepting yet curious personality. Her illustrations are equally as charismatic and layered with their warming tones, mixed collage and pencil drawings of maps, souvenirs and adorable racing pigeon outfits!
Gary is a sweet, charming story of passion and opportunity, challenging one’s own abilities and never giving up on one’s dreams. Children from age four will be dreaming to accompany Gary on his adventures time and time again.

Biographical Non-Fiction Picture Books

I was never much one for history, preferring even today, to live and learn vicariously through faction. Fortunately, thanks to the talents of some remarkable picture book creators, biographical accounts of famous and not so famous people literally come alive, enhancing history in the most beguiling way. I am elated to share some of the non-fiction picture book standouts available today and to admit, I am richer for them.

Little People, Big Dreams Series by Isabel Sanchez Vegara  and Various Illustrators

There are about ten books in this fascinating illustrated series spotlighting some of history’s most notable female figures in arts, science, aviation, and commerce. From Frida Kahlo and Amelia Earhart to Marie Curie and Agatha Christie, each beautifully crafted book presents the story of these women from their childhood to their most well-known achievement.   Vegara’s narratives are sincere and informative without being overtly florid or overloaded with facts and each book contains a pictorial time line of the featured woman at the end allowing readers to match their story with actual dates.  The common theme that you can be whomever you wish to be and do whatever you wish to do, is what makes this series so attractive for young readers, and older ones thirsting for a sense empowerment. An absolute inspiring joy to collect and cherish.

Quarto Group UK February 2016 – March 2018

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Review: The Trauma Cleaner

The Christmas–New Year break contains but two priorities for me: to rest and to read books.

Strangely, given its slightly heavier subject matter, Sarah Krasnostein’s The Trauma Cleaner: One woman’s extraordinary life in death, decay & disaster was one of the books I was most keen to read at this time.

In truth, I was attracted by both the concept and the cover art. The former is that the book is the biography of Sandra, whose work concentrates on cleaning premises that range from sites of hoarding to crime scenes. The latter is the simple but sharp contrast between a white background and slightly wrung bright orange plastic glove. On a semi-gloss cover that could, arguably, be wiped down with a wet cloth if needed.

While trauma cleaning is in and of itself a macabrely fascinating concept (Krasnostein quickly explains that it is a little-known but necessary business for crime scenes and the like—police and other emergency services aren’t there to clean up), Sandra’s story is even more so. Before she was a trauma cleaner, Sandra was, as the blurb explains, ‘a husband and father, drag queen, sex reassignment patient, sex worker, businesswoman, trophy wife …’

So yeah, there’s a lot to this tale.

The book’s first lines are actually the lines on Sandra’s business card, stating that ‘excellence is no accident’ before listing the types of services she offers. These include hoarding, methamphetamine lab, and death-scene clean-up, as well as odour control.

All the endlessly fascinating things that happen in the shadows and that provide insights into humanity. If this book shows us anything, it’s that these situations are but the extreme manifestations of the issues of loneliness, depression, anxiety, and more that we all grapple with at one time or another. Sandra included.

As Krasnostein writes: ‘Sandra knows her clients as well as they know themselves; she airs out their smells, throws out their weird porn, their photos, their letters, the last traces of their DNA entombed in soaps and toothbrushes. She does not, however, erase these people. She couldn’t. She has experienced the same sorrows.’

Adopted and then abused by her adoptive parents and trying to come to terms with being transgender at a time when it was even less accepted than it is now (if it even is now), what Sandra has gone through is soul-searchingly sad.

Seriously, the book’s opening chapters made me wonder how she survived much less triumphed over her childhood, and I can only imagine how confusing and difficult and stressful it would have been facing a lack of acceptance as well as medical scrutiny when trying to undergo gender reassignment surgery. Not to mention the fact that Sandra underwent all of this around the time of HIV’s arrival. It’s also heart-swellingly impressive just how much she’s managed to make of her life, rebuilding it time and again.

Krasnostein notes that Sandra is immaculately dressed at all times. And that she’s also accompanied by an oxygen tank to help her manage a respiratory condition that is exacerbated by the kinds of dusty, fume- and mould-laden environments in which she works. Trauma cleaning is brutally physical work: ‘See, people think “cleaning” and that you need a bucket of water and a cloth … We need crowbars, spades, rakes, a sledgehammer …’ Sandra explains.

At 260 pages, this book is of average length, but is so accessible and I read it so quickly that those 260 pages felt short. I still have questions. For instance, Krasnostein writes that she first encountered Sandra at a forensic support services conference. I wondered immediately what prompted Krasnostein to attend one. And I wanted to know more detail about Sandra in general—she so utterly fascinated me.

But I’m similarly conscious that there were many rabbit warrens Krasnostein could have gone down. Each life within Sandra’s life just about warrants a book of its own, so it would have been an unimaginably herculean task for Krasnostein to contain the tales to one book. Which she did well, giving mostly equal airtime to key times in Sandra’s life: her childhood, moving out of home and marrying, grappling with her gender and sexuality, careers she’s had, violence she’s endured, loves she’s lost, and how she’s had to repeatedly rebuild her life and finances multiple times.

My only criticisms of the book are that there is too much of the author in it and the text suffers a little from overwriting and thesaurus syndrome. While I’m sure Krasnostein felt a strong personal connection to Sandra’s story, Sandra’s story alone was so rich and compelling that it really needed to stand alone. Likewise, there were times when it felt like prose was over-explained. The story itself was so strong it could have been told matter-of-factly. Likewise, Sandra’s memory loss and subsequent unreliable narration were referenced too often. They just needed to be mentioned once at the beginning and left at that.

But these are small quibbles about what is ultimately an ambitious and refreshingly different book. Sandra’s is a little-told story that warrants greater attention and respect. I hope to read some follow-up articles or books about her—I get the sense she has many more incredible lives to lead and many more stories to share.

Tennis & The Harper Effect

The Harper Effect has caused even a non-tennis aficionado such as myself to develop an interest in tennis, particularly in the lives and commitment of tennis players. The Harper Effect (Pan Macmillan Australia) is Taryn Bashford’s debut YA novel. It has already had an ‘effect’, I can’t get it out of my head …

Thanks for speaking with Boomerang Books blog, Taryn.

Thank you very much for having me 😊

As a debut novelist, how were you able to acquire a publishing contract?

My book deal came about after I had a few fingers in pies, and a couple of them came up with plums 😉 I had entered the Varuna House Publishing Introduction Program which was run in conjunction with Pan Macmillan. I was one of the winners which meant I got to stay at Varuna House for a week and work on my manuscript with a mentor. However, at the same time, Curtis Brown, a literary agent in Sydney, took me on board. I had submitted my novel to them some months before, following a meeting at the CYA Conference in Brisbane. They sped up the process so that I didn’t have to wait for the residency before knowing if Pan Macmillan would publish my novel. I got to use that residency for the second book instead, as Pan Macmillan offered a two-book deal.

Where are you based and how are you involved in the YA literary community?

I’m based on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland. Although we’re far from Brisbane, I belong to the SCBWI and attend meetings down there whenever I can. I enjoy meeting people there, and particularly sharing what I’ve learnt on the road to publishing. I also attend meetings of the SCBWI sub-branch on the Sunshine Coast for similar reasons. It’s great to share experiences, stories and talk all things books. I also put together a writing group after meeting various writers at Varuna House or at conferences like Brisbane’s CYA Conference. We all live in the local area, so it was meant to be! We meet regularly to critique each other’s work and we also support each other in all aspects of the publishing and writing process.

Which well-known professional tennis player do you most admire and why?

I’d have to say Serena Williams because her recent media activity about sport being a way of empowering girls is very close to my heart. Research shows this to be true, and it also shows that girls in sport have much better self-esteem and better body images of themselves. This is so important now that our teens are exposed to photoshopped images of movie stars, actresses and singers – and can never hope to be that perfect.

What tip to playing better tennis can you give us?

You’re probably better off asking my brother that question. He’s the tennis star in our family. However, having been a part of his journey, I believe the key differentiator to being a great tennis player and being a brilliant champion tennis player is how you play the mind game. This is evident in The Harper Effect too when Harper falters, but put simply, if you don’t believe in yourself, and if you don’t have that instinct to win whatever it takes, or have mental tools to help you deal with losing a point, then you’ll often choke when the pressure turns up.

Why have you written a YA novel about tennis? Why tennis rather than another sport?

The Harper Effect was first written when I was 14 and my brother had recently won Nationals at Wimbledon and then won a scholarship to the Nick Bollettierri Academy in Florida. At the time, tennis was a big deal in our house. Obviously, I’ve re-drafted the novel several times since then, and my focus was on highlighting teens that go above and beyond the norm, and contrasting that with the fact that they’re still teens. This means they’re making mistakes, still wrangling with teen issues like boyfriends and sibling rivalry and school, but they’re on a world stage so the consequences of bad choices are often greater.

