The Goat will appeal to both thoughtful children and young adults, as well as adults looking for an uplifting read. It could be a great read-aloud across age-groups.
The premise of a mountain goat living on a New York skyscraper near Central Park suggests that this is a fabulist tale, but all is revealed in satisfying mode and time.
Characters living in and near the building span the titular goat as well as a cast of two children and a range of adults. Kid and her parents have arrived from Toronto to look after a dog named Cat. Her mother has written and is about to perform in an Off-Broadway show: Hockey Mom: The Musical. Lisa is a quirky character, with funny ways of showing both her nerves and her love towards her family. Kid is shy and avoids looking at people‘s faces but soon strikes a rapport with Will, who can’t bear windows since his parents were killed in the exploding Twin Towers. His grandmother, retired chemist and writer Dr Lomp, home-schools him and keeps a close eye on him. The two children love exploring museums and there is some thoughtful discussion between them and others about the Towers and Ground Zero.
Doris is an elderly woman who cares for her husband, Jonathan, who has suffered a stroke but doesn’t want his wife to know that he can do more than he shows. He enjoys watching the goat eat Doris’s wheatgrass without her knowing why it doesn’t grow.
The goat traverses the building looking for food but is reluctant to cross the “clangy black cliff … the noisy tree-ish creatures that roamed the ledge … the river of giant moving clumps” to where he can see abundant food. He loves to gambol even though he never feels completely safe.
Kenneth P. Gill is an enigmatic character who leaves hay outside his window. Joff Vanderlinden is a blind skateboarder and famous young writer. He also loves playing chess in Washington Square Park and longs for another encounter with the woman who beat him, called him “buckaroo” and hasn’t returned.
All these strands begin to intersect when Kid and Will knock on every door in search of someone who could confirm that a goat lives on Kid’s building. Backstories about both the goat and human characters are revealed with poignancy and tenderness, leading to an intertwined, heart-lifting finale.
The Goat by Anne Fleming is published by Pushkin Children’s (Faber Factory Plus) Allen & Unwin
If there ever was a story that so finely balances a highly delicate topic with exquisitely gentle language and a resolution that makes your heart swell, it’s At the End of Holyrood Lane written by Dimity Powell and illustrated by Nicky Johnston. So brilliantly does this book combine the rawness of agonising fear and anxiety in a case of domestic and emotional violence with a ray of uplifting hope and courage, depicted amongst the darkness of the metaphorical thunderstorm that causes such torment.
Through Powell’s powerful narrative and Johnston’s visually arresting illustrations, we experience the juxtaposition of a normally vibrant young Flick with this little girl troubled by the daunting uncertainty of her safety. Where a home should be a consistently sheltered environment, Flick has to weather the wrath of fierce storms that “smother sunshine and ransack fun.” They “make Flick feel smaller than she really is.” The rising intensity of the fuming rage accented with looming, dark faceless shadows brings the arc to a screeching crescendo, until the call for help allows the sunshine to glow and spill over a vibrant young Flick once again.
RizeUp Australia and Act for Kids are proud supporting organisations of this book and of families experiencing domestic violence in the home. At the End of Holyrood Lane, in essence, raises a gentle touch to readers in empowering them the ability to seek help in times of suffering.
Highly evocative and dramatically moving, the value of this book to homes and schools is unquestionable. Flick and her toy unicorn are a symbol of hope and sunshine that early years children will quite quickly warm to.
Assimilating history into a palatable, meaningful tale for today’s children is no easy thing. Get it wrong and you risk children shunning not only a potentially great read, but learning about periods of our past that explain the character of our future as a people and a nation. A situation of unquestionable adversity, yet adversity has many advantages – ‘sweet are the uses of adversity’ after all. Get it right, and children will embrace history with gusto and every ounce of the here and now vigour that defines childhood.
Sheryl Gwyther’s ability to immerse young readers into worlds of yesteryear with such a clear strong presence of today is exemplary. Her narrative slides along as alluringly as a sweet mountain brook, mesmerizing readers with plenty of action and emotion. Sweet Adversity is exactly the type of book my 12-year-old-self would have lapped up with unbridled zeal, especially as it acquaints children with the wondrous words of Shakespeare, some of which adult readers will connect with of course, but which provide a beautiful rich new seam of learning for tweens.
September in Australia means many things to many people, but it means all action stations for those of us who care for bees as bee colonies ramp up their warm-weather activity. In northern hemispheres, the bees come out of hibernation, but in temperate tropics like Queensland they simply double their pollen-collecting efforts. Meanwhile beekeepers like me set about splitting healthy colonies to create new safe homes and double the number of bees to help protect the environment.
I’ve written previously about the vegan beekeeping I do for European honeybees—that is, beekeeping that focuses on ensuring bee and hive health rather than producing honey. But I’ve written little about the equivalent native beekeeping I do. And the book that helps me do it.
There are thousands of Australian native stingless bees, and I have four hives of tetragonula carbonaria, one of the more common social bees (where social means they live together in a hive rather than pottering about solitarily). More the size of fruit flies and foraging not more than 500 metres from their home, these bees are often overshadowed by their European cousins, who are much more visible to the naked eye and who travel between five and 10 kilometres to gather food.
University of Queensland entomologist Tim Heard has been studying native bees for decades—you could say he was interested in them before they were cool. But with no sting (technically, they can nip when they’re really unhappy with you), being super low maintenance, and taking up so little room they could live on a balcony, native bees provide invaluable pollination services to their local environment. Which explains why their popularity has surged in recent years.
For those of us who now give native bees homes, Heard’s book is basically gospel. Written based on thorough scientific understanding, but in lay terms accessible to those of us who are not entomologists, The Australian Native Bee Book includes in-depth information about how native bees operate, as well as crucial step-by-step information for constructing and locating hives to the precise specifications that allow native bees to thrive.
It’s also packed with photographs that illustrate points and show what’s possible in terms up set-ups and support. Combined, and despite its not entirely attractive cover*, this book is a goldmine of information and images every person caring for native bees should access and learn.
*I get the brown might match some of the colours of the hives’ inner workings, but it’s still a terrible cover choice. And reprint or revised editions should rectify this.
SADIE by Courtney Summers is a book that will leave you feeling utterly shaken. It’s intense and really dark and the ending kind of had me like, “mY KINDLE IS BROKEN I NEED ANOTHER CHAPTER.” Which I both love and hate. (Curse you, book.) Seriously though, it’s the kind of book you end up forgetting how to breathe while you read it and it is so so well written.
It feels weird saying “I enjoyed this!” because it’s NOT an enjoyable story. It’s raw and emotional and shows such a darkly vicious side of the world. It’s addictive because you want to unravel this mystery of a missing girl and her murdered sister, but you also, as you keep reading, get this absolute sick feeling about what’s really going on.
I do believe it’s best to go in knowing only a little about it! It’s a mystery and like those are best served without too many details up front. But basically it’s half told as a podcast series by a middle-age man — and also half told in a really raw and aching 1st person narrative by Sadie herself. You get to see this podcaster unravelling the mystery of who Sadie talked to as she went searching for this man named “Darren”. And you get to flip over and see Sadie following her journey towards to take down darkness with a switchblade.
It is a really heavy story (upper YA for sure) and reminded me of Girl in Pieces too. Also it’s very much about being poor, about people risking everything, about this intensely tight love for your sister, about neglect and abuse and trauma. It’s a really important story too. You wish it was fiction, but it’s a story you could also hear on the news. Missing girls and murdered girls and someone who isn’t willing to let it just lie at that.
Sadie was an exceptional heroine, who was hard and sharp around the edges, but also makes you absolutely feel for her and root for her immediately. You don’t know right up front why she’s hunting Darren. She buys a car and goes on this long trail of following up leads and talking to people, all to find this man who used to be her mum’s boyfriend. Sadie is also so so deeply loyal and loving to her little sister, Mattie. She basically raises her and even though Mattie sees Sadie as an annoying overbearing “parent figure”…I LOVE that Sadie never once gave up on her and just kept loving her. The story starts with Mattie’s murder and we see how deeply it’s unravelled Sadie. It’s heartbreaking. She’s a character who’s well crafted and super complex and she draws you into the story instantly with her incredible voice.
Basically? READ THIS. I still feel thrown by all the things Sadie uncovered on her dark and lonely roadtrip to find justice for her little sister. This book is intense and heartbreaking and leaves you with so many furiously buzzing questions at the end. It’s a story you’re not going to stop thinking about for a while.
The Astonishing Colour of After by Emily X. R. Pan is an emotional and gorgeously written story of grief and healing. I’m still reeling at just how beautiful the writing was! It’s a visual feast and it uses colours to complete paint the story and world around you. It’s also really important to have narratives like this from authors who’ve put part of their own journeys onto the page. This book is a privilege to read as we get to see the life of a biracial Taiwanese girl who is discovering who she is, what she needs, and how to heal in the wake of her mother’s suicide.
Leigh is sixteen when she discovers her mother’s suicide and her life is completely dismantled. She feels lost and alone and with no way to process this…and then she starts seeing a red bird that’s leaving her messages and nudges: go find your estranged Taiwanese grandparents. Leigh believes the bird is her mum and she has to go find answers. Like why her mum cut ties with her grandparents in the first place.
Leigh is an artist so the story is told with vivid and colourful descriptions. It’s like you’re reading a painting at times. The writing draws you in immediately and you just have to savour it too. I’d definitely pick up more by this author in an instant just on the strength of her prose!
The story is also told with plenty of flash backs to Leigh’s childhood. Including her best friend (and boy she has a total crush on) Axel. He was super sweet and watching them grow up together and then clash was heartbreaking and also buoying as the story progressed.
It’s also very much about being biracial, connecting with your roots, and discussing mental illness. Emotion bleeds on every page and after reading the author’s note and knowing she wrote this to process a suicide within her relations? I’m so thankful she shared this story. It is SO SAD. It also doesn’t demonise or romanticise mental illness, but chooses to discuss it bluntly but with hope too. It is obviously a very dark portrayal and Leigh blames her mother, not the illness, a bit. But overall it talks about how mental illness isn’t a choice and it deserves to be recognised and treated seriously.
I also appreciated that the story was about healing too. For Leigh and her father, but also for her grandparents and even Axel. It will probably make you cry, but it will also give you light.
It’s partially set in Taiwan too, and the descriptions are vivid and gorgeous, so it’s like getting to travel just by reading! There’s the hint of magical realism with Leigh being convinced her mother has changed into a bird, but has she really? I love how the book doesn’t really say.
I definitely recommend THE ASTONISHING COLOUR OF AFTER and will rave forever about how beautiful and important the story is. It’s emotional and poignant and deserves all the hype.
Crashing onto the scene is first time picture book author, Sonia Bestulic. Her whimsical tale is all about NOISE! It’s a triumphant take on the joys of music making, and the joys of motherhood in an exuberantly loud household. Sonia’s background in Speech Pathology serves her well in this rollicking rhyming story focused on the development of oral language, speech and instrumental exploration. Sonia is speaking with us as a part of her Reece Give Me Some Peace! book blog tour. Thanks, Sonia! 🎷🎻🥁
Congratulations on the release of your debut picture book, Reece Give Me Some Peace! Please tell us a bit about your background and how you came to be a writer.
Books and writing have always been an integral part of my life since early childhood, I loved the experience of new worlds books immersed me into, as well as the joys of sharing a book that was read to me. From childhood I have relished in writing in its various formats, and always had a particular passion for rhyming and the creative fun you could have with language.
My love of language and drive to help others succeed led me to a career as a Speech Pathologist. My work has predominately been with children who have difficulties with their speech, oral language and literacy. Within my work as a Speech Pathologist I heavily incorporate books as a tool to build and foster oral language development, and getting children ready to read, spell and write.
Working so dynamically with books and with children, I have been privileged to experience time and time again the wonders that a book can create in young people, and so honing my writing within the children’s picture book genre seemed a natural pathway of evolution.
What is your personal experience or relationship with music? How does this come together with your background in Speech Pathology?
I have always had a love of a wide variety of musical genres. Music has been an accompaniment in my life’s journey; listening to it, singing with it, dancing to it, and making it too! I started learning the violin when I was 7 years old, and continued it through to my late teens, before periodically entwining it during adulthood. Music generally is such an integral part of so many aspects of our lives.
The writing of Reece Give Me Some Peace! has brought together my musical background and professional Speech Pathology background, as the text is intentionally very stimulating at an auditory level, and features rich oral language and pre-literacy aspects such as rhyming, alliteration, repetition and rhythm, whilst introducing children to a new vocabulary of orchestral instruments and the sounds they make.
As a Speech Pathologist I often train carers and educators on strategies to develop and enhance oral language and pre-literacy skills; and being able to share in a book such as Reece Give Me Some Peace!, that invites an interactive experience certainly parallels to the interactive experience we can have with music.
How did you find the publishing process with Big Sky Publishing? What has been the most rewarding and the most challenging aspects of your journey so far?
Big Sky Publishing have been such a lovely team to work with; facilitating a smooth and engaging publishing process.
Most rewarding has been the opportunity to be involved in the various stages of the publishing process – it is pretty amazing being a part of it all and experiencing the evolution of the book from ‘conception to birth’. I certainly got a little teary at the first sight of the initial illustrations, such a personally moving, emotional moment.
In terms of challenging aspects, as this is my debut picture book, I’d say it’s been getting a better understanding of the industry, it’s workings and learning the marketing ‘where to’ once published.
Nancy Bevington has brilliantly captured the movement, energy and charisma of Reece Give Me Some Peace!What do you love the most about the way she has portrayed your lively story and boisterous main character?
I love that Reece is portrayed as such a relatable young boy, just doing his own thing, in his own space with such cheekiness and curiosity; the way in which his manner of play is illustrated, so perfectly aligns with so many children.
