There’s no place like home – Aussie flavoured picture books

During my short sabbatical from all things digital over the festive season, I visited some exotic, mesmerising places, supped on mouth-watering local fare, and immersed myself in numerous colourful cultural experiences. It was invigorating and fun but like always after a hard stint abroad, it is great to be home, because for me, there is no place like home. Therefore, to kick off the New Year and in readiness for our annual Aussie Day celebrations, here are a few picture books to stir up your patriotism.

shearing-timeShearing Time by Allison Paterson & Shane McGrath

Nothing shouts Australia louder than sheep, blowies, and working dogs on bikes. I envy the ability the picture book team of Paterson and McGrath has at capturing the essence of the Aussie outback with such bold open sky appeal.

Colourful and engaging, Shearing Time begins during the school holidays with one farm girl’s exclamation, ‘I love shearing time!’ She goes on to explain why, inviting readers to share her shearing experiences from sunrise to sunset. Every aspect including herding cantankerous sheep, the arrival of the rowdy seasonal shearers, the racket and rumble of shearing time right up to the feeding of workers is ably depicted giving youngsters a realistic, close-up look of how wool is procured from paddock to jumper. The glossary of well-loved shearing terms is especially useful.

A great focus on rural life and one of our most significant primary industries for 4 – 8 year-olds.

Big Sky Publishing March 2017

gus-dog-goes-to-workGus Dog Goes to Work by Rachel Flynn & Craig Smith

Here is another picture book duo whose combination of imaginative images and engaging text I adore. Once again, there are strong visual and verbal connections with regional Australian life. Chock-a-block full of colloquial language and ribald observation, Gus Dog Goes to Work is an excellent read-aloud picture book allowing carers to inject plenty of iconic Aussie swagger in their rendering of it. Gus is your typical sheepdog who exists only to work and please his owner, Tom.  When he awakes one morning to find Tom and his Ute missing however, Gus decides to venture out on his own to work. His meanderings steer him a little off track and into some stinky, hilarious, quintessentially doggy dilemmas until finally he and Tom are reunited.

Dog lovers aged five and above will get a massive kick out of this entertaining expose of country life from a pooch’s point-view. Bursting with more Aussie flavour than a barbie full of beef sangers, Gus comes highly recommended.

Working Title Press February 2017

fabishFabish the horse that braved a bushfire by Neridah McMullin & Andrew McLean

This is a gem of a book that evokes considerable emotion; warm tears spring forth unbidden each time I read it. Based on the true story of the vicious bushfires that ripped through the Victorian bush in February 2009, this picture book introduces us to ex-thoroughbred racer, Fabish and his retired role as mentor to the younger flighty yearlings.

McMullin faithfully recreates the mood and atmosphere of that scorching summer’s day when fire menaced the region. Fabish’s trainer, Alan Evett released the yearlings and Fabish fatalistically to find their own way while he huddled with the remaining stock in the stone stables. Outside a firestorm blazed out of control. He never thought he would see Fabish and the yearlings again.

The next morning dawned charred and desolate. Not a single living thing remained and yet miraculously, through the choking smoky haze Fabish appeared leading his yearlings home. McLean’s raw rustic palette coupled with McMullin’s poignant interpretation of the tale is a beautiful tribute to human resilience, loyalty, the power of nature and a truly unforgettable horse.

Strongly recommended for 6 – 9 year-olds

Allen & Unwin July 2016

sparkSpark by Adam Wallace & Andrew Plant

I grew up in the Adelaide foothills and witnessed the horrors of several summer infernos like Ash Wednesday but never experienced one first hand as author Adam Wallace did. Spark is a fascinating picture book depicting Australia’s most recent and devastating bushfire event, Black Saturday but ostensibly describing the catastrophic destructiveness and formidable beauty of any firestorm. And, along with Plant, he does so indescribably well.

Wallace succeeds with what no other has attempted before, to give fire a voice.  From the uniquely omnipotent point-of-view of a tiny spark, Wallace characterises the burgeoning flame with an almost child-like persona, suggesting a helpless naivety that encourages an instant empathy. Together, with the growing flame, we are borne along with a capricious and irascible wind, intent it seems after at first befriending the flame, to cause as much upset as possible until all control is lost.

Exhilarating and wild, terrifying and violent, Spark rips through your emotions with a mere sprinkling of words but with the force of an atomic bomb. Soul serrating language is not the only draw card. Plant’s monochrome illustrations will make the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end. Textural and scented with the acrid bitterness of the aftermath of pure destruction, Spark ends on the same quiet unassuming note as it begins; with teardrops from above, a flash of light and glimmer of green hope, simply brilliant.

A potent and compelling picture book useful for prompting discussions on natural disasters, Australian history,  and looking at things unconventionally for older primary aged readers.

Ford Street Publishing imprint of Hybrid Publishing October 2016

Stick around for the next swag-load of Aussie titles coming soon.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

 

 

Under the Christmas Tree Part 5 – Festive boredom busters

For most of us, it is now officially school holiday time, the season of fraught mothers, constant interruptions, drained purses, and frazzled tempers. Or, if you’re clever, blissful moments spent with your darlings in between extended periods of boredom busting activity. Festive harmony is easy to achieve, you just need the right materials.  Here are a handful of books that entertain and instil serenity.

the-anti-boredom-christmas-bookThe Anti-Boredom Christmas Book by Andy Seed and Scott Garrett

The title speaks for itself but does this book hold the eggnog? Ecstatic to report, it does and some! If you love trivia, jokes, silliness, and just good old-fashioned fun quizzes this is the boredom-busting book for you (and your kids). Perfect for slipping into your carry-on luggage if you happen to be going away or tucking into the backpack for those incurably long family lunches, we force our children to endure over the holiday season, The Anti-Boredom Christmas Book is stuffed with things to do, think about and act out – no pencils required!  (Although there are plenty of arty / crafty options to get creative with.)

Seed’s zany laugh-out-loud facts and games challenge the curious reader: would you rather wear frozen undies or sleep in a bed of snow? You can even learn how to say snow in 18 languages – always good to know. Wacky and wonderful insanity to fill the holidays with whilst simultaneously inspiring sanity.

Bloomsbury Publishing December 2016

wonderful-world-colouring-bookWonderful World Colouring book by Alison Lester

For a more Australian flavoured boredom buster, sample Alison Lester’s Wonderful World kids’ colouring-in book. Whether you are a fan of colour-the- drawings type productions or not, this one is sure to please and entrance the budding artists in your home. Focusing on the art of illustration, Lester ingeniously includes dozens of helpful illustrative snippets and hints to nudge would be artists on their way. Suggestions like: ‘try drawing with your left hand’, ‘always leave a little bit of white in the eyes’, and ‘don’t try to make everything perfect’, are secreted away among her own iconic images on the end pages and in an introductory ‘Drawing Tips’ prologue.

wonderful-world-illo-spreadInside, there is a treasure trove of thick sturdy pages of assorted images and scenes just begging for colour and personalisation.  Exceedingly so much more than just a colouring in book, Wonderful World will inspire, occupy, and educate for days.

Allen & Unwin 2016

my-lovely-christmas-bookMy Lovely Christmas Book

While their creative juices are still flowing, consider this as a sweeter than sweet stocking filler. My Lovely Christmas Book is a quaint diary sized festive book, brimming with blank pages and cheery prompts that allows readers to fill it with their own lists, notes, poems, and wishes, in short, to create a lovely Christmas book for them by them. It ostensibly covers the 12 days of Christmas so could be substituted as a tooth-friendly form of advent calendar, as well.

There is space for photos, favourite listings, and recordings of all the best bits of Christmas a kid can have. Sublimely illustrated, this is an exquisite combination of meditative colouring in book, crafty hang out and personal journal, which subtly encourages youngsters to observe and cherish this most magical time of the year.

Bloomsbury Publishing November 2016

the-kids-survival-guideThe Kids’ Survival Guide – Avoiding ‘When I was young…’ and other brain-exploding lectures by Susan Berran

I’m not sure I should be recommending this but it is insidiously brilliant no matter how potentially detrimental it may prove for we struggling parental types just trying to do our jobs. The Kids’ Survival Guide, is a crafty (not in the arty sense) cheeky, wickedly funny and devilishly useful hand book for kids who’ve had a gutful of the lectures, rules and dumb sayings adults dole out to them day after day of their young lives.