I’m really impressed with how you incorporated this into the novel, but could you also tell us here something readers should know about the lives of professional athletes, particularly tennis players. It sounds like such a struggle and sacrifice.

I’m glad you got that message. The world of any professional athlete is not glamorous, even if it seems that way on TV. If you read Andre Agassi’s biography, Open, this is again highlighted. The training, sacrifices, focus and hard work are all needed every day and that’s tough, but then the rewards if you make it big are massive. I’m talking specifically of tennis when I say that. Some sports are not as lucrative, but I believe the highs of winning, of travelling, of breaking records and proving yourself, are worth the hard work and having to sacrifice that beef burger 😊

What is the significance of the title, The Harper Effect?

The effect that Harper has on Colt is an important part of the plot. She draws him out of himself so that he’s less robotic in his tennis and he becomes more ‘human’ in his personal life. This in turn helps his game. The effect she has on him is also that his ‘mental game’ improves – he’s able to stay strong and face the pressure head on. Harper’s effect on Jacob and Aria are less admirable, but her actions do result in Aria spreading her wings and going on to bigger and better things in Rome, and to Jacob having a wake-up call about his drinking and the need to grow up and leave behind his childhood.

Could you introduce your major characters to us …

Harper Hunter is a 16-year-old tennis player who’s just turned professional and is struggling with the extra pressure that puts on her game. This results in her coach of 5 years dumping her, and telling her she doesn’t have what it takes. Harper has been on the junior circuit for five years by now. As a result, she’s missed a lot of her childhood and it’s meant her sister and best friend, Jacob, someone she’d fallen in love with, have become romantically involved. It’s this situation that shows Harper at her weakest, because she’s yet to learn how to deal with the situation in a mature way and so she makes some bad choices. It’s through her understanding of Colt and his life, and through helping him, that she grows up enough to eventually make the right choices in her life.

Aria Hunter is her sister. She’s another high achieving teen but in the music arena. Her dream is to go to the Sydney Conservatorium with her boyfriend, Jacob. I don’t want to give any spoilers, but ultimately, she gives up her dream after Harper betrays her. Luckily, she finds a bigger dream to chase.

Colt is the 17 year old tennis pro who becomes Harper’s mixed doubles partner and training partner. He appears to be a cold, closed-off person at first, but we learn that it’s because he’s hiding some family secrets in order to make it in the world of tennis. His personal issues affect his game, but it’s Harper who helps him to the other side of an ocean of choices.

Jacob is Harper and Aria’s next-door neighbour. They’ve been friends since kindergarten. With Harper on tour from a young age, their friendship trio was tested, and he becomes romantically involved with Aria. Then he realises he is with her in an attempt to get back a piece of Harper, the girl he’s truly in love with. He’s also somewhat spoilt by his neglectful parents who tend to buy his happiness with money and gifts. This impacts his personality as he’s used to getting what he wants. When he can’t have Harper, he truly goes off the rails.

How could Harper and Aria’s parents have predicted their passions when they named them?

The girl’s names are more an extension of the parent’s interests and loves before they were born. Their mum is a music buff, and so she got her choice for their first child. Their dad was a high achieving tennis player and was keen to name his child after his tennis idol. In my mind, he got his choice since he’d not got it for the first child.  In the end, the girls reflected their namesakes – I guess I could’ve swapped them over to confuse things!

What’s your favourite colour and what is the significance of purple in the novel?

My favourite colour is cerulean blue. It’s just so pretty and makes me feel relaxed when I see it. Purple is significant in the novel because it represents different things as the characters grow up. At first, it represents their childhood and that’s represented by the Purple Woods where they spent most of the childhood playing games and just being kids. The Purple Woods then become part of what helps Harper deal with her on-court pressure. She’s told by her coach, Milo, to go somewhere in her mind where she feels relaxed and happy and somewhere that has a calming effect on her. Purple Time is then born. It helps Harper to win. But when she loses Purple Time, after everything back home goes wrong and the woods no longer represent that happy and safe place, it shows that she’s grown as a player as she no longer needs Purple Time to win. She is able to find the resources within herself to deal with the pressure.  As we near the climax of the novel, we find Jacob is still lost in the Purple Woods, unable to leave them behind. He’s got a way to go before he grows up. Harper, on the other hand, no longer wishes to be there. She understands it’s time to leave them behind and face the world as an adult. Aria has spread her wings and flown to Rome, so she has also let go of her childhood.

What happened at the launch of The Harper Effect? 

Launch of The Harper Effect (Noosa News)

I had an amazing time at the official launch of The Harper Effect on the Sunshine Coast. One of my hopes for my book is that teens and in fact people of all ages are inspired to both chase their dreams (sporting or not), but to also stay in sport and even achieve professional levels in sport. So I put together a panel of young elite athletes as examples of real life Harpers. I wanted the audience to see that no matter their dream, these girls were living proof that with hard work and dedication, self-motivation and focus, you can achieve what you set out to. I’m also very keen to give our teens new role models in our literature. Instead of giving them images of beauty to live up to, let’s give them sporty, confident and successful heroines in books to look up to. The panel were living and breathing role models too.

For whom have you written this book?

The book was dedicated to my brother. He played the professional circuit before becoming a professional tennis coach. He coached young players like Amelie Mauresmo and Marcos Baghdatis, who were at the time in their teens. While The Harper Effect is not based on him or his experiences, as the story is completely fictional, the facts and details that I learnt from him are an important part of the authenticity of the setting of the novel.

I know it’s only just been published but have you received any responses that have particularly resonated with you from readers?

Yes, the main ones being that everyone loves Colt and Milo and that the tennis part of the book surprised them. Many readers found the setting of the world of professional tennis to be very interesting. They reported that they looked at the play at the recent Australian Open through new eyes. That was very gratifying. They also felt inspired to follow their dreams or meet their goals.

What books are you reading at the moment (or recently)? 

I’m currently re-reading Jandy Nelson’s I’ll Give You The Sun. She is one of my favourite American YA writers. The book before that was Margaret Atwood’s The Robber Bride. I’ve not come across a Margaret Atwood book I don’t love 😊 Looking at my list (I keep a list that highlights my thoughts on the books I’ve read, and I also make a note of the publisher), the book before that was Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief – also a re-read because his writing is so dense you need to re-read it so you don’t miss any of his gorgeous phrasing!

Thanks for your thoughtful responses, Taryn and all the best with The Harper Effect.

Thank you very much. And all the very best to you too.

Taryn’s YouTube channel

Just a Little Bit of Love – Picture Book Reviews

There are a few ‘love-ly’ events about to reward us with their heartwarming presence, including Valentine’s Day, Library Lovers’ Day and International Book Giving Day. Yep, they all fall on the same day: February 14. So what better way to help your children fall, or continue to fall in love with books than to share one, buy one, borrow one or give one away. Here are a few with the themes of friendship, hope, compassion, and of course, love to make your hearts sing with an abundance of warmth and affection.

The Poesy Ring, Bob Graham (author, illus.), Walker Books, November 2017.

The perfect book to share this Valentine’s Day; a beautiful story of love, hope and the power of destiny. Graham’s poetic text alluringly ties in with his moving line and watercolour illustrations that sweep and navigate in succession across the pages. And aptly so. This is a story of the boundless journey of a symbol of love – a golden ring, inscribed with “Love never dies”, beginning its adventure with heartbreak in Ireland, 1830, and reaching its timely fate as a cherished jewel in New York City, 1967. Bound in a meadow for many a season, accompanied by many a creature and unknowing passers-by, the ring then finds its path to the bottom of the sea, only to be eventually discovered once more to where it meets its ultimate destiny. Graham’s touching account grips the heart and mind with his ponderings of one of life’s magical mysteries. The Poesy Ring is sure to win the affections of primary-aged children and rekindle fond memories for any adult who has ever been in love.

Ash Dresses Her Friends, Fu Wenzheng (author, illus.), New Frontier Publishing, February 2018.

Here is a gorgeous story of making connections; where loneliness is turned into fulfilling bonds. Author / illustrator Fu Wenzheng’s text explores the relationship between internal feelings and outwardly behaviour, with a character that reveals a change from sadness / being quiet to contentment / sharing with others. Wenzheng also showcases her talents with her multicultural and textural print and watercolour illustrations that emanate a beautiful Chinese flavour of pattern and dual-tone red and grey. The book’s theme is around sharing and helping others through generous and creative gestures. This is demonstrated by Ash, a shy, azure-winged magpie who discovers her immense satisfaction in tailoring clothes and other textiles for her new animal friends with her patterned material. And the love she receives in return is even more rewarding. Ash Dresses her Friends is a physically small book wrapped with big-hearted and indulgent goodness that will help young ones to open themselves up to loving friendships.