Nancy has also beautifully captured the strong auditory component of the story and I love the visual build-up of instruments as the noise crescendos.
I have to make mention of the clever portrayal of one of my favourite characters, and that is Reece’s cat; who appears throughout the story and adds such a wonderful element of endearing humour!
What kinds of teaching and learning experiences would you suggest for parents and educators reading Reece to their children?
• Overall the teaching and learning experience can be themed on music and musical instruments, and reinforcing auditory/ listening skills
• The book builds anticipation, as the sounds are heard before the instruments are revealed; so really get children engaged in joining in with the sounds and guessing what the instrument may be that is making the sound
• Discuss the various instruments;
> what they are
> how they are played
> what category they belong to e.g. flute is a wind instrument, drums are a percussion instrument, violin is a string instrument etc.
Extension activities can include;
• Drawing feelings of how different pieces of music evoke different emotions
• Listen to and watch the actual instruments being played on YouTube to extend the experience
• Listen to an orchestral piece of music and play ‘spot the instrument’ naming various instruments as they are heard
• Grab some instruments you may have at home or create some (upside down empty bucket and sticks make for an easy to assemble drum!)
Anything else you’d like to add? Your upcoming projects? News? Reading pile?
I have another Picture Book due for release in 2019 with Big Sky Publishing; and the talented Nancy Bevington as illustrator. It is coming together beautifully!
A recent news item is the launch of my podcast Chatabout Children with Sonia Bestulic! I launched at the end of August, and I am really enjoying the creative process so far and the new skills I have picked up along the way. It is all about empowering parents/ carers and professionals to grow with the children in their life; through education, enlightenment and entertainment. I am also looking at this avenue as an opportunity to periodically chat to Children’s Authors and discover all the wonderful things they have been up to in the world of Children’s Books!
That sounds brilliant! Thanks so much for speaking with Boomerang Books, Sonia! 😊
Sonia can be found at her website, and on blog tour here.
I’ve written previously about both the RBG book and documentary, but having just turned the last page of the book, I’ve been reminded that the book alone warrants special attention. Because the New York Times bestseller RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, dedicated to ‘the women on whose shoulders we stand’, is phenomenal.
Tracing the life and career of US Supreme Court judge and human rights advocate Ruth Bader Ginsburg (AKA ‘RBG’), RBG is written by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik. They are, respectively, a then law student who started the Notorious RBG Tumblr ‘digital tribute’ and a journalist who interviewed Knizhnik and was captivated by the RBG story. It’s a stellar combination, seeing the book balance feature writing-style compelling narrative further informed by solid legal depth and detail.
And its diverse but cohesive 195-odd pages contain something for absolutely everyone. The book chapters are, for example, named after Notorious BIG’s song lyrics. An artist who runs a women’s graffiti collective illustrated each chapter title. The pages are punctuated with memes and artworks, as well as photographs—some seen before, some not—of RBG at work, at the opera, or spending time with her family.
There are annotated versions of RBG’s judgments that highlight the poise, finesse, laser-like sharpness, and subtlety with which she weaves together her judgments. And there are summaries of her dissenting judgments and reasoning, which sounds dry but is actually a brilliantly succinct way to appreciate both RBG’s intellect and just how vast her contribution has been to shaping legal and cultural history. (Seriously, her dissenting Voting Rights Act judgment is iconic: ‘… Killing the Voting Rights Act because it had worked too well … was like “throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.”’)
Not hired because she was a woman, despite finishing top of her class, fired because she was pregnant, and paid less because she was a woman and her husband earnt a decent wage, RBG has encountered and overcome more discrimination in her lifetime than many of us could imagine. Better still, she’s not just overcome it, but made it easier for other women to at best avoid and at worst overcome it too.
‘RBG has been extraordinary all her life, but she never wanted to be a solo performer. She is committed to bringing up other women and under-represented people, and to working together with her colleagues even when it seems impossible,’ we read. Meanwhile the ever humble RBG says: ‘I just try to do the good job that I have to the best of my ability, and I really don’t think about whether I’m inspirational. I just do the best I can.’
A ‘firebrand’ concealed in an apparently conservative casing, RBG belies Gloria Steinem’s adage: ‘Women lose power with age, and men gain it.’ RBG’s tale is one that should be read and appreciated by women and men alike because she makes you not only see the world and inner workings differently, but she inspires you to imagine what we can, without raising our voices and by bringing others along with us, possibly achieve.
White Rabbit by Caleb Roehrig was such an intensely stressful story that I felt myself tensing up while reading! Which is exactly what I want from a YA thriller, ok?! It scores all the points. It’s a twisty story of complicated families, messy broken hearts, drug gangs, arson, and (of course) murder. It’s definitely one you need to carve out a block of time to just go ahead and read and read because it’s fast paced and every time you think there’s an answer? BOOM. It takes you on another twist.
The story follows Rufus Holt who receives a strange call for help from his half-sister. He goes, wary of a prank…but instead he finds his sister drugged, covered in blood, holding a knife, and next to her is her murdered boyfriend. So that’s not how Rufus thought his night would go. Between panicking and soliciting begrudging help from his ex-boyfriend (who absolutely broke his heart) he gets pulled into trying to solve the mystery. His sister swears she didn’t do it, but the evidence is grim. They know they can’t put off calling the cops forever, but they have one night and 6 suspects and surely they can piece together this mess. Except it’s complicated by hallucinogenic drugs (called White Rabbits) and kids with guns and no one is telling the full truth….and Sebastian, Rufus’ ex, needs to tell him something important. This night couldn’t get any more intense.
The whole story is set over just ONE NIGHT. Which makes it absolutely super intense and face-paced! There was such a lot to pack in but I thought the pacing caught it all perfectly. And we get to learn so so much about Rufus, our narrator, and his ex-boyfriend Sebastian even in such a short time period. I was very impressed! The secondary-characters are a little more hazy but that’s to be expected, and I think we were left purposefully with gaps to fill in their character sand personalities so we wouldn’t solve the mystery too fast!
Rufus Holt was a complex and heartbroken angry boy. He’s unintentionally good at puzzles, which is why his half-sister begs for his help. But he has a bad record himself, and he’s super scared of getting mixed up in this grisly scene full of drugs, lies and murder. He also has an anger disorder which he takes medication and has therapy for, and I thought it was great the book discussed this! Anger, for some people, can be inevitable, but it’s never and excuse or something that can’t be dealt with. It’s such a good contrast with how Rufus manages his anger issues vs how so many of the other “rich spoiled brat” teens in the book display theirs with super unhealthy behaviours. And look where it’s got them.
Of course, Rufus is also dealing with heartbreak from his ex-boyfriend, Sebastian. They both end up trying to solve this mystery together but Rufus is convinced he will NEVER forgive Sebastian. But maybe there’s more to what happened between them than Rufus is willing to admit? I loved how they unpacked so many heartfelt moments and I honestly was torn between being furious at Sebastian and feeling really really bad for him. He and Rufus had a lot of chemistry, anger, hurt, and intense feelings still. It showed so so well.
White Rabbit is a murder mystery of lies, passion and shames. And it keeps you glued to the page and guessing the WHOLE waythrough. I devoured it in just one day and couldn’t stop till I had answers. I also am a fan of the author’s debut, Last Seen Leaving, so be sure to check that out too!
The thing about dads is, they’re just big kids in slightly longer pants. No matter whether your dad, or grandpa, is the bouncy, flouncy type, the serious, steady kind or the biggest kid in the house, this little collection of picture books pay homage to them all and are perfect to share with your dad on Daddy’s Day this year. Enjoy!
This winning picture book team have done it again with a perfectly rhyming, boldly colourful, dino-deluxed romp around the house and park with Dad. Dino-Daddy packs plenty of playful punch and is a hilarious gallery of the unending personas the average daddy undergoes on a daily basis. Builder Dad, Sleeping Beauty Dad, Party Dad, Monster Dad, each scenario mirrors the all the rip-snorting, sometimes unexpected qualities of fatherhood that come with the job and cement father child relationships. Ideal for sharing quietly or not so quietly with children from two years and up.
Unlike mummies, some daddies can’t be there every minute of every day (she says with tongue in cheek for this story works equally well if the roles were reversed). Unfortunately, little Tai’s daddy is one of those daddies whose work sometimes prevents him from spending time with his son. This makes Tai cross and recalcitrant enough to take matters into his own hands when he learns daddy is unable to make it to the Father and Son Picnic Day.
Needing some escapism after being smashed with a combination of work and uni deadlines, and having come off the back of reading—and still mulling over—Eggshell Skull, I turned to my favourite guilty-pleasure author: Richelle Mead.
Mead has thankfully recently released the third and final book in the Glittering Court trilogy.
In The Emerald Sea, we follow the third of three friends attending what is essentially a live-in intensive deportment school prepping them for travelling to the colonies where they hope to secure themselves rich husbands. Which sounds superficial until you discover the three are actually each harbouring huge secrets and kickass skillsets and courage.
Tamsin, the protagonist of this latest tale, was actually my least favourite character in the previous books. My impression of her was that she was two-dimensional, her hyper-competitiveness and Type A personality overplayed to the point of being unbelievable.
So I had admittedly hesitated to order and then dive into this book in quite the same way as I had the previous two. It turns out it was a rookie mistake because, while I believe Mead could have provided Tamsin with a bit more depth overall, in this book we gain insight into why she’s so uptight. And it’s kind of worth the wait.
With Tamsin’s tale diverging from the other two’s by way of a storm that shipwrecks the boat she’s traveling on, she’s alone, equipped with only her ingenuity to tackle crisis after crisis. It’s here thar Tamsin really comes into her own.
It also provides a fresh take on the overlapping tales, with so much of Tamsin’s story taking place far away from the Glittering Court, instead in a bizarrely religious small colony and in the company of a swag of interesting characters that include a dashing party boy turned trainee priest, a sour spinster, a charismatic but not-so-dashing trader, and a strong lady leader of the local Icori.
Featuring many of Mead’s trademark wit and one-liners, The Emerald Sea is eminently readable and a surprisingly fitting and solid conclusion to the trilogy. Perhaps my greatest marvel of it and its predecessors The Glittering Court and Midnight Jewel is that Mead has managed to write three entirely independent yet interwoven narratives that converge fairly seamlessly. For this reason, I’d definitely recommend reading it and its companions.
What does fatherhood mean to you? Is it about the shared moments that make you laugh? Or the ones that incite your curiosity about the world? Is it teaching them a new skill? Or bestowing some secrets about life that you learned along the way? Is it simply being present to watch them grow and succeed? Whatever your definition, there is no doubt that gorgeous picture books can draw out and encourage special bonds in a way that is meaningful to you. Here are a few that do just that…
From Him, To Me, To You. This beautiful book is a lyrical dedication to our littlest loved ones. A book to be shared across the generations. And one that will bring a tear to your eye. Things My Pa Told Me is written with a wise and astute hand by Anthony Bertini, told in a gentle and pertinent manner. Illustrator Jonathan Bentley comes in with an interpretation of his own, brilliantly re-imagining the text to another level of wonder, warmth and adventure. His amazing sketch work creates this extraordinary atmosphere of movement, light and shade, colour and energy that perfectly reflects the perspective of a small child in a big world.
The message imparted is one of strength, support, security and love. Of a father reinforcing his little girl’s journey through childhood – all the growth, fears and challenges and power she is to face. The possibilities that await and the wisdom needed to set her own path. But most importantly, to “enjoy this brief time, just you and me.” One day she will be able to reach, and he (father) will remain in her heart, watching along the way.
Things My Pa Told Me accomplishes a profound and timeless tale of embrace and hope in a way that leaves the reader to their own interpretation and meaning. A stunning book for children from age four to share with their own Pa.
The title says it all – bonding with Grandpa, adventure, and the wildest of imaginations. Read on and you’ll find plenty of action, fun and play (including a brilliant play with words!). Grandpa’s Space Adventure is created by such a masterful duo following their Grandpa’s Big Adventure; Paul Newman and Tom Jellett hilariously bring this star-filled adventure rocketing into life.
Grandpa tells his grandson about the time he and dog Rover flew to the moon. He took his ‘launch box’, had ‘high tea’… ‘very high tea’ every day, and even split his side on laughing gas instead of oxygen. He played ‘fetch-the-stick’ with Rover, but it never came back. Joke upon space-themed joke float across the pages paired with Jellett’s characteristically comical cartoons that will literally have your own sides splitting with giggles. Grandpa makes the young narrator feel totally safe in the dark. Now, here’s to another ‘wild’ adventure…
Extremely clever, playful and absolutely cracking with humour, Grandpa’s Space Adventure will leave no space for fear of the dark when you’re sharing this planet-tastic book with your loved ones. For space-travellers aged three and up.
The oblivious dad. The one that thinks he knows it all. You know the one! What a glorious day out for Sally and Max in Sara Acton’s Dinosaur Day Out. Dad thinks he’s taking his children on a peaceful day trip to the museum, only to find the dinosaur exhibition is closed. Little does he know that, despite his efforts to treat them instead to a day in the park and a spot of ice cream, Sally and Max in fact encounter all the species of dinosaur listed in Dad’s book. How extraordinary! He’s got his head so engrossed in his ‘Did you know’ facts that he misses every trick, glimpse and illusion that only the children, and us readers, so astutely notice.
The little comical elements in the illustrative details give the text even more irony and humour. And Acton’s softly textured paintings and simple colour palette ensure a gentle and playful feel as opposed to some of those slightly scary dinosaur facts that Dad apprises.
Dinosaur lovers everywhere will adore this whimsical and informative story with all its comedy and adventure. Dinosaur Day Out is the ideal book for preschoolers to share with their ‘know-it-all-not-so-know-it-all’ dads.
This is the perfect guide for new arrivals. If you’ve just landed on this earth, you’ll need this handy manual to ensure you have the best stay possible. Totally brilliant – Welcome; A Guide for New Arrivals by Mo Willems – narrated by parents with wit, verve and unconditional love.
