Kate DiCamillo & Sally Rippin

Kate DiCamillo is a particularly appealing author. Her novels for children are highly popular and some – Because of Winn Dixie, The Tale of Despereaux and Bink and Gollie – have been made into movies

I heard her speak with best-selling Australian writer, Sally Rippin, famous for Billie B Brown, and whose Polly and Buster series has just been released, at the Wheeler Centre in Melbourne this month. The event was sold out, with people standing.

Kate’s latest novel is Raymie Nightingale, a gem of a tale in which Raymie hopes to gain her father’s interest by winning a beauty contest. This story is ‘the absolutely true story of my heart’, confessed Kate, whose father had also left their family. Family photos show Kate, her brother and mother but her father is missing. Until Raymie Nightingale, Kate had created fictional fathers in her books, writing instead about missing mothers, in a kind of reverse reality from her own life. Until this book, Kate had only written herself obliquely into her stories.

As a child, she was ‘terrified, shy and worried but was astonishingly good at making friends. That’s what saved me – I could connect’. She loved to read, ‘Books were the most magical thing in the world. I didn’t think humans had anything to do with it… Reading was how I made sense of the world – the doorway in. I’m most in my body when reading a book!’ She now pretends to be an extrovert.

When a child asked if she reads or writes more, Kate responded, ‘Reading is pleasurable. Writing is difficult for me.’ Quoting Dorothy Parker, she retorted, ‘I hate writing. I love having written’ and then added, ‘I’m so much happier writing. That’s not to say I’m happy writing.’ Kate experiences the voice of failure at about 9am in the morning so she tries to write before then and uses ‘that editing voice’ only after 9am. She keeps a journal while travelling and returns to it when writing later. ‘So much of writing is subconscious’. Writing hasn’t become any easier: ‘All you know is you’ve written a novel before but don’t know if you can write this novel.’ She overcomes this by regarding each piece of writing as a draft.

Kate often writes about animal characters, such as the mouse in The Tale of Despereaux and the squirrel, Ulysses, in Flora and Ulysses. Kate loves the word ‘capacious’ and uses the phrase ‘God’s capacious hands’ in Flora and Ulysses to describe Flora’s father’s heart. Kate also hopes to be ‘capacious of heart’.  She certainly does seem to have won many Australian hearts during her tour here.

Some of Kate’s other novels are The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, The Tiger Rising and The Magician’s Elephant. Her wonderful Christmas picture book is Great Joy.

Some of Sally’s other children’s books are Angel Creek, Chenxi and the Foreigner and the picture book, The Rainbirds.

 

 

 

 

 

YA Books Told In Love Letters, Notes, and Emails

Books tell amazing stories in all sorts of formats. Sometimes they use prose or poetry, illustrations or photographs. And today? We need to talk about books told in love letters, notes, and emails! Because writing is arguably the best way to learn about someone. It’s often easier to confess a secret or be venerable on paper and these books underline that fact!

If you’re looking for a book featuring letters? LOOK NO FURTHER. I have you covered.


LETTERS TO THE LOST BY BRIGID KEMMERER

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This is an absolutely beautiful, but bittersweet, tale of two teens who are dealing with extreme levels of grief. They begin writing to each other on accident. Juliet leaves letters at her mother’s gravestone and one day Declan, who’s working in the graveyard on community service, picks one up and writes back. They begin first an angry communication and then develop friendship through grief and confessions. It’s a relief to both of them to talk anonymously to someone who understands. But as they realise they also know each other in real life, they are worried the other won’t like the “real” them. It’s an absolutely poignant story of heartbreak and being judgemental of people who’s stories you don’t know.

 

 

SIMON VS THE HOMO SAPIENS AGENDA BY BECKY ALBERTALLI

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Simon has met the most amazing boy online and lives for their frequent email exchanges. Except one day he forgets to log out of the school computer and a bully discovers his emails. He blackmails Simon — threatening to out Simon as being gay. And Simon isn’t ready for that yet.

It’s a super, super cute story featuring two boys emailing back and forth. The story isn’t wholly told in messages, though, so you get to follow Simon in his everyday life of friends, awkward first love, Harry Potter obsession, drama class, and Oreo appreciation. It’s about being true to yourself and it’s the most heartwarming and special story!

 

ILLUMINAE BY JAY KRISTOFF AND AMIE KAUFMAN

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This is a sci-fi action story told solely in emails, messages, reports, and photos! It’s absolutely brilliantly formatted and the visuals totally take the book to the next level of special. The story is basically about a rogue company destroying a planet and the survivors end up on a damaged ship floating through space. The enemy is closing in and they’re trying to get the ship’s Artificial Intelligence up and active to fight for them. Except there’s also a virus sweeping through the refugees. And the AI is possibly planning to wipe out all threats — which could very well be the people it’s supposed to protect.

You will most likely be clinging to your seat through reading this with heart pounding. The action doesn’t stop and the plot twists are phenomenal.

 

WE ARE STILL TORNADOES BY MICHAEL KUN AND SUSAN MULLEN

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This is a story of two teens after high school: Cath has headed off to college and Scott is stuck working in his family story after he bombed his highschool finales. They’ve been best friends all their lives, so they write avidly to each other as they explore the world of just-becoming-adults. The letters are packed with so much complexity and meaning and even though the entire book is just told in epistolary format, you get to know the characters so well. And you can’t help rooting for them to stop living in denial of their feelings for each other and to follow their dreams and live the kind of life they hunger for.

Jennifer Niven in Australia

American YA writer, Jennifer Niven has been wowing fans up and down Australia’s east coast from the Sydney Writers’ Festival, to Brisbane, then Reading Matters in Melbourne, then Adelaide and further afield.

It is no wonder she is greatly loved. She seems to care for everyone she meets and gives equal weight to answering the questions and concerns of all her readers. She has transformed the difficulties and joys she has experienced in her own life into becoming a brave, ‘honest and responsible’ writer, speaking for those who may not have a voice. She doesn’t like conflict but has become an advocate after writing her first YA story about a boy she loved who suffered from mental illness in All the Bright Places. She poignantly recalls, ‘I lost him to suicide’ and about how she wrote about this relationship and experience ‘as honestly as I could … Pieces of me are in each of my books’. Jennifer has since received thousands of messages about how All the Bright Places has, in some way, saved people’s lives.

Jennifer reiterates that everyone deserves to be seen and heard and inscribes some people’s books: ‘You are wanted’. ‘Life can be dark but there are always bright places everywhere.’

I was thrilled to be invited to lunch in Sydney with Jennifer and a small group of informed young bloggers. Jennifer was charming; a lady who listens and engages. She was very generous with her time; asked us all to sign her copy of All the Bright Places (a lovely, original idea) and showed us a sneak peak of the photo of the young actor who will be playing lead character, Finch, in the movie of All the Bright Places.

When I asked at lunch how she gets into the writing zone as quickly as possible, she explained the importance of music and playlists, including Split Enz’s song, I Got You (her playlists are online). Lyrics are ‘also all about words’, but in a different form.

Even though Jennifer is generous with her words in conversation, she is happy to listen to others rather than dominate the conversation; conversely when writing, she writes more than she needs before paring back the words.

Unfortunately, she’s not able to write while on tour but, despite this, jumped at the chance to come to Australia, agreeing even before she was given the dates.

Jennifer concluded one of her sessions at Reading Matters by sharing her and her author mother’s writing advice: ‘let yourself cry (or laugh or feel); check it in the bus locker (put distractions away so you can focus on writing); and write the kind of story you want to read.’

Thanks to Penguin RandomHouse Australia for the incredible opportunity to meet Jennifer.

Further links:

Jennifer recommends Germ online magazine

Follow Jennifer

My brief review of Holding Up the Universe for Boomerang blog

My review of Holding Up the Universe for the Weekend Australian

Natalie Haynes, Randa Abdel-Fattah & Yassmin Abdel-Magied at the SWF

As part of this year’s Sydney Writers’ Festival Student Sessions, I was fortunate to host a couple of sessions with British stand-up comedian Natalie Haynes and facilitate one with Randa Abdel-Fattah and Yassmin Abdel-Magied.

Natalie Haynes

Natalie became one of the most popular presenters at the festival. She’s probably better described as a performer, though, because she brings ancient history and the ancient mythic world alive and into the present for her audiences.

She reworks stories for her own purposes, drawing on her expertise in the ancient world and on making it relevant today. She stands out because she can share her knowledge on stage, screen and in her books in a rivetting way.

Natalie is a classicist and a comedian, an unusual combination. She used to be a stand-up comic, but retired when she realised she preferred tragedy to comedy. Her quick wit and incredible knowledge enabled her to effortlessly command the stage.

Natalie’s new novel The Children of Jocasta was published in May. It’s a re-telling of the Oedipus/Jocasta/Antigone tale and will make you fascinated by mythic history (if you’re not already). An earlier book, The Ancient Guide to Modern Life explores philosophers such as Plato, Ovid and Agrippina the Younger.

Natalie Haynes

Randa Abdel-Fattah & Yassmin Abdel-Magied

In our session about ‘Mono or Multi-cultured’ at the Wharf, Randa Abdel-Fattah, who examines issue of racism, multiculturalism and human rights in Australia through her novels and essays, explored what contemporary multiculturalism and racism look like in Australia today with activist and author Yassmin Abdel-Magied.

Randa has written Does My Head Look Big in This?, When Michael Met Mina and other novels, particularly for young adults, as well as essays. When Michael Met Mina is an important story because it gives both Michael’s view – a popular guy coming from a racist family – and Mina’s – an intelligent young woman whose family was killed by the Taliban in Afghanistan, forcing her and her mother to flee by boat. The novel airs many issues and opinions – true and false – such as people saying that ‘potential terrorists are hiding among boat people’ and people who want to be able to say, ‘Merry Christmas’ without offending anyone; to some darker-skinned girls feeling they have to use skin-whitening creams and others being intimidated and vilified. The novel gives diverse viewpoints. It’s great to read because we are exposed to different perspectives and then make up our own minds. It shows the power of literature to create understanding and empathy.

Randa has also been a lawyer and has a PhD in Islamophobia in Australia.

Yassmin is well known through her media appearances and I’ve learned from reading her memoir, Yassmin’s Story (which she wrote recently while in her 20s) that she loved reading Enid Blyton and her favourite character was, as you might expect, George; she deliberately created slang at school; she channels Beyonce in time of need; she loves sharing stories on stage and she learned in debating that she can argue any side of an argument!

Yassmin also won Young Queenslander of the Year in 2015; as a teenager co-founded Youth Without Borders; is an engineer; worked on a rig and loves cars.

I cannot do these intelligent and articulate authors justice in their explanation of structural racism and other issues here. I do suggest reading their books and online articles to gain a greater understanding of, particularly, racism in Australia.Image may contain: 3 people, people smiling, people sitting

 

Chook Doolan is Back

Award-winning author James Roy and talented illustrator Lucinda Gifford are back with another four sensational books in the popular series for junior readers, Chook Doolan. It is a witty and warm-hearted series suited to sensitive young souls navigating their way through challenging feelings of uncertainty and apprehension.

I reviewed two previous titles here (#3 and #4), outlining these creators’ ability to capture the heart, emotion and relatability sublimely to fit their emergent reader audience. Supportive language structures, short chapters and engaging illustrations allow children from age five to achieve success whilst absorbing every moral and humorous fibre of life within the pages.

Early primary-aged readers will relish the joy and culture shining from the pages in Let’s Do Diwali (#5). Venturing into unknown territory with a tradition he doesn’t know and a crowded event is a daunting prospect for timid Chook – aptly nicknamed for his tendency to scare easily.
When paired with the quietly-spoken Praj on a school task, Chook is presented with the opportunity to learn about Diwali. He is, however, apprehensive about attending the Hindu festival of lights, and subsequently performing well on the class talk. But by embracing the spirit of the culture by wearing a kurta, trying the Indian cuisine and engaging the happy crowd, Chook’s feelings of fear dissolve into excitement. He even feels confident at school to deliver his speech about the ‘awesome’ time he had at the Diwali festival.
This is a valuable story about understanding and welcoming other traditions, and overcoming feelings of anxiety with clearly accessible and supportive practices. Let’s Do Diwali is a jubilant celebration to revisit frequently!

On the Road (#6) is about a family trip to Aunty Liz’s home in Mount Frederick. Chook is unsure about spending time with his younger twin girl cousins. He worries about other things, too, like leaving his pets behind, and having to spend three hours in the car with his taunting older brother, Ricky. Luckily, Chook finds a mutual connection with one of the girls, Evie, through his favourite activity of chess.
This book provides a gentle encouragement that shows serendipitous moments can arise in a safe and supportive environment. A little bit of courage to interact with new or unfamiliar people can lead to some wonderful relationships.

In Un-Happy Camper (#7), Simon Henry Doolan; or Chook, expresses a range of emotions from anxiety to frustration to acceptance and relief. Finding out that his class will be attending a school camp, Chook is no more than unenthusiastic. Snakes and getting homesick are not his cup of tea. All he needs is a few gentle pushes from his mum to convince him that it will be alright. This sensitive, persuasive approach and positive attitude helps Chook through his anguish, and he thoroughly enjoys the school camp…even though they didn’t really go anywhere!
The focus on Chook’s feelings throughout his psychological journey is written effectively to help readers understand their own, sometimes mixed, emotions, and finding ways to ease those discomforts. At the same time the story is injected with humour and intuitively sharp black and white illustrations.

In Up and Away (#8), Chook has been given a school assignment to explore a job he might like to pursue as an adult. Naturally, he is drawn to the job of his father – a pilot. But, there are things about being a pilot that are scary, such as visiting new places and meeting new people. In a cleverly fun way, Chook’s dad teaches him a little about the structure and physics of a plane, which is somewhat reassuring. Whilst waiting for his dad in the Club Lounge, Chook is granted an opportunity to quash his own fears, and impart his knowledge, to help another in need.
This book beautifully showcases the fact that ‘ knowledge is power’, and stepping out of your comfort zone leads to a sense of empowerment and personal growth. Once again, relevant, entertaining and encouraging, young readers will delight in this gratifying story of developing independence.

The Chook Doolan series for junior readers, and in particular young boys developing their literacy skills, is absolutely addictive. These stories of overcoming internal struggles and developing self-confidence are highly relatable, uncomplicated and transparent, as well as pleasantly engaging. Five to eight year olds will definitely be clucking for more!