Fox & Moonbeam, Aleesah Darlison (author), Narelda Joy (illus.), Wombat Books, September 2017.

This sumptuously detailed picture book with its lush, digitally mastered illustrations and richly emotive text shows nothing less than a grand sense of faith and courage. Gerard Fox serves as a clock winder in the Queen’s palace. This unfulfilling job is only endured, for the moments he has time away he breathes in life through his violin-playing occasions in the park. Mademoiselle Moonbeam Lapin, famous ballerina, lives the high life of travel, glamour and lights, yet her heart is empty. The pair, upon meeting, lead us to a satisfying ending showing them both shining from the inside out. Darlison‘s narrative is thoughtful and provocative, luminously balancing with Narelda Joy’s intricate, layered collage in a traditional Victorian England setting. Fox & Moonbeam contains a wonderfully perceptive concept of entrusting in a friendship, but particularly in the self-belief and courage to be able to follow your passions and achieve your potential. Encourage your primary-aged children that it’s their ‘time to shine’!

What’s Your Favourite Colour?, Eric Carle and Friends (authors, illus.), Walker Books UK, February 2018.

What a brilliant explosion of diversity, flamboyance, life and love in this colourful book of art! If ever there was a time to appreciate all the colours of the rainbow, to accept and embrace our different preferences and what makes us happy, it’s right now. Eric Carle invites all his friends to choose, illustrate and describe their favourite colour in this glorious collection of artwork, poetry, and poignant little stories. Carle explains his love of ‘yellow’ for its challenge when mixing colours, but also for the yellow sun. The shades roll on, with Bryan Collier’s ‘blue’ awakenings opposite a collage of his little girl amidst blue balloons. Mike Curato paints a substantial picture of his favourite colour ‘mint’. ‘Purple’ reminds Anna Dewdney of her love of her old purple polyester trouser suit, and peacocks in her garden! In total, fifteen award-winning author/illustrators grace the pages with their marvellous textural, dramatic, effervescent and nostalgic pieces. One of our very own, Marc Martin vividly pops with his flock of magnificent watercolour crimson rosellas – his favourite colour is ‘crimson red’. A childhood photo and short biography of these diverse contributors complete this celebration of individuality coming together to form a colourful rainbow. What’s Your Favourite Colour? is beautiful, inspiring and mesmerising for any age.

 

Review: Afterward by Jennifer Mathieu

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Afterward by Jennifer Mathieu is an intensely brutal story about the aftermath of being a kidnapping victim. This is not a light read by any means, but I appreciated the book tackling the topic with care and respect and aimed at a Young Adult audience. Epically done. And it is absolutely and definitely here to make your heart bleed a little. It also felt really true to teen voices and experiences and I was super impressed by that.

The story follows two narrators, Caroline and Ethan, and how their lives are accidentally entwined over a kidnapping. Ethan was stolen when he was just a little boy and then years latter, Caroline’s autistic little brother Dylan was taken as well. But it didn’t last long and both boys were rescued soon after. Yet Dylan is still completely traumatised and Ethan has years of abuse to work through. He and Caroline only meet because of their connection to Dylan…but something sparks between them. Caroline wants to know exactly what happened to Dylan and Ethan would love a friend who doesn’t treat him differently. They start playing music together as the look for healing and answers…or revenge.

It really delves into a lot of psychological aspects of trauma and recovery. I totally appreciated how it explored how the mind will work and respond to these things, with selective amnesia for instance. It made the book seem extremely real and the writing was perfect around it. We only get the barest few flashbacks of the time Ethan spent kidnapped, which packs a serious emotional punch. (And also keeps the book non-graphic, which I understand since it’s geared at a teen audience.)

The storyline focuses mostly on characters than actual plot. Ethan is extremely smothered by his newly-reunited loving family and he’s absolutely chaffing at it, but also feels so guilty for it. He wants to find out what normal means, but he has no idea how to even start. He feels so deeply broken by what happened to him too. The story was slow as they went to and from therapy sessions and Ethan worked at a froyo place, and Carolin and Ethan built a tentative friendship around playing music in the garage. But the emotional layer is what you’re here for.

It is dual narrated by both Ethan and Caroline. They both had fantastic and very different voices which was amazing! Caroline’s so complex and kind of the “bad girl” because her home life is pits. But she is secretly sweet and caring and the absolute loveliest to her little brother. She’s definitely the “bad girl with a heart of gold” trope and I couldn’t get enough. Ethan is completely sad and tragic and I ached for him and his conflicted emotions and feelings. He’s extremely traumatised and his character development is amazing, but painful. Caroline’s little brother, Dylan, doesn’t get as much page time but I loved that they represented his autism really well (although unfortunately there were undercurrents about calling Dylan “broken” because of his autism that was completely unnecessary.)  I loved how fiercely Carolyn loved and helped Dylan though!

The whole story was really addictive, kind of like watching a flaming plate spin out the sky and hit you. It’s a quite book, though, but there’s a constant undertone of sick dread that makes you desperate to know how these characters end up. I also loved the focus on friendship instead of romance, because wow, these characters all needed to heal.

Afterward was definitely an amazing, but quiet book. It was heartwarming and heartbreaking and realistic which made for a deeply amazing story, even with the horror of what happened to these kids.

Valentines Reading – Picture Books with Heart

Whether it’s about love unrequited, lost loves or welcoming new love into your heart, this collection of new children’s book releases are sure to melt your Valentines resolve.

Unrequited Love

I Love You Stick Insect by Chris Naylor-Ballesteros

Side-splinteringly silly, this jocularly illustrated romance features Stick (a stick insect) and his infatuation with the most beautiful stick insect he has ever laid eyes on. He immediately launches into a reverie of what ifs with his newfound love despite Butterfly’s repeated proclamations that it’s ‘just a stick’. Readers merrily hurtle along with Stick and his runaway imagination until he finally twigs his embarrassing mistake. Eye-catching candy that will tickle the funny bones of 2 – 5 year-olds.

Bloomsbury January 2018

Valensteins by Ethan Long

Valentine’s Day may seem an unlikely celebration for monsters and ghouls yet young Fran has other notions. He sets his heart on creating a pretty, pink paper heart for which he receives cutting ridicule. His vampish friends fear that Fran might be in love, that icky, gross, mushy, kiss-on-the-lips emotion that they frankly all find ‘terrifying’! Fortunately, for Fran, he turns the other bolted cheek and remains true to his real feelings. Despite its monochromatic overtones and comically Goth characters, Valensteins oozes charm and meaning, showing young readers that real love is about what you feel in your real heart. This is a lovely expression of being true to your feelings and creating meaningful relationships.

Bloomsbury January 2018

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5 Unexpected Books in 2017

We’re well into 2018 now, and in the process of setting new reading goals for the year I’ve been thinking about my varied reading success last year. Here are 5 unexpected books I read in 2017.

Most anticipated read
My most anticipated release and read of 2017 was A Column of Fire by Ken Follett. Being a loyal reader of the Pillars of the Earth series, I was keenly awaiting the third in the series and coming in at more than 750 pages, it was an impressive tome. While it was greater in scope than the others in the series, it was a great read.

Most disappointing read
I’d been savouring my signed copy of Prince Lestat by longtime favourite author Anne Rice for ages, delaying the gratification and joy I was sure would ensue from the first page until the last. Unfortunately when I finally picked it up to read last year this wasn’t the case.
This is the 11th in the Vampire Chronicles series and the plot contains chapters from different vampires as they begin to face a crisis threatening their kind. I should have been thrilled to rediscover favourite characters again, but the cause uniting them was a complete bore. Such a shame.

Long overdue
I don’t mean overdue library books here, but a book I should have read long before now. For me, this was Past the Shallows by Australian author Favel Parrett. Set on the coast of Tasmania and dealing with themes of grief, this is a coming-of-age story about brotherhood. Shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Award in 2012, it’s a haunting and often sad story, but it’s also a very quick read so I don’t know why it took me so long to get to it.

Least favourite book
My least favourite read of last year was Artemis by Andy Weir. Main character Jazz is living in a settlement on the moon and I just didn’t care about her or what she was doing. The attempted humour fell flat and the plot was uninteresting. It  clearly lacked the humour and interest of The Martian – one of my favourite books in 2014. If I didn’t know the novel was by Andy Weir, I would have stopped reading early on.