Thoughtfully sectioned into handy parts, the Guide escorts and educates readers on how to remain calm and cope with brain exploding stupidities like ‘You can have a motorbike when you’re older’ -how much older? A day, a month, a minute? Or, what about, ‘You should know, I’ve told you a hundred times’. Berran could be right or at least her character Sam could be right; parents do say the lamest things. Apparently, it’s all in the manual Sam and his mate, Jared found. I just hope they don’t strike back too hard as he shares some of his ‘brain-blowing close encounters’ and teaches fellow sufferers how to ‘twist, flip and turn’ the rules around. Heaven help us. Essential and absorbing reading that is sure to occupy young minds for precious minutes this Silly Season. Warning: Adults should read first to allow time to come up with some witty counter-attacks. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Big Sky Publishing October 2016

 

 

Where do I belong? – Picture books & Place

When penning a narrative or even recording ones past, authors must be aware of a number of aspects that shape a reader’s impression of the story. A sense of place is one such nuance that forms specific reactions and can colour a reader’s entire experience. When fashioned convincingly enough, a sense of place depicts not only where the story’s characters live and interact but can also provide the answer to how they and the reader belong (to the story). Here are a number of picture books that encourage a distinct sense of place.

Hello!Hello! Illustrated by Tony Flowers

‘Hello!’ is an icebreaker most young children are adept at. However, what if a potential friend’s first language is not English? Hello! is a brilliant introduction to 12 other languages commonly used in Australian homes, including three Indigenous languages. Once children learn to say hello, they are then able to share all sorts of things with their new friends, including favourite games, foods and customs, all in that language. Each new introduction includes how to count up to ten, as well.

Hello spreadThis is a fascinating multicultural exploration aimed at pre-school and primary aged youngsters and is nothing short of ingenious. Many children will have already encountered other people in their lives whose backgrounds and languages differ from their own. Hello! is an unobtrusive, inviting way to show differences need not discourage friendships. Flower’s cartoone-sque illustrations gently emphasise meaning whilst a comprehensive pictorial glossary and pronunciation guide at the end aid carers with extended learning. A marvellous go-to book recommended for home and classroom libraries alike.

National Library of Australia April 2016

Granny's PlaceGranny’s Place by Allison Paterson Illustrated by Shane McGrath

As a city girl growing up far away from my grandparents’ Sunshine Coast hinterland property, visits ‘to grandma’s farm’ were always chocka block full of new adventures and sunny memories to treasure. This bewitching sense of belonging echoes throughout Granny’s Place thanks to Paterson’s beautifully unaffected prose and McGrath’s sublime sepia suffused illustrations.

Granny's Place illo spreadA young girl describes her grandparents’ home that is ‘brimming with treasures of the olden days’ and has ‘springy metal beds and shiny hard floors with tasselled mats…’. It’s a place steeped in rich memories and every day opportunities. It is where family gather in large noisy waves and tiny discoveries, too good to share are made every minute. It is quite simply ‘the best place in the world’. A place where children flourish, absolutely. Alas, people and places cannot last forever as our girl learns to accept after the passing of her grandfather. When Granny has to leave the farm and move to a new life in the city, it is hard to appreciate her new place at first. Fortunately, memories are not so easy to forget and Granny’s love prevails.

Granny’s Place is overflowing with gorgeous imagery that will ignite warm recollections for many older readers. It also radiates the spirit of adventure and the changing rhythms of life that most young people will recognise whilst celebrating these childhood memories.

A marvellous homage to Australia’s past identity and a fitting example of creating a special sense of place.

Big Sky Publishing April 2016

Mr Chicken arriva RomaMr Chicken arriva a Roma by Leigh Hobbs

Mr Chicken pays homage to childhood dreams and aspirations personified. It could be argued that the Australian Children’s Laureate for 2016-2017, Leigh Hobbs is living a little vicariously through the rambunctious, irreverent Mr Chook who was a bit different to other boys and girls. As a youngster, ‘instead of playing games’, he dreamt of life abroad.

Fortunately for fans, both grew up, giving us the opportunity to experience an incredibly detailed, hilarious romp through (this time) Italy’s capital city, Rome. It’s a cavort of pure indulgence as the charming and very forgiving city guide, Federica, escorts Mr Chicken aboard her Vespa through Rome’s traffic ensnarled streets, past the Colosseum, to gelatarias, through the Trevi Fountain and even the Vatican. Hobbs leaves no ruin unturned in this whirlwind excursion, revealing stops I had hitherto forgotten about since my European backpacking days.

Mr Chicken Trevi fountainIf you ever consider tackling a trip to the big five European cities with a chicken in tow, Mr Chicken would be the chook to recruit. Unabridged humour told and depicted in the way only Hobbs can. Fantastic fun and insight to lands beyond for pre and early primary schoolers.

Allen & Unwin August 2016

A New York YearTwelve Months in the Life of …A New York Year & A Texas Year by Tania McCartney Illustrated by Tina Snerling

Unlike the other phenomenally successful titles in the Twelve Months in the Life of picture books series, which look at the life of children from other nations including Australia, A New York Year and A Texas Year focus on individual states within the USA.  Even then, the breathtaking diversity of cultures and idiosyncrasies is almost too mind bogging to comprehend. Yet, the McCartney Snerling picture book team convey these elements with aplomb.

Like their forbearers, New York Year and Texas Year kick off with introductions to the five children who will be our guides throughout the year across these states. They are a delightful homogenous mix of Texans and New Yorkers whose obvious differences (in aspirations, cultural ancestry, and appearance) only serve to highlight the sameness they share with kids all around the world. I particularly love Texan Ethan’s ‘when I grow up’ revelation; ‘I want to be a rock star or a palaeontologist’. Classic seven-year-old clarity!

A Texas YearAs the calendar turns, we are taken on a colourful eclectic  parade through each state stopping to observe significant dates, play games endemic to the region, take in the unique flora, fauna and natural wonders, and then, happily, return to the table to feast on local delicacies. It truly is a smorgasbord for the senses.

I love the detail McCartney is able to inject in the meandering text, which is neither excessive nor too sparse. Each fact acts as a signpost that sparks interest and allows children’s eyes to wonder and roam rather than stick to a regimented reading pattern. Snerling’s cute upon cute illustrations offer clean crisp characterisation and support the minutia of facts superbly.

This series is fast becoming a magnificent compendium of fun, fact-fiction picture books, which kiddies from all over the world can use to draw comparisons and conclusions about their international neighbours, supporting tolerance, enhancing awareness and creating as it were, a marvellous sense of place. Highly recommended for 4 – 8 year olds and big people who don’t get out as often as they should.

EK Books August 2016

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Doodles and Drafts – Guest post by Wai Chim – Author of Freedom Swimmer

Wai Chim # 2Today we welcome author, Wai Chim to the draft table. Her motivation to write Freedom Swimmer, stems from the little known history of her father and the need to understand more about the horrific events that took place during the period of China’s Cultural Revolution. Here is her story about his story.

Writing my father’s story

As a child, my father’s journey from a poor farming village near Shenzhen to ultimately living and working in a small Chinese restaurant in Long Island was fascinating to me. But for the most part, he was tight lipped about his past. While I can recount so much detail about my mother’s family and her childhood in Hong Kong (from her primary school friends to how she was always in the trouble with  my grandmother) – I knew very little about my father’s past.

Part of this was because he was pretty much the typical ‘Asian dad’ – quiet, emotionally distant and he didn’t talk about his feelings or say much about his life.

Back then, I could probably tell you three things about his life in China:

  • His parents had passed away when he about sixteen and he only had a younger sister left in China
  • His family had been very, very, very poorFreedom Swimmer
  • As a teenager he had left his village and made the swim to Hong Kong

I was particularly fascinated by ‘the swim’, probably because I was (and still am) such a terrible swimmer. I knew from a very young age that ‘the swim’ was an important part of his life story – and that terrible things must have happened for him to have made that choice.