Author James Roy

Illustrator Lucinda Gifford

Walker Books Australia, June 2017.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Review: Lady Midnight by Cassandra Clare

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Lady Midnight by Cassandra Clare is a stunningly engaging starter for a new Shadowhunter series! It is a follow-up of Clare’s previous The Mortal Instruments and The Infernal Devices series, but good news? You can actually read this without having read a single Clare book before! It’s a great intro into the world of nephilim, werewolves, faeries, vampires, and demons. And it did not disappoint at all!

The story follows Emma Carstairs, a training Shadowhunter who’s parents died in an unsolved murder mystery. While the Clave has ruled their deaths as just part of the war, Emma knows it was murder — and she’s determined to find answers and have revenge. Emma is also struggling with feelings for her best friend, her Parabati, whom she’s forbidden by Shadowhunter law to have a relationship with. And as if life isn’t complex enough, the murder mystery ends up involving faeries and it’s illegal for Emma to investigate with them. She has so many laws to try and sneak around if she’s going to get her revenge.

I absolutely adored how incredibly full and rich the story was. It has everything a book should have: humour, witty quips, a murder mystery case, magic, mayhem, pancakes, diverse characters, and an engaging plot that will leave you breathless by the end.

The writing just hooked me in from the first page. It manages to fill in any newbies to the series on Shadowhunter law and culture without giving tiresome info dumps. Plus it mixes levity with the darker storyline and the banter is just so spot on and perfect I couldn’t help but laugh.

“You’re too skinny,” she said as brightly as she could. “Too much coffee, not enough pancakes.”
“I hope they put that on my tombstone.”

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The characters stole my heart with their complexities and just how relatable they were. Emma and Julian are the stars of the story and their denial of their feelings for each other is so insufferably cute. So much angst. So much heartbreak. Emma is the main narrator, but I loved that we also got peeks into Julian’s conflicted mind. Emma has a “LET’S SMITE THE THING” attitude while Julian is more thoughtful and silently dangerous. And their banter and sass was perfect.

“Why did you pull the arrow out?” she demanded…
Jule’s breath was coming in harsh pants. “Because when someone — shoots you with an arrow –” he gasps, “your immediate response is not — ‘thanks for the arrow, I think I’ll keep it for a while’.”
“Good to know your sense of humour is still intact.”

It also has quite a large cast of characters since there are 5 Blackthorn children. Julian is only 17, but also a parent to his 4 younger siblings. I adored how each of the kids just leapt off the page with personality and I never got them confused. I’m particularly impressed at the inclusion of Ty, who is pretty clearly Autistic, and how the story incorporated themes of disability, accepting differences, and empowerment.

Lady Midnight is quite possibly my new favourite Shadowhunter book! (And that’s saying something, since I’m thoroughly obsessed with everything Cassandra Clare pens.) The plot was engaging and suspenseful, the banter kept me giggling through my pain as the tension and problems piled insurmountably high. I rooted for Emma’s revenge and Julian to keep his family together. And I absolutely hope these two get together, law or not. The book has such strong themes of family, friendship, and the meaning of actual true and real love. It’s stunning and clever and the sequel needs to be in my hands.

 

NSW Premier’s Literary Awards & SWF Indigenous Voices

As always, the Sydney Writers’ Festival in May was an amazing week.

The NSW Premier’s Literary Awards were announced on the Monday night and I was thrilled to meet the Patricia Wrightson (children’s book) winner for the surrealist mystery Iris and the Tiger, Leanne Hall (who I interviewed for the blog here), photographed below with shortlisted Tamsin Janu and shortlisted Ethel Turner YA author Lili Wilkinson.

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The winner of the Kenneth Slessor Poetry award was Peter Boyle for the inimical Ghostspeaking, an intriguing mystery of finely woven stories and poems. The richly constructed characters are brought to life with interlaced poems. It evokes Borges’ Labyrinths with the brush strokes and ideas of artist William Robinson and the clear bold outlines and strokes of Matisse.

Congratulations to James Roy (who I interviewed for the blog here ) and Noël Zihabamwe, whose One Thousand Hills won the Ethel Turner award and all the other shortlisted and winning authors, including overall winner, Leah Purcell for The Drover’s Wife play script.

At the SWF, I was privileged to be in conversation with Dr Anita Heiss and Witi Ihimaera for the ‘Indigenous Voices’ sessions at the Wharf in Walsh Bay and at Parramatta Riverside Theatres. It was great to have the opportunity to discuss Anita’s new The Race for Reconciliation, a novel for children that celebrates Aboriginal hero Cathy Freeman and shares truths that many Australian children don’t know about stolen children, National Sorry Day and other aspects of Aboriginal recent history.

Anita has also shown Aboriginal women in contemporary Australian literature in new and important ways such as in Barbed Wire & Cherry Blossoms. This compares the WW2 Prisoner of War camp near Cowra in central NSW when Japanese soldiers broke out, with the local Wiradjuri people who also virtually lived under prison conditions – and had less food than the Japanese prisoners.

Also in this session was revered Maori writer Witi Ihimaera. He was the first Maori author to have both a novel and short stories published. In his memoir, Maori Boy, Witi uses a unique and powerful spiral thread structure. He also uses myths in his work.

Witi is well known for his book and movie from the book, Whale Rider and also now, Mahana. At times he wished he was brought up more in Maori traditions and he wasn’t great at the haka. But he was destined to do another kind of haka.

Anita and Witi made a fine team enlightening us about indigenous voices.

Image may contain: 3 people, people smiling, people sitting

 

 

Changing Feelings – Picture books about change

Last week, Romi Sharp reviewed some heart melting picture books that promote helping to heal. You can view them, here. The inclusion of emotionally resilient building narrative in picture book format is a subject close to my heart, even more so after my recent return from Singapore’s Asian Festival of Children’s Content where I presented a seminar on Biblio-therapy and its usefulness in children’s literature. These next few picture books eloquently and artfully address the need to embrace feelings and increase a young child’s ability to cope better with change. Have a look for yourself.

Through the Gate by Sally Fawcett

Fawcett’s latest picture book epitomises the essence of change so succinctly, even I, a great resister, felt gladden and reassured. From the magnetising front cover, achingly decrepit and hopeful at the same time, to the dramatic transformation of the end pages, Through the Gate is a visually striking and emotionally memorable look at affecting and accepting change.

Continue reading Changing Feelings – Picture books about change

Review: When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

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When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon is definitely one of the cutest books I’ve had the pleasure of reading in 2017. It’s totally nerdy and full of adorkable socially awkward characters and so much delicious food. It features the absolute best romance that I couldn’t help but ship!

The story follows both Dimple and Rishi’s storylines as they head off to a program to develop an app — and discover their parents have set them up for an arranged marriage. Well, Rishi knew. And he assumed Dimple was on board. Their first meeting ends up with Dimple throwing an iced coffee in Rishi’s face and running away. #Awkward But the two end up becoming tentative friends (although future marriage is STRICTLY not on, in Dimple’s opinion) and team up to enter this app competition. It’s 6 weeks of design and discussion and development…with the two realising they maybe do have feelings for each other after all. Which is exactly the opposite of what Dimple wanted.

My favourite thing was how both Dimple and Rishi were huge nerds! Dimple is into coding and computers and Rishi is (in denial though) a huge comic book artist. Aren’t they the perfect pair!? And to top it off, they were written so complexly with so many dimensions that I couldn’t help but feel totally sucked in by the story and dissolved into their vibrant and emotional world. Their character arcs were just amazing and relatable! And the book isn’t just about two teens coding an app — they eat delicious food (like, so so much…you will get hungry reading this) and there is intense gelato appreciation; plus the end up dancing in a contest which is rather hysterical; and there may or may not be an adorable star-gazing scene.

I also really liked how it was a positive story about arranged marriage for Indian cultures! Generally I see it portrayed as very negative, so it’s nice to get this perspective. Plus both sets of parents were lovely, kind, and wanted the best for their children. It’s always refreshing to see parents in YA books not casted as the villains. Plus it was full of rich Indian culture, which I totally loved being immersed in. Dimple is pretty adamant about being a “normal American” but Rishi is fiercely proud of his Indian heritage and his comics feature Indian folklore. He’s proud of where he came from and he doesn’t want to lose touch with that, which was wonderful to read about.

I really loved their voices and the fact it was written in 3rd person! That’s my favourite perspective and it really connected me to the story instantly. I’m also glad it split up to tell both perspectives, because they really both were precious cinnamon rolls and I loved every chapter!

I thoroughly enjoyed When Dimple Met Rishi and it was full of squishy happiness and true appreciation for nerds of all kinds. The geek levels were intensely awesome, with a science-interested girl and an art-interested boy. The writing had me hooked on every chapter and I truly cared for the characters. All the praise for this adorable and sweet story!

Picture Books to Help and Heal

When you’re feeling a little lost, a little broken, or need a helping hand, what better way to lift you up than with a few beautiful, encouraging books with a whole heap of sentiment and warmth. Here are a few newbies you’ll want to hold close to your heart.

The Whirlpool, Emily Larkin (author), Helene Magisson (illus.), Wombat Books, May 2017.

When one moment shifts into another, without warning, and your world suddenly seems like a foreign place. This emotional whirlpool, as it is described; can pluck you from a place of familiarity and warmth then spin you round until you’re left confused and displaced. The Whirlpool considerately and sensitively addresses this sentiment without needing a definite cause; there doesn’t have to be some traumatic event for us to experience those ‘bad’ or isolated days. Because we all know happiness, sadness, loneliness and love, and here they are expressed beautifully through the eyes of a young polar bear cub.

Emily Larkin’s words are poetic-like. In their very being they stir up emotions in your soul. The simple sentences are sharp and carefully crafted for dramatic impact. Helene Magisson’s breathtaking illustrations almost literally wrap you up in this sensational vortex. Specifically defining moments are highlighted through her choice of visual layout and colour. Vast scenes define both feelings of joy and desolation, and focal sequences display proudness and a tiring endurance. And with Helene’s characteristically alluring charm and symbolic nuances, the significance of the yellow scarf cleverly ties the changing moods and atmospheric conditions altogether.

The Whirlpool is, funnily enough, a gentle and hopeful tale, reassuring its primary school aged readers that experiencing a range of feelings and challenges in their life can be helpful in navigating their individual journeys. This is explained further by helpful notes at the back of the book. So, take a step back and watch a snippet of real life flash before you- this book is insightful, sincere and stunningly beautiful.

Nanna’s Button Tin, Dianne Wolfer (author), Heather Potter (illus.), Walker Books, June 2017.

The sentimentality of a little piece of plastic, primarily used to hold material together, may mean little to some, but for others, buttons hold a lifetime of memories. Nanna’s Button Tin is brimming with warm and fuzzy goodness, of special intergenerational bonds and precious reminders of the past.

For a little girl, Nanna’s button tin holds the key to healing her Teddy’s much-needed amending. And she has the added comfort of being fulfilled with stories of love as she searches for the perfect round, brown button for Teddy’s eye. The tiny yellow button reminds Nanna of the day the little girl was born. The bear-shaped button was worn on her birthday jumper when she was three. The sparkly green one signifies the connection between her grandparents. Whilst the silver angel button helped bring her back to health when she was sick. With Teddy finally fixed, the button tin and all its contents are replaced on the shelf for another day of memorable moments.

With heartfelt dialogue between the characters, and superbly detailed, realistic and warm illustrations, Nanna’s Button Tin contains a pile of love and a beautifully familiar homely feel. This book will be adored, shared and reflected upon by its preschool-aged audience, and their grandparents, many times over. Certainly one to replenish all the warmth in your heart.

Ava’s Spectacular Spectacles, Alice Rex (author), Angela Perrini (illus.), New Frontier Publishing, June 2017.

Another story told through the eyes of a child is Ava’s Spectacular Spectacles. And what a vision she has! Initially, though, Ava is self conscious about her glasses and won’t wear them in class. But with Mrs Cook’s bright and imaginative attitude, things have never looked the same. Presenting a page from various fairy tales to Ava, much like watching an oversized movie screen, the teacher explains how glasses would have helped the characters avoid their problems in the story. Featuring Little Red Riding Hood, Hansel and Gretel, Humpty Dumpty and more, Ava soon realises that in order to perceive the world clearly, she will need to ‘see’ the world clearly.

I love the enthusiasm and energy throughout the text, inviting readers and listeners to join in and ponder these sentiments. There is that subtle coercion that adults attempt to convince children of what is best, but the tale is written so playfully and creatively that it just feels like pure entertainment. The illustrations are equally jovial, colourful and expressive, and particularly visually large and easy-on-the-eye to suit its purpose.

Ava’s Spectacular Spectacles is fantastically fun, full of familiar fairy tale delights. It is perfect for children from age four, and especially providing a shining light for those with vision impairments to feel confident and secure.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

YA Wintery Reads To Curl Up With

As Australia descends into the pit of despair wintertime, it’s a great excuse to curl up with a book and a delicious hot drink and lose oneself in a fictional world! And if you happen to like to coordinate the weather with your current read then I have good news for you! Today I’m listing some wintery-themed YA books that will be perfect for snuggling up with.

Winter is coming. Be prepared. Stockpile books.


SHIVER BY MAGGIE STEIFVATER

This is like my go-to winter series because it’s mostly set in a snowy foresty town in the USA and the weather is so palpable you genuinely feel cold reading it! It’s about werewolves who are human in summer and wolves in winter, which I think is a fabulous twist. It’s also for sure one of my favourite series!

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THE IMPOSTOR QUEEN BY SARAH FINE

This one is like the YA book dark and sinister version of Frozen! It features a queen who should have magical element wielding powers to protect her kingdom but yet…she doesn’t??? She ends up running away and finding a boy who controls ice and snow. The book has such a chilling setting and it’s all snowy mountains and traipsing through ice fields. Also it’s excellent.

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THE EDGE OF EVERYTHING BY JEFF GILES

It’s set in the aftermath of a huge blizzard that leaves a girl and her little brother rather trapped in a strange cabin with an even stranger boy who appears to be some sort of death reaper. It turns out that the boy, X, is here to fetch the souls of evil people and hate for them is destroying his life…even if he is actually a really soft and kind person. But vengeance must come…right? The whole book has a really cold vibe with all the snow and blizzards!