Taught me something new
The Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin was one of my favourite books last year and I still think of her theories several times a week, almost six months after reading her book. You can take the quiz for free and determine your own tendency, you’ll be either an Upholder, Obliger, Questioner or Rebel. I’m an Obliger and learning that helped me understand myself and others better and I highly recommend it.

Review: Last Night I Sang to the Monster by Benjamin Alire Saenz

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Last Night I Sang to the Monster by Benjamin Alire Saenz was such a heartbreaking and darkly beautiful book! I really truly loved it. I actually am a big fan of this author already, really loving his books of Aristotle & Dante Discover The Secrets Of the Universe and also The Inexplicable Logic of My Life! When I realised I hadn’t read this older book of his, well…that had to be fixed as soon as possible. It’s such a brutal story about the deep trauma of mental illness, abuse, addiction, and the pain of being unwanted. Basically go into this one stockpiled on chocolate and tissues because you’re going to need it.

The story follows Zach who’s in a rehab centre but doesn’t remember why. Except he’s pretty much choosing not to remember why. Terrible and dark things have happened to him but he does feel safe in this centre where everything is regulated and there are therapists who care and he has roommates who maybe have even sadder lives than he does. It’s a really deep look at depression and how it can spiral into addiction. Zach has to figure out if he’s truly hiding from his past, or if there’s something he really has to remember to help fix this situation.

The ending is such an emotional roller coaster and was absolutely glorious. I’m so pleased that a book can be about darkness, but also mix some light and hope in amongst the sadness. It’s the perfect combination of both.

Zach was an easy character to relate to and feel your heart break over. The rehab facility he’s in takes people of all kinds of addiction but he’s there specifically for his alcoholism. I actually was worried the amnesia story line would be tedious, but it’s more like suppressed memories. He’s very vocal about the fact he doesn’t want to remember. And any time we see glimpses of his path, wow kid, we understand why you don’t want to remember. He had a rough go of it. This book is seriously here to kick you in the feels.

I also loved how Zach wasn’t a passive character, even though the story really only takes place in a rehab facility. The pacing is really quite spot on and it was equal parts interesting to see Zach in therapy or talking to his friends or just listening to his thoughts and perspective of the world. It’s such a close and personal POV that you can’t help but be Zach, which I think is super impressive writing skills.

Meeting the secondary characters and learning their stories was also super emotional. Rafael was definitely my favourite and almost a surrogate dad for Zach by the end…although definitely not willing to stop pushing Zach to help himself. Because rehab is not just about being helped — you have to do the work too. At one point, Rafael writes Zach a note and it says something about girls cry but then he crosses it out and says boys cry. I loved this. It’s okay for anyone to show emotion and tears and heartbreak and it’s so important that the book spoke about it.

Last Night I Sang to the Monster is definitely the kind of story that packs a punch. It’s not a “nice” book and it’s going to lay out the darkness of abuse, addiction, and super deep depression. It’s messy and the characters make bad decisions. But the ending was perfectly balanced and it told such an important story.

Top Reads of 2017

I’m a little late with this… but, better late than never. The year of 2017 was rather busy for me and while I didn’t do much blogging, I did a lot of reading. I may not have managed to keep up with all the new releases that I wanted to read (I still have a few key ones on my to-be-read stack), but I did get around to enough of them to do my annual top reads list.

So here goes…

PICTURE BOOK

I didn’t read all that many picture books this year. Both my kids have out-grown them. I keep telling them that you’re never too old to enjoy picture books, and I hope that one day they will return to them. But for the moment… I’m just reading them myself. So I’m not reading as many as I used to. My favourite for 2017 is…

The Fix-It Man, written by Dimity Powell, illustrated by Nicky Johnston

I defy anyone to read this book and not tear up. It’s about a young girl and her dad, the Fit-It Man of the title. He can fix anything and everything, and she relies on him to do so. Until… Mum dies. And things are not so easy to fix anymore. This is not a situation Dad can repair on his own. It’s going to take the two of them together. This is such a lovely book, that says so much, even with pages where there are no words. Dimity Powell weaves this story with grace and gentleness, supported by gorgeous, whimsical illustrations from Nicky Johnston.

KIDS BOOK

I write kids’ books. So I read a lot of kids’ books. And I have a clear favourite for 2017…

Bronze Bird Tower by Carole Wilkinson

This is the sixth and final book in the amazing DragonKeeper series. Full of adventure and heart, fantasy and history, it is an absolute joy. Tao, former novice monk and now DragonKeeper, and his dragon Kai complete their journey of discover begun two books earlier. I read it with mixed emotions. I loved it, but was so sad that there will be no more in the series.

YA BOOK

Tough competition for 2017. Real tough! I read LOTS of amazing books, and even so, I didn’t get around to Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner’s Unearthed or Release by Patrick Ness or The Book of Dust by Philip Pullman. They’re still in my to-be-read stack. So keep that in mind. I’m going to start this section with two honourable mentions…

Gap Year in Ghost Town by Michael Pryor

Teenage ghost hunters in Melbourne! Quirky, charming, exciting and utterly delightful, it is a perfect balance of character interplay and engrossing story. I adore the Melbourne setting, which had me going “Oh, I know where that is” almost every chapter. It is thoroughly contemporary and yet manages an old-school charm as well. I love Pryor’s take on what ghosts are – it makes them kinda sad, but also really frightening when necessary. I feel there is so much potential in the characters to go further. I’m desperately hoping there will be more books about Anton, Rani and the other ghost hunters.

Harlequin’s Riddle (Book 1 of the Tales of Tarya) by Rachel Nightingale

This book weaves together the Commedia dell’Arte form of thearte, bits of history and fantasy into one of the most original ideas I’ve seen in a long time. Mina has an amazing talent for storytelling, which means so much more than she realises. Leaving her small town, she sets off with a troupe of travelling actors in the hope of finding her missing brother, who left with a similar troupe ten years earlier. Ahead of her, is adventure and intrigue as she discovers that her storytelling ability can lead her to the amazing realm of Tarya. I am so looking forward to the remaining books in this trilogy.

But top spot goes to…

Pride by Lazaros Zigomanis

Luke Miggs lives in Ulah, a small town that loves its football. When the mysterious Adam Pride literally walks out of the night to join the local team, everything changes. Ambitions are kindled. Dreams are chased. Choices are questioned. And the past is revealed. This book is not just about football. It’s about small-town life (its ups and its downs). It’s also about friendship and choices and racism… and the past refusing to stay buried. Vivid characters, and an intriguing story, make this an absolutely gripping read.

GROWN-UP BOOK

I don’t read a huge number of grown-up books. I tend to be VERY choosy and stick with books from writers I’m friends with, writers whose work I know and love, and books recommended to me by people whose opinions I value. Also, keep in mind that Just Another Week in Suburbia by Lez Zig (alternate name for Lazaros Zigomanis, author of Pride) is still on my to-be-read stack. Having said that, I have a very clear favourite for 2017…

The Book Club, by Alan Baxter

Call it a short novel or a novella or whatever you want… I call it brilliant! It is tense, imaginative, edge or your seat stuff that is hard to put down. Without giving away too much… it’s about a man whose wife goes missing. She simply doesn’t come home from book club one night. Not willing to leave things to the police, he investigates and discovers that it was no ordinary book club that his wife belonged to. I love the way Baxter reveals the characters’ twisted back-story, then weaves it into the main plot of the club and disappearance. I read this is 2017, and it’s still buzzing around in my head a month in to 2018.

NON-FICTION BOOK

As a writer of educational books, I read a lot of non-fiction for research. But I also read a bit off my own bat. Interestingly, I didn’t read anything that was published in 2017… it was all older. So, my favourite non-fic book written prior to 2017 but read in 2017 is…

Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out (2014), by Susan Kuklin

This is a book of interviews with and photographs of transgendered young people. It’s very common for people to dismiss or ridicule or fear or even hate people who are different. Books like this promote understanding. And once you understand the difference, and understand that people who are different are still people, and that they have hopes and fears and dreams just like you… well, it gets hard to dismiss or ridicule or fear or hate. And that’s why this book (and others like it) are so important. Quite apart from that, this book is also a really fascinating insight into the lives of six interesting and diverse people. This is the sort of book that really should be on the shelves of every high school library.

ANTHOLOGY/COLLECTION

I love short stories, but for some reason didn’t actually read all that many of them in 2017. But out of the collected works I did read, this is my favourite…

Begin, End, Begin, edited by Danielle Binks

This book is the result of the #LoveOzYA movement and features some of this country’s best YA writers. Such a variety of styles and genres and topics… and every story in this anthology is a gem. My personal favourites are Lili Wilkinson’s hauntingly beautiful tale of drain exploration, “Oona Undergraound”; and Gabrielle Tozer’s bus trip story of the past being revealed and understood, “The Feeling From Over Here”.