A large part of my initial inspiration and motivation for writing Freedom Swimmer was to come closer to understanding my father’s history and this important piece of his past. However as I started writing, it became so much more than that.

Mao Tse-tungMy father was a great resource and opened up about a lot of the details of his life, but through my research, I found out there was so much more going on behind the scenes. My father and his family suffered greatly as a direct result of some of the horrible policies that were put in place at the national level. The events that transpired weren’t isolated to my family, a single village or even one particular region. An estimated 45 million deaths occurred as a result of the manmade famine caused by Mao Zedong’s Great Leap Forward while millions more suffered at hands the Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution.

And like my father, the people who went through it all simply weren’t talking about it.

I was shocked. The loud-mouthed, ‘my first amendment rights are sacred’ American in me was floored that that this had happened and people like my dad were just keeping quiet. As I delved deeper and deeper into the past, I wanted to wrap my arms around the young boy that was my father and cocoon him from some of the tragedies of his past.

My father, of course, is an incredibly strong and amazing man – he couldn’t have made it this far if he wasn’t. And it was because of his dreams of a better life, of finding better opportunity for himself and his future that I can even be sitting here today, writing a book based on his past. That I could be so shocked by some of the things I learned, and that all of his suffering is completely unfathomable compared to the silly #firstworldproblems that I complain about.

And for that, I am eternally grateful.

Thank you Wai.

Read the full review of Freedom Swimmer, here.

Everybody Loves Cheeky Animals in Picture Books

What is it about mischievous, strong-minded animals that make them so irresistible? Is it because they are so entertaining, or that we can see ourselves in them, or both? Here are some of the latest picture books that fit the bill in the ‘cheeky-animal’ category. Get your paws on them now!

imageHeath McKenzie whets our appetites with the introduction of his sweet little rumbly-tummy dragon. But ‘This Hungry Dragon’ doesn’t stay little or sweet for long! Each page turn will have you in stitches as the red beast grows hungrier, and rounder, with every humungous gulp. Now bigger than a house, perhaps there’s room for one last little mouse, and a doctor to make him feel better! But it’s the dragon’s undoing when the doctor comes up with a ‘rockin” plan to escape from the animal-gorged belly.
This fabulously hilarious, rhyming read-aloud story encapsulates all the goodness of a buffet feast, from its choice vocabulary to its rollicking rhythm and exuberantly playful line and watercolour illustrations. Delightfully delicious for preschool-aged children.

Scholastic Press, May 2016.

imageI love the child-like energy in the whimsical pictures by disabled Indigenous illustrator Dion Beasley that accompany the satirical, first-person perspective written by Johanna Bell in Go Home, Cheeky Animals!’ (sequel to highly acclaimed ‘Too Many Cheeky Dogs’). Arms are a-flapping when goats, donkeys, horses, buffaloes and camels invade the property at Canteen Creek, but the naughty canines simply stretch and go back to sleep. When the family have finally had enough, the lazy dogs come to the rescue and growl in their loudest, angriest voices, “GO HOME, CHEEKY ANIMALS!” And they do…or do they?
This author and illustrator combo marvellously bring a sense of familiarity and understanding to a most inconvenient, yet comical situation based in the Northern Territory. Recommended to all lazy dog lovers out there.

The amazing story of the collaboration between the creators can be read here.

Allen & Unwin, May 2016.

imagePuppies are adorable, aren’t they?! If you could pick any breed what would you pick? In ‘My Perfect Pup’, it’s all about the puppy selection process, with a twist. Sue Walker and Anil Tortop brilliantly pair up to produce a heartwarming story that every child, and dog it seems, dreams of. When Milly and Max decide that Tiny will be their perfectly pampered and proficient pup, they don’t quite get what they planned for, and promptly return the hairy, not-so-tiny pooch to the pet shop. Which is actually to the delight of Tiny, because he needs a chance to make his own ‘friend selection’. And that’s when Joe arrives…
With all the fun of caring for a new pet, with the added bonus of humour, what makes a real friendship, and adorably energetic illustrations, ‘My Perfect Pup’ is the perfect book to select for your young reader.

New Frontier Publishing, June 2016.

imageNow here’s a pet with personality; it’s the red cat in ‘I Am Doodle Cat’ by Kat Patrick and Lauren Marriott. Doodle Cat, seen full-focus in a series of animated positions on plain backgrounds, is not shy to let us know about all the things he loves. Dancing, the ocean, farts, friends, maths, lentils, fractals, difference and doodling are some, to name a few. But most importantly, Doodle Cat loves himself, in the best way possible.
Simple, visually friendly red and black on white illustrations suitably marries with the message of loving the simple things in life. ‘I Am Doodle Cat’ is also witty, candid and thought-provoking, making it a engaging read for preschoolers and beyond.

Scribble / Scribe Publications, March 2016.  

imageIt’s cuteness overload in Susannah Chambers and Mark Jackson’s The Snow Wombat’. Wombats are well-known for their cheeky, playful personalities, and this one is no different. Fun, rhyming couplets allow its preschool readers to make predictions and interact with the story. The wombat ventures through the ice-laiden countryside, lapping up all snowy goodness around him, and ‘on’ him. Finally, he finds a dry, warm place to snuggle in for a snow-free sleep.
The illustrations portray breathtakingly beautiful scenes and precisely depicted human and animal characteristics. ‘The Snow Wombat’ captures a wonderful preview of recreational fun in the snow and an Australiana feel.

Allen & Unwin, June 2016.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Review – On the River by Roland Harvey

imageRoland Harvey is one of our most iconic children’s book creators that represents true Australiana throughout his work. From his The Wombats Go on Camp and The Wombats at the Zoo series, to his Big Book of Christmas, and the illustrations for the Bonnie and Sam titles. But it is the At the Beach series (including In the Bush, In the City, On the Farm, To the Top End, and All the Way to W.A.) that have been a most popular best-selling collection that take their readers on breathtaking, fascinating and entertaining trips around our spectacular land.

imageSharp banter in the narrative accompany the incredibly detailed and busy illustrations throughout each of Harvey‘s books, showing off his wry sense of humour and literal genius. And his latest, On the River, is no exception. Adventuring along the complexity of the Murray River system, Harvey offers his readers a taste of its history, its wildlife and some of its secrets.

Starting at the Murray River headquarters; high on the mountains where snow melts and flowers bloom, small fish dart and beetles explore in the green moss beds. This is where the story begins. Roland Harvey can be spotted commencing his journey from the border between New South Wales and Victoria. Stunning landscapes await with each page turn, revealing a visual feast of softly shaded scenes and impressive perspectives, and exploding with an abundance of life and energy.

imageCanoes and rafts make their daring descents down the narrow gorge, then spill out onto the volumous Lake Hume where the most extraordinary (and possibly unrealistic) activity and wildlife can be found. Funnily enough, you might catch a Murray cod or even a cold in the wetlands, and enjoy a ride on one of the many old paddle-steamers around Echuca Wharf. Harvey continues with his interesting insights into the rich Aboriginal history and today’s diverse culture in Mildura, and be sure to look out for unbelievable acrobatic tricks on the water! The poor Darling is suffering from embarrassing health issues. Cognisantly, we are encouraged to learn the importance of sufficient rainfall and community action for successful farming, the habitat and its animals.

With a cracking joke on every page, both obvious and discreet, and so much more to uncover, you can literally get lost in this book for hours. On the River carries an endless flow of good humour and riveting facts. It also supports a vital message of hope, appreciation and advocacy for the future of the cultural society and environmental sustainability in this beautiful part of Australia. A highly pleasurable book for primary aged children to discover and absorb every facet of this journey along the Murray River.

Allen & Unwin, July 2016.

Teaching notes for On the River from Allen & Unwin can be found here.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Feeling Good and Fitting In – Inspiring Picture Books

Self-assuredness, making wise life choices, strong self-esteem, and a kind heart – all positive attributes we wish for our offspring but not always easy to foster. The beautiful subtly of picture books can help reinforce and encourage these traits in children. Here are some inspiring examples.