The guide begins with a mirror and a fact sheet on how YOU came into being: a unique combination of LOVE + TIME + LUCK. Filled with a range of enlarged headings, diagrams in the form of signposts, and bright, bold colours, the book humorously outlines a myriad of life’s pleasures and complications. For example, a few upcoming highlights include: Music. “Here is an example of a song” (insert printed music). Cats. “We are pleased to inform you there will be cats… And not just cats. There are Mountains + Friends + Bagels + Infinite Remarkable Things.” Stories. “There are True Stories + Made-Up Stories + Silly Stories.”Each identified by an amusing symbol, and completing the page with ‘while we read this book together.’ There is a guide on ‘We Regret to Inform You’, followed by ‘Rest Assured’. But there is a note for parents to absorb, too. And that is to simply ‘stop’ and ‘be’, because we all know this precious time in our little ones’ lives doesn’t last too long, so enjoy it.
Welcome is a must-have book for every first-time father. Thank you for joining us.
Eggshell Skull is the tale of a daughter of a cop, law graduate, and District Court judge’s associate Bri Lee (AKA she of Hot Chicks with Big Brains) who is, by way of the juxtaposition of these three elements, uniquely positioned to discuss the Australian justice system’s handling of sex crimes. She went from helping facilitate sex crime trials in her role as an associate to being a complainant navigating the system as she sought justice for sex crimes that were committed on her by her older brother’s friend when she was just in primary school.
Her own life and work experience should have prepared her adequately for what was to come. But that’s the point of the book: the system is so difficult, so imperfect, and so arguably segmented and broken that even with her background and a strong support network, making a complaint, then seeing it all the way through to its trial conclusion, was inordinately grim. ‘The more I learned of the huge, “blind” justice system,’ she writes, ‘the more I learned that it was just as human and fallible as everything and everyone that created and preceded it.’
Also, she notes: ‘Nobody tells you that if you want to press charges against the man who molested you, you still have to go to work, get jobs done, and interact with people as though you’re a normal human being … You’ll still drop the roast you just made, and miss your bus, and run out of toilet paper.’
There are so many parts of the book that both shocked and resonated with me (and, going by the number of people who have bought the book and flocked to panels Lee has been on, many others). These include the parts about the number of women who excuse themselves from sex crime trials because they themselves have been victims of sex crimes and cannot bring themselves to sit through (much less do so impartially) a trial about that very subject.
These also include the number of defence barristers who go out of their way to strike women from the jury—with eight free-pass ejections available to the defence, it’s highly possible to stack, or at least strongly influence, Australian juries. (Interestingly, as Lee has herself flagged in subsequent interviews and panels I’ve seen, the British legal system from which we adopted this practice no longer allows eight strikes because it’s widely recognised just how much it can skew outcomes.)
These include too that sex crimes are less often committed by paedophiles and more often by opportunists—who are frequently very ordinary, suburban men. A 2011 report found that most offending occurred in the home, without the use of a weapon or violence, and the offenders are known to the victim. This runs counter to the violent-attack-by-a-stranger narrative. Lee notes unsurprisingly, but sadly, sex crime trials that feature weapons and non-white defendants have higher conviction rates.
Meanwhile the female complainants seem to simultaneously need to show that they are both desirable enough to have been raped, but that they did not consent to it. As Lee outlines, the perfect complainant is a cute little girl who you can’t ask which contraception she is on or how short her skirt was or how many drinks she’d had. It’s not, as in one case that played out before her, a woman who had been drinking with the guy, who was on the pill, who was combative when questioned, and/or who was medicated for anxiety and depression.
‘The case felt like a David and Goliath battle,’ Lee writes. ‘”There’s no evidence apart from the complainants story,” they kept saying, but what evidence what evidence was she supposed to bring? So many of them were terrified, submitting to intercourse to avoid the punches or cuts that, ironically, would have helped them secure a conviction. So many took months or years to come forward—then, despite showing monumental strength in making a report, they were cross-examined about their “inexplicable” delay.’
The ‘eggshell skull’ legal principle that lends the book its title is, as Lee explains: ‘The premise is that if Person A were to have a skull as thin as an eggshell, and Person B struck them on the head, intending only to punch them, but in fact killed them, Person B is responsible for the damage they cause … a defendant must “take their victims as they find them”’. That is, you can’t absolve yourself of some responsibility because someone had a weakness or pre-existing condition. You are responsible for the full extent of their injuries.
Lee flips that premise, considering what it might involve if that person is educated, articulate, feminist, and prepared to stand up, speak out, and fight back. That, combined with the juxtaposition of Lee’s insight as a police officer’s daughter turned complainant forewarned and forearmed with a law degree and experience working in the courts but no longer interested in pursuing a career in law, is perhaps what is most powerful about Eggshell Skull. Lee sits both inside and outside the system enough to be able to articulate its problems and its potential solutions.
For example, Lee skewers arguments that you can’t shift the presumption of innocence for sex crime defendants. As she notes, we do in fact already have equivalents: If you car is found to have been speeding or drugs are found in your house, as the car and house owner you are presumed to be responsible and have to prove otherwise.
Which is a hint of what I suspect will be Eggshell Skull’s legacy. Apart from being a gripping read most people will cancel plans for and inhale in a few short sittings, the book’s legal and social justice issues will continue to resonate. More than a misery memoir, Eggshell Skull has real potential to help shift how we handle sex crimes from initial complaint to final trial outcome.
Side note: I learnt from this book that the mural I ride past on my daily work and uni commute is actually by the fantastic Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama. Apparently it’s entitled Eyes are Singing Out. At Law school, I’ve heard them reference it as the eyes looking up at the judiciary and warning them that they’re being watched and their behaviour must be exemplary. Which surprised me. I’ve always considered it a rather intimidating mural denoting that defendants are being watched and judged by a jury of peers. Who knows. Maybe it’s meant to mean both ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.
It’s time for another round of delightfully admitting that we secretly love to analyse covers. And why not talk about our feathery adorations this time? Birds are both symbolic and also often a huge part of YA novels and I find they feature on the covers quite a lot! Ravens and crows usually do represent dark omens, while soft feathers often signify a story of heartbreak and sorrow. Not to mention that covers with birds on them are usually just do well designed, we can’t help but fall in love and “accidentally” “read” “and buy” “all of them”. Whoops.
Possibly the most famous YA book centring around birds?! And definitely well deserved. This has got to be one of my all-time favourite books and features a motley friendship squad of rich boarding-school boys out to find a missing dead Welsh King and collect a wish…and a sense of purpose. They collide with Blue, the psychic’s daughter, who is tragically unmagical herself but she’s been lumped with a pretty heavy prophecy — if she kisses her true love, she’ll kill him. And suddenly she’s met a boy she can’t stop thinking about and his daring and magical quest.
AN ENCHANTMENT OF RAVENS BY MARGARET ROGERSON
This features an artist set in an ancient world named Isobel…her job? To paint faerie portraitist since they’re forbidden to do artistry or craft themselves. But she makes the mistake of painting a human emotion on the face of the Autumn Prince, Rook, and in a rage he kidnaps her to take her to his court and stand trial. Except exactly nothing goes as it should and his rage at her lasts barely a few minutes because he’s really just scared of being human. He can shapeshift into a bird, too, hence his name of Rook and the gorgeously stunning cover in all its earthy shades.
THE WEIGHT OF FEATHERS BY ANNA MARIE MCLEMORE
This one is just exquisite because it’s a soft and mellow magical realism book with a Romeo and Juliet sort of vibe. It’s about two alternating circus performer families who are absolutely worst enemies…but a girl falls in love with a boy and will they destroy their families in order to stay together? Cluck has feathers in his hair and Lace has scales. Maybe they can never truly be compatible. Or maybe they could be everything together.
DELICATE MONSTERS BY STEPHANIE KEUHN
This is a bit of a change of pace from the last ones, because here we have a thriller-contemporary. It’s about three teens whose lives are inexplicably woven together — Sadie, an incorrigible and snarling mess who’s been thrown out of countless schools. Emerson, her childhood friend and they know more of each other’s dark secrets than they should. And Miles, Emerson’s little brother, who’s always sick and troubled and has terrifying dark visions. The book unwinds their past hauntingly and you can’t look away as you spiral down into the darkness with these teens and their secrets.
Believing in yourself when all else around you is in a state of upset and confusion is an emotion children are more than capable of recognising. Keeping the faith when adrift in turbulent seas is not only testing and difficult at times, it also determines your future perspectives on life. These next few books that touch on the importance of keeping the faith in dire times provide intense and touching lifelines to children (and adults) of all ages.
Marwood is more than adept at distilling emotions into moving verse novels. Attaching emotion and memories to physical things is something humans are adept at, as well. This story deftly portrays a young boy’s heart-felt attempt to retain and simultaneously farewell everything he holds dear in his life as he and his family prepare to sell up and leave their family farm.
Bright We Burn by Keirsten White is the finale of the Conqueror’s Saga and it was was brutal and bloody and so perfectly and epically satisfying. I completely fell in love with this series when we’re introduced to the vicious Lada and soft Radu in the first book, And I Darken. And then we watch them grow into schemers and warriors in Now I Rise. There’s a lot of weight on a finale to both honour the first books and also raise the stakes and develop the characters magnificently and I’m so glad it was handled with such care and cleverness! Definitely a finale not to be missed!
As always the story is told by both siblings, Lada and Radu. They’re still worlds away from each other, with Radu being back at Mehmed’s side (although his childhood unrequited crush has withered now that he’s seen the bitter darkness of Mehmed) and he’s terrified that his fake wife and the boy he secretly is in love with are gone forever. And Lada is back in Wallachia, finally living her dream of ruling her people. Her rule is iron-fisted and terrifying, but she stops at nothing to keep her people safe. But ruling? That’s not going so well for her. It’s possible she’s picking bigger fights than she needs to, scorning help, and pushing herself slowly into a bloody pool of darkness that not even her closest friends can help her with. But Mehmed still loves her…so would he go to battle with her now?
It’s a story of rulers, really, and of what the people in power will do and sacrifice to get where they want to go. It’s such a bloody and vicious look at war, what it does and what it costs and I love that it didn’t shy away from how dark it is. There’s no sugar-coating here, so it felt realistic and terrifying the whole way through. Lada is using her famous impaling and Mehmed would sacrifice thousands of men without a blink. Radu is the only one who seems to realise that this war has to stop before they all destroy themselves.
The battles are grim, the aftermaths are horrifying. It’s very well written and portrayed and it makes you, as the reader, feel both horror and admiration for all the main characters.
The pacing and plot were were definitely superb. I liked that it was a bit shorter than the first books, because it keep the speed so tight and that’s needed for such a high-action ending! There are wars and betrayals, kidnapping plots and horror, and there are the softest quietest moments that just make my heart so so full. And it balances it with some really quiet and soft chapters, which honestly were some of my favourites.
The characters continue to develop and flourish in this book. Radu definitely has the most incredible and well written arc. He’s gone from whimpering little boy, to strong and capable and loving 18-year-old man and he’s also stopped spending all his time crying over Mehmed. It was such a relief to see him move on and realise he should fall for someone who loves him and not just uses him and his feelings, like Mehmed constantly did. Lada is also just as terrifying and ruthless as ever. But you also get to see her softer side, how often she’s unsure of what she’s doing. She makes some horrible mistakes and people suffer for it, but she also doesn’t let her people be beaten down by the enemy. Lada also bites people still, so like…she’s matured a lot since she was 3 but some things remain the same. I also just love how the author writes Lada being a harsh women, and that’s fine. And Radu being a soft boy, and that’s acceptable. It’s such a love letter at times to the fact that not everyone fits in a gender-stereotyped box.
It balanced the action vs the sweet moments vs the heart shredding moments so well! It’s a different writing style to a typical YA novel, but I just found that refreshing. The story is also set over quite a long period of time, but it keeps the pacing taunt.
And as a series finale?! YES it was both satisfying, gut-punching, twisty and intense. Everything I could possibly have hoped for!
Bright We Burn is a bloody, brutal, and clever end to this epic trilogy! It’s different and it’s full of heart and soul…and also wars and history!
Kids are all too quick to grow up these days, but yet to realise the complexities and oftentimes, inequalities, that go with grown-up responsibilities. Sure, life in the playground can be tough, too. No doubt there will be times they feel under-valued, misunderstood or lonely. Whilst these references may seem quite grim, the following ‘adult-work-life’ picture books paint these dark hues to meet a bright and hopeful light at the end of the tunnel.
Ok. It will be called… Next award-winning picture book of the year. Phenomenal artist. Phenomenal storyteller. Shaun Tan wins over the masses with his latest picture book, Cicada. Considering its haunting themes, this book has a definite star-quality appeal that is sure to set a glow in every reader’s heart.
You heard it… ‘Tok Tok Tok!’. Time marches on for hard-working cicada. Seventeen years. Stuck behind his computer desk hidden amongst a concrete jungle of office carrels – hardly noticed, immensely unappreciated. Treated as sub-human, despite the fact he is not human at all. But honestly, his pay is docked for being forced to use the bathroom twelve blocks away! Work life for cicada is dire with no thanks, no living support (he lives in an office wallspace), colleague abuse and eventually a retrenchment with a figurative kick in the butt.
Seventeen years imprisoned in this grey, lifeless cell of despair. There’s nothing left… but to transform. And all you can do is laugh! Tok Tok Tok!
Cicada breathes intense concepts and colourless imagery that is far from dull, mixed together with sharp language spoken in a broken English. However, it embodies a fiery life within that speaks universally to humans about the power of self-worth, about courage and respect. An impressive, evocative picture book for older readers (5-9 years).