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THE SMELL OF OTHER PEOPEL’S HOUSES BY BONNIE-SUE HITCHCOCK

This one is set in Alaska! So get ready for snow and months of darkness. It’s also a really emotional and poignant tale of 4 different teens’ lives and how they all interweave and join. From a boy running away from home to a girl stuck on a fishing ship when she wants to dance ballet. The writing is simple and really packs a punch. And there is pie. I don’t know about you, but I’m of the opinion that all books should include excellent mentions of delicious pie.

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SNOW LIKE ASHES BY SARA

Surprise! This one includes SNOW. (Which is stunningly new information that you didn’t guess from the tittle, I’m sure.) This is an epic fantasy set in a world were the seasons are actually countries! Meira is a refugee from the war-torn country of Winter and all she wants to do is protect her BFF, the future king, and restore the kingdom of Winter to its past glory. There’s lots of dark magic out to make everyone’s lives miserable and some completely stunning plot twists that might unhinge your jaw. Plus it’s perfectly and delicious cold to read about an entire country that’s known for its winter!  You’ll need a hot chocolate to get through this one for sure.

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Review: New Boy by Tracy Chevalier

9781781090329New Boy is Tracy Chevalier’s contribution to the Hogarth Shakespeare series which aims to re-interpret some of Shakespeare’s more popular works. So far the series has included retellings from bestselling authors Jeanette Winterson, Anne Tyler, Margaret Atwood and Ian McEwan. I have been thoroughly enjoying this series and I have been particularly looking forward to Tracy’s reinterpretation of Othello.

It is Washington DC during the 1970’s. Tracy transports us back into Primary school – year 6 to be exact. That awkward time when you are on the cusp of growing out of the friendships and alliances that have sustained you through your younger years. Fumbling attempts at relationships cause extra tensions and alliances are forged and broken with ease.

Osei Kokote is the new kid in school. It is not the first time he has been in this position. As a Diplomat’s son he has changed school regularly and feels like experience has given him a good grasp of how to survive the first day at a new school. He is also quite adept at dealing with being the only black kid in a predominantly white environment.

Dee Benedetti is the teacher’s pet. A good girl and rule-follower who is generally liked by her classmates and the school as a whole. Drawn to the new boy, she makes the brave and startling decision to befriend him unknowingly upsetting the chain of power in the playground and setting off a series of events that will end in disaster. As the children manipulate, use and betray each other over the course of the school day the tension grows drawing the adults, who should be immune, into the web as well.

Tracy Chevalier’s decision to place the drama of Othello ín a schoolyard is pure genius. The compounding of racing hormones, changing power dynamics and racism is a potent mix. I was completely drawn into the drama and taken straight back to the playground. To take a story so well known and make it so new, horrifying and powerful is an accomplishment. Even though I was prepared for things to not end well, New Boy left me shocked and gasping. This is going to be one of my top 5 books this year and I think New Boy easily outshines the other titles in the Hogarth Series.

Buy the book here…

Wally Turns 30! – New Editions

What a fantastical blast from the past! Those cherished days of pouring over Where’s Wally? scenes for hours on end, in search for that inconspicuously eminent character, and his friends, we all know and love so dearly. Allow your children the same pleasure with these marvellous 30th Anniversary Edition and brand new collector pocket books that will be sure to spin heads, strain eyes and tire fingers to their hearts’ delight.

The classic, world-wide phenomenon, Where’s Wally? (30th Anniversary, Feb 2017) by Martin Handford, is celebrating 30 years of magical, wondrous, time- and space-travelling zeal that, no doubt, is still burning strong to this day. With its large-face, portrait format, Wally-Spotters can partner up and share the scrutiny together. It is the observer’s mission to find five intrepid travellers; Wally, Woof (but all you can see is his tail), Wenda, Wizard Whitebeard and Odlaw, plus their precious items in every scene. But that’s not all! There are another 25 Wally-watchers and an extensive checklist of people, creatures and objects to be found, too!

Each scene is presented with a postcard from Wally addressed to us, the Wally fans, providing a snippet of his endeavours in that particular destination. All set with his walking stick and a bulky load in tow, Wally wonders through busy and colourful places. From a crowded town, to a packed beach, a snowy mountain, a groovy campsite, jostling train station, a manic airport, a mass of runners at the sports stadium, a jiving museum, the swarming sea, a bustling safari park, jam-packed department store, and a lively fairground. (Plus a bonus scene!)

Along with your keen sense of observation, you’ll also delight in the humorous and quirky details found in every picture. The vibrant illustrations teem with life and personality, every tiny character with their own hilarious story to tell. No wonder Where’s Wally? will forever be a global classic! A must-have for every home and school.

The Where’s Wally? The Totally Essential Travel Collection (June 2017) is certainly the fun adventure that never ends! Including seven of the classics in one travel-sized book, littered with colouring in postcards and adorned with gold foiled stripes, this will be your trusty travel companion wherever the destination. The handy elastic close is a clever way to return to your place, and fold-out checklists enable easy accessibility as you search and turn through each wondrous location.

If I were to choose my favourite edition I would have to say The Wonder Book definitely packs a punch with its uniform colour selections for each scene and its pages that are filled to the brink with the most minuscule of detail. And if you’re up for a real challenge try visiting The Land of Woofs! It’s a cracker!

The Where’s Wally? Colouring Collection (May 2017) is an absolute spectacular of Wally-related searches, games, jokes and creative tasks, all in black and white! Whilst colouring, doodling and sketching your way through the pages, astute observers also have the added task of locating Wally, his friends, his special lost paint pot, and other precious possessions. Plenty more hidden objects are compiled in the checklists, and the enormous lift-out poster creates even more colouring, searching and time-consuming goodness.

With heaps of inspiring, creative and thought-provoking activities, this travel-sized handbook with elastic close is an energetic bundle of joy (and a calming force at the same time!).

The great thing about this series is that they cater for every age group, starting with simple perusal to the more complex exploration. But there is no doubt, this is imagination, entertainment and brain-training at their best!

Walker Books Ltd., Walker Books Australia.

Review: The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli

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The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli is a special squish of an adorable story. It just ticks all the right boxes for what YA contemporary is longing after. It’s cute and fun and manages to weave in the awkwardness of teenagerdom (shh that’s totally a word) with the epically beautiful and special parts about growing up and finding out who you are and, of course, falling in love.

The story centres around Molly who is a sufferer of many, many unrequited crushes. Then her twin sister, Cassie, meets the most amazing girl and Molly truly starts to realise what she’s missing. But she’s conscious that she’s not particularly “cool” and that she’s fat (which she worries people will judge her for), and that she doesn’t want to fall for someone who isn’t going to treat her well. Molly is all into Pinterest arts and baking and hanging out with her super cool friends. Then she meets two boys: Will, who is like the most adorable hipster boy who seems to really truly like her…maybe more than “like”, and then there’s also Reid, who Molly works with who’s a ginormous nerd and wears Lord of the Rings tee-shirts and is unconventional and dorky. But he’s not really Molly’s type. But is Will either?

It’s truly a story about falling in love for the first time, but also about growing up and feeling left behind by your peers if you’re not “keeping up” enough.

I adored how diverse it was, with at least 50%, if not more, of the cast stars queer characters of different ethnicities.

The writing is, of course, brilliant and totally addictive! Seriously I could never look away from the page. It’s just captivating and beautifully written and it felt so real and relatable with the tone and dialogue. Becky Albertalli just knows how to write books that make you feel like you’re living inside them.

The characters were definitely the best part! They were relatable and dorky at times and completely realistic. I did struggle to connect to Molly, though, with her 30+ unrequited crushes. That’s a lot of people to fall in love with, okay?! She doesn’t really ACT on them, though, so the book isn’t full of breakups and angst. I still loved Molly for her who she felt everyone was growing up around her and she was stagnating. The book puts forth the question of “am I keeping up?” and then slaps it down because there isn’t a timeline to do things! Molly can be 16 and not have kissed anyone and that doesn’t make her weird or broken. I think this book captured just how overwhelming growing up can be. Also it was super cute to see how into Pinterest arts and crafts Molly was! When she was planning her mothers’ weddings Pinterest-style?! OH YES AND YES.

There were so many beautiful messages too. I love how Molly’s mums talked about there not being “a specific age” to reach milestones and achieve things. And of course it underlined that love is love no matter what. And even though Molly had anxiety and was shy, she never was forced to become someone else.

Also the romance was freaking adorable. It had the potential to be an angsty love-triangle, but it wasn’t!

The Upside of Unrequited is a glorious, sweet, happy and feels-good book that will truly make you smile! The writing is captivating, the characters are relatable, and there are so many chocolate mini-eggs that you will find yourself having a serious craving and probably gnawing on your copy of the book. So be wise: read it + eat chocolate simultaneously. The story is full of poignant messages and sweet plot twists and is a definite must read!

Amazing YA Mothers You Definitely Want To Read About

Good parent influences in Young Adult books can be as rare as finding a unicorn. However they do exist! And when we find them, life is glorious! I love reading about epic fictional women who inspire and also delight. In honour of Mother’s Day today, I’d like to present a list of some really wonderful mothers in YA books. These are also underrated fictional mothers (because we all know we already love Molly Weasley) so hopefully you find some new glorious books to add to your to-be-read pile!


RADIO SILENCE BY ALICE OSEMAN

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Not only is Radio Silence a complete geek-fest, it features a mother-daughter relationship that is just so gloriously wonderful and special. Frances has been raised by a single mum who’s really busy with work, but is still always there for her daughter. And when Frances runs into trouble with friends, her mum is totally volunteers to step in and help out. Better yet? Frances actually lets her.

It’s really important, I believe, to have books where parents are the antagonists and are shown supporting their teens and helping them through super difficult times. #precious

 

THE HATE U GIVE BY ANGIE THOMAS

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This has been one of the most famous YA books of 2017, which is excellent, because it thoroughly deserves the hype and love! It’s about the #BlackLivesMatter movement and features Starr, who has watched the murder of two of her friends. It’s heartbreaking and heartwarming….aaaaand Starr has an amazing set of parents!

Not only are her parents strong and wise, they’re super involved in their kids’ lives. Starr’s mum spends time with her and encourages Starr to be the best she can be in all things. Also Starr’s parents are super in love and that’s just so adorable to read about. Starr says her parents are her OTP and if that isn’t the best thing then what is.

 

THE UPSIDE OF UNREQUITED BY BECKY ALBERTALLI

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This is a super cute tale about romance, love, and family, from the point of view of Molly, who is a rather anxious teen who is obsessed with Pinterest crafts and delicious things like mini chocolate eggs. Basically she is the best kind of person. I really love and adored her two mums!

Not only are they raising a splendidly kind and loving person (hello, Molly!) but they’re super sweet and loving to each other. And they listen to their kids. And they’re hardworking women multitasking jobs, teenagers, and a baby. Like, woah, just hats off right here.

 

THE SERPENT KING BY JEFF ZENTNER

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This is actually from the point-of-view of three teens: Dylan, Trevor and Lydia. Unfortunately only Lydia’s parents are awesome (Dylan and Trevor break my heart with how callous their parents can be, unfortunately) but the contrast of Lydia’s folks is beautifully written. So much adoration here. SO MUCH. Her mum and dad not only support her, they joke around with her and make their house a welcome and loving place. You can see the affect it has on Lydia too, with her being confident about her life and career and knowing she can come to them for emotional support. The best kind of parents.

 

Book Week: the CBCA Eve Pownall Books, Part 2

Fabish: the horse that braved a bushfire

By Neridah McMullin, illustrated by Andrew McLean   Allen & Unwin

Another amazing animal in the Eve Pownall shortlisted books is the horse, Fabish. He was an old horse who rescued the yearlings from the terrible Black Saturday bushfire. The trainer rescued the finest race horses but couldn’t look after them all so he set Fabish free with the yearlings. He discovered every single one safe after the decimating fire but didn’t know where Fabian had taken them.

Picture book form is an apt medium for this true story. Important Australian illustrator, Andrew McLean, is an expert in painting our countryside and animals and Neridah McMullin has crystallised the events into a riveting tale.

Primary-age children could no doubt imagine where the horses may have found safety. They could write and draw their possible experiences.

These creators have published other very worthwhile books, such as McLean’s A Year on Our Farm and Bob the Railway Dog and McMullin’s Kick it to Me and KnockAbout Cricket.

William Bligh: a stormy story of tempestuous time

By Michael Sedunary, illustrated by Bern Emmerichs Berbay Publishing

This tale begins in 1808, 20 years after the First Fleet, when soldiers arrest Governor Bligh. It then retrospectively tells the account of the Mutiny on the Bounty before returning to Bligh’s attempts to quell both the Rum Rebellion and John Macarthur.

Michael Sedunary’s writing is picturesque and colourful; personalising Bligh’s life and endeavours.

Bern Emmerichs’ illustrations are intricate and patterned.

Surprisingly, blogging and social media appear in this book. Bligh’s log (now kept in Sydney’s Mitchell Library) relates blogging to the gossip, printed pamphlets and handbills of the period. Macarthur’s ‘tweets’ against Bligh are viewed as the social media of the time.

The first Australian political cartoon (adapted here) shows Bligh dragged from under his bed by Major Johnston’s men. Propaganda is explained and readers are asked to think about how ‘simple slogans and labels are meant to stop us thinking any further about things.’

More surprises appear when readers are asked to consider who is the hero or villain – Cook or Bligh? (Cook ordered many more floggings than Bligh.)

Other books in the series are What’s Your Story? and The Unlikely Story of Bennelong and Phillip.

 Enormous congratulations to Berbay Publishing for its Bologna Award.

 The Gigantic Book of Genes

By Lorna Hendry   Wild Dog Books

This is a glossy science publication with high quality photos. It includes seamless explanations of genes and genetics with apt examples for children to understand.

It has incredible information, such as ‘If you took all the DNA in your body, unwound it and stretched it out into a single strand, it would reach all the way to Pluto and back.’

Readers are asked: which has more genes: a grape or a human? (the answer is on page 32)

We are reminded that tongue-rolling and widow’s peaks are genetic.

No doubt every reader will be amazed when they clasp their hands to see if their left or right thumb is on top. (page 59) Try it!

And genetically all humans have 99.9% of identical DNA. We are almost exactly the same.

Book Week: the CBCA Eve Pownall Books, Part 1

The Eve Pownall Information Books this year span the ABC, animals and history.