OVER ALL FAVOURITE

Very difficult decision, but I’m going with Alan Baxter’s The Book Club. As I said, it’s still vivid in my memory. And even now, I can feel my heart begin to race and a niggle of panic at the back of my mind as I recall those first moments when the main character realises that his wife is missing.

WRITING

2017 was another good writing year for me. I had three new You Choose books released (Creepy Crawly Chaos, City of Robots and Footy Fever), as well as a bunch of school readers. And I spent the year working on a new series of kids’ books called OTHER WORLDS. The first two, Perfect World and Beast World are coming out on 26 February.

A big part of my writing life revolves around speaking about writing. In 2017 I did 161 individual sessions that included festivals, school visits, library visits and promotional tours. You can read about some on my experiences in these blog posts:

And to cap it all off, my story in The X-Files: Secret Agendas was nominated for a SCRIBE AWARD and I won an Honour Award at the KOALAs for You Choose: Alien Invaders From Beyond the Stars. I couldn’t attend the awards ceremony, so I sent them this schlocky alien abduction vid, the making of which I enjoyed way too much…

Catch ya later, George

PS. Follow me on Twitter

Between Us by Clare Atkins

Thanks very much for speaking to Boomerang Books blog, Clare. Your two YA novels Nona and Me and Between Us are memorable, thought-provoking and ‘uncomfortable’ in the best way. I learn and am changed by them.

Thank you! I don’t think I could ask for any better feedback than that as an author.

Where are you based and how are you involved in the YA literary community?

I’m based in Darwin. There are a few YA writers up here who I see at events and workshops. I also travel to Sydney fairly regularly, mostly for TV scriptwriting work. There’s a YA author meet-up there, which I attend when I can. I’ve also met lots of YA writers through speaking at writing festivals. I can’t speak highly enough of the supportive, fun and vibrant community – YA authors are the best!

How has your television scriptwriting enhanced your novel writing?

TV writing has taught me a lot about structure, flow, characterisation and weaving multiple story strands together. I wrote both my novels as a kind of hybrid, in which each segment or chapter is really a scene that needs to move the action forward. And I am very comfortable writing dialogue – my books probably have slightly more than average.

Your first novel, Nona & Me (Black Inc), achieved critical acclaim. I reviewed it for the Weekend Australian here.  How were you able to describe this Aboriginal experience in the Northern Territory with such authority?

I don’t know about authority but I definitely did thorough research and consultation over a couple of years. I was also living in Yirrkala, the community in the novel, at the time. I interviewed many community members, both in the mining town and Aboriginal community, and worked closed with a wonderful Yolngu cultural advisor and teacher called Merrkiyawuy Ganambarr-Stubbs. Without her advice and feedback I don’t think I could’ve written the novel.

To what does your title, Between Us (Black Inc), refer? Which came first, your title, the story or something else?

I am interested in the spaces between people and how, in the absence of knowledge, fear or love can fill the void. I liked that the title had a number of interpretations. Between who – Ana and Jono? Or Jono and Kenny? Or Kenny and Ana? And is what is ‘between us’ holding us together or pushing us apart? The characters came first – I wanted to explore characters representing different eras of immigration in Australia and was excited about having a character – Jono – with my own cultural background.

What is the significance of the cover? 

The cover is based on some photos I took in Darwin during the wet season. The moody skies up here during storms are breathtaking, both beautiful and ominous at the same time, as I hoped the novel would be too. I sent the photos to the publisher who forwarded them to the cover designer. I liked the phone lines as a visual reference to both connection and distance; one of the ways Jono and Ana are able to connect is on the phone. And birds are a repeated motif in the novel – a symbol of freedom, a point of connection and a link to memories for Jono, Kenny and Ana.

How does Between Us differ from Nona & Me? Are there any similarities?

I think I’ve experimented a lot more in Between Us. I wanted to push myself as a writer. Nona & Me was my first novel and whilst I played with structure it was still in prose from a single point of view. Between Us is from three different cultural perspectives and incorporates sections of verse. And whilst Nona & Me was a personal exploration of Indigenous politics, Between Us focuses more on immigration and multiculturalism.

Clare Atkins

How were you able to access information about life inside a detention centre and then form it into fiction?

Weaving real life stories into fiction is my favourite thing to do. It takes a lot of research – this time around three years worth. A lot of the interviews had to be ‘off the table’; people were happy to talk but didn’t want their name attached to the book in case it caused trouble for their jobs or visa applications. I have spent time inside Villawood as a volunteer helping to run activities for kids, and visited asylum seekers in Wickham Point. I also worked with an Iranian cultural advisor, Shokufeh Kavani.

You’ve written from several different viewpoints in Between Us, even from an adult character’s perspective. Could you introduce us to your major characters?

How have you differentiated between their voices?

Jono is a half-Vietnamese, half-Australian sixteen year old boy, who has had a rough time lately. His mum walked out, he got dumped by his first real girlfriend and his older sister has just moved away to Uni. He feels like he’s been left behind with his Vietnamese father Kenny; the two of them have a volatile relationship at best. Jono starts the novel in verse – he’s in a depressed state and can only take in the bare minimum. Then he meets Ana…

Ana is a fifteen year old Iranian asylum seeker who is only allowed out of detention to attend school. She desperately wants to be a ‘normal’ teenage girl, but her life inside is far from standard. Her mum is pregnant, her little brother is desperate to get out and run, and her mum’s boyfriend is stuck on Nauru. Ana’s voice is initially curious and passionate and determined.

Kenny is Jono’s father. He was sponsored out to Australia by his older sister, Minh, who arrived with the first boatloads of Vietnamese refugees. Kenny has just started work as a guard at the detention centre where Ana lives. Kenny is confused by the various thoughts and feelings swirling around the issue of asylum seekers. His voice is informed by his Vietnamese culture and his insider’s perspective as both a guard and as Jono’s father.

Which character would you like to write more about?

I’d like to write more about Kenny. He’s such a multifaceted character who has access to so many different worlds. He’s Vietnamese but has now spent almost half his life in Australia. He’s a father but is still working out life himself. He’s the brother of a boat person who now guards asylum seekers. I love that he is complex and confused and flawed but very real.

I was excited by your changing use of verse in the novel. Could you share what you’ve done?

I wanted to use verse to convey emotional state. When you’re depressed it is hard to communicate or connect to the outer world in more than short bursts or impressions. It was a bit of an experiment – I’m excited that you liked it.

You mention Australian hip-hop band The Hilltop Hoods. Why this band?

I spoke to some Iranian young people who talked about Iranian rap and hip-hop and how political and dangerous it can be. I looked for an Australian equivalent as a point of connection for Jono and Ana. Hilltop Hoods takes me back to my early twenties so I suppose I had an existing affection for them. I liked that they are sometimes political but can also be playful – they have a freedom that Iranian hip-hop artists don’t have.

In the novel you’ve referred to other literary texts such as The Outsiders, The Rabbits, The Simple Gift and Home in the Sky. Why these books?

They are all books and authors I love and admire. They also feed into the central themes of the novel about insiders and outsiders, culture and colonisation, connection and distance, freedom and belonging.

Why is the novel a powerful forum to alert people to the plight of refugees and those in detention centres? What would you encourage your readers to do next?

I think the best stories in any medium are the ones that start a conversation. I hope that the novel allows readers to gain a new perspective through vicariously experiencing life behind the barbed wire fence. Empathy and understanding are the foundation of social change. What readers do after that is of course up to them, but I’d be thrilled if they discussed it, attended a rally, wrote to a politician, visited someone in detention, volunteered, talked to someone they otherwise might not, or voted differently…every bit contributes to reframing an ‘issue’ as something human and personal and important…

What books are you reading at the moment (or recently)?

Books that I’ve enjoyed lately include Kirsty Eagar’s Summer Skin, a smart YA romance that looks at modern hook-up culture with a feminist slant, and The Good Girl of China Town, a bravely honest cross-cultural memoir about Jenevieve Chang’s experiences as a dancer in Shanghai’s first burlesque club.

Thanks for your insightful answers, Clare. I’ve learned even more! All the best with Between Us.

Thank you!

Review: Songs of a War Boy

I knew the gist of Deng Thiak Adut’s story via media grabs, but I didn’t until a few days know he’d written a book: Songs of a War Boy.

(For anyone unfamiliar with Deng’s story, he was, at just seven years old, forcefully conscripted from his family and his remote village in South Sudan to fight a civil war about which he had little to no understanding. Deng subsequently spent years undergoing cruel training compounded by malnutrition, disease, very little medical treatment, and no formal education.