Work life at Baggage Handlers United is pretty fun for Marvin. He loves the routine of putting things on and taking things off. He has friends that work there, too. But what happens when his ‘friends’ start laughing at his expense? Missing Marvin is a meaningful and sensitive story about the hurtful effects practical jokes can have when taken too far.
Sue deGennaro beautifully captures the heart and soul of this story through her gentle, multi-faceted illustrations and leading language that carefully directs readers to ponder the emotions being explored. When Barry, Shelly and Ivan set up what they think are amusing shenanigans, it is upon closer inspection that we see the heartrenching damage done to Marvin. “… he wonders if a joke is only a joke when everyone is laughing.” All too often, people (at work or at school) go about their day ‘pretending’ they are okay. And all too often, ‘the signs’ go unnoticed. Learning strategies to avoid emotional and physical isolation are nicely handled here when Marvin decides to come out of hiding (after succumbing to his bed) and open up to his friends about his feelings.
All it takes is a conversation. Missing Marvin brings about a light-hearted simplicity on the cusp of complex issues related to bullying and depression. Presented in a sweet and satisfying way, this book will help preschool-aged children find compassion, sensitivity and courage when needed most.
With a gorgeous setting based on the Greek islands of Andros and Mykonos, who wouldn’t love to live and work there? Originally from Greece, author illustrator Elena Topouzoglou paints a charming picture of friendship emerging out of loneliness.
In Mr Pegg’s Post, a little girl, Anna, longs for interaction from the outside world beyond her lighthouse home. The only visitor is Mr Pegg – the pelican postman. One stormy night, from the darkness Mr Pegg comes thumping into her life, serendipitously changing the world as she knows it. The ability to work effectively can be difficult when faced with a crippling injury. However, Anna’s eagerness to help deliver letters by boat serves them well in his recovery and her social connections. Anna receives more than just letters now. She has friendships, and a job!
The soothing blue wash of the water represents a beautiful link between the isolation of the lighthouse and the community spirit of the mainland. Mr Pegg’s Posts delivers a message of support, appreciation and value to the hearts of children from age three.
The first words on the first page of The Tattooist of Auschwitz read that the book ‘has the quality of a dark fairytale’. Indeed, it does. Journalist and foreign correspondent Hugh Riminton’s quote continues: ‘[The Tattooist] is both simple and epic, shot through with compassion and love, but inescapably under the shadow of the most devouring monsters our civilisation has known.’
Not much more needs to be said about the book, other than that it should be read, for Riminton’s statements both sum up my sentiments and do so more eloquently than I ever could. And while I inhaled the eminently readable The Tattooist in one three-hour sitting when it first came out, it’s taken me some time to get round to writing this blog post about it—the subject matter was so stellar and so moving I needed some time to gather my thoughts.
For anyone who is still unfamiliar with the book, which has been a bestseller since its launch and which has undergone multiple reprints, it is a fictionalised account of a non-fiction story: that of concentration camp prisoners Lale (pronounced ‘Lah-lay’) and Gita (Ghee-ta) Sokolov.
The prologue begins with Slovakian Jewish prisoner Lale tattooing the number 34902 on Gita, the woman who was to become the love of his life, in Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1942. Conflicted about his role in inflicting pain on his fellow prisoners, but also aware that he must do whatever he can to survive, Lale finds that his tattooist role provides him safe passage around the concentration camps and extra rations, both of which he leverages to help himself and others. Deftly woven throughout, and offsetting the horror, is Lale and Gita’s love story.
‘To save one is to save the world’ is a phrase uttered in, and that aptly captures the tales contained within, The Tattooist. The book was originally conceived as a screenplay, with author Heather Morris capturing Lale’s story through interviews and penning drafts that eventually became a novel. Morris spoke wonderfully eloquently about the book and the interviewing and writing process on Conversations with Richard Fidler. I highly recommend listening to that interview in tandem with reading the book.
The Tattooist is invaluable because we have little true insight into what it was like to actually live—well, exist—inside those concentration camps. And there are moments that continue to haunt me. For instance, Lale regularly encountered the infamous doctor Josef Mengele, who prowled the tattooing line, looking for victims, and who has since been revealed to have committed all manner of heinous medical research on prisoners.
Likewise, the prisoners were forced to play out a macabre game of football against the guards, while ash from the perpetually running crematoria rained down on them. Lale later had to walk into the crematorium to identify a prisoner by their tattoo, only to be cruelly jibed by the SS officer in charge of him: ‘I bet you’re the only Jew who ever walked into an oven and then walked back out of it.’
‘Are you sure you’re not a cat?’ the same SS officer asks Lale at one time because he survived so many moments that would otherwise mean certain death. It’s a thought that had crossed my mind too, because although the tale is incredibly compelling, just occasionally I couldn’t quite fathom how Lale had survived when so many others hadn’t. Undoubtedly, his ability to speak multiple languages and his charisma were contributing factors.
Still, some questions remain for me: What happened to the tattooist who preceded Lale and who gave him his chance? And Aron, who saved him from Typhus? And was Lale not terrified having the SS know Gita was his girlfriend? Surely they’d have used that to torture him? Perhaps one day, with others having read the book and recognised overlaps with their own or their relatives’ stories, those questions will be answered.
Side note: While I would unhesitatingly recommend The Tattooist to anyone and everyone and stump up a case for why it should be on school and university reading lists, my one wish is that the book was non-fiction rather than fiction. Hazarding a guess, I’d say the author and publisher elected to couch it as fiction to cover themselves for any facts they couldn’t definitively verify—of which there were likely many given that so few people who could attest to their veracity are still alive. But still: The Tattooist is essentially a retelling of one man’s recollection of actual events, however surreal they may seem, and it jars slightly for me to have the tale fictionalised.
Regardless, my hope is that The Tattooist not only succeeds as a novel, but also as the film Morris and Lale originally envisaged it to be: with Brad Pitt playing Lale and Natalie Portman playing Gita.
What If It’s Us by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera is basically the ultimate contemporary collaboration I’ve been waiting for! Being a huge fan of both these author’s previous books meant I absolutely couldn’t wait to read their combined project. Albertalli’s Simon Vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda and Leah On The Offbeat are hilarious and super cute, while Silvera’s History Is All You Left Me and They Both Die At The End were meaningful and emotional. So what would What If It’s Us bring!? I’m definitely pleased to say that it was full of hope and laughter, devastation and awkwardness, and the kind of banter that has you smiling for days.
The story is about Arthur and Ben who have an unlikely meeting in a post office and…probably will never see each other again, right? They connected, but they’re in New York, so it’s not exactly a place you’ll run into a stranger twice. But they both can’t stop thinking about the interaction and it leads them to seek each other out. After a ton of near-misses while balancing their own hectic lives (Ben is suffering through a lonely summer school after his ex cheated on him and somehow managed to get all their combined friends. While Arthur is doing an internship while thinking his parents might split up). And then — they connect again thanks to a coffee shop, a sign, and a lot of desperate hope. Their dates are super cute and super awkward and nothing about their relationship is going smoothly at all…so does this mean they’re not meant to be? Or are they going to be each other’s everything?
One thing I quite enjoyed was how it explored New York from a touristy perspective because I, as an Aussie, was really interested in “seeing” the sites! Arthur was an adorable tourist and I loved how excited he was about being in this city for the summer.
The boys were definitely the highlight of the book! They both take turns narrating (and if you know the authors, it’s pretty easy to guess who is writing which character). They contrasted in so many ways: Arthur being rich and headed for a fancy college vs Ben being poor and failing school. Arthur being outgoing and bubbly vs Ben being reserved and cautious. Arthur being nervous about his first romance vs Ben being skeptical after just having his heart broken. The combination of them was so fantastic and heartwarming, seeing them open up for each other and learn to love the other’s differences.
It is a bit of a quirky “find a needle in a haystack” story as they meet briefly in a postoffice and then have to refind each other again. I loved all the “near misses” because, as a reader, we’re screaming for them to no no! Wait! Two more seconds and you would’ve met again! It’s definitely a book that keeps you glued to the pages wondering if this is going to work between them.
I also loved the levels of diversity in the story! Obviously it’s a gay teen romance, but also Ben is Puerto Rican and Arthur has ADHD. Ben’s discussions about his family and what it truly means to be Puerto Rican were great and very important.
There are plenty of amazing things to be said about friendship too. About how friendships change and grow over the years and how hard that is. It’s absolutely devastating to lose friends, and I think it’s something that needs to be addressed in YA because most teens go through this!
It’s also so funny! I loved the subtle references from the authors to their older books, and I snorted over the quick-fire banter and the ridiculous dorkiness. The writing is also super addictive and easy to devour. I found myself completely unable to put it down.
WHAT IF IT’S US is such a cute and fun book! It’s the perfect summery read, full of awkward moments and absolutely golden magical moments while two boys fall in love through endless mishaps, mistakes, and messy moments. It’s the kind of story you can’t help but root for and turn every page desperate to find out what happens to Ben and Arthur and their summer in New York.
In Under the Lights and in the Dark, sports writer Gwendolyn Oxenham notes how women’s sport is the antithesis of American sportwriter Gary Smith’s answer to the ‘if you could trade places with any athlete’ question. ‘I probably wouldn’t,’ he famously said. ‘For the most part, they’ve had to whittle down their lives so much to excel at something that their possibility for personal growth is compromised.’
Female footballers (soccer players), however, have to work, study, and generally juggle many, many, many commitments outside football. If anything, their personal growth accelerates.
Under the Lights spotlights some of the challenges women have had—and continue to have—to overcome in order to play football. As she notes in the book’s opening pages: ‘Dozens of players across the world shared their stories and their time. Whether from Liverpool or Lagos, Tokyo or Kabul, Kingston or Paris, here’s one thing that was always true: at an early age, they found the game and held on, driven neither by money nor fame—only the desire to be great. Here are their stories.’
Featuring a mix of well known and periphery players, and grouping tales under some key themes such as low or even non-existent salary, homelessness, and motherhood, Oxenham exposes some of the issues women face simply to play the sport they love.
One of the most striking is the bizarre and terrifyingly powerless experience of playing in Russia, where the team may or may not be run by, and acting as a money-laundering cover for, the mafia. Under these dubious conditions, the players are beholden to a coach and manager who forces them to take ‘vitamins’, both orally and via injections, that one player, on returning to the US and undergoing medical tests, determines to be anabolic steroids.
Another obstacle Oxenham exposes is the decades-long consequences of women’s football being banned in Brazil from 1941 until 1979 courtesy of a law that stated that ‘women will not be allowed to practi[s]e sports [that] are incompatible to their feminine nature.’
Women can now in theory legally play football in Brazil, Oxenham notes, but they’re being prevented from playing by other means. Santos, for example, was until a few years ago the best women’s football team. Was, because the club cut the entire team in 2012 in order to stump up cash to keep male footballer Neymar (AKA he of the ridiculous rolling that inspired countless 2018 World Cup mockery and memes) by paying him one million reals (US$558,000) a month. He was later sold overseas anyway. How Neymar can live with himself allowing the women’s team to be cut for him, I cannot conceive.
Motherhood is another theme Oxenham explores—specifically, how, just as in office-based workplaces, pregnancy and motherhood hampers or more often ends women’s football careers. Of the 24 teams and 552 women who competed at the 2015 Women’s World Cup, Oxenham writes, only 11 players were known to be mothers. Most of the national teams have no mothers, due to cost, commitment, the absence of maternity policies, and an all-round lack of support.
But Oxenham also highlights some of women’s football’s triumphs. Portland and its women’s team the Thorns, for example, are the town and the team that shows the rest of the world how women’s football and women’s football support should be. One of the iconic banners its avid supporters have painted is a quote from The Little Prince: ‘It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important’. Where ‘wasted’ can be read as ‘done it for the love of the game’.
About women’s football, but also about much more pervasive issues that affect women in society more widely, Under the Lights and in the Dark is yet another invaluable documentation of the issues women face and the progress they are making. With any luck and a lot of hard work, in the future female footballers will soon just be under the lights.
Since the CBCA shortlist was announced I have been blogging about the 2018 shortlisted books and am now concluding with the Early Childhood books (in two parts). You may find some of the ideas across the posts helpful for Book Week this month.
Boy by Phil Cummings, illustrated by Shane Devries (Scholastic Australia)
Boy is a morality tale about conflict and misunderstanding; understanding & communicating. It covers issues of deforestation, fighting and living in harmony and peace.
The trees on the mountain are destroyed by a powerful dragon, which illustratively evolves from threatening to cute during the tale.
People are blaming others and fighting. Boy can’t hear the fighting but perhaps he can understand the situation better than anyone because of his hearing loss.
Might the boy be unnamed because the book is aimed at all boys or for all children?
The digital illustrations are an unusual colour palette of mauve, brown and blue tones.
The endpapers could be copied and used for the card game ‘Happy Families’.
The cover is tactile, with the word ‘BOY’ written in sand. Boy communicates by drawing pictures in sand. Children could write an important question in the sand (sandpit or sandtray) e.g. ‘Why are you fighting?’ alongside a picture.
Children could further develop awareness and affirmation of the hearing impaired. This could include learning some Auslan and also saying ‘Thank you’ ‘with dancing hands’ like Boy does.
Children could look at the endpapers to see how the children at the start become adults by the end. They could draw themselves as a child and then as an adult, imagining a possible future.
Onset and rime in the rhyming text include ‘day/stay’ ‘small/all’ ‘yet/vet’ ‘far/star’ and ‘strife/life’ (others are more difficult for very young children).
Many countries are represented in the book e.g. Syria, China, Afghanistan and Italy.
The refrain, ‘How about you?’ could be answered by readers and they could also suggest which countries are not represented; which Australian capital cities and other places are mentioned and what are some missing Australian places?
Children could show or make flags for countries represented by students in the class or school.
The story settles into a rhythmic security to precede a chilling page:
Sadly, I’m a refugee –
I’m not Australian yet.