Stick and StoneStick and Stone by Beth Ferry Illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld

Simplicity refined. Gorgeous illustrations accompany a rock solid (pardon the pun) rhyming text about the strength and benefits of friendship, sticking together and courage in times of trouble. I loved the elementary message and profound humour. Kids will warm to the humanness of these two non-human characters, Stick and Stone. Highly recommended for primary school aged readers and those trying to understand schoolyard friendships.

Koala Books September 2015

The Truth According to ArthurThe Truth According to Arthur by Tim Hopgood Illustrated by David Tazzyman

This could easily become my new best-go-to favourite resource for dealing with fibbers. Arthur tells porkies, not to hurt but like most young people, to lessen the damage to himself that could arise from his actions, in other words, to avoid getting in trouble. However, Truth follows him about everywhere and no matter how hard Arthur tries to avoid, hide, bend or stretch Truth, Truth remains stalwart staring Arthur down until eventually …he admits The Truth.  Told in a smile-inducing uncomplicated way and matched with super line drawings, The Truth According to Arthur addresses the importance of taking responsibility for ones actions and always, always being honest. A brilliant addition to any parents’ tool kit!

Bloomsbury Publishing July 2016

I don't like KoalaI Don’t Like Koala by Sean Ferrell Illustrated by Charles SantosKoala illos spread

There is something slightly sinister about the non-seeing stare of Koala. Something dark and off-putting that Adam finds unsavoury as well. So much so, he cannot bring himself to like his new toy, Koala one little bit. He tries everything to lose Koala but inexplicably, Koala always returns (good on you Mum and Dad!). Until one terrible night, Adam finally learns to value Koala’s unwavering friendship and worth. Santos’ drawings enhance Ferrell’s beautiful clean narrative, often in a clever parallel way and reinforce the notion of acceptance; of who we are, what we truly love and of our own fears.

Koala Books 2015

The Ricker Racker ClubThe Ricker Racker Club by Patrick Guest Illustrated by Nathaniel Eckstrom

This is a once upon a time type of picture book that grabs kids’ attention from the very first page. Brothers Max and Ollie have invented the Ricker Racker Club, an association with distinct rules and regulations; being a boy for example. Polly is not a boy and secretly yearns to join the club so in an ironically old world way, she cunningly surrenders to the boys’ demands and desires, cleaning their bedroom, giving them her tooth-fairy money and so on whilst they belt around being, well, boys. Weeks pass until one day their pet turtle, Albert finds himself in peril of being consumed by the local wolf. Help comes from an unexpected quarter forcing the boys to rethink their club policies. A delightful comical representation of how friendships, acceptance, and courage are won on your actions.  Suitable for mid to upper primary readers and those who love back yard adventuring.

Little Hare Books HGE  April 2016

KindnessThe Invisible Tree – Kindness by Kirrily Lowe Illustrated by Henry Smith

For those who prefer their tales of moral strength and positive virtue with a more spiritual spin, seek out the Invisible Tree series by Wombat Books. Each picture book in the series describes how a child character learns about a particular attribute or emotion and how that virtue is a kin to a beautiful fruit, one that grows on an invisible tree inside them. The musical stories demonstrate how we can nourish our greatest gifts and capacities and share them with others. Kindness, set in Uganda, is the fifth book following this cultivation of strong healthy spirit and prompts children to grow their own invisible trees for love, joy, and peace. Spectacularly illustrated with found, recycled, and hand-made papers by Smith, these books form a treasure chest of inspired awareness.

Wombat Books 2016

Let's PlayLet’s Play by Herve Tullet

This little gem is amazing. Full of white space and second person interplay, Tullet creates two distinct characters for children to adore; yellow dot narrating straight out of the book and YOU, the child (reader). Yellow dot entices children to play with him with the words, ‘I’m bored…Do you want to play?’ What child could resist! They are led through a series of steps, fine-tuning their attention, questioning their fine motor skills and challenging their focus before plunging together into a dark, messy, FUN adventure. It’s nothing more than a succession of splodges, smudged lines, and colourful dots, yet Let’s Play is a miraculous riot of colour and genius which cleverly unleashes creativity and imagination in kids whilst giving them permission to be themselves, have fun, take risks and oh yes, ‘play again another time’. Brilliant. Ideal for pre-schoolers and older readers who’ll be able  to claim yellow dot as their new best friend. Gleefully recommended

Allen & Unwin March 2016

#BooksCreate confidence and kindness

Review – Dragonfly Song

Wendy Orr’s latest novel has the sweeping majesty of an epic novel and the thrill of a mid-grade fantasy that will win leagues of young new fans. Powerful, eloquent and moving, Dragonfly Song is a story you will never want to leave.

Dragonfly SongAt first glance, Dragonfly Song is not for the faint hearted, weighing in at nearly four hundred pages, however do not be disheartened for from the moment Aissa slips into existence, you will be enthralled and the pages will float effortlessly by. Aissa is the first-born daughter of the high priestess of an ancient island nation. She is however, imperfect and so is abandoned, thus determining not only her destiny but the fate of her island home and all its inhabitants, as well.

Aissa’s people are emerging from the time of flint and spears into the mythical Bronze Age. Her world possesses a strong Byzantine period feel for me at least, where hierarchy, occupation, and bloodline dictate survival. Having endured a childhood of servitude and persecution, Aissa is unaware of her own ancestry and link to the goddesses or even her true name until she is twelve years old. Her fellow islanders consider her the bad-luck child, a curse to all who cross her, and abhor her. Yet she is resourceful, curious, and oddly revered by the island’s animals (snakes, cats, bulls) and although mute from the age of four, she slowly begins to grasp the power she has to sing them to her biding.

It is this power that both exalts and alienates her to the Bull King and his Lady wife, the Mother. At the age of thirteen, Aissa finds herself in the land of the great Bull King, interned as a bull dancer, eventually dancing for her life and the freedom of further tributes (aka human sacrifices) against her island home.

Aissa is manOrr Wendy, preferred author photo, credit Roger Gouldy things: of pure blood, a priestess in the making, a talented bull dancer, spirited, obedient, loyal, a privy cleaner, displaced but above all, resilient. It is hard not to fret over her emotional well-being and want to call out encouragement for her. Her story is both bleak and horrifying at times but ultimately her tale of rising out of the quagmire of the downtrodden soars with optimism and promise.

Orr masters this with incredible ease. Her artistry with language is unforced and sublime. Part prose and part verse novel, I was utterly swept away by the beauty and tragedy of Aissa’s plight. The use of verse to relay Aissa’s internal dialogue and inner most dread and desires is genius and executed with such finesse I wished it never ended.

Dragonfly Song is an adventure story, a tale of daring and hope and a quest for love and acceptance that will have you weeping and cheering. Gripping, artful, and exciting, this novel has broad appeal for both male and female readers aged twelve and above.

03To discover the heart and soul behind the writing of this novel, see my Doodles and Drafts post with Wendy Orr, here.

Allen & Unwin June 2016

DOODLES AND DRAFTS with Wendy Orr on the inspiration behind Dragonfly Song

Dragonfly SongHang onto to your bronze daggers as you are in for ‘a riveting, mythic Bronze Age adventure’ –  we have the remarkable Wendy Orr at the draft table today, escorting us on her Blog Tour for her stunning new novel, Dragonfly Song. And like all terrific stories, there is usually an even more fascinating story behind it; how it came to light, what energies and events conspired to motivate its first heartbeat. Today, Wendy shares her inspiration with us.

Orr Wendy, preferred author photo, credit Roger Gould

 

Welcome Wendy! Tell us, what was the inspiration for Dragonfly Song?

Sometimes it’s easy to see where an idea’s inspiration has come from. Sometimes it’s not – and sometimes some of the things that inspire it don’t end up in the story. Dragonfly Song is one of those mysteries.

Certainly one thread comes from childhood and teenage reading of Greek myths and Mary Renault’s retelling of the Theseus myth, The King Must Die. (There are many stories about Theseus, a king of Athens with a typically complicated hero life. However he is best known for being one of seven youths and seven maidens sent as a tribute to King Minos of Crete. Minos sent them into a labyrinth to be devoured by the half-man, half-bull monster, the Minotaur – but luckily, Theseus defeated the Minotaur instead of being eaten.)