Some fortunate circumstances saw him rescued from his dire situation by one of his older brothers. Together they sought refuge in a Kenyan refugee camp before Australia eventually offered them a home. Through his brother’s encouragement and through Deng’s own fierce determination, Deng has gone from a child soldier who knew no English to an accomplished lawyer with his own law practice in Western Sydney. He is also, no biggie, an Archibald Prize featuree (that’s a technical term).)

In the Songs of a War Boy’s foreword, Journalist Hugh Riminton writes that ‘it is impossible, on meeting Deng now, not to be in awe of him. And that is before you know where he has been. This book tells that story […] It would be unbelievable, were it not true.’

Those unbelievable elements include how much trauma Deng has experienced in his short life and how many near misses he has had with death. Seriously, there are so many moments it’s almost incomprehensible how he survived any much less all of them. But as he outlines, that trauma haunts him—mostly at night while he’s trying to sleep.

Co-written with Ben McKelvey, Songs of a War Boy is accessible and inspiring. The way Deng describes his experiences so eloquently and so matter-of-factly is startling. And far from gratuitous or graphic—I’m squeamish as all get-up and I coped. In fact, it’s arguably the most human description I’ve yet read of what it was like to be a child soldier.

Songs are hugely important to the Dinka people from which he comes, Deng explains in the book’s opening pages. Songs are, as Deng describes them, their ‘avatars’, ‘biographies’, and how Dinka morality, culture, and laws are passed on.

But Deng doesn’t have any songs—they’re reserved for those who have undergone manhood initiation ceremonies. Ceremonies Deng missed out on because he was taken to be a boy soldier. He observes: ‘It is a strange fact, though, that war could make one less of a man.’

This book is, as the title suggests, Deng’s song (or songs). It also shows his life beyond being what could have been an all-defining role as a conscripted child soldier. As a byproduct, both the book and the speaking engagements Deng now regularly completes also go some way to changing peoples’ perceptions of refugees.

As Deng writes of his speeches: ‘I knew that people came to hear about war and sadness and a past that was so unusual for them, but I also knew that they left thinking about how normal my present was—and how much I was like them … If you can relate to me—a reformed child soldier coming from one of the most isolated and disadvantaged nations on earth—then there are few refugees in Australia that you can’t relate to.’

Without getting overtly political, at a time when it seems as though the Australian government is doing all it can to ensure we don’t relate to people seeking asylum, it’s arguably more important than ever to read books like Deng’s. And Songs of a War Child makes this far from a chore. I read it in three sittings and I finished it wanting more. My hope is that Deng writes a follow-up.

Express Yourself! – Picture Books Concentrating on Creativity

The seed of creativity takes many forms. It may lie dormant, untapped, unchallenged, or temporarily forgotten  but when nurtured, wonderful things grow. This bushel of picture books not only gives young readers permission to express themselves, but also demonstrates creativity’s diverse manifestations.

Eric Finds a Way by Robert Vescio and Ann-Marie Finn

Eric loves reading and living the stories he reads about. He aspires to write and draw his own adventures but frequently stumbles over his feelings of inadequacy. Encouraged by his ever observant and patient father, Eric persists until one day he has an idea that does not require pictures and words to enable him to journey into a story. Eric’s discovery of the power of imagination and the realisation that you can express it in many different ways is a timely reminder that not all kids like leaping into storybooks to experience new adventures and travel to new places. Nor do they have to. Finn’s beguiling collage and paint illustrations are the ideal match for Vescio’s smooth clean narrative. Inspired outside-the-box-thinking for 5 – 8 –year-olds.

Wombat Books June 2017

Continue reading Express Yourself! – Picture Books Concentrating on Creativity

Review: The Edge Of The Universe by Shaun David Hutchinson

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The Edge of the Universe by Shaun David Hutchinson is such a unique book and I couldn’t stop reading it! I want to say “couldn’t put it down” but I actually read the audiobook, and I thoroughly recommend that too because the narration was awesome. But it was so addictive because it spun so many questions with a hint of a sci-fi flavour. The whole time I had no idea if things were real or not and the book crafted and handled the story so well!

The story is centred around Ozzie who believes the universe is shrinking after his boyfriend disappeared. And not “ran away”…his boyfriend is 100% gone from the town, from everyone’s memories, and from Ozzie’s entire life. Even his journal entries are rewriting themselves to cut out Tommy’s entire existence. Obviously this is devastating for Ozzie because not only is he facing the heartbreak of his best friend and boyfriend disappearing — no one believes him. Plus he’s graduating school and stuck working on a project with the class’s most messed up kid, Calvin, who most definitely has deep problems going on. And Ozzie knows the universe is shrinking because as the galaxies disappear everyone denies they ever existed. The real question: what the heck is going on? And how can he get Tommy back?

Honestly I’ve never read a book or premise like this! I was captured from the very first page because I wanted to know if the universe was shrinking, or was Ozzie having a mental breakdown? Did Tommy ever exist or did Ozzie make him up to deal with the stress of his parents’ divorce, his brother entering the army, and his best friend Lua leaving town to carve a life without Ozzie in it. Ozzie ended up going to a ton of therapists and, since no one believed him about the universe shrinking or his missing boyfriend, I am a bit surprised he wasn’t being diagnosed as delusional. But he managed to keep his life together by a few threads while trying to figure out what was going on.

I loved the secondary character cast too!! Calvin is a complex and absolutely adorable darling, who has some seriously dark secrets about abuse in his life and is very wary to let anyone in. His and Ozzie’s friendship isn’t smooth and isn’t always healthy, but I thought it was super realistic.

I also loved Lua, Ozzie’s genderfluid BFF, who’s an amazing rock singer looking to make it big after highschool. Lua was seriously dynamic and I liked how the story showed their insecurities as well as highs.

Also shout out to how diverse it was! This is an #ownvoices book for Ozzie’s lgbt narration, and there’s also genderfluid and asexual and people of different races making up the strong supporting cast. It’s always so refreshing when books acknowledge the whole world and give minorities a voice!

There is also a lot of serious topics dealt with in this book. So don’t go in expecting a light fluffy read. It’s pretty confronting and at times devastating, but I think all the series issues were handled with care and respect.

I did like the style too! The writing was simple and clear and I did wish it had a bit more emotion, but Ozzie was a fabulous narrator to share the journey with. He was super selfish at times, but I loved his arc and how he grew over the course of the book.

The Edge of the Universe is such an interesting story, stuffed with questions and theories. I’m so here for this contemporary / sci-fi mashup and I’d love to read more books like this! Calvin was the light of the book, honestly, and I loved how Ozzie matured. And the ending?! I will say no more: but it was pretty satisfying.

Review: Watching Brief: Reflections on Justice and Injustice

The opening of Julian Burnside’s book Watching Out: reflections on justice and injustice reads: ‘This book does not set out to equip the lay reader to mount his or her own litigation. Neither is it designed to help law students pass their exams …’

Which made me chuckle. Clearly Burnside, barrister and QC, spends a lot of time fielding questions about both. (And I’ll not deny that, having recently returned to study Law, I wasn’t looking for exam answers but I was looking for some sort of inspiration and guidance.)

Probably most recognisable to Australians as a leading voice on and advocate for human rights—particularly in relation to refugees—Burnside is an experienced lawyer whose insights into the justice system are worth taking note of. Unbeknownst to me until I read this was that he was actually one of the barristers who acted in the infamous Tampa case in 2001. He was also involved in the equally well known Maritime Union of Australia v Patricks Stevedores case.

A friend of his pointed out that Australia doesn’t have a justice system, but rather a legal system. That sentiment, expressed on page one, sets the book’s tone. As Burnside writes, he’s interested in justice rather than law.

What follows are chapters that likely first lived as standalone essays or columns and that discuss little known and puzzling aspects of Australia’s legal system. For example, that the people who judge whether people seeking asylum will be granted refugee status are not lawyers and are more likely to be reappointed if their decisions align with the government’s stance (read: they reject applications).

In these chapters Burnside also explains how, unlike courts, which have checks and balances designed to catch biases and errors, there are no such checks and balances in place for these asylum-seeking tribunals. As in the aforementioned tribunals overseen by people in whose interest it is to bias results toward rejection. Frighteningly, until 2001 it was impossible for a court to overturn a decision because of an error of law.

Burnside also outlines some abominable details of the facilities in which Australia locks people seeking asylum. Facilities that stem from the Labor- and Liberal-alike position that Burnside terms as: ‘We are so worried about you drowning, we will punish you if you don’t drown. That will persuade others to stay at home and face persecution.’

That punishment includes being detained indefinitely in places like Woomera—bearing in mind that that facility now seems luxurious when compared with the more recent Manus and Nauru—which held 1500 people, which was three times its designed maximum, had just three toilets for that population, and at which women had to make written applications for sanity napkins.