But if your country lets me in,
I’d love to be a vet.
Australia’s refugee situation is political, and far more complex that this, but I’m Australian Too will no doubt influence children’s attitudes towards refugees.
Rodney Loses It! by Michael Gerard Bauer, illustrated by Chrissie Krebs (Omnibus Books)
The title has a double meaning and the book is humorous in words and pictures.
It’s unusual that readers are able to see the missing pen and other objects, a mark of slapstick. Rodney Loses It! is slapstick in book form.
The illustrative style is cartoon-like; lively, bright and shows active body language.
The writing shows good word choice and maintains a successful rhythm.
Children could compare the endpapers, which are different.
Rodney loves drawing but loses his favourite pen, Penny.
The illustrations show the pen and other missing items.
The message or moral is that we can love doing things but not get around to them because of distractions.
In the story, Rodney could have used other colours but he was fixated on one pen and one colour so he missed out on doing what he loved.
Children could draw pictures like Rodney’s or make Rodney using play dough and LED lights for his eyes or pen.
‘What are you doing taking a seat that could be occupied by a man?’ was the question put to Ruth Bader Ginsburg (RBG)—lawyer, feminist, supreme court judge, icon, ‘rockstar’, and just about the closest thing we have to a superhero—when she was just one of nine women in a law class of over 500 men.
The question—arguably rhetorical—reflects the sentiment RBG has not only encountered but triumphed over throughout her entire career.
And in contrast to the usual fate of older women, RBG is these days not being dismissed or overlooked, but is instead ‘winning the internet’. In fact, this 84-year-old feminist, who this month celebrated 25 years as a US Supreme Court judge, has become something of a liberal hero for those of us desperately seeking someone to believe in in the face of Trump-led chaos.
For those unfamiliar with RBG—or the ‘Notorious RBG’ as she’s come to be known thanks to a Tumblr set up in her honour that gives a nod to 80s rapper Notorious BIG—there is now a documentary and a book that unpack and celebrate her story.
Softly spoken and never one to raise her voice in anger, RBG has overcome obstacles that would defeat most others. Apart from having to prove she deserved to be at law school, she excelled at her own studies. She also helped her husband excel at his while he was suffering from cancer, organising his friends to take notes in classes and typing up his notes and assignments. This was on top of doing her own study and caring for the couple’s young child. Only to find upon graduating that no law firm would hire her purely on the basis of her gender.
When RBG quotes Sarah Grimke, a kind of RBG of centuries past, in the documentary, I felt a tear-forming, chest-swelling mix of emotions: ‘I ask no favours for my sex … All I ask of our brethren is that they will take their feet from off our necks.’
That sentiment imbues RBG’s career, throughout which she has patiently and systematically set about trying to change discriminatory state and federal laws. These include the legal ability for:
husbands, considered masters of their communities, to decide where their families lived without women having any input
employers to fire women for being pregnant
banks to require a husband to give permission for their wife to have a credit card.
Which makes her accomplishments sound straightforward when they were anything but. ‘I did see myself as a kind of kindergarten teacher in those days,’ RBG says of having to explain some very straightforward legal concepts to men who could not conceive of anything being wrong with them.
And her work ethic was and is clearly extraordinary. A common theme of RBG’s and her late husband Marty’s marriage was that Marty would often have to coax her home—she would otherwise work late into the night. Likewise that he did the bulk of the cooking because this seemingly infallible woman is a self-professed and professed by others terrible cook. (I was relieved to discover this because: a) I’m a terrible cook too; b) it showed me that despite her impressiveness, RBG is also relateably human.)
When RBG was just one of two women appointed to the Supreme Court, she actually had to devise new cloak collar options because the existing collars catered to men’s shirts only. It was a practical logistical requirement, but now her ‘I dissent’ collar is iconic.
The ideal number of women on the Supreme Court, she believes, when asked the question, is ‘nine.’ It’s a statement that prompts laughter, including from me, until she aptly points out that there have, until she and another were appointed, been nine men.
Which makes you realise that even if you consider yourself a feminist, there are cultural and systemic ‘norms’ RBG not only sees but figures out how to tackle and that the rest of us need to pay attention to.
Suffice to say, the documentary is must-watch and the book must-read. For fear of spoiling the surprise, those in my immediate circle will be getting copies of the book for Christmas.
Here are some of my favourite lists from the book:
8 Memorable Lines Erroneously Attributed To Film Stars
10 Famous Insomniacs
The Cat Came Back: 9 Cats Who Travelled Long Distances To Return Home
15 Famous People Who Worked In Bed
11 Most Unusual Objects Sold on eBay
29 Words Rarely Used In Their Positive Form
16 Famous Events That Happened In The Bathtub
The Book of Lists contains a wide variety of interesting tidbits and obscure trivia and is bound to make you laugh.
The List of My Desires by Gregoire Delacourt
Written by Grégoire Delacourt and translated from French, The List of My Desires is set in a provincial town in France. Jocelyne is the middle-aged mother of two adult children and runs her own dressmaking shop and faces a turning point in her life when she wins $18M in the lottery.
The unexpected windfall forces her to reflect on what she really wants in life so she writes a list of her desires, hence the title. This is a lovely contemporary fiction novel and when Jocelyne re-writes the list at the end, it’s quite interesting to see what’s changed.
Lists of Note by Shaun Usher
This book contains lists from a variety of people, ranging from Leonardo da Vinci, Charles Darwin, Roald Dahl and Marilyn Monroe to 9th Century monks. The book contains 125 lists with brief descriptions for each, including:
A shopping list written by two 9th-century Tibetan monks
The 19 year-old Isaac Newton’s list of the 57 sins he’d already committed
29-year-old Marilyn Monroe’s inspirational set of New Year’s resolutions
Einstein’s punitive list of conditions imposed on his first wife (this needs to be read to be believed).
More Than We Can Tell by Brigid Kemmerer is such an emotional and heartfelt read! It’s a companion story to Letters To The Lost, but this one spins out about the protagonist in that book’s best friend: Rev Fletcher. You don’t need to have read the first book to enjoy this one either! But I highly recommend it because it’s also incredible and possibly one of my all time favourites. I was so excited to dive into this companion book. Expectations were high and I ended up totally emotionally engaged with my heart beating so fast from that wild ending.
The story follows Rev and Emma as their lives are slowly crumbling to pieces around them. Rev was rescued from his abusive father 10 years ago and adopted by loving parents (who also foster other at-risk children still). But he’s getting letters from his abusive father…and he doesn’t know how to deal. He’s ashamed for being scared and for wanting to possibly meet his father again. But keeping the secret is destroying him and giving him violently terrifying flashbacks. And when his parents foster another vulnerable and wild young teen — it just amps up Rev’s memories of being in such a terrifying place 10 years ago. Then we have Emma, who’s a gamer with parents who pay no attention to her and she’s getting harassed online. She wants to take care of it herself, because her mother doesn’t care and her father (also a game designer) hasn’t got the time of day for her although he pretends to. Then as things between her parents start to get precarious and the cyber-bullying reaches a more terrifying level, Emma meets Rev behind a church and they start to talk. But their lives and friendships are in heartbreaking positions if they refuse to tell what’s really going on.
I loved being back in this world and so enjoyed Rev’s narration! (Finding out his true name was amazing.) Rev’s life is HUGELY stressful and he’s ashamed of how scared he is. AKA, he hides it. It’s heartbreaking that he did this, even when surrounded by people who love and support him unconditionally…but he’s been trained from his abusive father to expect hurt, and hate, and punishment. And even 10 years free of that, he hasn’t shaken the affects. The book really explores and addresses his PTSD and anxiety. I absolutely love how his adoptive-parents were so loving and involved in his life. Even when Rev cut them out, they made sure he knew they were there, ready and waiting and loving, to talk when he was ready. He does a lot of growth in this book too, remembering that he’s loved. Gaining control over himself again. Letting people in and not being ashamed.
Emma’s narration is focused a lot on how girls are treated in the gamer world. She gets harassed and attacked just for her gender and it’s so horrible what she has to go through alone. She also feels she’s probably being “weak” for being so upset about it, so she doesn’t tell anyone. It was hard seeing her lash out irrationally and horribly to her friends, even the ones who were undyingly supportive of her and there when she needed them. But it was also understandable seeing how much she craved positive interaction but her parents gave her none and continually put their needs before hers. My heart definitely ached for her!
Rev’s parents also start fostering a new boy, Matthew, who is pretty messed up and refuses to open up to anyone. He triggers a lot of flashbacks for Rev, which will definitely make you tear up, but discovering Matthew’s backstory and then watching him grow as a character too was amazing.
The book really delves into themes of being wanted, trying to control who you turn out to be and to change it if you don’t like it, and how accepting help is not weakness. All such important things to cover!
More Than We Can Tell is definitely a heartfelt book full of raw emotion and aching themes. It’s very emotional and the ending is so stressful and will leave you clutching the pages and turning so fast to see how it all plays out.
With all the latest talk on plastic pollution and contamination in our oceans and waterways, it seems fitting to bring further awareness and appreciation for our beautiful marine and plant life to light. These following picture books not only give us the colourful scoop on the abundance of amazing life under the sea, but also the incentive and empowerment to protect them in the best ways we can.
Somewhere in the Reef, an ideallic scene of freedom and serenity – just the way it should be. Following the classic rhyme, ‘Over in the Meadow’, Marcello Pennacchio sings up a swirling wave of sea animal counting fun. A host of gorgeous ocean creatures splash vividly about the pages, brought realistically to life by artist Danny Snell.
Starting with a mother dolphin and her little calf one along the Great Barrier Reef, daubs and splashes of movement ‘leap’ from one page to the next. With another verb, ‘wiggle’, we encounter two little sea snakes jiggling amongst the blue. Consistently, action meets numbers as the rhythm of verse and marine life treat us to an underwater spectacle in the crisp and clear waters of the lagoons and reefs.
Somewhere in the Reef is a playful and joyful experience to sing along to and recognise the importance of conservation of these beautiful creatures. Swimmingly good fun for preschool-aged children.
Another underwater counting parade propelled by poetry and learning potential is Jasper Juggles Jellyfish by Ben Long and David Cornish. With a title bound for alliteration activity, text tossed with rhyme and numbers flicked here, there and everywhere, you’re all set for a jovial, educational experience.
Set at the bottom of the ocean with textures reflective of the sun glimpsing through the water on creatures so adorably cute, Jasper the octopus drags himself off to school. A less-than-confident Jasper struggles with his counting abilities, but juggling is no problem. One friendly jellyfish encourages a strategy that Jasper can surely handle – “it’s best to start with one.” And with that, adding jellyfish to tossing tentacles means Jasper’s counting problem is solved with a total of twelve (3 jellyfish per every 2 arms).
Jasper Juggles Jellyfish would be a juggle between a simple adding-on strategy for preschoolers and more advanced problem solving for junior primary aged children. Nevertheless, an exuberant story about confidence and different ways of learning that children will be bouncing to read again.
In Ori’s Clean-Up, Anne Helen Donnelly provides all the right tools for an entertaining and environmentally-focused reading experience for early years children. Teamwork and meticulous organisation are highlighted in a war on waste, as we know it, where Ori the octopus and his friends find systematic ways to manage the rubbish in their underwater home.
Repetitive language and clear, vivid and friendly cartoons assist in delivering the message of cleanliness and working together. Terms and images specific to recycling, re-using, composting and donating are scattered throughout to reinforce this awareness and utilisation in everyday life.
Ori’s Clean-Up is brilliantly simple, accessible and universal to help affect change for the good of our planet.
Next, we are delving deep into a procedural text of the imaginary kind! But first, note the shiny, shimmering cover that is sure to lure in any young child with a penchant for mermaids. How to Catch a Mermaid is a cool and snappy rhyming tale from a series written and illustrated by the New York Times bestselling team, Adam Wallace and Andy Elkerton.
With the persistence, creativity and audacity of a young whippersnapper, a little girl and her buddies make several attempts at ensnaring the pretty mermaid at the depths of the ocean. Trap after trap, their scheme fails. But who will help them out when they are themselves trapped by some nasty, yellow-eyed sharks?
Witty, bold and lively, How to Catch a Mermaid is one your little ones will want to snatch up as quick as they can! For ages four and up.
Swishyness and swooshyness of colourful tropical fish swirl in flurries in Coral Reef City. And then there was Terry. Living the simple, plain-coloured life with his best sea friends isn’t enough when the fancy fish constantly parade their fanciful snobbiness. So, Terry transforms himself. And forgets his friends. Until there is danger. How will he escape?
Being yourself always reaps the best rewards. Tropical Terry casts an important net on playing to one’s strengths and embracing your individuality. A plain and simple message in an underwater forest of colour and spirit. Ages 3+.
Being the leader of the pack is not a role everyone relishes, especially if you are that shy kid who never kicks a goal or that odd sounding, looking kid whose school lunches never quite fit the norm. However it is often the most reluctant heroes that make the biggest impact and save the day. Being at odds with yourself and your perceived persona is the theme of these books, so beautifully summarised in their paradoxical titles. What I love about these two authors is their inherent ability to commentate messages of significant social weight with supreme wit and humor. It’s like feeding kids sausage rolls made of brussel sprouts.
Raymond is stuck in a school with a reputation grubbier than a two-year-old’s left hand and choked with bullies. The best way he knows of fighting these realities is not to fight at all. Raymond is king of fading into the background especially when it comes to his friendship with best mate, Zain Afrani.
Zain is a soccer nut and self-confessed extrovert whom has a deep affinity for Raymond. He likes to flash his brash approach to bullying about much to the consternation of Raymond who happily gives up the spotlight to Zain whenever he’s around. Constant self-depreciation just about convinces Raymond that he’ll never amount to anything of much significance, which he is sort of all right with until their new principal blows his social-circumvention cover by appointing him as one of the new school prefects.