04Then, about twenty-five years ago, I dreamed about a white robed priestess leading a long torchlight procession up a steep green volcanic mountain.  As a story grew around the dream, I started reading up on the intriging civilization that flourished in Crete around four thousand years ago.  The Minoans seem to have worshipped a mother goddess and been ruled by a priestess until they were taken over by the warlike Mycenaeans of mainland Greece. Their palaces had grand court02yards and stairways, flushing toilets, lightwells, and painted frescoes on walls, ceilings and floors. They had beautiful art, gold and jewellery; images of priestesses holding snakes and of young men and women leaping over the backs of giant bulls. What if these bull-leaping games had inspired the original myth of Theseus?

Although the rather melodramatic novel I wrote then was, luckily, never published, the images of that world never left me. Eventually I started playing with the idea of a completely new story set in the same era.

It started to take shape on a 2010 visit to New Delhi. Culture shock can be a great inspiration: new sounds and smells; beautiful buildings and overwhelming poverty. Home again, doodling with a fingerpaint app, I sketched a girl with a sad twisted mouth and tangled black curls. This wasn’t the direction I’d expected, but one evening in my tai chi class, the form of the story appeared in a luminescent blue bubble –  and no, I can’t explain it exactly what I mean by that, but it was powerful enough to bring me to tears. The next day I saw a dragonfly, the exact same colour as the bubble.

And dragonflies kept on appearing whenever I made a significant decision or saw something that helped to shape the story:  finding an offcut of chipped flint on a Danish island; visiting the mysterious deep blue source of a French river that would have seemed even more mysterious and holy in ancient timeDragonflySongBlogTourGraphics…

Ah the synchronicity of life…Thank you, Wendy!

Watch Wendy explain more, here. Catch up with her again as she continues her DragonFly Song Adventure and tour.

Stick around for my full review of Dragonfly Song coming soon. Meantime you can get it now, here, if you can’t wait to read it first!

Allen & Uwin June 2016

 

 

 

 

Janeen Brian’s Hunger for Stories Leaves us Wanting More

imageJaneen Brian is the much-loved, award-winning author of over 90 books for children, many of which have been translated and distributed around the world. Some of her most popular titles include I’m a Dirty Dinosaur, I’m a Hungry Dinosaur, Where does Thursday go?That Boy, Jack, I Spy Mum!, Hoosh! Camels in Australia, Silly Squid! and Pilawuk- When I was Young. Janeen is also widely known for her wonderful contributions to the industry, winning the Carclew Fellowship 2012, being Ambassador for the Premier’s Reading Challenge, and presenting at a number of conferences and schools. It is an honour and thrill to have had the opportunity to find out more about Janeen and her latest gorgeous books, Mrs Dog, Where’s Jessie? and Our Village in the Sky (reviews here).

Where did your passion for books and writing children’s stories begin? Are there any particular books or authors that have played a significant role in where you are today?

I think the passion was always there. I can’t remember a time when words and stories didn’t fascinate me. The sound and power of words has always intrigued. However, we were a book-poor family. And I went to a book-poor school. It was just how it was. I now realise I’ve always carried that ache inside of me. So, I guess it had to come out somewhere, sometime. I’m grateful it did. I would probably credit becoming a teacher and having daughters of my own with the eventual, tentative, stepping out into the children’s writing arena. But I also had a couple of angels in my later adult life who gave me a nudge.
Without a childhood plethora of books or reading matter, I’m on a constant treadmill, trying to capture the thrill of books which are embedded in the psyche of many of my writing colleagues, for whom those books were friends. And so I swing; to read back to my childhood and forward to what is out there today. I’m constantly reading. At times, I wonder if I evaluate enough of what I read. It just seems that I’m hungry or thirsty for stories and poetry. So many authors affected me, but two who immediately spring to mind are Robin Klein and Ruth Park. Their writing touched me; it was full of exquisite detail, rich in character and expressive in language. And they spoke of our country and culture, and at times, our history.

Your writing style varies between heartrending poetry, to playful rhyme and informative and lyrical narrative. Do you have a preferred style of writing? How has your style evolved over the years?

I think once again it comes down very much to what pleases me, particularly aurally. I don’t have a particular favourite way of writing. I write in the style that suits the work. And I find it interesting that although the style might differ according to what I’m writing, people still say they can recognise my work when they see or hear it. I guess my style is like a maypole, with many ribbons attached – each one individual but connected. I think, or hope, that my style has become more honest and richer as it’s evolved. That would please me.

Some of your recent books, in particular Our Village in the Sky, Where’s Jessie? and Mrs Dog, all carry a timeless feel with their beautifully lyrical language and images, as well as encapsulating more sophisticated topics such as cultural differences, loss and survival. What draws you to write with these kinds of themes?

Although at times, I can feel like a suburban fringe-dweller, I have to remind myself that my life has been full of interesting twists and turns and often it is the idea of survival that is uppermost. I think that many everyday people are heroes, tackling life’s mountains. However, from different, and sometimes difficult challenges comes strength and confidence. The word used a lot today is resilience. I think I try and show that in my work. We all battle at times, in various ways, and sometimes we have to dig deep to find courage or strength to continue. Or to look at a situation in a different way. Often, too, help can come when one person takes the hand of another.
I love to see a world of real things; kindness, laughter, nature, play and creativity. I’m not much of an adult in the highly commercialised world.
I think all of this affects the kind of stories and poems I write – and the themes and language embedded in them.

Your most recent release, Mrs Dog, is a truly moving story of unconditional love, nurturing and courage, with elements of humour and adversity blended in the mix. Did this story emerge from a personal experience? What aspect of the story is most meaningful to you?

imageLike in most stories, Mrs Dog is a mixture of experience and imagination. Over a period of years I had collected two names. They sat around in my head for ages with no story. Over time I linked them to farm-style incidents told to me by my husband, and then changed the ideas during many drafts until the final story emerged. It certainly wasn’t one whole package to begin with. I really like the fact that when under pressure, a person/creature is often able to rise above their own expectations, as Baa-rah did in his effort to save Mrs Dog.

What has been the most insightful feedback or response to Mrs Dog so far?

The unconditional love and compassion shown within an unlikely inter-generational relationship.

Illustrator Anne Spudvilas has provided the spectacularly dreamy artwork for both Where’s Jessie? and Our Village in the Sky. How did the pairing come about? How do you feel her illustrations complement your words? Were you able to work closely on each book?

imageIn both instances, I was able to work closely with Anne, which is not the usual experience with author and illustrator. Often seeds are sown many years before eventualities and this was the case in our first collaboration, Our Village in the Sky. Anne and I had become friends through many creator-style catch-ups, and she liked the photos and experiences I told her of my stay in the Himalayan mountains. When I later applied for a Carclew Fellowship for the 2012 Adelaide Festival of Literature, I devised a picture book of poems as a potential project and asked Anne if she’d illustrate. Fortunately I won the award, and in a serendipitous situation, Anne took her sketches and several of my poems to Allen and Unwin, who subsequently published the title.
Anne was able to use images from my photos to create her scenes and characters and we worked closely on the layout and flow of the book, with me making several trips interstate.
In both books, Anne’s palette and style suit the stories perfectly and I am full of admiration for her work. It evokes both emotion and sensory appreciation.
Where’s Jessie? is a story triggered from the sighting of a real teddy bear that’d travelled to the outback on a camel. Because I’d earlier researched and written an award-winning information book, Hoosh! Camels in Australia, I was able to provide Anne with much visual material. Anne could also access the historical database of Trove in the National Library of Australia.
There was story collaboration, too, when Anne suggested changing the character of the person who eventually finds Bertie, from an Afghan camel boy to an Aboriginal boy.

Where’s Jessie? is based on the real life travels of Bertie the bear through the outback in the early 1900s. What was it about Bertie’s story that caught your attention? What was it like to research, and how did you feel meeting the daughter of Bertie’s owner?

imageWhile visiting a country Cornish Festival in South Australia in 2011, I entered a church hall to view a collection of historic memorabilia. The real Bertie bear was seated on a chair, looking slightly tatty but well-loved. The note attached mentioned two facts; he was 101 years old. And he’d travelled to Alice Springs by camel. What a thrill! I had no idea of what I might do with that information, but I was finally able to track down the now-owner, the daughter of the original-owner, who’d been a baby at the time she’d received the bear. I’d had enough experience in the outback (flash floods, included) as well as my earlier research with camels, so it was really the story I needed to work on. At the launch of Where’s Jessie?, the now-owner spoke movingly about how well-loved the ancient bear still is within their family; citing that he is still the comforter of sick children and the soother of bad dreams.