Then there’s the legislation that made it illegal for medical professionals to report human rights abuses (such as child sexual abuse) they witnessed in detention centres—something that is normally unquestionably fundamental to their jobs. But in addition to outlining the facts and faults of the justice system, Burnside also outlines his thoughts on its opportunities and solutions. So it’s not all reading in outrage. It’s reading to learn about the facts rather than the fear-mongering, and to encounter some heart-swelling inspiration from someone who’s working to right the legal wrongs.

Burnside also explains some fascinating legal aspects, such as the poorly understood Cab Rank Rule. That is, that barristers don’t pick and choose who they represent. Rather, if they are offered a brief commensurate with a fee and legal matter related to their experience, they are obliged to accept the brief. At least, they are barring something like a conflict of interest such as that they are Jewish and are being asked to represent a neo-Nazi. So next time someone says something like ‘How can they represent such as such who’s been accused of such and such hideous crimes?’, people like me can knowledgeably (but not know-it-all-ingly) refer to the Cab Rank Rule.

Watching Out also provides insight into Burnside’s human side and, arguably, the abuse he’s copped throughout his human rights-advocating career. It seems he regularly receives hate mail. About which he has a brilliant sense of humour: ‘The people who write actual letters are a very forgetful bunch; they never remember to put their name and address on the letter, so it was not possible to reply to them’.

But Burnside does reply to people who write him emails—even entirely abusive ones. What he has found is that replying politely to even the rudest of emails often triggers a quite polite response. Burnside estimates that some people change their minds and others at least get to the point where they don’t agree, but are civil about it, better informed, and appreciate him taking the time to discuss the issues with them.

All of which is to say that there’s a bunch of interesting, if eclectic, information contained within this book. If I had one criticism to make, it would be that there could have been some smoothing out of the chapters. There is often unnecessary repetition and re-explaining of concepts. This likely relates to the fact that I suspect they were, as I mentioned before, published as separate essays or columns and simply collated.

Also, if I’m honest, I bought Watching Out thinking I was buying Watching Brief: reflections on human rights, law, and justice. Although I get the sense that Watching Out is a continuation of the Watching Brief subject matter and themes, and I would have ended up reading it too, so no matter. In the meantime, I recommend reading Watching Out. I’ll report back once I’ve read Watching Brief.

Review: The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly

I devoured 90% of The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly in just over an hour, then took months to read its final pages. My procrastination was based purely on the fact that I knew those last pages would make me ugly cry. Which is to say that this book was both wonderful and utterly gut-wrenching.

The Hen (which is what I’ll call it hereafter) is the English translation of a South Korean bestseller by author Sun-Mi Hwang. It’s fair to say that my knowledge of the South Korean publishing industry is sorely and vastly lacking, but this book, which has sold more than two million copies, appears to have been something of a phenomenon: It was an instant bestseller upon publication, remained a bestseller for 10 years, and in addition to inspiring a play, a musical, and a comic, has been turned in South Korea’s to-date highest-grossing animated film.

Better yet, its author’s story is wonderful: Sun-Mi Hwang was too poor to attend school, but thanks to a kind teacher entrusting her with a key, she was able to go into the classroom and read books outside school hours. Sun-Mi Hwang’s gone on to become one of South Korea’s most beloved and award-winning authors.

So it’s basically an all-round feel-good story.

I can’t actually recall how I stumbled across The Hen. Because it was a stumble. Regardless, I ordered the book because I just figured its subject matter about a hen who glimpses the possibility of a life beyond being forced to lay eggs for humans was right up my alley. (Full disclosure: I adopt ex-battery hens, and my PhD concentrated on raising awareness about the cruel practices relating to battery and other intensive, environmentally destructive farming.)

The book’s opening pages introduce us to Sprout, the hen, and her decision to not lay one more egg. But the farmers view her body as valuable only as long as it produces eggs. Because her body will not—in fact, cannot—produce any more eggs, the farmers remove her from the coop not to grant her freedom but to kill her.

Sprout survives against all odds, and The Hen, which contains similarly powerful stories and evoked in me similarly strong emotions as Charlotte’s Web, sees the equally compassionate and gutsy Sprout encounter all manner of farm and wild animals from a duck to a rooster to a dog to a weasel. And, like in Charlotte’s Web, you know the story is going to end sadly.

At a mere 134 pages long, including adorable images that reduce the text-based page count by almost a quarter, The Hen is a book you can knock over in a couple of hours (unless, like me, you spend a bit of time avoiding the inevitable). And what I will say is that the final pages didn’t destroy me quite as much as I expected. They were nuanced and considered and presented a fitting end to the tale.

So I’d definitely recommend The Hen, especially if you ever loved Charlotte’s Web (or even films like Babe). It’s also a timely reminder to me to explore books by writers from other and often non-English-speaking countries.

Review: The Book of Dust

Given that it was a book I desperately wanted to read, I spent a lot of time, money, and energy trying not to read The Book of Dust.

And by time, money, and energy, I mean:

  • pre-ordering the book as soon as I heard it was going to be released
  • waiting anxiously for it to be shipped on its release date
  • tracking slash stalking the courier who was set to deliver it
  • boring everyone in my household with reminders to keep an eye out for a delivery that under no circumstances could be missed and re-routed to the local post office
  • unwrapping said book the moment it arrived and admiring its cover and introductory pages
  • posting said book, unread, to my sister interstate.

Which is, granted, bizarre behaviour for someone long a fan of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, the breakout series that preceded The Book of Dust Volume 1: La Belle Sauvage (hereafter referred to as The Book of Dust) by some decades.

Unfortunately, it was because the release date, 19 October 2017, was bang in the middle of when I was frantically studying for uni exams. I couldn’t spare even a day or two to devour The Book of Dust, a book that’s neither a sequel nor a prequel, but one that runs tangentially.

But I have read it now, after waiting what felt like an interminable amount of time for my sister to return it at the agreed time: once my exams were over. And having finished The Book of Dust quick smart, I am still figuring out what I think of it. In fact, I’d be really, really keen to hear what everyone else does.

On the one hand, it was phenomenal to sink back into the world Pullman so powerfully crafted, even if the protagonist was not Lyra but a brand new character: 11-year-old publicans’ son Malcolm Polstead.

Polstead, the owner of the La Belle Sauvage canoe of the book’s subtitle, is a clever, compelling character whose publican life and bookishness grant him entry to crucial plot elements. Polstead is also arguably a little more likeable than the feisty, wilful, head-first-into-danger His Dark Materials Lyra. In this book, Lyra’s an infant relegated to crying and sleeping and generally being on the sidelines, which took some getting used to.

But at the same time, some of the familiar and previously little explored but intriguing characters, such as Lord Asriel, reappear, and their stories are thankfully more fleshed out. I mean, who didn’t want to know more about Lyra’s parents, who came off fairly two-dimensional in the books and, gosh, one-dimensional in The Golden Compass film (the film based on the first book that in no way did the book justice)? And who doesn’t want to spend more time imagining a world in which people’s souls are captivating, external, shape-shifting, independent characters who just about warrant a book all of their own?

In short, I thoroughly enjoyed The Book of Dust’s Part I. Part II, however, didn’t feel as strong.

I should preface this with me flagging that Pullman is a pro and my misgivings could simply be related to groundwork Pullman was laying for later books. I should say too that maybe it’s just me. But I felt that Part II was at worst implausible and at best a little so-what and same-y.

Spoiler alert, the monotony of the paddling about in a canoe only to repeatedly pull up into some danger didn’t quite work. There was too much of it, it didn’t usefully progress the plot, and the villain who was conveniently crazy and just wouldn’t die … was meh. Nor did I think the sexual assault aspect truly resonated. In fact, I found it a little leftfield and unnecessary. And a canoe was much less gripping a plot-device object as the knife or alethiometer of previous books …

It seemed to me that Part I built towards a biblical flood, which could and should have been exciting. But Part II was less climactic than weirdly puzzling. The underworld-y and the evil fairy parts, particularly, had me wondering what on earth was going on. And why. Because most of Part II’s plotlines felt like filler and thin.

I also felt that there was some significant plot holes that were too large too ignore. Like how the villain kept surviving, and kept finding and kept catching up to them when no one else could.

Of course, I could be wrong. And even if I’m not, my misgivings don’t change the fact that I’m an avid Pullman reader and am invested for the longhaul. There’s no chance I won’t read the subsequent two books and revisit my verdict on the first. I just hope that Pullman releases the next books at times when I don’t have to go to extraordinary lengths not to read them because I need to studying for some pesky exams.

Toot Toot! Picture Books that make you Hoot!