They highlight several small, independent publishers, who should be congratulated on their excellent publications.

Spellbound: Making Pictures with the ABC

By Maree Coote    Melbournestyle Books

Spellbound also won a 2017 Bologna Ragazzi Award. It’s a large, sumptuous hardcover in three parts: architecture, animals and people, and features typography (letter art) where images are created from letters that spell their names.

Young children could find the letters in the illustrations. Older readers could appreciate the typographic poetry (shape poetry) where the meaning of the text is enhanced visually.

I spoke to the creator, Maree, on the day before she flew to Bologna to receive her award, who explained that she has restricted herself to using existing fonts.

There are three levels of difficulty within the book’s examples: 1. any letters that inspire a picture can be used 2. only use letters of the correct spelling of the subject’s name 3. only use correct spelling and only 1 font per letter (see page 3).

This book helps understanding of Visual Literacy. (See page 3 for line and shape, and page 63 for patterns.)

Children could use Macs, or equivalent, to create their own letter art.

There is even a mini tutorial on how to create animals using only letters.

 A-Z of Endangered Animals

Words and Illustrations by Jennifer Cossins       Red Parka Press

The Introduction explains how the high animal extinction rate is due largely to humans, and also introduced species such as rabbits and foxes, in Australia.

Everyone can help by reusing and recycling, keeping beaches clean and not wasting water.

The book is well-designed; it’s clean and clear.

It is structured with one animal representing each letter of the alphabet.

Information on the left-hand page includes conservation (e.g. endangered or vulnerable) status; current population; description of the animal and where it lives; and an interesting fact such as no two tigers have the same striped pattern, and eastern gorillas use basic tools to gather food.

Each animal is illustrated on the opposite page.

Primary-aged children could focus on Australian endangered animals and present information using the same format, possibly to make a class book.

Amazing Animals of Australia’s National Parks

By Gina M. Newton    National Library of Australia

Like A-Z Endangered Animals, Amazing Animals of Australia’s National Parks shows which species are endangered, vulnerable or threatened (their conservation status).

Every state and territory is included, so readers may be able to visit one.

The structure is organised by environments and habitats such as woodlands and grasslands (the Bush), wetlands and waterways, arid zones and coast, oceans and islands.

Each habitat has a double page, followed by one page each for selected animals.

Read this book to discover more about our wildlife and how to care for the environment

There are high-quality photos, interesting ‘fast facts’ and a glossary.

I will write about the 3 other Eve Pownall shortlisted books in another post.

Love and Life – Picture Books for Mums

Looking for beautiful books that capture your heart with themes of comfort, joy, encouragement, living life and nurturing this Mother’s Day? Here are a few that possess these qualities, and more, ensuring you’re bursting with love and light on your special day.

My Meerkat Mum, Ruth Paul (author, illus.), Scholastic Australia, April 2017.

Meerkats. Utterly adorable. Quirky. Funny. Eccentric. Fiercely protective and loyal. It doesn’t take much to fall in love with them, and here is a sharp-witted, sweet tale that you will fall in love with, too.

Single words and short, punchy sentences establish the pace for the quick and tenacious characteristics of these feisty little creatures. “Up. Stretch. Left. Right. Sleepy Mum. Morning light.” The illustrations favour the same theatrics with their humorous assortment of snapshots showcasing the meerkats in each and every action. It is Mum’s duty to prepare her three pups for the busy day ahead. Ensuring they are meticulously groomed from every angle, they are ready to set out from their burrow for a lesson in hunting. But their work is not without misadventure as the young meerkats encounter a lick of danger. Luckily Meerkat Mum is there to assert her authority, security and comfort…as all good mums do!

Ruth Paul has captured the heart of motherhood through her cheeky, vivacious story of possibly one of the cutest animals in existence. My Meerkat Mum is a delightful read for mums and bubs to share, highlighting the love and ultimate dedication of a Mum who’s work is never complete. A book that preschoolers will simply adore.

Old Pig, Margaret Wild (author), Ron Brooks (illus.), Allen & Unwin, Jan 2017.

Written and illustrated by the legendary creators that are Margaret Wild and Ron Brooks, this heart rending classic remains as moving as since it was first published 20 years ago. The comfort in knowing you’re taken care of long after a loved one has gone brings peace and warmth even to the most broken of hearts. This story of living, giving, optimism, appreciation and infinite love will move you to tears whilst shining a beacon of light and hope in the places you need it most.

It has been only Old Pig and Granddaughter for a long time. They are an inseparable pair, a tremendous team that work well together, but most importantly, enjoy each other’s company. As quickly as we’ve fallen for this loving duo, we are shaken with a harsh reality that Old Pig is gravely ill. And Granddaughter is left to deal with her sudden sense of loneliness, alone. But Old Pig has some final affairs to prepare. Besides the bills, Old Pig gives Granddaughter the gift of peace and a sensational love for the world around her. “Do you see how the light glitters on the leaves?” “Do you see how the clouds gather like gossips in the sky?” And Granddaughter gives her own final gift too…tissues, please!

This story that deals with life and letting go has been written by Margaret Wild with the most beautiful, sincere language in a spiritually uplifting and gentle manner. It emanates with an aura of goodness; that generosity, solicitude and serenity can fulfil one’s happiness. Brooks’ use of light and shade and autumn tones encapsulate the ride of emotions as well as capturing the beauty of a world infused with promise.

Old Pig is a delicate look at loss in a story so filled with love. It is a reassuring book for early primary years children, and in particular those who have lost, or are especially close to, a grandparent.

Under the Love Umbrella, Davina Bell (author), Allison Colpoys (illus.), Scribble, Feb 2017.

No matter where one is, physically, emotionally or spiritually, they can take comfort in knowing that they are deeply and truly loved. Under the Love Umbrella is a charming analogy and reminder for our children that they always have the security of our love despite their fears, mistakes, insecurities, and even their misdemeanours.

Gorgeously poetic in its rhyming stance, Davina Bell uses sweet and mesmerising language to steal our hearts. A variety of everyday situations are captured, and are constantly brought back to the soothing words, “…love umbrella.” Whether they are experiencing unfair play, or feeling shy, moving house and strange new things, or bad dreams and big worries, the children can rely on feeling safe, considered and loved. Although it cannot be seen, love can be felt, even a long, long way away.

The simple colour palette with pops of neon orange is in similar style to this duo’s previous title, The Underwater Fancy-Dress Parade. Colpoys effectively attracts readers with her joyous and warm images, encapsulating a diverse population of family types and cultural backgrounds.

Under the Love Umbrella is an encouraging, reassuring and light-hearted story filled with warmth for any parent to share with their young ones. It includes several themes that offer valuable discussion points, including the final question, “Who’s under your love umbrella?”.

Stay safe, warm and protected this Mother’s Day! Snuggle up with a good book and a loved one. X

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

5 Books About Twins

I love books about twins so much I thought I’d put together a list of some of my favourites.

  1. Flowers in the Attic by Virginia Andrews
    This was the book that started my love affair with twins in literature and is the story of 4 young children locked in an attic by their Grandmother. Their father has died and the children are living in their gothic grandparent’s house waiting for the Mother to successfully acquire some money from her strict Grandfather who detests the children. Gradually their mother visits less often and the children are largely left to their own devices. This is a classic YA novel with gothic undertones and themes of greed and betrayal.
  2. The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
    This book is in my Top 10 favourite books of all time. Vida Winter is a successful author and has decided to tell her life story now that she’s dying. She’s given many interviews over the course of her life, but each time she tells a different story. This time she’s serious about revealing the dark truth about her past and Margaret Lea has agreed to be her biographer. But it won’t be easy.
    The novel makes countless delicious references to stories, books and reading and I revelled in the language.
    Here’s a sample from the book: “Do they sense it, these dead writers, when their books are read? Does a pinprick of light appear in their darkness? Is their soul stirred by the feather touch of another mind reading theirs? I do hope so.
    Naturally the plot includes twins and the wonderfully haunted Angelfield House forms the backdrop of the novel in a charming and menacing way. In addition to being a brilliant book, The Thirteenth Tale is also major BBC film starring Vanessa Redgrave and Sophie Turner (Game of Thrones).
  3. Beside Myself by Ann Morgan
    Beside Myself is a psychological thriller and suspenseful read looking at themes of identity and mental illness. Twin sisters Helen (domineering) and Ellie (submissive) play a game one afternoon to swap identities, but Ellie won’t change back. What happens next is an ever growing divide between the sisters and the subsequent decline of one of them. As the consequences of the game last a lifetime, I couldn’t help but wonder what I would have done in Helen’s situation
  4. A Dark Dividing by Sarah Rayne
    Continuing the suspense theme, A Dark Dividing is about conjoined twins born 100 years apart and how they’re connected. Alternating between the past and the present, and across 3 different periods, the novel reveals a number of shocking secrets as it progresses.
    Author Sarah Rayne loves to include a creepy building at the centre of her books and this time it was the suitably scary Mortmain House. Originally used as a workhouse for men and women who would otherwise die of starvation, the living conditions at the house were horrendous. Children abandoned at birth or born to families unable to care for them all ended up here and suffered terrible treatment as a consequence.
    As the title suggests, A Dark Dividing is a dark read and I enjoyed finding out how all the characters were connected.
  5. The Distant Hours by Kate Morton
    Another gothic novel featuring twins in a creepy estate is historical fiction novel The Distant Hours by Kate Morton. Edie is a book publisher and when her mother receives a long lost letter originally posted in 1941 from Milderhurst Castle, her curiosity is piqued. Her mother is secretive about her past, but Edie finds out she was billeted at the castle for a short time during the war.
    Edie visits the crumbling castle and meets the three elderly sisters residing there. Twins Percy and Saffy live together with their younger sister Juniper and the reasons they each chose to stay at the castle after the war and why they never married or had children inform the plot. Something happened to bond the sisters together for life and it was a thrill to discover. The characters love to read, write and tell stories, and all shared a love of books. The reference to the library in the castle made me weak at the knees.

I hope you enjoyed this list, but I’ve just noticed that almost all the twins in my list are female. I can’t even think of a novel with male twins, can you? Further reading: The Ice Twins by SK Tremayne and The Silent Twin by Caroline Mitchell.

Review: Willful Machines by Tim Floreen

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I was so surprised and delighted by Willful Machines by Tim Floreen! I saw a friend recommend it and say it was underrated — and they were 100% right. It’s so emotional, complex, and relatable and entirely underrated! Although it does have an ending that is rather destined to set you biting your nails and crying desperately for a sequel. But that’s the kind of reaction a good book should give, right?!?

The story is set in the not-so-distant future and centres around the president’s son who goes to an elite boarding school. And he’s not doing very well at all. His mental health is declining with the grief and anxiety of losing his mother, and the effort of keeping his sexuality hidden from his very conservative father. He throws himself into building robots — even though robots are the reason his mother is dead and the world is in an uproar. There’s a robot computer virus, named Charlotte, who seems intent on destroying people. And it’s possible that her next target is the president’s own son, Lee.

I love how it was set in a world that is very similar to ours, but just with a little more tech. Like really clever robots. Dude, I need a clever robot to go search for my continually missing left socks. There are cleaning droids and mechanical creatures that just may or may not be manipulated into evil. #exciting

The topic of “choices” comes up a lot, and I really appreciated this discussion. Lee firmly believed you can’t choose aspects of yourself, which is so true and so important to say! You can’t choose your sexuality. You can’t choose to be depressed or not. There are a lot of misconceived notions that those are choices, so I loved how the book delved into the matter. It was also intensely interesting how it talked about being predisposed to make a choice. (Like if your culture likes a certain type of food, won’t you? And if your parents have a certain belief system, won’t you be more likely to adopt it?) And doesn’t that make humans similar to programmed machines at times? It was an interesting discussion and I appreciated how the book made me think.

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The characters were also adorable and tragic creatures. Lee was amazing! I adored him! Being the son of the president is hard enough (with constant bodyguards eliminating craved-for privacy) but he’s also antisocial, a complete nerd, and very very anxious. He’s also very firmly in denial of being gay, in case his father finds out. I loved his character development and how relatable and dorky he was!

The romance is equally adorable. When Lee meets Nico, he’s captivated by this loud-laughing, Shakespeare-quoting, Chilean, perfectly handsome boy who eats anything and everything and will sneak out at midnight to throw sparklers down a cave in a mountain. I can’t even with how cute they were together.

The writing is excellent and I flew through the book in a few hours! It keeps you rooted to the page, perfectly weaving together Lee’s personal life at school and the robot crises of the world, and the conspiracy theories against the president and his son. It’s more of a boarding-school-story than a hair-raising action adventure, and I think that’s why I loved it so much. It focuses on emotional writing and character development. And then it leaves you clutching your paperback and breathing fast at the end as everything goes perfectly dreadfully wrong.

Willful Machines is splendidly cute, heartfelt, and bittersweet. It has characters to root for, mysteries to solve, and an open ending that’ll leave you thinking. It didn’t shy away from tough topics and I felt the diversity was excellent and perfectly represented. I loved the creepy old-fashioned school setting and the slightly sinister robot undertone.

The Magic of Music – musicality in picture books

Deploy music to tell a story and joy results. You need only to think about your favourite song to understand this. Unite the magic of music with the unique creation of a picture book story and the result is something very special indeed. These next few picture books combine a passion for music and story and the exceptional ability of both to bring people together. They’re also a whole concert-full of fun.

The Great Zoo Hullabaloo! By Mark Carthew and Anil Tortop

Not only is the word hullabaloo an absolute hoot to roll off your tongue, it implies mayhem of the most exuberant manic kind. This is exactly what The Great Zoo Hullabaloo! delivers.

Lively, liberating adventure is what Jack and Jess encounter one morning upon entering a zoo that is ‘strangely deserted.’ Even the new roo seems to have bunked. Unable to find a single real-life occupant, they begin a quest to track down the missing residents with little more than a trail of feathers, footprints, and poos, aka scats, to guide them.

Their bush tracking efforts eventually lead them to a party to end all parties. Every animal is hooting and tooting, and hopping and bopping a right hullabaloo! There’s cake, a surprise appearance and enough revelry to fill a pirate ship. For whom is this euphonious shindig, though? Well, you will have to come to the party yourself to find that out.