Raymond is as shocked as the rest of the school but reluctantly assumes the role along with a kooky cast of radically differing kids. Under the calm, consistent leadership of Raymond, this eclectic team not only manages to drag Barryjong Primary School out of its bad-rep quagmire by winning the hearts and minds of the students and faculty alike but while doing so, raises enough money for new air conditioners for every classroom.
Your Destination Is On The Left by Laura Spieller was a pretty heartwarming story about artists and the fear of failure. Which I think is SO relatable to any teen (or older!) artist who’s struggling to know if they’re good enough or faking it. I really loved that aspect, especially all the “starving artist woe” storylines were are, let’s be real…big mood at all times.
The story follows Dessa who’s family is part of a nomadic caravan crew and they’re constantly travelling the USA in search of experiences and the chance to feel alive. They hate the idea of being tied down and it’s taboo to talk about…which makes life super awkward for Dessa who absolutely dreams of going to college for art. And staying put. She loves her family and she’s (secretly) madly in love with Cy, a boy in their caravan crew. But she can’t just give up her dream…can she? Then she lands an internship with a successful artist and the nomad crew agree to spend a few weeks in one place while she completes it. And while it’s the opposite of smooth sailing, with Dessa getting super stuck with her work because all the colleges rejected her and now she’s scared she’s a terrible artist, she begins to realise that life is full of cross roads. And she’s going to have to make some huge decisions.
It’s quite a fast book but still manages to touch on deeper things. The family’s aren’t particularly wealthy, which I appreciated since a lot of books feature people with no issues with money. And I liked how it definitely talked about how artists are often super underpaid.
I loved the epic multiple female friendships that were just on point the whole book! Dessa totally connects to her artist mentor who she’s doing the internship with and I love how they go from “prickly” to “valuing each other”. SO good. Also Dessa randomly meets a girl named Taryn on a bus, and after a sneaky night out (which Dessa was so not supposed to go on), they become such solid and epic friends who keep in contact. I love how they clicked and their chemistry was a lot of fun!
The romance is a bumpy ride, with Dessa having a total crush on Cy…but knowing he loves travelling and she hates it. There’s a lot of tension there with two people who feel so deeply for each other, but ultimately have very different goals. Should one of them give up everything?
The art factor was also gorgeous! I LOVED all the visuals and it totally reminded me of Starfish and I’ll Give You The Sun. It was a visual feast.
The book also encouraged artists to work from the heart. To stop panicking about how it’s scary to be vulnerable on page and stay safe. Take risks. Don’t let your fear block you. This is such an important and motivating message and it was brought across so well!
Your Destination Is On The Left is definitely a story about crossroads. It’s about fear of failure and the joy of creating and following your dreams, even though the repercussions might be steep.
Tim Hawken is the West Australian author of New Adult novel If Kisses Cured Cancer published earlier this year. Thanks for joining us for an interview at Boomerang Books Tim.
Can you describe your book If Kisses Cured Cancer in one sentence?
A funny yet serious book about the importance of connecting with those around you (and not being afraid to go skinny dipping in the forest).
What inspired you to write If Kisses Cured Cancer?
It was a combination of a few things, but the big one was my wife being diagnosed with a malignant brain tumour. The process was obviously awful, but there were lots of strangely funny and golden moments sprinkled in that journey. I wanted to create a fiction book that reflected those ups and downs, and would do the subject justice yet not be depressing or overly fluffy.
If you could meet any writer who would it be and what would you want to know? Neil Gaiman. The guy is amazing at every form of writing – short stories, novels, comics, TV. He’s unbelievably great and deliciously odd. I’ve read about his writing process and general approach to life, so would probably just prefer to chat about magic, telling the truth through lies, and working with Terry Pratchett.
How do you organise your personal library?
You mean the pile of books that are precariously stacked on my bedside table? They’re generally organized by date of purchase. I do have a shelf of books I’ve read and loved in my office for reference as well. They’re loosely arranged by genre and then grouped by author.
I agree with you about Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, I read it last month and adored it. What’s your secret reading pleasure?
Fantasy and sci-fi books. Shhhh. I love these genres so much I had to make a rule that every second book I read has to be something else. I feel like broadening your reading habits is a sure way of finding gold you might not otherwise have come across.
What’s next? What would you like to tell your readers?
Next is planning out a new story idea I have that will remain mum until it’s actually a reality. There will be another book next year but what that is, you’ll have to wait and see. To follow any news, sign up to my newsletter at timhawken.com. You’ll also get some special content about If Kisses Cured Cancer you won’t find anywhere else.
Young children don’t always notice differences in people, at least not in the passively aggressive way some adults are inclined to do. Sadly, the recognition of characteristics dissimilar to their own either physical or behavioural is largely a mindset learned from their environment. Picture books like these do a tremendous job of challenging erroneous mindsets and applauding individuality. They are charming and direct, yet subtle and entertaining enough to read repeatedly.
Dramatically different (pardon the pun) from anything else McLaughlin has produced before, this avant-garde picture book cleverly combines colour recognition (with emphasis on the primary colours), geometry and social acceptance all in one neat entertaining package. Several groups of differents converge into one community space but despise one another because reds, blues and yellows just don’t match. Rules are established and boundaries are enforced. Life is tense and restrictive. Until one day, quite unexpectedly, a really different different comes along, radically altering their perceptions and igniting a massive appreciation of how being different is actually better. Friendship prevails and happiness blooms.
This story told in few words and bold striking characters, relays a simple premise of live and let love. It suggests to children that you can be any shape, size, or colour and still have a voice. You can like any type of music and have friends who love oranges even if you do not. You are unique and therefore amazing. It’s that simple. A modern day classic that welcomes differences and embraces change. Magnificent. Timely. Recommended.
Australian NAPLAN advocates turn away now for this tremendous picture book blithely ignores language conventions and unapologetically dismisses sticklers for rules. I love how it also challenges every spell check on the planet.
Derived from the author’s own experience with dyslexia, My Storee is a beautifully refreshing expose of encouraging creativity for creativity’s sake by forsaking the bounds of perfect spelling and correctness; paradigms that can severely road block learning and advancement for a person afflicted with dyslexia.
A young boy is a master storyteller but is afraid to let his dragons loose at school for fear of grammatical reprimand. That is until a teacher with extreme foresight, long hair and very loud shirts breezes into his life and gives him permission to be who he is and shine. Thank you Mr Watson.
Full marks for this book, which screams thinking outside of the box, applauds alternative teaching approaches and champions creative verve to the nth degree. I love it, every word and every ridiculously bold bright illustration. Viva la Mr Watsons, wherever you are out there. We need more like you. My Storee is concrete reinforcement of embracing who you are and all that you have, or have not, with verve and positivity.
I have been posting about the CBCA 2018 shortlisted books and am now concluding with the Early Childhood books (in two parts). You may find some of the ideas across the posts helpful for Book Week in August.
This picture book is imaginative and exciting. It is also humorous, for example the teacher’s funny but apt name – “Mrs Majestic-Jones”; Ruby Lee is the best at announcing “Hark, it’s me, Ruby Lee!” – an unusual gift; and tactful George Papadopoulos even suggests that Ruby Lee be quiet and still but then she even loses him.
Ruby Lee loves helping. Young readers could compare and contrast her with helpful Debra-Jo in the Little Lunch TV series and books.
The letters ‘P‘ and ‘H’ could be taught or reinforced. Ruby Lee loves pockets, peaches, puddles and polka dots. (P)
She loves humming and hopping and handstands at night. (H)
Vocabulary is interesting and extending, e.g. hark, intrepid, valiant, ingenious.
The illustrations are in a cartoon manga style where the heads are large in proportion to bodies and the eyes are big and exaggerated. Children could view online how-to-draw tutorials and construct their own characters in this style. They could colour them using the colours in the book.
Children could act out some of the things Ruby Lee does; collect things she loves and invent fictitious creatures like she does.
Gilbert the penguin falls into another world (almost like into a rabbit hole) – the ocean. He must find where’s he comfortable, at home and can fly.
It is a fictional narrative but also an accessible information book, particularly about penguins, without being forced. It utilises many verbs and active language: waddled, flapped, waddled and flapped; slipped, tripped, stumbled; slipping Spinning Stumbling Tumbling; tumbled, bubbled and sank.
The book’s message is that everyone is different and everyone must find their own strengths.
Before reading, children could suggest what a second sky might be.
Children could make a model of Gilbert and possibly one that moves using rubber bands.
This is a clever, funny book for babies and those who read to them. It is carefully structured in 2 parts: firstly, where the animals are reported lost; and then when they reappear in the park.
The book begins with observations of baby noises, which people mistake for animal noises. There are carefully placed visual clues that prompt the baby to make an appropriate noise e.g. stripy sleep suit, on rocking horse.
Less than a week ago, notable Aussie author / illustrator and prodigious writer for children, Rebecca Lim, release her latest action-packed middle grade series, Children of the Dragon. Book One: The Relic of the Blue Dragon promises magic, mystery and martial arts and I know for one already has young primary aged readers perched avidly on the edge of their seats.
Today we welcome Rebecca to the draft table to share a bit more about what drives her to write what she does and reveal her motivation behind Relic.
Carry The Ocean by Heidi Cullinan is one of those hidden gem stories that I’m so glad I stumbled upon! It’s about the struggle between highschool and college, especially when you’re trying to manage a disability or mental illness. It contrasts two boys, Jeremey and Emmet, one with anxiety and depression and one with autism, and how they meet and their lives become entwined.
Jeremey is at the end of his rope with severe depression while his family’s pushing him towards college and getting a job. Emmet, the boy next door, is a high-functioning autistic who’s extremely smart, has a fantastic job, has just started college and — has a huge crush on Jeremey. Trouble is: He knows if he approaches Jeremey, he’ll scare him off, since Emmet can be seriously direct and a little awkward with social skills. But as he works up the courage to talk to Jeremey, he realises maybe Jeremey needs him more than he thought. His illness is going untreated, while Emmet has an incredible support network, and as things in Jeremey’s life take a dark turn, Emmet wonders if there isn’t a way to help them both.
This was such a sweet and quietly empowering book! It was really refreshing to read a disability book where the tone was respectful and the aim of the book wasn’t to cure or scorn disabilities, but to talk about coping mechanisms and build up self-confidence. And also dash a huge helping of absolute cuteness into it, which I couldn’t help but love!
It does talk seriously about the dark sides of untreated mental illness. I appreciate that it wasn’t just a “downward spiral” story though. We see Jeremey go down, with his depression slowly eating away at his life, but we also see him start to rebuild himself. It’s a book about depression, but the story isn’t solely depressing. This is a really good dialogue to open up!
It’s dual narrated by both Jeremey and Emmet. They are both super sweet, with Jeremy being an absolute cinnamon puff and Emmet being so intelligent and dynamic with his knowledge. Emmet is super intense and highly attuned to feelings, and while I did think he strayed into autism “stereotype” grounds on occasion, overall I felt he was a really good representation of what life on the spectrum can look like. (Although everyone with autism is different!) I also loved how their relationship was both slow and fast, with them discovering they have major crushes on each other…but learning to support and communicate properly as well. It also had a great contrast of their parents, where Emmet’s parents were supportive and caring and Jeremey’s were in denial that anything was even wrong.
Carry The Ocean is an equal parts dark and sweet book, with plenty of hopeful messages woven amongst a beautiful story. It’s wholesome but it’s also sad, and it talks about self-acceptance, and also how hard it can be to get up everyday when you have a severe mental illness. Seeing the world through both Emmet and Jeremey’s perspectives was amazing, complex and eye-opening. They’re flawed but relatable and the story will definitely pull at the heartstrings!
No doubt, cats have attitude – aka ‘cattitude’. They may tend to be arrogant, vicious or just plain naughty. But if you really think about it, they are in fact, loveable and soft-at-heart. The following few kitty-inspired picture books take a look at the different personalities of our feline friends.
The gentlest of the lot, Maya and Cat is evocative, heartwarming and heavenly. Caroline Magerl transcends beyond beauty with her poetic language and mesmerisingly enchanting illustrations in amongst a gripping tale of friendship, responsibility and trust.
The fine line and watercolour paintings in a style so charismatic aptly portray the dramatic moodiness and intense atmosphere of a lost cat drenched with rain and anguish. It is with her determination and good will that Maya searches for its rightful owners. Long, yellow scarf blazing behind her, Maya eventually follows Cat’s nose to an unexpected fate; where a long, yellow windsock atop a rocky boat leads Cat home and Maya a treasured reward.
Intriguing, beguiling and warming for the cockles of your heart, this loveable tale between Maya and Cat will be welcomed into your home with an outpouring of love and affection many times over. Beautiful for ages four and up.
Another cat to love, despite its size and demeanour. In It’s Hard to Love a Tiger by Anna Pignataro, a little girl knows all the difficulties associated with owning a tiger for a pet. The rhyming couplets and adorably hilarious illustrations actually make this story so endearing, that it’s hard not to love it at all. So much glorious detail hidden in the pictures demonstrate the very effect a roaring, growling tiger makes on a crowded street, when brushing his teeth, and feeding him sticky treats in a pastry store. The tiger carries on with his inappropriate gestures and anti-social behaviours that would make any small child cringe. But guess what? There’s plenty of love to go around.
I love the premise that renders It’s Hard to Love a Tiger so relatable for young children. The tiger could be a toddler or a kitten, both of which can be frustrating but oh-so charming and forgiveable at the same time. The text includes enlarged, bold words that literally leap out in a fashion to encourage terrific talking points. Deceptively loveable for children from age three.
Here you’ll find a most arrogant cat. A cat with only one thought. A narrow mind and a rumbling stomach. Cat Spies Mouse is a simple yet ingenious tale about the power of lateral thinking, tolerance and, well, copping a comeuppance.