Our Village in the Sky is beautifully written in angelic language that reflects the perspectives of different hard-working, yet playful, children in a remote village amongst the Himalayan mountains. This book is based on your observations whilst living there. What else can you reveal about your experience? What was the most rewarding part about writing this story?

imageI felt compelled to write about this village, and particularly the children, because I was able to interact with them at the time, using sign language or games. Or I simply watched them. Only a few villagers spoke any English at all, and it was very minimal. Culturally, and because of the language barrier, it was not possible for me to ask about many things pertaining to women or family life. So my focus was the children. I noted and photographed. I wrote a diary of my feelings and thoughts. But, back home, when I came to write, it was the children I wanted to write about. The images in my mind decided that the ‘story’ would be a series of poems depicting their life, so different to children in the Western world. The most rewarding part was the connection I felt through the words, and that I had acknowledged my experience in that area of the world.

What do you hope for readers to gain from this book?

Curiosity. Understanding. Awareness. And being able to relate to the child-like aspects in each poem.

Can you please tell us about your working relationship with illustrator Ann James on the I’m a Dirty/Hungry Dinosaur books? Was this collaboration any different to any other of your author-illustrator partnerships?

imageAnn and I had been published together in a book called Dog Star, an Omnibus/Scholastic chapter book in the SOLO series and we’d become friends mainly through catch-ups at various festivals and so on. At one festival at Ipswich in 2009, I asked Ann to consider a poem I’d written. It was called I’m a dirty dinosaur. Over discussions, Ann agreed to illustrate it and with the poem and a few sketches the material went first to my agent, Jacinta di Mase, before it was picked up and published by Penguin Australia. (now Penguin Random House Australia) Ann and I chatted about the text and pictures throughout the process, just as we did with the second book, I’m a hungry dinosaur. Both books have been a lovely culmination and collaboration of ideas.

What were the most rewarding and challenging aspects of creating the ‘dinosaur’ books?

imageWorking with Ann is a joy. She is alive with ideas, energy and enthusiasm. We both enjoy the playfulness of the books, and the act of play and fun with language is important to both of us. Ann also likes to minimalise her line work to give the maximum effect and I think she’s done this brilliantly in both books. I also like to hone down my words so they shine without any extra unnecessary baggage.
There’s also an integral trust between the two of us, which is wonderful.
The challenge came in the second book. It’s not an unusual dilemma. The first is the prototype. The second must follow the format yet still have its own life. We believe we achieved that in I’m a hungry dinosaur!

If you could be any kind of dinosaur, what would that be and why?

I guess if I could be any dinosaur it would be the one Ann created!

As an experienced author, what advice would you give to those writers just starting out?

Apart from reading and writing, I think it’s interesting to write down passages from other authors’ books. Writing slows your thinking down. You might enjoy reading the passages, but when you write them down, you are considering the authors’ motivations and reasons for writing those particular words. You might notice more fully the effect those words have. You might feel the pull of a different style, which could loosen your own, stretch it or challenge it. Finding your own voice can often take a long time. But playing around with other people’s words can sometimes be quite surprising.
Work hard. Understand that writing is a craft. As such, there is always room for improvement. And improvement brings you closer to publication.

And finally, if you could ask our readers any question, what would that be?

Some authors write in a particular genre. Their readers know what to expect. However, I write in many different genres. Do you see this as problematic in your reading of my work? **

Thank you so much for the privilege, Janeen! 🙂

Thank you, Romi. Your wonderful, thoughtful questions were much appreciated.

Janeen Brian can be found at her websiteFacebook and Twitter pages.

** Please respond to Janeen’s question in the comments below, or head over to Twitter and join the thread at #JaneenBrianAsks

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Spinning Tales – Cricket inspired Young Fiction

I realise it’s brass-monkey weather already and for many a young sportsperson, rugby jerseys are in preference to baggy greens. However, the warming image of red leather cracking against willow against a burnished summer sky is one I am in dire need of right now. Therefore, here are a few of some recent favourite cricket inspired reviews. I use the term favourite with reserve for if not for this selection of picture books and novels, I might still not know my googlies from my dot balls.

Picture Books

Knockabout CricketKnockabout Cricket by Neridah McMullin Illustrated by Ainsley Walters

Until last year, I had little idea of the exact history of Australian cricket and was unaware that one of our first International cricket stars was an unassuming bloke called Unaarramin, otherwise known as Johnny from Mullagh Station in WA.

Knockabout Cricket is a fictional portrayal about Johnny’s appearance onto the 1860’s cricketing landscape. Through the eyes of a pastoral station’s son, James, readers are introduced to a tall Aboriginal boy whose natural aptitude, ball skills and ability to ‘read’ the ball is nothing short of spectacular. A team of indigenous players is soon formed and admired by all who watch their daring and athletic play.

Johnny MullaghThe subsequent matches played between the Aboriginal 11 and the Melbourne Cricket Club become the catalyst for what is known today as the Boxing Day Test and eventually, the first tour of England by an Australian cricket side in 1886.

McMullin’s narrative is complemented by informative text neatly incorporated into each page of Walters’ illustrations. The overall effect is alluring and maintains interest but perhaps the most fascinating addition for me was the handy field position drawing and photograph of the Aboriginal cricketers alongside the Melbourne Cricket Ground Pavilion in 1867.

A worthy introduction to a sport legend for early primary readers.

One Day Hill Publishers February 2015

Boomerang and BatBoomerang and Bat by Mark Greenwood Illustrated by Terry Denton

This long awaited picture book release does not disappoint. This time the story of the First Real Eleven is told through the eyes of Johnny Mullagh himself thereby evoking a slightly more personal feel. Where before, we knew the names of the indigenous team thanks to a photograph, in Boomerang and Bat, Greenwood involves each of the shearers and station hands by name from the start.  Within pages, we are familiar with Cuzens’ barefoot bowling; Dick-a-Dick’s heroic parrying displays, and Johnny’s exceptional batting prowess.

Under the tutelage and determination of captain-coach, Charles Lawrence, the team eventually makes it to the MCG. However, Lawrence has more far-reaching plans for his team and so covertly smuggles them aboard The Parramatta Clipper bound for England thus initiating the first international tour for an Australian cricket side.

Johnny’s team went on to delight and excite crowds at Lords, whilst proudly donning caps with the emblem of a boomerang and bat. They earned standing ovations and considerable admiration until the demands of touring and occasional discrimination became too strenuous, killing one teammate and eventually sending the others back to Australia. Despite their amazing sporting achievements abroad, there was little fanfare to welcome the Australian 11 home. Johnny continued to play the game he loved with amazing adroitness often scoring a hundred runs, however it would be another ten years before another Australian cricket side would leave the country again to compete. For this reason alone, Johnny and his teammates are Australia’s first true international cricket stars.

Boomerang and Bat illos spreadGreenwood’s balanced narrative is both touching and colourful conveying fact with soul. Denton’s illustrations capture the humour and atmosphere of not only the pastoral settlements and rugged proving grounds of our players but also the refined serenity of the playing fields of the home of cricket.

An awesome historic picture book to share with pre-schoolers and above.

Allen & Unwin April 2016

Meet Don BradmanMeet…Don Bradman by Coral Vass Illustrated by Brad Howe

Being a non-sporty, bookish type of kid who gained much of her Australian contemporary history knowledge from the TV mini-series of the 80s, I had but a peripheral knowledge of last century’s cricketing legend, Don Bradman. Thankfully Random House’s Meet..series is around to fill in some of my sporting history gaps and educate new generations about one of our national heroes.