Tunefully rhythmic and exploding with joviality, this is classic Carthew and Tortop. Great musical verse (with a lovely reference to the Silvery Moon) and animated illustrations make The Great Zoo Hullabaloo! worth getting vocal about! Make sure you read Romi Sharp’s full rhapsodic review, here.

New Frontier Publishing May 2017

Baby Band by Diane Jackson Hill and Giuseppe Poli

Life for the residents of Level 8 in their apartment block is rather subdued and unexciting. They coexist placidly with very little interaction despite their close proximity, so artfully portrayed in the very first pages by Poli. Then one day, The Baby arrives. And, as babies are wont to do, that changes everything.

Baby’s persistent refusal to sleep wears his mother to distraction. His cries are heard and felt by each resident of Level 8, again shown by Poli’s brilliant vignettes that provide telling glimpses into the lives of Baby’s neighbours.

Then, Baby’s chance discovery of the pots and pans cupboard sets off another chain of cacophonous chaos. Each clamorous clang, squeak, squawk and stomp, vibrates throughout Level 8 and awakens a melodious joy in all who dwell there. Slowly, each of the residents is drawn to the rooftop to rejoice in all things musical, with one noticeable difference. They are celebrating, together. But, can you guess what happened to Baby amidst all this musical mayhem?

Hill has composed her palpable passion for music into an elegantly told tale that truly does rise ones soul an octave higher. Poli’s illustrations resonate charm with very few brush strokes. The linear use of images and variation of perspectives, rather like notes on a musical stave, sweeps the reader along the corridors of Level 8, in and out of the apartments and finally to their common park area, which the residents now utilise to play together in their newly formed Baby Band.

Baby Band is a symphonic story pre-schoolers will love having read to them, incongruously gentle in appearance and sound yet magnificently entertaining. This story elicits plenty of opportunity for musical interaction and discussion about all manner of instruments, pots and pans notwithstanding. I adored the cleverness of it all and the irony of young children being able to find solace and slumber in sound. Bravo!

New Frontier Publishing March 2017

The Bear and the Piano by David Litchfield

Sometimes, finding yourself only occurs because of some other serendipitous discovery. This is what happens to a young bear cub one day after he happens upon a piano in the middle of his forest home. At first, the sound Bear is able to procure from the piano is so awful, he abandons it but after several seasons not only does he mature so too does his ability to produce beautiful sounds from this strange thing.

Playing the piano transports Bear far beyond the wooded boundaries of his forest and fills his heart with melodious joy. Night after night, crowds gather around bear and his piano entranced by the magic he evokes from its ivory keys, until one night Bear is given an opportunity he is unable to say no to, to see the world and share his music with it. And so, he leaves his home and friends behind.

Bear’s tale of yearning for brighter lights and attempting to make better of himself is not unique but Litchfield’s personification of a bear embarking on a journey of self-discovery is both touching and purposeful. Bear’s successful debut in the big lonely city and then consequent tug to return to his old friends and home draws the reader in with cinematic magnitude. When he does return to the forest, he is deeply dismayed to find no one and nothing as he left them. He worries his desertion has made them angry or worse that they have forgotten him. However, he is mistaken as the heart-melting ending reveals.

The Bear and the Piano is a picture book that quietly moves you to the core as an operatic aria would. Bear is tragic yet infinitely loveable. His desire to share his love (of music) and taste the bittersweet reality of his dreams is one many of us may harbour and thus relate to easily. It is easy to like and admire his courage and equally as easy to feel his heartache and despair in spite of his successes. It can be lonely at the top. Luckily, for Bear, and us being at the top is not the be all and end all.

This book is an arresting mixture of loud and strong – forte piano as it were and is beautifully supported by Litchfield’s sumptuous illustrations. A pleasure for lower to upper primary students.

Frances Lincoln Children’s Books Quarto Group UK March 2017

 

 

Ideas for Book Week – CBCA Younger Readers, Part 3: Dragonfly Song & A Most Magical Girl

Now that the CBCA Short List has been announced, it’s time to start preparing for Children’s Book Week in August, when the winners are also announced.

This is my third post about Book of the Year: Younger Readers and I have already posted about Picture Books and books for Early Childhood. Teachers, librarians and parents may be interested in sharing these books with young readers. I have included a range of activity ideas.

Dragonfly Song by Wendy Orr  Allen & Unwin

Dragonfly Song dances far back into historical fiction – to the Bronze Age in Crete where King Minos, the Bull King, demands an annual tribute of 13-year-old boys and girls. Aissa, named after the dragonfly, is born with extra thumbs and her father defies the gods by cutting them off. When he dies, the wise-woman takes the baby to a farm but her life there is destroyed and she becomes a ‘mute’ servant and then a bull dancer. Aissa summarises her life as a poem on pages 376-7.

The writing is a mixture of prose and poetry and these both extend the narrative. There is recurring dragonfly imagery and snakes are a potent motif. This is a crossover novel for younger and older readers. Could some read it as a literary Hunger Games?

Writing Children could write in the styles of both the prose and poetry.

Sculpture They could google images of sculptures of Theseus and the Minotaur (on which part of Dragonfly Song is based), or use the cover illustration, and twist thin, coated wire to replicate the human and other figure in action (science: force and gravity).

Dragonfly Jewellery Children could represent the dragonfly symbolism by threading coloured beads, particularly blue, onto wire to make brooches or other jewellery.

A Most Magical Girl by Karen Foxlee  Allen & Unwin

Karen Foxlee continues the speculative fiction with A Most Magical Girl, a fantasy for 9-12-year-old girls (in particular) about Annabel Grey who is sent to live with her witch great-aunts in their magic shop in London. These women can bewitch broomsticks or make a potion to turn someone into a wolf.  At first Annabel doesn’t believe in magic, even though she can see visions in puddles, but she is enlisted into a quest to prevent Dark Magic and evil Mr Angel and his shadowlings and resurrection machine from overtaking London.

Kitty, the wild betwister (someone who goes between ‘this world and that world’), frequents Highgate cemetery and other crannies and is also full of magic. She is able to create a ‘heart-light’. Readers could contrast these two girls, as well as smelly, eye-twinkling troll Hafwen who longs to see the stars.

When Annabel and Kitty are sent ‘Under London’, they encounter trolls and a dragon. A map is somehow drawn onto Annabel’s skin. Children could read the descriptions about the map and use them to illustrate the visible skin of a paper figure or mannequin.

The girls must find the Morever or White Wand to save the people of London. As well as a rite of passage and story about friendship, A Most Magical Girl portrays the battle between dark and light.

Each chapter begins with an extract from Miss Finch’s Little Blue Book (1855) about manners for young ladies. These loosely correlate with the plot. Readers could write a brief alternate plot line to correspond with all or some of these extracts.

The UK setting is interesting because, until recently, Karen Foxlee seems to have been better known and appreciated in the UK and US than in her homeland. Hopefully this is changing. A Most Magical Girl is a very well imagined and constructed middle grade novel.

A Most Magical Girl is a beautiful hardback publication and is a great companion novel to Ophelia and the Marvellous BoyOlder readers should explore Karen Foxlee’s YA novel, The Midnight Dress. It is an exquisitely written, wondrous tale.

I will also write about the shortlisted books for Older Readers and the excellent Eve Pownall information books in upcoming posts.

Review: American War by Omar El Akkad

nullThis amazing book took me completely by surprise. When I read that it was about a second American Civil war my immediate first thought was Trump. My second thought was another dystopian novel but Omar El Akkad’s novel defied all my expectations and is a strong contender for one of the books of 2017.

What makes this novel so profound is Omar El Akkad’s ability to tell a deeply personal story about a huge, cataclysmic event at the same time as weaving a story that is relevant to our society today despite being set in a future 75 years from now. El Akkad’s novel works on so many different levels and has so many different layers that as a reader you get completely lost in the time and history the novel creates.

The novel’s second American Civil War breaks out when the US Federal Government bans the use of fossil fuels. Southern States rebel against the North and war quickly follows. America, North and South, then unleashes its political, economic and military war machine against itself. Drones, biological warfare, political indoctrination, enhanced interrogation, rendition which inevitably leads to terrorism, suicide bombings and other extreme acts of desperation as the war escalates and then ebbs and flows between atrocities.

The story focuses upon the Chestnut family, following them over the course of twenty years. They are from Louisiana, living on the banks of the Mississippi ‘Sea’. When the war reaches them they are forced to flee to a refugee camp. Despite the war being construed as North vs South, Blue vs Ref the Chestnut family begin to learn it is more nuanced than just two sides. And the children of the Chestnut family, who a growing up in this war, a forced to pick a side. A choice that will have irreconcilable consequences.

What makes this novel so powerful is how recognizable events and their reactions are. From drones haunting clear blue skies to the idealistic being recruited to blow themselves up in crowded squares. From how quickly each side dehumanizes the other to the extremes each side goes to in the name of ‘the right’ and ‘the just’. The heart of the story is Sarat Chestnut who will break your heart as hard as hers is broken. There are echoes of Katniss Everdeen and The Hunger Games but the context is much closer to home. This is a novel of sublime scope and passionate precision. It is a warning and a requiem. This is one of the best books you will read this year.

Buy the book here…

CBCA 2017 Younger Readers, Part 2: Mrs Whitlam & Within These Walls

Mrs Whitlam by Bruce Pascoe  Magabala Books

Bunurong man from Victoria, Bruce Pascoe also wrote Fog a Dox, which won a YA Prime Minister’s Literary Award and Seahorse. Like Seahorse, Mrs Whitlam centres around an Aboriginal family, without emphasising Aboriginal issues. Pascoe here portrays well-functioning, happy, ‘normal’ families. He also won 2016 Book of the Year for the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards for his adult book, Dark Emu. I’ve interviewed the author for Boomerang Blog here.

In Mrs Whitlam, Marnie is surprised to inherit a Clydesdale horse called Mrs Maggie Whitlam after its young owner dies. The horse is named after the wife of the former Prime Minister who, as Marnie’s mother states, ‘Did a fair bit for black people too!’ The tale explores suffering at an appropriate level for young readers, introduces us to a very appealing girl who is brave but sometimes made to feel inferior, and culminates in an exciting rescue.

After finishing the short novel, children could re-read descriptions of the horse, research Clydesdales and then make an ‘assemblage’ (a 3D collage originating from Picasso’s cubist constructions). They could make the rough sculpture by using ‘found objects’ such as wire, cardboard and wool or twine.

Within These Walls by Robyn Bavati  Scholastic Australia 

Extreme suffering is evident in this well-written holocaust tale set in Warsaw, Poland during WW2. It is mainly placed in history just before Morris Gleitzman’s novel, Soon, another graphic account of violence against children and adults.

Within These Walls is not just another holocaust story. It is particularly interesting and engaging and reveals a depth of knowledge and research based on true events, especially in the sealed ghetto. The details such as Miri’s mother wearing a wig and baking challah create verisimilitude. The family reads the Biblical book of Esther and the Passover account of the Jews’ Exodus from Egypt, replacing slavery with freedom. Both books are pertinent to the story told here. Family is critical to Miri but, tragically, she loses her parents and siblings one by one.

We experience Miri’s life in the city, the open and closed ghetto and in a dark cellar. The novel begins with her time in the cellar and it is used to foreshadow some of Miri’s darkest times.

Even though Within These Walls is shortlisted for younger readers, parents and schools may wish to examine the contents before giving to all children.

The author also wrote Dancing in the Dark, which has a Jewish focus as well.

Review – Ella Saw The Tree by Robert Vescio

Ella Saw The Tree, Robert Vescio (author), Cheri Hughes (illus.), Big Sky Publishing, May 2017.

The value of mindfulness is not to be underestimated. For reasons of improving one’s stress levels, resilience, empathy, curiosity, decision making skills and self-awareness, practicing mindfulness is beneficial for positive wellbeing and mental health. In his latest book, Ella Saw The Tree, Robert Vescio addresses these themes with thoughtful consideration. Here is a story that joyfully taps into children’s innately inquiring minds. It reminds them that slowing down, focusing on the inner self, and appreciating their environment will offer them surprising discoveries and a sense of calm.

Ella is a free-spirit by nature. She has a keen imagination when it comes to pretend play. But as her mind is constantly brimming with fantasy and busy pursuits, it is the first time she notices the shedding tree in her backyard. A conversation with her mother helps Ella realise the tree’s natural cycle, the beauty of her surroundings, and the power of living in the moment. She becomes attune to her emotions, breathing and senses, finally allowing herself to respect life’s tranquil moments.

Vescio’s elegant and sensatory language is beautifully articulated to connect readers with the aspects of mindfulness highlighted in the story. His words are delicate and carefully chosen, and pleasantly supported by the luscious illustrations by Cheri Hughes. The images emanate a feeling of warmth, soul and attention. Synonymous to the reflective nature of the book, Hughes has chosen to contrast the fluidity of the subtle background watercolours with the prominence of the vivacious character, as well as including varying viewpoints.

Ella Saw The Tree is a warm, entertaining and important story that invites children, and adults alike, to opt in to the skilful technique of being ‘at one with oneself’ and with nature. I love that this book prompts us to celebrate the simplicity, beauty and surprises of life that induce the most happiness.

Read Dimity’s guest post with Robert Vescio from his blog tour.

#By AustralianBuyAustralian

5 YA Books With Jaw-Dropping Plot Twists

Books with amazing plot twists are arguably the best kind. Who doesn’t want to have their mind totally spun in dizzying circles after a thrilling plot reveal?! It makes the book stand out! It makes you sit in awe of the author! It also makes you distrust everyone evermore, but pfft, that’s just a minorly inconvenient side-effect.

Today I’m listing 5 Young Adult books that have simply superb plot twists and reveals! I won’t be giving spoilers, but obviously you need to get your clammy paws on these books ASAP and have your mind blown. Thank me later.


DANGEROUS GIRLS

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BUY HERE

Not only is this book perfectly thrilling, the ending will absolutely bend your mind. It’s about a group of teenagers who go for the perfect holiday on the island of Aruba…but not all of them come back. There’s a murder. There’s pretty damning evidence that Anna, a quiet a studious girl, killed her best friend, Elise.

I really loved how the story was mostly told by Anna’s perspective, as she went through the harrowing ordeal of trials and court cases and listening to TV reporters and the world in general tear her apart and condemn her — but it also had news clips to add extra perspective. There’s a huge cast of characters (SUSPECTS!!) and this was the first YA thriller that ended with my brain screaming. As a good thriller should.