Rina A. Foti writes a humorous dialogue with minimal text facilitating a curiosity for the nuances of our behaviours and encouraging challenge for streams of closed thought. In this case, Cat wants to eat Mouse because “that’s the way it is.” Cat is not open to Mouse’s positive suggestion for a possible friendship, and his stubbornness certainly lands him in a dark place.
The illustrations by Dave Atze create high impact with their bold and animated energy, brilliantly offsetting the wittiness of the tale and the deeper meaning of the underlying philosophy. Cat Spies Mouse would empower its early years readers to question the ‘why’s’ in life and how much of those can or cannot be controlled.
Another take on the trustworthiness of the stereotypical fierce character is this whimsical story featuring one big cat, a hat and an umbrella. The masterful Polly Dunbar nails the humour, the energy, the interactivity, all with a very important message to preschool-aged children – beware of deceptions and don’t fall for trickery. Trust your gut, and not that of a sneaky lion.
A Lion is a Lion sweeps us up in a rhyming romp of linguistic and aural goodness, questioning the real character of a ferocious lion. “Is a lion still a lion… if he skips down the street singing, “Hoobie-doobie-doo”?” Poshly dressed in hat and coat, the lion visits two young children and delights them with all the charm and savviness in the world. He treats them to a dance in their living room and requests a polite bite to eat… until the fiery redness of the pages emerge, and so does the true nature of the lion. It is pleasing to see that the children have just as much spunk and verve to show him who’s boss!
Splattered with spirit, fast-paced and funny, A Lion is a Lion is a charming delight with a big message (and a big appetite).
Did you love The Cat Wants Custard and The Cat Wants Cuddles? Of course you did! To jog your memory you can read my review here. The third instalment in this series with the wonderfully precocious feline fiend is The Cat Wants Kittens. What a surprise! Kevin is back with more grumbling ferocity than ever. He’s super unimpressed with the couple of balls of adorable fluff that invade his space, but we expected that, right?
Yet to be released but most anticipated. I would expect no less than brilliance once again from the dynamic duo, P. Crumble and Lucinda Gifford.
Mirage by Somaiya Daudis a gorgeously lush story of rebels and body-doubles, inspired by the author’s Moroccan heritage and set amongst the stars. I actually didn’t realise it was sci-fi when I picked it up, but I was so excited and enthralled when I realised we were not only getting Moroccan-based culture and traditions — but also droids and tech and spaceships! I definitely hope this is the first of many books like this!
The story is told by Amani, who is a dreamer and poet on a small moon in a smaller village. She’s just turned eighteen and is receiving her special tattoo that marks her as an adult, when horror strikes. The traditional ceremony is interrupted by droids who scan all the girls’ faces but only take one: Amani. She’s whisked away into space, kidnapped by the brutal Vathek regime, and brought before their cruel and nasty princess…whose face has a startling resemblance to Amani’s. It turns out Amani is going to be used as a body-double. If there’s some place too dangerous for the princess to be, Amani will step in. Her life will be at constant risk, but failure to comply means her family’s death. She feels hopeless and trapped, tortured by Princess Maram, and lonely so far away from home. But her new life is full of glittering privileged and Amani learns to walk like a queen, be around the gorgeous prince she’s “supposed” to marry, and also accidental stumble on the hint of a rebellion and she could, quite possibly, stoke those flames…
What really stood out to me was the incredible world-building! It was perfect in every way, rich and luscious, weaving in myths and customs along with descriptions of their clothes and food! I loved the brief beginning chapters in Amani’s home village, where she’s preparing for her ceremony. And her respect and admiration for her family, plus her love of all things magical and poetic, was so sweet.
The contrast of going to the viciously lavish imperial courts was also so well done! When Amani gets there, and learns to live as Princess Maram, she has so much change and development. I did want a little more from the girls’ relationship, but it ended up being sparse as Amani would get whisked off to play body-double and didn’t actually spend much time with Maram. The two are such contrast though! Maram is snarky vinegar and Amani has such a sugar soul…although she’s determined, clever, and not about to be walked over. It’s nice to see soft, feminine protagonists, who are still strong and complex!
The plot follows a lot of being whisked around the courts and deception and quiet scheming. I did think there’d be more assassin attempts?! But the ones that were in there were chilling! There’s plenty of politics and pain and betrayal.
Mirage is definitely a story to look out for! It’s absolutely gorgeous world building will sweep you right off your feet, and you’ll soon become entranced in this world of gorgeous gowns and royal balls, while wars and conquering rage in the background, and a girl just tries to stay alive and decide if what she’s willing to risk for her people.
Picture books enable children to escape and experience worlds quite unlike their own. Non-fiction narrative picture books enhance those journeys even further. The following collection entices young readers to gaze skyward, creep through leaf litter and explore worlds in and beyond their backyards.
Backyard is as it says; a whimsical exploration of a normal suburban backyard, that on closer inspection is anything but normal. ‘Sweet-tooth bats’ flit about the dusky evening sky, tawny frogmouths sit ‘as still as wood’. There is tiny movement everywhere and for one ‘sleep-moony child and star-eyed dog watching’, the world comes alive despite their close proximity to the city.
Visually sumptuous and satisfying, this picture book encourages mindfulness and evokes calm and imaginative thought. Captivating language coupled with sensory illustrations on every page will have youngsters revisiting this celebration of creatures great and small again and again.
Florette written & illustrated by Anna Walker (Penguin Random House Australia)
Mae moves to a new home, an apartment. She is sick of all the packing boxes but draws on many of them, particularly drawing daisies. She misses gathering things for her treasure jar. After going to the park, she finds a forest inside a florist but it is closed. A ‘stalk of green [is] peeping through a gap … a piece of forest’. It becomes a treasure for her jar. She goes on to grow a plant for her new (shared) garden.
Themes include moving home; making new friends; the importance of greenery, trees, gardens; and natural and built environments.
Children could compare and contrast the endpapers (there are different creatures in each).
They could consider the meaning of Florette and related words such as florist and forest.
Garden They could make a terrarium or a green wall – a vertical garden or area covered in ivy or vines, dotted with flowers including daisies, model toadstools, other foliage and small model or toy creatures e.g. rabbit, turtle, bird, ladybird.
Children could do some of what Mae does:
Decorate treasure jars and find precious items to fill them, perhaps a plant like Mae’s
Chalk drawings on asphalt or cardboard boxes
Set up a picnic
Use pebbles to make daisies
Mae’s movements could lead to making a story map – on paper, cardboard, or using an app.
Other books by Anna Walker include Today we have no Plans, Go Go & the Silver Shoes, Peggy, Starting School and Mr Huff.
Mum went to buy gumboots but she returned with a rabbit called Gumboots. His attributes are described positively at the start but the illustrations show otherwise
This is a cumulative tale with people joining in like in Pamela Allen’s Alexander’s Outing. There’s even a nod to the fountain of that book.
Humour Examples of humour include Gumboots who doesn’t stop to chat with anyone while escaping; the mother chasing him in towel; and the illustrations that sometimes tell a different story.
Illustrations Media: watercolour, pencil and oil paint
Freya Blackwood uses her signature spotted clothes and domestic details e.g. an ironing board. Red is used as a ‘splash’ colour and there is a worm’s eye view of the underground tunnel.
Themes community; simple outdoor pleasures; friends (even for rabbits); and how rabbits multiply.
Setting The creek scene is a peaceful interlude, a moment in time, shown by a bird’s eye view. ‘Mrs Finkel’s forehead uncrinkles’ there. The trees are described as a simile: ‘They are like giants with their long legs stuck in the ground.’
The endpapers of this picture book are like a board game, which children could play on.
Children could look at a doll’s house where the front wall is removed. They could make a cutaway diagram (where some of surface is removed to look inside) showing the inside of the house and tunnel (as in the last double page spread). Or they could make a model inside a shoebox lying on its side.
This tale is taken from the ballad of Swan Lake, a tragic love story of a princess transformed into a swan by an evil sorcerer. The women are swans by day and humans by night. The princess plans to meet the prince at midnight at the ball. The sorcerer’s daughter is disguised as the Swan Queen and the prince chooses her as his bride.
The book is described as passion, betrayal and heartbreak in the Murray-Darling. Children may be able to identify the region from images of the area and the book.
The book is structured/played in III Acts, like the ballet. The written text is followed by pages of illustrations.
Children could listen to some of the ballet music e.g. Tchaikovsky’s Swan Theme; Saint-Saens’ The Dying Swan.
Ballet in pictures They could view some of the ballet.
Visual Literacy The colours are mainly monochromic, with red as a splash (feature) colour.
Camera angles show some variety: from underneath – red queen; from above – fleeing girl.
There are close-ups of the swan face and neck; black bird of prey.
Texture Children could emulate the texture through printmaking using leaves and sticks.
This picture book is Carole Wilkinson’s memoir of immigrating from Britain to Australia as part of the Assisted Passage Migration Scheme, so it could also be regarded as an information book. Detail is shown to give verisimilitude.
Migration Carole Wilkinson packed her 101 glass animals and even tried to pack soil to take to Australia. Imagining they are migrating, children could be asked what treasured possessions they would take.
Compare/contrast Children could compare and contrast migration in the 1950s and 1960s with other ways of migrating to Australia in the past and present. They could use Popplet (a mind mapping tool http://popplet.com/ ) to organise their ideas.
Poem Carole Wilkinson wrote a poem about her empty house. Children could write a similar poem, including their circumstances and their emotions if leaving home.
Illustrator Liz Anelli says: ‘So much of her (Carole Wilkinson’s) tale rung true with my own journey and made it a delight to delve into. I loved researching details for the cruise ship they travelled on and especially enjoyed being able to ‘dress’ the characters in Anelli fabrics, sourced from my grandparents’ photo album.’
Some of her illustrations pay homage to John Brack’s paintings in style & colour and some of her other books are One Photo and Desert Lake.
Mopoke is structured using black and white alternating pages. The pages are well composed with the mopoke carefully positioned on each. The style is static, with a picture of mopoke in different poses. This style can also be seen in Sandcastle by the author/illustrator; and the Crichton shortlisted, I Just Ate My Friend by Heidi McKinnon.
Humour appears throughout Mopoke e.g. ‘This is a wombat.’
The book can also be dark e.g. ‘Nopoke’, where both pages are black.
Children could perform the text as a performance poem (see the work of Sollie Raphael, teen Oz Slam Poetry champion, who has a book, Limelight).
Safe styrofoam printing (like lino cuts) Children could select one of the mopoke pictures or design their own to make a printing tool. They could cut the rim off a styrofoam plate; etch the mopoke shape using a blunt pencil, pen or stick; etch some texture; add paint; place the paper on top and press.
Poster Making The bold, striking illustrations reflect current trends in graphic design so children could make a poster of a mopoke in this style.
There’s an interesting relationship between Grandad and (possum-like but actual cat) Iggy. Iggy doesn’t want to emulate Grandad; he seems more aware, while Grandad often seems oblivious to what they see in the bush.
The author/illustrator has a detailed eye for natural bush sights and sounds such as plants, animals and birds and silhouettes and shadows are executed in a light colour. The style is reminiscent of Roland Harvey.
The bushland setting is an integral part of A Walk in the Bush. To enable children to experience this, teachers or parents could find an area where there is some bush. It may be part of a State Forest, nearby bushland or a bushy area within a local park or the school playground.
Sensory Wheel Students look, listen and use other senses to note the sounds, sights and other features of the bush e.g. eucalyptus leaves to crush and scribbly marks on trees. They could record sights, sounds, smells, feel/touch, taste (where safe) on a sensory wheel.
Children could create literary texts by selecting one of the senses to focus on. They write a brief sensory description of the bush using language generated from their experiences in the bush.
They could write this description onto a piece of paperbark (if accessible without causing damage to trees) or onto recycled paper or wrapping or scrapbooking paper that emulates the colour, content or texture of the description. (NB paperbark is also available from some kitchen suppliers)
Soundscape While in the bush, could listen to and identify bush sounds.
They create then a soundscape by listing five of the sounds and recording these. The free recording tool Audacity could be downloaded to create soundscapes http://www.audacityteam.org/download/.
The Art of Escaping by Erin Callahan is a captivating and actually super stressful story about a teenage girl who’s obsessed with escapology. Bring out references to Houdini! It’s actually a topic I’ve never read about in YA before, so I was extra keen to try this one out and loved how it wove in everyday highschool angst, friendship group complications, secret keeping, and (of course) a hobby that requires you to be straightjacketed and handcuffed and thrown in a pool.
The story follows Mattie who is determined to find the daughter of a late escape artist and be taught the art of escapology. This is a little complicated by her new mentor being super cranky and barely leaving the house…and also Mattie’s desperate need for no one she knows to EVER see her performing. Until a boy from school comes to one of her shows. Cue horror. But when they talk, the boy, Will, swears he won’t tell and offers a secret to Mattie so they can be sure neither will break. Will, school jock and sweetheart of one of the most popular girls ever…is gay. Will and Mattie soon fall into an easy friendship, where Will helps Mattie with her act, and also discovers things that he loves doing (like costume design) while Mattie thinks of ways to kickstart her brother out of his stalled life. They both want to find ways to be more than just boring and lifeless numbers in the world. And maybe death-defying act will help them escape their troubles — until those troubles catch up.
I did love the strong emphasis on friendship here! The two main characters aren’t a couple and while they both crush on other people irregularly through the book, it’s such a small part of the story. So nearly romance-free. It also ends up with an epic friendship group of a bunch of misfits from Mattie (who literally nearly drowns in chains and lockpicks for fun) and Will (closeted and anxious and lying to his girlfriend and unsure how to fix the messes he’s made) and Stella (super nerd girl who’s an ex-homeschooler) and Frankie (child genius who skipped two grades and literally no one talks to him). They were a great and dynamic group! Plus there were plenty of secondary characters who all felt fleshed out and interesting.