It’s been bubbling within me for a couple of years now…the need to express a story about – yes, wait for it…flatulence. Undeniable perennial favourites with kids, stories the make you hoot and toot are not only fun to write but as it turns out, more prevalent than I first thought. There is an intoxicating number of farting picture books blowing about now. Here are a couple of fresh offerings too funny to pass up. I’ve included a couple of non-farting titles too for the more musically, less peristaltically motivated.

No One Likes a Fart by Zoe Foster Blake and Adam Nickel

Fart slipped out one day, unnoticed and unseen, but super keen to absorb everything about his new home. Trouble is, wherever he wafts, he encounters people reacting badly to some very reprehensible odours. Fart floats on, anxious to get as far away as possible from those dreadful smells, blissfully unaware that it might be him causing those noxious stinks. As Fart wafts around the neighbourhood, he is overjoyed by his surroundings and grateful to be alive. Just one thing would make him happier, a friend. All hope of finding a new best friend is shattered though, just like Fart’s heart, when he realises with a shock that the disgusting, horrible, terrible smell is him.  Alone and crestfallen, Fart finally chances upon the friend he’s always wanted, someone who appreciates him for exactly what he is.

Continue reading Toot Toot! Picture Books that make you Hoot!

2018 YA Releases You Must Watch Out For!

One of the best parts of a new year is all the delicious new book releases it brings! Who needs to save money anyway, pfft, you’d rather fill your house with books and never see the floor. Of course sometimes it’s hard to keep up with what’s new and what’s coming up, so I have an extremely handy list for you today on some super exciting books that are nearly upon us or have just arrived!

I’m featuring Young Adult books and a ton of magic and probably you adding to that infamous To Be Read pile that’s getting to the size of Mount Everest. And yes! You’re most welcome.


YOU’LL MISS ME WHEN I’M GONE

PURCHASE HERE

This one is about twin sisters, Adina and Tovah, with big ambitions: Adina is a violist and plans to be a famous soloist, and Tovah wants to start a career as a surgeon. Then they learn that their family has Huntington’s disease and one of the twins tests positive…and that totally puts their friendship under fire. I think this one is going to be super feelsy and heartbreaking! Also it’s nice to see music featured!

 

THE HAZEL WOOD

PURCHASE HERE

Alice’s grandmother is a writer of a seriously dark fairy tale series and when she dies, Alice and her mother head off to her estate. then Alice’s mother disappears and life starts getting a little too supernatural — like maybe the fairy tales aren’t stories and the mythical Hazel Wood is more real than Alice would like to think. I absolutely love dark stories mixed with fairy tales and I think this one has the potential to be super magical!

LOVE, HATE, AND OTHER FILTERS

PURCHASE HERE

This is an #ownvoices story about a Muslim Indian-American teen who dreams of being a filmmaker…except her parents definitely have other ideas. Maya’s also in love with the wrong boy and has the wrong dream, and when a terrorist attack brings hate crimes on her innocent and peaceful family — she’s facing the reality that she may never achieve any of her passions in life. This one is such a poignant and topical story, written with a lot of heart.

REIGN OF THE FALLEN

PURCHASE HERE

This is an epic fantasy adventure about a kingdom where when a noble dies, necromancers can just bring them back. Odessa is one such necromancer who fights monsters in the death realms and brings back the king whenever he dies. But when monster attacks start getting weirdly structured and terrifyingly dangerous, Odessa realises someone is controlling them. The dead aren’t exactly doing what they’re told anymore. This one is so exciting and super diverse, set in a world were straight and white aren’t the normal. It’s so refreshing!

THE TAXONOMY OF LOVE

PURCHASE HERE

Spencer’s life isn’t completely easy, with a big brother who constantly outdoes him and his Tourette’s syndrome complicating things. Then his relationship with Hope, his ultimate best childhood friend, starts getting messy and growing up fairly sucks. Spencer’s goal ends up being to neatly map out life with his trusty system of taxonomy … but life is rarely that predictable. This one looks like a really poignant tale with plenty of complex sibling relationships and heartbreak and disability representation!

Review: Polly and her Duck Costume

Goats of Anarchy (GoA) sounds like a bikie gang, but it’s actually an adorable special needs goat rescue organisation based in New Jersey. The sanctuary’s is one of my favourite social media accounts, and I am comprehensively invested in its residents’ lives.

One of those residents is Polly, a blind goat whose neurological and separation anxiety issues are becalmed by a duck onesie. No, really. Polly’s story went viral a while back.

Unable to see and worried she had been left behind if left alone for even a moment, Polly would freak out and pace about and chew the wall. The GoA team taught Polly the shapes of the rooms so she could navigate them easily, but it was separation rather than navigation that troubled her most.

Polly found comfort when tightly wrapped in a blanket, but blankets, as GoA founder Leanne Lauricella notes, fall off. They especially fall off active goats. Enter a random duck onesie, put on as a whim but immediately apparent to be a hit. Swaddled in it, Polly was soon happily asleep, free from anxiety and fear.

Polly and her Duck Costume: The True Story of a Little Blind Rescue Goat is the book about Polly and this viral-worthy, heart-warming tale that Lauricella has published with (presumably writer) Saskia Lacey and illustrated by Jill Howarth.

Simple, straightforward, and unaffected, the book’s words are fine but not brilliant. This isn’t a book that will win awards for its ability to transport readers through powerfully wrought prose. But that’s ok, really, because the book’s magic is in the unlikely, truth-is-stranger-than-fiction feelgood story itself. Also, the illustrations are wonderful, depicting Polly gallivanting about as perfectly on the page as could be hoped.

The book also contains images of Polly, lending some real-life context and leaping-off point to the tale. I’d be surprised if few people who read the book don’t pick up their phones to google the story and subscribe to GoA’s social media channels.

As a side note, Polly and her Duck Costume goes some way to filling an infuriating gap in children’s book options in that it doesn’t gloss over the fact animals have often had some pretty brutal experiences at the hands of humans. From Old MacDonald Had a Farm and beyond, children’s books for some reason constantly portray farm animals as having ‘bucolic’ experiences, which cannot be further from the truth in this factory farm-based society.

But I digress. Polly and her Duck Costume impresses and, at the very least, gets you thinking about how animals are people too. I’d recommend this book as a much-needed alternative to traditional children’s books.

Review: Small House Living Australia

‘You need a small house, not a tiny house’ is how my friend succinctly summed up my years-long, hard-to-articulate disquiet with the whole tiny house movement. And that: ‘Often, tiny houses are tiny for the sake of being tiny’. Couldn’t have said it better myself.

I am obsessed with having a small, well-designed, minimalist space, but while I like the idea of tiny houses, I’ve yet to be won over by their reality. Compact is good, but tiny houses often take compact to the point of impracticality.

Sure, tiny houses work for some people. And hats off to those people. But something as simple as storing the mandatory seven years of tax receipts or even having the space to spread them out and properly look at them would pose at best an annoyance and at worst a problem. And having to completely pack up one thing before you could use another thing would be next-level annoying.

So when I heard Catherine Foster was releasing Small House Living Australia: Smart design in homes of 90m2 or less (what appears to be a follow-up to her New Zealand equivalent), I basically did a real-life enactment of the hands-up-in-praise emoji. A book about small rather than tiny houses in Australia was, I thought, exactly what I needed.

Like most architectural books. Small House Living Australia is basically pinterest-worthy porn. Containing a bunch of professional images that show off the architecture at its best angles, accompanied by text and basic plans, it’s inspiration for people who are—or who dream of one day—building a small but well-designed space. And as a flick-through, aesthetically appealing dream-fest, Small House Living Australia doesn’t disappoint. It makes you itch to have a plot of land on which to commission such a clever space.

However, I will confess I have two concerns about the book that left me a little disappointed. The first is that many of the small houses—such as The Copper House, The Doll’s House, The Barn TAS, and The Sawmill House— have already appeared on blogs such as The Design Files. Had I known the book was featuring houses I’d already seen (in fact, I think some of the photos are identical), I’d have been a lot less likely to buy it.

The second is that I have some concerns about the quality of the editing—issues that cannot be attributed to style decisions and that so frustrated me I fair nearly emailed the publisher. That said, they’re errors that probably only an editor would notice and the book’s text is really only playing second fiddle to the images and designs. I enjoyed it a lot more when I stopped reading the text altogether and just pored over the pictures.

That’s not to say the book isn’t worth reading—in fact, I’d like to see it succeed to show publishers, developers, architects, and the general public alike that small (as opposed to tiny, which arguably requires decent amounts of compromise) is a viable, sustainable, largely compromise-free option. I’d just approach it with more information than I had, and with a view to concentrate on the images rather than the writing.