 

THE SACRED LIES OF MINNOW BLY

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This story centres around Minnow Bly, who’s grown up part of a cult with limited contact with the outside world. But when the cult leader is murdered and their homes burned down, Minnow is the one they have in custody. She knows things. She is not talking about them. She also has no hands due to some macabre punishment from the cult…

Oh this book was really harrowing. It’s impossible not to have your heart break for Minnow and the suffering she’s been through. It also is a slight twist on the fairy tale, The Girl With No Hands, and I loved that spin!

 

WHITE CAT

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How about a thriller with paranormal aspects?! This one is set in a world where you can curse someone with a touch, and everyone wears gloves to prevent being manipulated. Cassel’s family are basically crime laws, and yes he wants out and is getting himself through an elite private school to get away…but he’s haunted by his family’s dark work and also the question of what really did happen to his best childhood friend, Lila? Who really killed her?

I loved how it mixed a highschool contemporary setting with the Mafia aspects and also magic. Every book should have magic! Dangerous magic all round!

 

ALLEGEDLY

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This is one of my all time favourite books because I’m still not over the jaw-dropping ending! It’s the story of Mary who, at 7 years old, was accused of murdering a baby. Now she’s 16 and out of prison and trying to make a life for herself after discovering she is now pregnant. She wants to keep her baby, go to uni, get her charges cleared because she swears she didn’t do it. But then who did?

This book was sad and brutal to read but absolutely captivating! It’s impossible to put down and your heart will just break for Mary as she’s abused and mistreated at every turn. I’m still reeling over the ending reveal!

 

THE LEAVING

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6 children were kidnapped one day and then, years later, only 5 are returned. And to make the mystery even more complex, none of the returning teenagers remember a single thing about their time away. The story flips from several of the kids perspectives and also to the sister of the one kid who never came back. They all want to know what happened to these kidnapped kids and the town is getting rapidly suspicious that someone isn’t telling the truth.

I particularly loved the raw and emotional writing in this one and the book’s tendency to use unique formatting to tell the story. Sometimes the font will explode into huge letters or the sentences will fall to pieces and run off the page. I think it’s such a great visual experience of the kids’ PTSD as they try to cope with no memories and being reunited with suspicious families.

 

CBCA 2017 Younger Readers, Part 1: Captain Jimmy Cook & Rockhopping

The Younger Readers CBCA Short List has a well-balanced selection of books; there’s something for all primary school age groups. I know the awards are judged on literary merit, but this is a helpful and positive by-product.

I’ve written about these 6 books in three Parts for the blog.

As well as a plot run-down and mention of anything that stands out, I’ve incorporated some activities that children could do with these books at school or home.

Boys, in particular, will be very keen to read these first two books.

Captain Jimmy Cook Discovers Third Grade 

By Kate Temple & Jol Temple, illustrated by John Foye  Allen & Unwin

Jimmy is thrilled to share a name with Captain James Cook but not so keen to write a diary, like the explorer. When he reads that Cook kept a ‘log’, he becomes far more interested. Like Jimmy, children could keep a short log about their daily activities, especially at school, and include one or more illustrations in the naïve style of the book.

The book is funny. When Jimmy dresses up as Cook for History Week he uses powder and hair cream to create Cook’s curls but the cream leaves him with bald spots. He takes his fake arm to Bed, Bath and Cables and loses it in the Kids’ Ball Pit.

When he realises that Cook was killed by the Hawaiians, Jimmy resolves to continue his explorations. He eats cereal to try to win a competition to Hawaii, feeds his baby sister an orange thinking she has scurvy and inadvertently terrorises a guest speaker. He starts an Explorers’ Society (but no girls are allowed) and the members use a formula of ‘Sir + Street Name + Fridge’ brand to invent their names, such as ‘Sir Clanville Fisher-Paykel’. Children could also try finding their own explorer names using this method.

Jimmy discovers lots of information from Google, such as what ‘fermented’ is, and uses an ancestry site to find out about his descendants. Children could also use the internet to learn about their past family.

Devotees can read more in Captain Jimmy Cook Discovers: X Marks the Spot, which is equally good.

Rockhopping by Trace Balla  Allen & Unwin 

This companion graphic novel to the award-winning Rivertime is set in Gariwerd (the Grampians). It tells the second story of Clancy and Uncle Egg, whilst respectfully including and acknowledging the Jardwadjali, Djab Wurrung and other Aboriginal peoples, as they try to find the source of the Glenelg River. Nephew and uncle also encounter native wildlife and plants and, of course, get lost along the way.

Read this book in conjunction with the Eve Pownall shortlisted, Amazing Animals of Australia’s National Parks. Teacher notes are available at the publishers’ website. Also read My Place by Nadia Wheatley and Donna Rawlins to highlight the section where Clancy imagines the history of the lake and who could have lived there (page 71).

Children could use the panels when Clancy is falling down the cliff, on pages 32-39, to create their own mini-graphic novel or animation of something that could go wrong in the wilderness.

Review: The Boy on the Bridge by M. R. Carey

nullThe Girl With All The Gifts is one of the best zombie novels in recent years. It totally blew me away while at the same time turned the zombie genre completely on it’s head. There were so many elements to the novel I loved but I was curious how M.R. Carey was going to return to the world he created and tore down.

The Boy on the Bridge is more a prequel than a sequel, set ten years before the events of The Girl With All The Gifts and ten years after what has become known as “The Breakdown”. The story centers upon a scientific mission which is headed north into Scotland to explore what has happened to the rest of Britain following the collapse of London, England and the rest of the world.

A band of four soldiers, four scientists and an incredibly intelligent teenage boy have set out in a converted tank/mobile laboratory called the Rosalind Franklin. Their mission is to explore the countryside and take samples of the infection that has all but wiped out humanity to discover any anomalies in the hope of finding a possible cure. But what they find is contingent on what they have brought with them. And the cure they are hoping to find might not be for the disease they were looking to cure.

All the elements I loved about the first book are here again in spades. Carey has set everything firming in a scientific universe. There is nothing supernatural about the zombies, or hungries as they are known, that are taking over the world. This means there is hope that there is something scientific in which to combat the disease. Carey also cleverly constructs this novel so new readers and old fans can enjoy it alike. Carey provides just enough information for those who read The Girl With All The Gifts and all its twists while keeping surprises for those who want to start here first.

Carey also meticulously builds the tension on a number of fronts. Firstly the claustrophobic nature of life inside Rosie, as she affectionately is known. To this he adds numerous secrets members of Rosie’s crew are keeping from one another and even themselves. This gets ratcheted up through the discovery of some unknown hostiles that has massive ramifications for their mission. A mission which then has to try and get home.

I couldn’t get enough of this book and literally want to turn around and read The Girl With All The Gifts again. (If only you could see the movie in Australia!) I never expected a sequel the first time around and definitely not one this good. I will even go out on a limb and declare this book even better than the first one! Which I didn’t think was remotely possible. Forget The Walking Dead, M.R. Carey’s series is streets ahead on every level.

Buy the Book here…

Anil Tortop’s Illustrations Bring Stories to Life- Picture Book Reviews

Following my delightful interview with the charming, and uber-talented illustrator, Anil Tortop, today I focus on two of her most recent, ebullient and boisterous books that are sure to become family favourites; The Leaky Story by Devon Sillett and The Great Zoo Hullabaloo! by Mark Carthew.

Know that magical feeling of being totally captivated by an exotic world of unbelievable action and a place where only your imagination comes true? If you’d like to experience that feeling again then take heed, because The Leaky Story will take you there! It’s like a fantastic blend of the realms captured in The Neverending Story and Jumanji; with curious characters and creatures literally bounding from words to life.

This book about an eager book, busting to be engulfed by an inquisitive young boy, packs a hearty punch when it comes to fruition. But slowly at first, the tension builds as the leak becomes a flood, and soon overcomes the entire Blossburn living room – unbeknownst to J.J’s technology-addicted parents. But with gusto and fight, the whole family become the swashbuckling pirate- and kraken-battlers they could only ever imagine possible and reclaim the land that is rightfully theirs. I wonder what other surprises are in store for the Blossburn family!

Sillett’s narrative exudes energy, spirit, wit and personality, which is perfectly matched by Tortop’s whimsical illustrations. With both text and pictures, you can feel the tension rising and pace quickening as quiet moments become rowdy, and empty spaces begin to saturate each scene. I just love the quirky little details that Anil always integrates into her books. Readers will enjoy spotting funny, subtle qualities and character relationships (even of the unlikely kind!). Her sketching and digital art is rich with colour, fluidity and ambience- the ultimate atmosphere for a treacherous test on the high seas!

The Leaky Story certainly laves over us with its exciting and memorable read aloud experience, surging the wildest of imaginations. So get off your devices and go pick up a book! Highly recommended for preschoolers and up. Dimity’s review is here.

EK Books, April 2017.

The Great Zoo Hullabaloo! piques our curiosity from the outset, leading us in with a medley of scittering and scattering animal footprints across the endpapers. Upon entering, a bird’s eye view shot of the sparse scene again creates a sense of wonder and keeps the pages turning. Anil has brilliantly captured this intensity throughout with her subtle clues and witty elements that add further richness to the animated text.

In a rhythmic rumble that reflects a bebopping tune, Carthew’s narrative sweeps us from a hush to a rambunctious hullabaloo. When Jess and Jack discover the absence of creatures in the Zoo, they set about with their most astute senses to solve this unusual mystery. Only to find a ka-thumping, drumming, hooting, humming orchestral menagerie of wildlife celebrating none other than baby roo’s first birthday! With clapping, jiving and a goose-ejecting cake, moonlight parties don’t get any better.

Movement, energy, exhilaration and cuteness-overload, The Great Zoo Hullabaloo! offers a festivity for the senses and a clamorous encounter of the wild kind. A range of animals and instruments from all over the world provide plenty of scope for learning, as well as a reminder of our universal similarities and the importance of unity. A joyous book of rhythm, teamwork, togetherness, and a love of music that children from age three will devour with every turn.

Love them, Anil Tortop! 🙂

New Frontier Publishing, May 2017.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Doodles and Drafts – Blog Tour with Robert Vescio

To an infant child, the world is full of unbelievable marvels. Every new discovery is cause for celebration and intense scrutiny. They inherently know how to appreciate the most minuscule details of life because for them, these are the ones that count the most.

Robert Vescio’s latest picture book, Ella Saw The Tree invites young readers to pause for thought and cherish the finer details of life, ones they are often forced to abandon or forget about as they deal with the daily need to ‘grow up’.

Today, we welcome Robert back to the draft table to discuss how his book about mindfulness can help us all slow down whilst catching up with the things that really matter.

Welcome Robert! Tell us a bit more about Ella Saw The Tree.

Continue reading Doodles and Drafts – Blog Tour with Robert Vescio

Review: The Hidden Oracle (Trials Of Apollo #1) by Rick Riordan

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The Hidden Oracle by Rick Riordan is another of his most fabulous modernised retellings of Greek Mythology! It’s set in the same world as Percy Jackson and Camp Half Blood, but this series centres around Apollo, a fallen god who’s being punished by Zeus to be a teenager until he earns his powers back. I don’t think I’ll ever get enough of the hilariousness that are Riordan’s Greek  retellings. This This was brilliant. I laughed my head off at the perfectness of the humour and sass. Apollo’s narcissism was witty and glorious. TRULY GLORIOUS. I also enjoyed how this series isn’t following the same plot-arc as the other Camp Half Blood books.

FUN THINGS TO EXPECT IN THIS BOOK:

  • The hilarious idea of the god Apollo, now as a mortal teenage boy with acne.
  • Percy Jackson himself (!!!!) And I’d say he has more than a cameo because he’s at the beginning and helps out in the finale too.
  • Witty dialogue that will have you snorting your socks off.
  • Laughter. Expect yourself to be laughing basically the whole time.
  • A stubborn 12-year-old heroine who claims Apollo’s servitude while he’s mortal. Arguing ensues.
  • Evil ants.
  • Plenty of people being lost / beaten up / stabbed / licked by lions.
  • Epic and obscure Greek mythology references and tales so that you’ll be forced to LEARN THINGS while having a good time.
  • Peaches,
  • Really really really bad haikus.

I loved reading about Apollo’s character. He had a really different voice to Percy Jackson and Magnus Chase, which was refreshing. He spoke rather formally, like a god would, but also like a god attempting to be a teenager — ergo an epically ridiculous combination ensued. And he was absolutely full of himself. I may have snickered quite copiously. He also has an interesting relationship with Meg, who’s claimed his servitude as a fallen god. Meg was stubborn and opinionated and tended to be annoying an annoying little gnat. Their friendship develops over the course of the book from hating each other to working together. Just envision Apollo, a narcissistic gangly ex-god teenager, now having to do whatever a 12-year-old girl (who occasionally blows raspberries at him) says as they navigate monsters and mayhem. Levels of adorable = 110%

“Are you all right?” I asked.
“Fine,” she snapped.
Clearly that was not true. She looked as if she’d just gone through Hades’s haunted house. (Pro tip: DO NOT.)

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I’m also glad that the book actually left the romance out! It is definitely aimed at middle-grade and lower young-adult audiences, but it was just refreshing to have a story focused on friendship and quests.

The plot, of course, had plenty of action. And weird monsters and crazy twisty mythology that wasn’t hard to follow. Although I do think there could’ve been less talking and more questing. But I was pleased it was a fun, concise and fast moving tale.

Much to my disappointment, the Jacksons did not have a spare bow or quiver to lend me.
“I suck at archery,” Percy explained.
“Yes, but I don’t,” I said. “This is why you should always plan for my needs.”

And of course, it’s always the BEST to be back in Camp Half Blood. Although I wonder how all those kids are even alive with all their near-death-training-accidents…but ah well. Children bounce. Demigods go missing or lose a limb and they just patch them back up and feed them Greek food. The whole atmosphere is rather “Oh don’t wander over there YOU’LL DIE but we’re roasting s’mores later on, be there!” which is lovely. Gotta love Camp Half Blood.

I definitely enjoyed myself a lot with this starter of Apollo’s series! I laughed (OUT LOUD) so many times and appreciated the fast pacing, diverse characters, and interesting storyline. I don’t think it’s the best book to start with if you’ve never encountered Percy Jackson though. Definitely start with Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief. Then get thee through those books fast so you can try The Trials of Apollo. This is definitely one of my favourite Riordan books!