Vass’s narrative opens with Don as a small boy, completely engrossed with the game of cricket. He practises daily, studies the form of players constantly and one day, in spite of his smallish stature, takes up the bat. Instead of a meteoric rise to cricketing stardom, life pitched a few dot balls of its own and Don had to work and wait his way to his dreams like the rest of us. Thankfully, he never declared them over. His spectacular batting ability was soon signed up by the St George team in Sydney allowing to him compete in the national Sheffield Shield competition for NSW. He debuted by scoring a century. Not bad for ‘the Boy from Bowral’.

Meet Don Bradman illos spreadWith the help of Howe’s cartoonesque illustrations reminiscent of 30s and 40s comic strips, readers follow Bradman through his career as he sets new records, scores new highs and helps Australia win and retain the coveted Ashes (1934 and 1936). Even the controversial Bodyline tactic devised by the English Cricket team in the 1932-1933 Ashes series was not enough to curb the brilliance of one of Australia’s most impressive sportsmen to date.

Captivating end pages and a succinct timeline pay further homage to ‘our Don Bradman’ and ensure another part of our cricketing heritage is not lost to new generations.

Random House Children April 2016

Mid-Grade Novels

Lucky BreakGlen Maxwell Lucky Break by Patrick Loughlin Illustrated by James Hart

If modern T20 cricket is more your thing, cast your beau peeps on this exciting series by Penguin Random House. The first book of this cricket series endorsed by T20 Player of the Year, Glen Maxwell, hit the stands in 2014. Since then Academy All-Stars, World Domination and State Showdown have bowled into bookstores.

Highly recommended for any kid who has a passion for team sports, cricket whites or even just a thirst for exciting dual gender inspired adventure, the Glen Maxwell series penned by sporting enthusiast, Patrick Loughlin rings with solid spotting voice, tween humour and plenty of fast paced action. They are perfect reads for those needing an excuse to read something that thrills rather than bores.

Glen MaxwellI do not know cricket, do not watch cricket, nor even profess to love cricket. However, I thoroughly enjoyed these books thanks to the energetic storylines, bolstering words of encouragement from a real-life sporting icon and (thank goodness) a comprehensive glossary of cricketing terms that means this summer those tedious hours spent in front of the tellie watching seagulls scatter across the pitch will suddenly become much more meaningful.

Random House Children’s Books December 2014 – November 2015

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Three Types of Charm – Janeen Brian Picture Book Reviews

Award-winning author Janeen Brian is well-known for her superlative poetry, fascinating research projects and of course, those cheeky dinosaur books. She also has a gifted ability to incorporate important, ‘real-life’ topics into her stories in the most pleasurable and engaging ways. From the farm to the outback and atop the Himalayan mountains, the following three titles encourage readers to open their eyes and senses to worlds other than their own, to perspectives they have never seen, all the while allowing themselves to drift into imaginative and emotional realms.

 imageMrs Dog, illustrated by Marjorie Crosby-Fairall, is a picture book that will undoubtedly inject a large dose of sentimentality into your heart. In this case of sacrifice, bravery, trust and unconditional love, this story will most certainly leave an ever-lasting soft spot for these good-natured characters.

At her ripe age, Mrs Dog has moved on from her role as sheep-herding working dog. So, it’s only natural that she take on a nurturing motherly role when little weak Baa-rah the lamb is discovered alone in the paddock. Not only does Mrs Dog nurse his physical strength, but also empowers Baa-rah with street smarts (or ‘farm’ smarts, rather) and a strong voice. In a tear-jerking near-tragedy, the little lamb triumphs over his fears and uses his newly developed skills to alert the owners, Tall-One and Tall-Two, of Mrs Dog’s fall into the Dangerous Place.

The endearing character names, touching story, and soft textures and warm tones all blend beautifully together to create an indelibly loveable book for all ages. Mrs Dog, with its combined heartrending and humorous qualities, is a sweet and memorable visual and language experience to share amongst the generations.

The Five Mile Press, 2016.

imageIn Where’s Jessie?, Bertie Bear faces his own challenges and braves the harsh conditions of the Australian outback. Based on a true story set in the early 1900s, we are carried along with the raggedy teddy as he is dragged upon camel, whooshed through dust clouds, nipped by wild creatures, and slushed in water. All the while he longs to be back in the warm arms of his beloved owner Jessie. And the reunion is nothing short of miraculous.

With fantastically descriptive language, and stunningly expressive watercolour bleeds and scratches by Anne Spudvilas, the action and emotion of this adventure is truly engaging. Janeen‘s fascination with and fondness of this real-life bear, as discovered at an exhibition at Kapunda, shines through in her words.

Where’s Jessie? is definitely a story worth exploring further, as well as being an absolutely uplifting treasure to cherish for centuries.

NLA Publishing, 2015.

imageHer first hand experience with the children and families in the Himalayan village led Janeen to explore this intriguing culture and lifestyle in her gorgeously fluid collection of short poems in Our Village in the Sky. Brilliantly collaborating with Anne Spudvilas, the visual literacy and language are simply exquisite.

The perspectives of various children intrigue us with the work, and play, they do in the summer time. For these ‘Third-World’ kids, imagination is at the forefront of their industrious lives. Whether they are using water tubs as drums, daydreaming in soapy washing water, turning an old ladder into a seesaw, chasing goats downhill or flicking stones in a game of knucklebones, chores like washing, cleaning, cooking, gathering and building are fulfilled with the brightest of smiles on the children’s innocent faces.

Our Village in the Sky is a lyrically and pictorially beautiful eye-opener to a whole new world that our Western children may not be aware of. With plenty of language concepts, cultural, social and environmental aspects to explore, there will certainly be a greater appreciation for the beauty, differences and similarities between our children and those in the Himalayan mountains.

Allen & Unwin, 2014.

For fascinating insights into the production of these books see my wonderful interview with Janeen Brian at the following link.

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Australian Story – Stories with a love of Country

Wednesday the 25th May marks the 16th National Simultaneous Storytime event. Aimed at promoting the value of reading and enjoying stories inspired and produced by Australians this campaign sits neatly alongside the 2016 CBCA Book Week Theme – Australia! Story Country. Story telling expeditiously fosters an appreciation and understanding of our unique Australian humour, environment, and its inhabitants so it’s vital that a love of books and reading begins at a young age. This is why I love this selection of picture books relating to Country and those who call it home.

Magabala Books

Crabbing with DadThis publishing house routinely produces books that preserve and promote Indigenous Australian Culture. Paul Seden’s Crabbing with Dad, is chock-a-block with eye popping illustrations and is a feast for the senses as our protagonist and best mate, Sam go crabbing with their Dad up the creek. They encounter several other folk fishing or hunting among the mangroves and waterways and eventually pull up their own crustacean reward. I love the vitality and verve this story promotes and that spending time with the ones you love are life’s best rewards.

April 2016

The Grumpy Lighthouse KeeperFor clever repetitive phrasing and a colourful introduction to yet more of our dubious sea life, The Grumpy Lighthouse Keeper will light up the faces of 3 – 5 year-olds. Inspired by the iconic Broome Lighthouse, author, Terrizita Corpus and illustrator, Maggie Prewett help our indignant lighthouse keeper to survive a stormy wet-season night as the slippery, slimy, wet creatures of the sea take refuge in his warm, dry bed. Loads of fun, if you aren’t the lighthouse keeper!

April 2016

Mad Magpie (high res)Gregg Dreise is a name to remember. Mad Magpie is the third picture book in his morality series based on the sayings and stories of his Elders and possibly the best one yet, although Kookoo Kookaburra was a huge hit in this household, too. Dreise’s picture books embrace and preserve the art of storytelling harnessing fables and wisdoms and making them accessible for today’s new generations.

His line dot authentic illustrations are pure magic and elevate the enjoyment of this tale tenfold. I found myself continuously stroking the pages so enamoured was I by the exquisite patterning and textures throughout. Guluu, the angry magpie’s tale captures the spirit of the landscape and reinforces the turn-the-other-cheek idiom. The Elders encourage Guluu to ignore those who taunt and tease him. They show him how to find ways to still his anger and remain calm so that he is able to stand proud and strong, like the life-giving river. This is an impressive tale promoting positive ways to combat bullying and enhance individuality.