The scenes where Mattie’s learning how to pick locks are definitely amazing. There’s a twist on the “old cranky mentor” trope, with it being a young cranky (possibly agoraphobic) Japanese mentor, whose mother was the famous escape artist, but died in an unrelated accident many years ago. She unwillingly trains Mattie, but I did love their friendship, with the banter and insults flung around. I did not learn how to pick a lock though. Sad for me.
The story itself isn’t long, so the pace is pretty great! We follow Mattie (and the few chapters narrated by Will) as they manage school and college applications and also try to figure out how to keep their messy secrets from their families.
The Art of Escaping is definitely one to look out for! It really focuses on finding your passion and interests in life, trusting your friends, and picking death-defying careers because what’s a little adrenaline rush now and then, hmm?
You’re most welcome and thanks so much for having me.
What is your background and where are you based?
I’m based in Melbourne. I lived in Greece as a child but came to Australia as a non-English speaking migrant at around eight years old.
My work background is mostly journalism. I was a reporter at various newspapers (five years at the Herald Sun) and then a communications strategist for the union movement for five years. Since having kids I have had to take a step back from that sort of high-octane work.
How involved in the YA literary community are you?
I first became aware of the LoveOZYA community through author Nicole Hayes. I was a member of her writing group and as my manuscript progressed she spoke to me about where she thought it might fit and how wonderful and supportive people were.
I love reading YA, especially Australian YA, and following other writer’s journey on social media. I’ve found the LoveOZYA community inspiring and vibrant. I love being a part of it. There’s a real effort to support each other and this makes the sometimes insecure life of a writer easier. We celebrate each other’s wins and commiserate with difficulties.
Stone Girl (Penguin Random House) is a searing, unforgettable story. Could you tell us about the protagonist Sophie and the symbol of a ‘stone girl’?
As I write my second novel I realize that I’m interested in the triggers and experiences in life that change as. What needs to happen to transform a person from one thing to another? As a journalist, reporting straight news, I would be stunned by the things people did and wonder how they grew from a kid into this adult. What forms their decision making and choices?
Stone Girl follows Sophie’s life from 12 to 16 years old as she becomes someone society typically judges, despises and ultimately dismisses. The persona of Stone Girl is her survival mechanism in a world where there’s no one to rely upon but herself. Sophie soon comprehends her place and makes a number of decisions about who and how she must be in response. It’s about resilience. She toughens up, she becomes Stone Girl, and this is both positive and negative.
Hardening herself, especially against adults, serves to both protect her and isolate her because stony self-preservation cuts both ways. She doesn’t trust anyone. Doesn’t ask for help even though she often desperately needs it. Her Stone Girl persona is what she uses to hide her vulnerability. When she lifts her chin against the world then she can shut out the things that have happened to her. She uses her anger to protect her. But in the end, it’s what she does with the Stone Girl facade that makes this a story of redemption.
Most of us have a mask we wear in order to fit in and protect ourselves. It just happens that Sophie has to wear hers 24 hours a day.
Could you tell us about some significant other characters?
Gwen is one of my favourites. Girlfriends have been the backbone to my life. They’ve saved me many times over, from my sister to the besties I’ve known over the years. I love the closeness and trust that grows between some women. The friendships in the homes Sophie moves through are formed as fast as they must be abandoned but in Gwen, Sophie finds a true ally. It’s a friendship that underscores everything else. It doesn’t just disappear because there’s a love interest.
I think of it like an old western when there’s a shoot-out and friends protect themselves by standing back to back. Gwen and Sophie bond in the knowledge that, despite appearances, adults actually have no idea what they’re doing.
Spiral came to me when I was at the Varuna’s Writer’s House. I knew Sophie needed someone, possibly a love interest, but I couldn’t figure out who would be strong enough break through to her.
Then, as I strolled through Katoomba, Spiral’s form became clear. I saw what he looked like, his motivations and that, like Sophie, in a world of broken promises, he too needed someone to trust.
Writing about Spiral was fun, especially at first. He’s gorgeous! A fiery and enigmatic character that I was drawn to completely – his name serving as prophesy.
I’ve always loved books with gritty honest characters that both shock and charm and I try to write this way.
How did you create such authentic experiences in the homes Sophie had to live in and her spiral into such terrible situations?
This is fictional novel but I have borrowed heavily from my time as a teen growing up in group homes.
I tried to write the real story but felt unable to. Fiction freed me up and images and events appeared quite clearly to me; the rooms, the feelings, the flavor of being of being someone who lived that way. I put myself easily into Sophie’s shoes.
When I lived in the homes there were many younger kids and I’ve thought about them so often since. Sophie is how I imagined one life.
You’ve made drug-taking very appealing at times, e.g. chapter 22? How did you weigh up the risk of including this?
The truth is that before drugs destroy you, they feel good. That’s the trick. That’s why people keep taking them. If I pretended they were terrible all the way though then this would not be the realistic trajectory of addiction. It could be dismissed and then this would not be a true cautionary tale. Protectionism is not helpful for most teens, especially when you consider the type of world we live in right now.
How important is Sophie’s racial background to the story?
Her racial background and her estrangement from her Greek family contribute to her feeling of dislocation. She doesn’t belong there. She has no family here. She must let go of the past and carve her own way through the world.
Like Sophie, I grew up in Greece and left family behind. My Greek heritage and the memories of leaving my first home have significantly contributed to who I am today and I found it quite cathartic to include this in Sophie’s life.
What does she learn about family and others?
When she first goes into the homes Sophie is hopeful that she will once again find family, either with a social worker or with her Baba. However this is not to be. Sophie soon understands that in a world where the only constant is change, she can only rely on herself.
With the kids in the homes there’s a unique bond that makes them a kind of family – albeit temporary.
Could you explain what turned her situation around towards the end of the novel – and why have you chosen this form of redemption?
The fight to survive that carried Sophie through is her saving grace. I actually didn’t know how it was going to end until three or four drafts in. I just kept thinking, this is not the story of a victim. And finally I realized what had to happen.
Kids in care, people with addictions and the homeless are either viewed with pity or fear and I wanted to show how we should never underestimate anyone. People are amazing! They want to survive and many can achieve much given a chance.
You thank God in the Acknowledgements. Why have you done this?
Doing something you love, answering a calling to the self, which is what writing feels like to me, can mean many sacrifices in other areas of life. Financial, physical, mental; you turn yourself inside out. I found myself praying more. Especially after writing I feel quite close to ‘God’. This isn’t in a religious way but more a universal spiritual one.
Who would you particularly like to see read your novel?
Everyone. I need to fund my next novel.
But seriously, I guess if I was choosing readers based on getting the message across then I’d hope people from the world that deals with kids like these. Social workers, kids in care, etc.
I’ve also loved the responses I’ve received from those who are surprised about this world. I would like there to be a common understanding about the fact that hundreds, if not thousands of kids live this way right now in Australia. A public conversation about kids in care could finally bring change to this difficult, misunderstood and largely ignored section of Australian society. That, for me, would be a dream come true. I’d love to know that others wouldn’t feel the way I did when I was living in government care in the early 1990s.
Have you already had any memorable responses from readers to Stone Girl?
A redit post my husband put up went viral and I was shocked and amazed by the response. Social workers, lawyers, ex homes and foster kids from around the world commented and it solidified what I had always suspected. Despite the fact we don’t often acknowledge the plight of kids without parents, the situation matters to many. It’s a private pain. Or a job they really care about. Or they don’t know how to help someone… Some of them contacted me after reading Stone Girl, sending quite heartfelt messages. As an author, this is the best feeling in the world.
Putting aside the issue of kids in care, I wrote this book because gritty subjects, love at ‘the edge of a cliff’, characters living dangerously is what I find interesting to read. I’ve been floored by the generous reviews so far, especially those where people say they couldn’t stop reading. The number one reason for writing a fictional book has to be entertainment, doesn’t it?
This was the first review I received and I remember the relief I felt. Rob at Lamont Books really got what Stone Girl was about.
Wow! This is a must read novel for older teens, but a word of caution – it is definitely a YA title aimed at teens 15 years and older.
It took me back to my school days reading Go Ask Alice, which I found totally confronting, but at the same time an educational and inspirational cautionary tale. Stone Girl is certainly that as it takes us on Sophie’s downhill journey through institutional care as a ward of the state from when she is 12 until she is 16.
It is written with a real understanding and depth of character, as it is inspired by the real life experiences of the debut author, journalist Eleni Hale. Many dark topics are covered including death, poverty, heartbreak and substance dependence. But shining through the story is identity, survival, resilience and ultimately a coming of age empowerment.
I will not give the story away but suffice to say you cannot help but be swept along by the incredible Sophie, as the world continues serving up crap to her. She often stumbles and is so very nearly broken, but we continue to hold out hope for her throughout the story.
Stone Girl will change the way you look at the homeless, and hopefully enlighten young minds as to the plight of wards of the state.
This is a brilliant debut, but as it does contain extreme language, mature themes and substance abuse, it is suited to older teens, 15 years and up.
How can we protect young people and help if we encounter someone in a situation like Sophie’s or someone at risk?
From memory and for reasons I can’t really explain, kids in care seemed to be treated differently, like no-hopers. I don’t know if it was the way we dressed or looked. Maybe we were too loud or other times we seemed too quiet and uncommunicative. I just know that people changed towards you once they knew you were a kid who lived like that. From cops, to teachers, to people on the street, I was often hyper-aware of being a ‘lesser other’.
So in terms of talking to them in an encounter, simply show respect even if you don’t understand them, hold your judgment before you really know them (perhaps after as well) and don’t assume the worst.
Also important is to support the organizations set up to help them such as the ‘Make It 21’ campaign that seeks to extend support from 18 years old to 21. This could lessen the shocking number of government kids who end up homeless, drug addicted and/or mentally ill.
It’s really hard to get through to someone like Sophie once they hardened up. They guard strictly against pity and judgment. The communication channels are nearly closed. Improving their experiences in the ‘system’ is obviously an important way to avoid their slide into the margins of society.
I don’t have all the answers for this – I don’t think anyone does – but talking about it publically is a good start. Don’t let their lives be our society’s dirty secret any longer. Let their issues matter the same way that other’s kid’s problems are discussed regularly in public forums.
What are you writing now?
I’m writing the sequel to Stone Girl. What happens after you leave the home system and your support is cut off? What will Sophie do now that she is out in the world and responsible for herself in every way? She has no family and must scrape together the money she needs to live. Where will this new fight for survival lead her?
Fawkes by Nadine Brandes was one of my highly anticipated release for this! I was absolutely not disappointed! It was full of darkness, magic, assassination plots, and really creative and unique twists on the infamous Guy Fawkes. Because yes! This is a historical retelling. But with magic. I also didn’t know much about the origin of Guy Fawkes, but I know the author did a lot of research (um, except the magic part didn’t happen in London at that time…well, I mean, maybe it did. Who can say for sure). This was such a lusciously detailed reimagining of London and I could wait to see how the story would unfold.
Thomas Fawkes lives in 17th century London, where the world is ruled by two opposing forces of magicians, and if he doesn’t get his mask and join one side…he’ll have no way to cure the plague turning his face to stone. His father, Guy Fawkes, was supposed to turn up to his school’s ceremony and gift his sone a mask, but the man (who Thomas barely knows anyway) never shows up. Thomas isn’t interested in dying of this illness, so he goes in search of his father. And then he discovers Guy Fawkes deep in the midst of organising the assassination of King James. The two opposing magician clans, the Keepers versus the Igniters, are destroying this world with their war, but it’s said if the Keepers kill the Igniters — it’ll stop the plague. Thomas has no choice but to help…right? They need 36 barrels of gunpowder and no betrayals.
Remember, remember, the fifth of November,
The Gunpowder treason and plot;
I know of no reason why the Gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot!
Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes, ’twas his intent
To blow up the King adn the Parliment;
Threescore barrels of powder below,
Poor old England to overthrow.
By God’s providence he was catch’d,
With a dark lantern and a burning match.
The story is narrated by 16 year old Thomas Fawkes, who is hopelessly honourable. He is like the ultimate beautiful “I shall do my duty!” son and I loved him. All the gentlemanly pledges and goodness! He’s literally dying of the plague, blind in one eye, but he’s still very particular about honour and his sword and being treated like a true man. He’s completely ostracised because of his plague infection, and he does his best to hide it. I liked how it twisted the London Black Plague by making it this magic-infected-illness that slowly turned you to stone.
I really felt for Thomas and his confusion about whether to join his father or oppose murder. It was definitely a tug of loyalties and you really feel it as Thomas tries to decide!
The magic system was also awesome! It’s based on masks and colours! Basically you’re either a Keeper (controlling one magic at a time) or an Igniter (balancing multiple and lead by the voice of the White Light) and everyone wears a mask which helps link them to controlling the colours in things. So if your power is Brown, then you’ll control dirt and earth easily. I thought it was pretty clever and original!
There are also plenty of father and son drama issues. But of course. There’s nothing like an assassination plot that’s complicated by awkward fathers and sons who hate not being taken seriously.
I also really enjoyed the secondary cast, but particularly Emma! She’s a badass girl from Thomas’ school who constantly hides behind a mask (why?! Most everyone else takes theirs off sometimes!) and in the end she and Thomas accidentally end up working together — him trying to get information from the lord she’s staying with to use against the king, and her having Thomas as a servant guiding her through London while she tries to get hired as an artist. Their relationship is NOT smooth, which is always a lot of fun! Bring on the slowburn.
I loved the intense array of elements in the story too. From gunpowder and conspiracies, to disguises and miracles and plagues. There’s discussions on race and I felt the opposing magicians were a bit of a twist on the religious unrest in England at that time. Ultimately Fawkes is one you want to be looking out for! It’s available for preorder now and out in August!