Review: Spoils by Brian Van Reet

9781910702970I have read a lot of novels set during the Iraq War and this one is pretty special. Brian Van Reet, another alumni of the the seminal collection Fire & Forget, has written a novel of the Iraq War told from both sides; from a US soldier’s perspective and a jihadist insurgent drawn to Iraq from Afghanistan. In doing so he has written a part thriller in the vein of I Am Pilgrim, but also a part dissection of the last 16 years of conflict worthy of comparison with the other great novels of this war, Redeployment and The Yellow Birds.

Nineteen year old Specialist Cassandra Wigheard has been in Iraq for only five weeks but it is everything she ever wanted. In five weeks her unit has gone from invading force to occupying force but the war is about to make another dramatic and dynamic shift. We then follow Abu Al-Hool, an Egyptian who became a jihadist fighting the Russian invasion of Afghanistan. He has waged jihad across the world, including Chechnya, and following the 9/11 attacks is preparing for a new war in Afghanistan against America. After America also invades Iraq his brotherhood decide to relocate their operations to this new field of war and under new leadership they are planning a new kind of Jihad as they begin an insurgency in Iraq.

These two characters literally intersect each other at a checkpoint and a firefight  sees Cassandra and her crew taken prisoner. The race is now on to recover Cassandra and her crew but they can’t be found. The battle for the hearts and minds of the local population is quickly crushed as every door possible is knocked down in the frantic hunt for the missing soldiers. Meanwhile Cassandra is held captive by a group which has waged terror for over twenty years and is about to take their brand of terror to a level that hasn’t been seen before.

But not everyone is on the same page, on both sides. Brian Van Reet expertly puts you in the shoes of soldier and jihadist alike. Showing their motivations and reluctance, their frailty and their unmitigated determination to follow their chosen paths through. In doing so he has written a novel that is impossible to put down and will have you reexamining your thoughts on the war. Which is of course what all great war novels should do.

Buy the book here…

Illustrator Extraordinaire – Interview with Anil Tortop

With her superlative illustrative talents and ultra-impressive list of publications, it’s impossible not to be in awe of the skill, imagination, dedication and charisma of Anil Tortop. The Turkish-born artist, designer and animation-expert is here today to discuss her books, processes and latest ventures. 🙂

You’ve had huge success as an illustrator of many amazing books, some including Digby’s Moon Mission, Digby and the Yodelayhee…Who? (Renee Price), My Perfect Pup (Sue Walker), Where’s Dad Hiding? (Ed Allen), I Want to Be a Rock Star (Mary Anastasiou), and more recently The Leaky Story (Devon Sillett), The Great Zoo Hullabaloo (Mark Carthew) and junior fiction series 6 Minute Stories for Six Year Olds and 7 Minute Stories for Seven Year Olds (Meredith Costain and Paul Collins). And these have all been published in the last two years! How do you manage your hectic illustrating schedule? Do you complete one project at a time or work simultaneously on a few?

😀 I wanted to start with a big smile. It’s been hectic indeed!
I work simultaneously on a few projects. In fact, when I have only one project I can’t focus on it well. Two is still not enough. My favourite is 3-4 projects at a time. Otherwise I just feel lazy and find myself doing nothing until the deadline gets closer. But not all these projects are books. I usually have something with a short deadline aside. Books take much more time and sometimes having a break and working on another project feels refreshing.

I have a home-made calendar; each month is an A4 paper with a magnet at the back and it covers the whole left side of my fridge. I put all my deadlines there and see everything in a glance. Having it in the kitchen, my panic starts at breakfast. Other than that, I don’t have a particular method to manage. I just work when I should, which is most of the time. I have been trying to be a well-organised person with dedicated working hours but it never works for more than two days. I still have hope!

Have there been any particular stories that you felt a stronger connection with or any that challenged you in unexpected ways?

Mmm… Hard question. I’m trying to give an answer to myself but I guess I don’t feel that kind of things for stories. That doesn’t mean I don’t like them but couldn’t label any of them with “stronger connection” either. But I do feel connected with the characters in the stories. Recently my favourite is the octopus in The Leaky Story and her connection with the father. It reminds me of my dad, although I don’t know why.

Challenge… Yes! One of the most challenging stories was in a picture book I illustrated last year. Because there was no story when I was asked to illustrate it! Of course, the editor had a clear idea of how they wanted it and made lots of suggestions. But in the end, the words came after the illustrations. I had huge room to create a visual story. I panicked a lot! I wanted to make it really good. Then I panicked even more! But eventually, it was fun.

If you could walk a day in the life of one of your illustrated characters which would you choose and why?

I guess that would be Digby. Because he’s so clever and talented and knows how to have fun. And I like his pyjamas. 😊

Since launching your current books, what has the audience response been like? Any stand-out moments?

The reviews have been really nice. Facebook also shows me a lot of “likes” and nice comments, if that means anything at all. But I have never come across a “real audience”. I mean, children. I really wonder what they think and would love to hear that directly from them.

The latest release, The Leaky Story has been reviewed a lot lately. I was even interviewed live on ABC Brisbane. I think the moment I probably won’t forget for a while is that. It took only 3 minutes but I was way out of my comfort zone. Phew!

You often record your progress through fascinating time lapse videos. Can you explain a little about your preferred media and method to your illustrating genius.

Except for the initial warm-up sketches and storyboards, I almost always work digitally. I use Photoshop. My favourite Photoshop brush that I use for outlines is “Pencil”. It feels a little bit like a pencil. I recently upgraded from Wacom Intous to Cintiq (drawing tablets).

My process differs from one project to another but it’s usually like that: I make several storyboards first. It takes some time to get satisfied. Then I do the roughs. Then the clean drawings and finally colouring. And I do all these for all of the illustrations in a book simultaneously. I mean, I don’t start and finish one illustration and go to the next. I start and finish all the illustrations at the same time.
You can watch all my videos on my Vimeo channel.

You have a remarkable working relationship with your husband, Ozan, at Tadaa Book. Please tell us about your roles and how you collaborate on a daily basis. What does Tadaa Book offer its clients?

Tadaa Book basically offers illustration and design services, especially to self-publishers. Then if our authors need, we help them with printing and publishing and creating marketing materials too.

Ozan and I started working together back in Turkey. He was the art director of a traditional publishing house and I was the in-house illustrator. After coming to Australia we worked with a lot of self-publishers, collaborating again. Then we wanted to take it a step forward and founded Tadaa.

Ozan is my personal art director at home. But on a daily basis, he does much more than that. Although our roles are a bit mixed up from time to time, I usually illustrate only. He does the rest. He deals with new authors and other illustrators from different parts of the world, does the art direction of projects, keeps our website and social media accounts updated, goes to the post office to send Storyboard Notebooks, learns new things, deals with my computer problems, etc.

What is the best part of what you do?

Smelling a freshly (offset) printed book. I love that! I love to see the happiness of the authors too. It’s really rewarding.

Have you done anything lately that was out of your comfort zone? What was it and how did it go?

It was definitely the radio interview that I mentioned! It wasn’t terrible I guess but I can’t say it went well either. I at least give 10 points to myself for the bravery. Questions were unexpected and it was too quick. I’m glad I didn’t freeze. I actually kind of did but Emma Griffiths handled it really well. Afterwards, listening to myself was even harder than the 3 minutes I spent there! I won’t listen again.

We would love to learn more about what you’re currently working on! Do you have any sneak peeks or details that you can share?

A new book is coming out on 1st of May! The Great Zoo Hullaballoo by Mark Carthew (New Frontier Publishing). You can watch the trailer here: https://vimeo.com/211773518

Currently, I’m working on two picture books. One is Meeka by Suzanne Barton (Tadaa Book), the second one is Scaredy Cat by Heather Gallagher (New Frontier Publishing). I probably will share some sneak peeks soon on social media, but not now, unfortunately.

Meanwhile at Tadaa, we are working on the Book Week publication of Ipswich District Teacher-Librarian Network. Here are the cover and details: http://idtl.net.au/book-week.php

And two other picture books are contracted for the rest of the year.
Besides the books, I’m regularly illustrating for a Turkish children’s magazine, doing illustrations and animations for a web-based science platform for children in the US, and designing characters for a couple animated TV shows in Turkey.
Will be a hectic year again!

Wow! You sure are a busy lady! Thank you so much, Anil, for participating in this interview! 🙂

Thank you for having me here!

Stay tuned for some special reviews of Anil’s latest picture books!

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Unbelievably Good – Strange but True Mid-Grade Reads

Tweens and teens love dipping into the world of fantasy. The more quirky the premise, the more unbelievable the outcomes, the better. These middle grade novels serve up a mind-bending mixture of almost too-whacky-to-believe storylines showcasing time travel, ghosts and gigantic invisible felines. Strange but delightfully, true.

Frankie Fish and the Sonic Suitcase by Peter Helliar and Lesley Vamos

A forever morphing, triple paced collision of Doctor Who meets Top Gear is one way of describing Pete Helliar’s first foray into writing for kids. His enthusiastic use of wacky, over the top metaphors is a touch extravagant at times but oh, do they provoke some face-wrinkling chuckles.

Francis (aka Frankie) Fish’s race against time back into time has all the hallmarks of a mega time travelling adventure with one difference; he is making the journey in desperation to preserve the existence of the Fish family line of which he may or may not still be a part of (it all depends on the battery!). And he’s doing it with his very grumpy, slightly geriatric, grandfather.

Continue reading Unbelievably Good – Strange but True Mid-Grade Reads

Review: Night Swimming by Steph Bowe

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Night Swimming by Steph Bowe was a piece of adorkable cuteness! It’s such a good example why Aussie YA is absolutely the best and so entirely special. I’ve loved Steph Bowe’s previous books (Girl Saves Boy and All This Could End) and I’m so glad she’s back writing again with this one! It has goat puns, quirky humour, dry wit, book lover appreciation, and features a super cute gay romance. Plus it’s set in a small dusty Australian town where everyone knows everyone’s business. Oh. And there’s crop circles. Because of course.

The story centres around Kirby, who is one of the only two teens in the town. Her best-friend-by-default is Clancy Lee, son of the local Chinese restaurant owners. They have the most hilarious witty dialogue of ever and I can’t get enough of it! Kirby is working as a carpenter apprentice and fast approaching the doomed decision of What Do I Do With My Life.

Kirby is also such a fabulously relatable protagonist! She has a great sense of humour and she is very obsessed with books. Although she claims she has a “book buying problem” which is obviously nonsense because when is buying books a problem? It’s a lifestyle, Kirby, you’re fine. When the new girl Iris comes into town, Kirby can’t work up the courage to admit she likes her. The adorkable awkwardness is equal parts hilarious and definitely relatable. Plus Kirby is a huge fan of chips and I mean…who isn’t.

The plot isn’t super faced paced, but it’s full of interesting happenings. Someone’s making plot circles in the local fields (aliens?!) and Clancy is putting on a musical for the sole reason to impress the new girl, Iris. There’s flood warnings coming and goats eating everyone’s shoes and is Kirby’s mum secretly dating the local Greek grocery store assistant?!

There is a love triangle, but it’s not a super angsty one. When Iris arrives, both Kirby and Clancy immediately fall in love with her…but it’s Kirby who actually tries to befriend her while Clancy maintains a more dreamy idea of Iris’ imagined perfection. Iris is part New Zelander and part Indian and is the daughter of a new restaurant owner, bound to give Clancy’s family a bit of friendly competition. She’s also definitely hiding the reason they moved out and Kirby is definitely curious about that. But I appreciated how the romance was “Friendship to Lovers” because I think it makes it so much stronger and sweeter!

OTHER THINGS TO LOVE

  • beautiful but horrible puns
  • small dusty country Aussie town
  • Kirby was fat and while she fretted over it occasionally she was also okay wiher her body and sent great messages of self-love
  • the romance was basically ADORKABLE with Kirby spending 5 hours sending a text that says “sure”
  • bookworm appreciation
  • a pet goat named Stanley who will eat your shoes and soul
  • Aussie slang which is my favourite
  • Kirby’s grandpa features in the story
  • excellent diversity representation

I fully adored this book! I laughed out loud and ate it faster than a goat with a tasty stolen slipper. Steph Bowe is a master storyteller and I was engaged the entire time with the quirky and fabulous writing style. It summarises the awkward and awesome that is the life of a teenager and the tale is poignant as well as downright fun.

Review: Things I Should Have Known by Claire LaZebnik

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Things I Should Have Known by Claire LaZebnik is simply an excellent novel. It’s all about friendship, love, sibling relationships, and Autism. And also it’s quite decidedly about the realisation that ice cream outings are the key part to living a happy life. (Ice cream is important, okay? Remember that always.) I’m endlessly pleased that it had such a lovely representation of Autism! The author has an ASD child and you can really tell she knows and understands the complexity of the spectrum. Plus it’s actually a positive view of Autism which was so refreshing. I just can’t praise this book enough!

The story is by the point of view of Chloe, who is neurotypical, and she has an older sister named Ivy who has Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Chloe could be viewed as a typical “queen bee”, who has the perfect boyfriend, is popular at school, and is blonde and beautiful. But shallowness? #Nope. She cares about her sister, about feminism, about thinking for herself. And when she notices that Ivy seems to be wishing to find someone to love, Chloe embarks on a mission to try and find Ivy a boyfriend.

I loved Chloe and Ivy’s relationship! Chloe is 17 and Ivy is nearly 21, but Chloe functions in more of the “big sister” role, with Ivy’s Autism making her struggle with communication and relating to people. Ivy doesn’t express emotions/feelings easily and she’s not independent, with her parents (sadly) not doing much to help her in that respect. I think it was perfectly fine that Ivy was staying quietly at home, but I also loved that Chloe was intent on making sure Ivy got to experience other aspects of life — if she wanted them. But I won’t deny the parents were pretty problematic and nearly neglectful. Not in a malicious way, just in a “this is too hard, what do we do with Ivy” so while they cared and loved her 100% of the time, they didn’t attempt to help her with life. So be warned: there’s plenty of ableism in this book. From Chloe’s friends making ableist comments to people treating Autism like a disease that needs curing. But the book tackles the issues head on and address them, which is just so needed.

I also liked the contrast of the sisters with the two brothers, David and his brother, Ethan, who also has Autism. While David and Chloe are rather nemesis at school, Chloe unknowingly sets up a date between Ethan and Ivy. So David and Chloe (being carers of their siblings in the date outings) end up spending a lot of time together. It is a fabulous show of a slow-build friendship between them! And as David stopped being an acidic lemon drop and Chloe stopped being so judgemental, I really started to ship them! They were adorable. And can we just say character development for both of them was A+!? Because it absolutely was!

The representation of ASD was also magnificently done. Ivy and Ethan were so sweet and I loved that the book showed so many positive sides of Autism! It also underlined how complex the spectrum is, with individuals having such different capabilities, thoughts, and expressions. Ivy and Ethan were both intelligent and loving.

“You know, if we were pushing our siblings in wheelchairs, people would be nice to them and to us. They’d be like, Oh, the poor handicapped people and their wonderful siblings! Let’s hold doors for them! But Ivy and Ethan…they basically look like everyone else, with just these tiny differences in how they behave and move. And that bugs people. They don’t know what to do with that. It’s like people have a place in their brain for normal, and they have a place in their brain for something obviously wrong, but they can’t deal with something just a little bit different. And it makes them uncomfortable. And when people are uncomfortable, they act like jerks.”

And see that quote? The book is just stuffed with incredible thought provoking and accurate realisations like this. I’m so glad it exists! I definitely recommend this one! The characters are absolutely cute and complex and relatable and the dialogue was one of my most favourite things. There’s banter and wit, and also ice cream outings and a lot of coffee. It underlined the message that Autism isn’t brokenness or bad and showed that everyone is capable of and needs love.

Doodles and Drafts – Jess Black Paws for Thought

Jess Black, author of the new Little Paws series joins us at the draft table today to share her inspiration behind these heartwarming story lines. Puppies, chewed shoes and big responsibilities are all part of training a guide dog puppy. The Little Paws series has them all plus buckets of cute puppy appeal to boot. Here’s what Jess has to say:

Writing the Little Paws series was a very positive experience for me. The story lines are fun, there’s plenty of puppy mischief, it’s a family friendly story line but most importantly the kids in the stories are in charge and at the forefront of the story.

Of course, what’s at the heart of the stories is bringing a gorgeous little puppy into your home and committing to raising it on behalf of guide Dogs. This meant that the series involved my spending lots of time with puppies in training with Guide Dogs Australia, understanding what it takes to be a Guide Dog and the impact that having a dog has on the life of a client. This added depth and meaning to writing the stories.

Continue reading Doodles and Drafts – Jess Black Paws for Thought

Review: The Inexplicable Logic of My Life by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

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The Inexplicable Logic of My Life by Benjamin Alire Sáenz was a beautiful story of family and friendship and tacos. Plus just look at that cover! It is beyond gorgeous and just promises such good things of this book. Listen to the cover. Heed it. I also utterly adored Sáenz’s other book, Aristotle And Dante Discover The Secrets of the Universe, so I’m really glad his latest novel lived up to my expectations!

The story is about Sal and his last year of highschool. It’s a quiet story and it focuses on relationships and characters that end up seeming so real, you wouldn’t be surprised if you met them on the street. It’s about loss and love and also about prejudice and discovering who you are and what you’re meant to do. Sal’s white and has been adopted by his loving Mexican gay father, and he’s never wanted for any other family. But he does have questions. And he realises how intensely loved he is as his best friend Sam loses her mother and he has to support her through a rough time. It’s a precious story and full of humour and relatable thoughts that all teens have. Also the amount of tacos is glorious and you will be hungry after reading it. Be ye warned.

“But, see, it’s not where I come from that matters — it’s where I’m going.”

I was actually really impressed that it had no romance! Sal is best friends with Sam, but they stay that way: best friends. It was sweet and precious and a much needed reminder that girls and guys can be just friends. It’s equally important to remember that not everyone meets the love of their life in highschool!

I really loved Sal and Sam’s friendship. They make fun of each other and joke around and protect each other fiercely. Sam is pretty judgemental at the start and often says things that hurt Sal without realising it. Her character development is A+ as she matures.

I appreciated the glorious representation of so much diversity too. It’s set in Mexico and almost the entire cast are people of colour, with many featuring LGBT characters too.

Sal’s father is also one of the most perfect parents a YA book has ever seen! He really loves and cares for his son and is a huge influence in his life. He basically ends up adopting Sam too, and if he finds a kid who is down and out…he plays Rescue Father. He teaches the kids what it is to be a good person, and I loved this aspect of the story so much.

Dad always said that there was nothing wrong with crying and that if people did more of it, well then, the world would be a better place.

The Inexplicable Logic of My Life was a fantastically amazing story and I couldn’t love it more! It features positive parent role models, emphasizes the importance of friendship and acceptance, and talks about breaking stereotypes and being unapologetically yourself. It tackles serious topics like racism, death, fear, and feeling lost. And I think it’s intensely relatable, especially the part where Sal got sick and missed out on Thanksgiving dinner and was very disappointed. #relatable The friendship levels were pure golden and the writing was everything. A book I definitely recommend!

Birds, Animals and Seasons in the CBCA Early Childhood Short List

The 2017 CBCA Early Childhood Short List features animals (as always), with two picture books specifically about birds. Two books are about farms and one is set on a Northern Territory camp. Family remains an evergreen theme and humour is the core of some of the books.

Go Home, Cheeky Animals! written by Johanna Bell, illustrated by Dion Beasley (A&U)

This funny story is the stand-alone sequel to Too Many Cheeky Dogs. The book is sponsored by the NT Government and has an engaging narrative with a cyclic structure based on the seasons and changing weather. Animals are the highlight, though. At first, too many cheeky dogs keep the other animals away. Then the rains bring a gang of goats, the sweaty season brings a ‘drove of donkeys’, cool winds bring a herd of horses and drought brings a bunch of buffaloes and caravan of camels. But when it storms, ‘all the cheeky animals go crazy’. And the cheeky dogs do nothing to stop them, for a while …

Illustrator, Dion Beasley is a 24-year-old Indigenous man with muscular dystrophy. He is also deaf so he and author, Johanna Bell, collaborate using Skype and sign language. He has a naïve drawing style with plenty of humour, such as how he shows when something happens to Grandpa’s pants, and when goats drive. The endpapers give an overview of all the animals. Children could practise counting animals throughout the book and the Too Many Cheeky Dogs website includes a child-friendly activity of making wrapping paper with cheeky dogs.

Family is important to this story and includes Dad, Mum, Grandpa, Uncle, Aunty, brother, sister, but no Grandma. Nannie Loves fills this gap.

 

Nannie Loves by Kylie Dunstan (Working Title Press)

Nannie lives on a cosy and inviting farm, with ‘rolling hills, a muddy creek and lots of paddocks, green in winter, brown in summer’. It is a quintessential Australian setting and makes us want to walk into the story. The scenes are contained to provide an appropriate focused framework for young readers; there is repetition of the words, ‘Nannie loves …’ to help beginning readers; and there are some wordless pages.

Nannie collects her mail wearing her gumboots. She loves her letters, her animals, her garden and her family. She laughs with her family who help her work around the farm. She loves them and she loves the young narrator. This book has a gentle humour, such as when Nannie watches for Grandpa in one of his many checked shirts.

Kylie Dunstan has used paper collage, gouache and pencil.

The greens of Nannie’s farm change to browns of a drought-stricken farm in All I Want for Christmas is Rain.

All I Want for Christmas is Rain written by Cori Brooke, illustrated by Megan Forward (New Frontier Publishing)

This story begins clearly with an illustrated bird’s eye overview of a dry farm. In the rhyming text, the protagonist, Jane, asks Santa for help with her family’s threatened property, ‘My mission was clear – I had hatched a great plan: I would ask for help from the great bearded man.’

Santa seems to fulfil her wish and there is a particularly evocative picture of the family dancing in the rain and mud on Christmas Day.

Children could extend their experience of this story by reading some other Australian Christmas stories such as Glenda Millard and Stephen Michael King’s Applesauce and the Christmas Miracle and Colin Buchanan‘s books, or by painting an Australian farm scene using mud.

In contrast, The Snow Wombat is set in a very different part of Australian.

The Snow Wombat written by Susannah Chambers, illustrated by Mark Jackson (A & U)

Showing a wombat’s life in the snow is an original idea for a picture book. Like some of the other useful endpapers in books described here, these endpapers are a highlight and show a map of the wombat’s movements and haunts.

Every sentence begins with the word ‘snow’, and many begin with the phrase ‘snow on …’, which is helpful for beginning readers. The repetitive, simple text becomes even more predictive, encouraging young children to say or ‘read’ the rhyming word.

After reading the book, children could make wombat footprints in ‘snow’ using baking powder and conditioner or shaving cream. Tracks of some of the other animals in the book could also be made by indenting the ‘snow’ with fingers or sticks.

In a different illustrative style, cartoon seagull, Chip, follows with a funny story.

Chip by Kylie Howarth (Five Mile Press)

Chip loves eating chips – fat, skinny, soggy, sandy, crunchy, spicy chilli-dipped chips – even though he doesn’t feel well afterwards. This is a tale about healthy eating in the guise of a hilarious story about Chip and the length he goes to eat when people are banned from feeding the gulls.

The illustrations include newspaper collage (apt because it’s used for wrapping fish and chips; a newspaper article also features). My favourite illustration shows Chip with a noodle box on his head and noodles streaming out like hair.

Another bird protagonist in the Short List is Gary.

Gary by Leila Rudge (Walker Books Australia)

 

Gary is a racing pigeon who can’t fly but dreams of adventure. He works on his scrapbook of travel mementos on race days when he’s left alone in the loft, even though he’s never travelled. When he lost his balance one night, he fell into the travel basket and was carried far from home to the city. Of course the racing pigeons flew home, but Gary was left by himself. Fortunately he had his scrapbook of travel mementos and was able to plot his way back to the loft.

This is a very appealing story of overcoming obstacles or disability and of flourishing in different surroundings. New situations can be frightening for children and Gary demonstrates courage and ingenuity, which could help young readers.

The illustrations are created using mixed media and, again, in this book we find interesting endpapers.

After reading the story, children could use found objects and mixed media to create their own scrapbook about travel.

Alex Ratt & Stinky Street Stories

Hi Alex Ratt, could you tell us about yourself and your alter-ego? 

That’s a very existential question! I have to decide which is me and which is the alter ego…Well, I was Frances Watts first, so let’s start with her—I mean me.

I have written twenty-two books, ranging from picture books (including Kisses for Daddy and Parsley Rabbit’s Book about Books, illustrated by David Legge, and Goodnight, Mice!, illustrated by Judy Watson) to historical novels for young adults (most recently The Peony Lantern, set in nineteenth-century Japan). And then there’s my less fragrant alter ego, Alex Ratt. I thought being someone completely different would allow me the freedom to write something completely different—hence Alex Ratt. (Also, Alex Ratt has a big bushy false moustache and Frances doesn’t. And who wouldn’t jump at an excuse to wear a false moustache?!)

Who is Jules Faber? 

Jules Faber, I’m delighted to say, has a much more straightforward identity: he is Jules Faber! He is also an extremely talented cartoonist and illustrator, well known for his work on Ahn Do’s Weirdo series and David Warner’s The Kaboom Kid series.

How important are the illustrations in this book?

The illustrations are integral. The Stinky Street Stories (Pan Macmillan Australia) should feel welcoming and accessible to all kinds of readers, whether they are confident readers or not, and the illustrations do so much to convey the humour that is inherent in the text. One thing I particularly loved about working with Jules on this book is his spirit of adventure. Whatever wacky image I can dream up, he is prepared to draw. A sculpture of a rocket ship made entirely of carrots? No problem!

What type of comedy do you write?

Despite the word ‘stinky’ in the title, I don’t actually see the humour in The Stinky Street Stories as focusing on the gross. To me, the real humour is in the absurdity of situations and images. And the challenge is to take the absurdity and, within the bounds of the story, make it logical.

How do you get your readers to laugh out loud (as I did about some carrots and a pumpkin head)?

I’m glad you liked those bits—that’s exactly what I mean about the humour being absurd rather than gross. That’s where I find those laugh-out-loud moments: in unexpected juxtapositions, in ideas pushed to ridiculous extremes, in characters who treat these hilarious scenarios seriously.

Brian is a very funny character. Could you tell us about him, his sister Brenda, and any other characters?

Brian (‘call me Brain—everyone does’) has a somewhat overinflated sense of his own intellectual prowess, which is why he is able to meet absurdity with seriousness. His friend Nerf is the perfect sidekick, being just ever so slightly dafter—but loyal and good-hearted. The real brain of the family is Brian’s sister Brenda. And in his heart, Brian knows it to be so, and calls on her in moments of crisis.

What is your favourite scene in The Stinky Street Stories? 

You picked it yourself: the pumpkin heads. Because within that particular story, ‘The Ripe and Rotten Reek’, it not only makes perfect sense for Brian and Nerf to be running across a field with pumpkins on their heads, it is a positively brilliant plan!

Who do you hope reads this book?

Everyone! By which I mean boys and girls. I had a lot of fun turning gender stereotypes on their heads. The (anti)heroes might be boys, but the girls have a strong, smart, sassy presence. And, as I said above, I hope the book is enjoyed by confident readers and reluctant readers—we (by which I mean the whole village that makes a book: the author and illustrator and publisher and editor and designer) were determined to make it a book that had something to offer every kind of kid and every kind of reader.

What’s next in Stinky Street?

The second in the series, 2 Stinky, will be published in August. There are smelly sewers, pongy penguins…and a house of (stinky) horrors!

What other humour have you written? 

All my books have humour in them—it’s just the way I’m wired—but the first overtly humorous books were those of the Ernie & Maud series, featuring trainee superhero Ernie Eggers and his trainee sidekick: a sheep called Maud. More recently I have contributed stories to two humorous anthologies, Laugh Your Head Off and Laugh Your Head Off Again.

How many aliases do you have?

Oh dear…You’re on to me, aren’t you?! The truth is, Alex Ratt is not my only pen name. Frances Watts is a pen name too. (Yes, my pen name has a pen name.) My real name is Ali Lavau, and I am a very serious book editor who hardly ever wears a false moustache to work.

Thanks very much, Alex, Frances, Ali …

Thank YOU! (I loved these questions.)

And – here is a video about the book! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wORzbpzfTzs&feature=youtu.be