May 2016

Cheeky Critters

Go Home Cheeky AnimalsAnother picture book that successfully captures the essence of place and changing of the seasons is Go Home, Cheeky Animals! by Johanna Bell and Dion Beasley. Simple repeating narrative gears readers up for the next instalment of animals – goats, buffaloes and camels to name a few – to inundate  a small outback community and taunt the dogs that are supposed to be on the lookout for such intruders. Beasley’s paint and pencil illustrations are naïve in style and full on cheek and colour, which results in phenomenal kid appeal. Superb fun and heart.

Allen & Unwin Children’s April 2016

Barnabas the BulllyfrogBarnabas is a Bullfrog who relentlessly teases and belittles the inhabitants of the Macadamia farm in Barnabas the Bullyfrog. When springtime blooms bring on a spate of spluttery sneezing, Barnabas blames it on the bees and is intent on wiping out their busy buzziness. Nosh the Nutmobile rallies his faithful friends, uniting them in a sweet intervention that cures Barnabas’s allergies and unseemly social discrepancies. Barnabas the Bullyfrog is the forth in The Nutmobile Series created by Macadamia House publications and Little Steps Publishing. Rollicking verse (by Em Horsfield) and Glen Singleton’s quintessential Aussie themed illustrations bring Nosh, Arnold and the gang musically to life. You can’t get any more Queensland than Macca nuts and cane toads however, these tales have strong universal appeal as well; this one admirably speaking up against bullies and for the world’s prized pollinators. Well done, Nosh!

Little Steps Publishing 2015

Possums Galore

Possum GamesThey may send us batty at times with their frenetic nocturnal antics but who can deny the perennial appeal of a cute round-eyed Brushtail possum. Michelle Worthington and Sandra Temple have pieced together a delightful picture book, with lilting language and winsome illustrations. Possum Games is the story of Riley, a small possum who is shy and awkward, unsure of himself and frankly, awful at sports. However, in spite of his shortcomings and apparent inability to join in, Riley has big dreams, which thanks to a twist and a dodge of fate, spring into realisation one fateful night. Possum Games is more than a tale of finding your perfect fit. It stimulates tenacity and boosts confidence and more than ably explains the actions behind the ruckus possums make on our rooves at night. A fabulous read for pre-schoolers and young primary readers.

Wombat Books 2014

The Midnight PossumMore midnight antics are revealed in Sally Morgan’s and Jess Racklyeft’s The Midnight Possum, this time in the heart of our bushland. Possum loves the midnight hour, which brings on a tendency in him to roam. As he bounds through the treetops, he encounters an Australian potpourri of animals until he happens upon a distressed mother possum who has lost her baby. Possum’s pluck and courage save the day (and the baby Ringtail). The innate curiosity and diversity for adaption possums possess are gently portrayed in this charming picture book. Racklyeft’s acrylic painted and collage illustrations amplify the allure. A sweet addition to your Australiana collection.

Scholastic Australia 2016

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

 

 

 

Marching Forward – Remembering Bravery Reviews

Remembering, honouring, commiserating, – learning. When recently reading ANZAC titles to my maturing primary schooler, she asked, ‘Are there still wars, going on?’ I had to reply that yes, sadly there were. However, by sharing the past and gradually exposing children to the realities of it, hopefully they become better equipped to care enough to avoid and prevent future conflicts. It’s a reality I’d like to hope for. These titles perpetuate that hope while escorting young readers through the historical past.

Forward MarchForward March by Christobel Mattingley Illustrated by David Kennett Picture Book

This is a curious ANZAC picture book, more of a compilation of ANZAC Day emotions, colours and locations commiserating the loss of our war veterans and the sacrifice they made. The opening page appears sombre and cold at first; pre-dawn on ANZAC Day morn. Look closely though and you’ll notice a pale yellow light entreating hope and promise. It represents one of the many war memorials across Australia where keen crowds gather to remember not only our great-grandads, dads, sons and grandsons, but also the grandmas, mothers, daughters and aunties, all those affected by battles they never ever wished for nor properly understood.

Mattingley’s sparse yet rousing statements honour all those who left their families and land to serve abroad whilst also acknowledging those who stayed behind and kept the country ticking over, ending with the rising of the dawn, the Last Post and a pledge to never forget.

What really captivates though are Kennett’s painted and drawn illustrations clustered in muted sepia-coloured vignettes that resemble the type of photo album your grandmother might have kept. Although an eyeful to take in all at once, these spreads tell of life on the battlefields in ways that leave words gasping. Several international conflicts are depicted including the Boer War, both Great Wars and the Vietnam War giving children wider scope and deeper meaning to exactly what we are remembering when standing at the cenotaph on ANZAC Day.

Ideal for prompting discussion of past world commemorative events amongst early primary schoolers presented with respect and restraint.

Omnibus Books March 2016

Socks Sandbags and LeechesSocks, Sandbags & Leeches Letters to my Anzac Dad by Pauline Deeves Illustrated Fiction

This hardcover illustrated tribute to those who served in the First World War is uniquely different to other children’s books drawing on this theme. Significantly, it is told through the eyes of a twelve-year-old child, Ivy whose father has left to fight overseas.

Deeves executes the same breezy epistolary style used in Midnight Burial to inform readers about life back in Australia whilst great chunks of her population were, in many ways, coerced to fight overseas. Through a series of letters written over a period of four years to her father who is first posted to Gallipoli and later France, Ivy describes how she and her mother had to move house, live with their Aunt Hilda and succumb to the restrictions of life during wartime.

Ivy’s voice is delightfully informal and intimate, eliciting strong young reader appeal and interest. She mentions various modernisations and several vagaries of life over 100 years ago that our tech –imbued children of today might well find absurd. I particularly appreciated Ivy’s illustrations included in her letters.

Socks Sandbags and Leeches illos spreadDeeves flourishes fact with fiction in a way that imparts a lot of new and interesting information. Although essentially a story about Socks, Sandbags & Leeches, readers can locate various topics about Conscription, the Retreat from Gallipoli and what school was like for example from the headings listed in the Contents. Scrapbook type pages crammed with authentic sketches, prints and excerpts of the time enhance the appearance of Ivy’s collection of letters and serve to reinforce the information she is relaying to her absent father.

A fascinating storytelling approach and account of the First World War for readers nine to fifteen.

National Library of Australia NLA February 2016

Dreaming the EnemyDreaming the Enemy by David Metzenthen YA novel

I have to include this new novel by master story teller, David Metzenthen, tackling the effects of Post-Traumatic Stress associated with one of our more recent political conflicts. Immersing readers into hot sweating jungle warfare and solider psyche, makes for a challenging read, not for the faint hearted. There’s a possibility it will create lasting impressions but not because of any insensitive gratuitous horror (there isn’t any) rather because it’s narrated in a somewhat disconnected way, from deep inside the head of a returned Vet and his erstwhile Viet Cong nemesis.

If you think you have difficulties getting your head around this psychological battle, spare a thought for the main character, Johnny Shoebridge. His tale of post-Vietnam traumatic anxiety is as wrenching and spellbinding as it is complicated and beautiful. Johnny has left the battlefields but has brought home a dread of living and the ghost-fighter, Khan who relentlessly dogs him. He knows he will remain forever at war if he can’t find a way to lay this phantom to rest.

Metzenthen has woven an elegant web of infinite detail, spinning tragedy and despair with hope and healing, undoable finality with incomplete futures, expanding on the truism that a solider may leave the battlefield behind but that the battle may never truly leave him.

‘Death never ended for the living.’

Wit and plenty of ribald reality checks temper Metzenthen’s breathtaking use of language and meticulous description while characters so real you can literally hear and smell them give you a great sense of tangibility. By the end of it, we come to acknowledge the awful truth we’ve suspected all along just like Khan and Johnny, that war is never really about wanting to kill or having a choice about it. Dreaming the Enemy decries this ultimate tragedy with a force so powerful it leaves your heart heaving.

Older teen readers will gain immeasurably from this stirring read as will the rest of us. Stunning and faultless.

Allen & Unwin 2016

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

 

Gone to the Dogs – Canine reads to relish

Pig the Winner illoCats v Dogs: me, I’m more of a dog person but there can be little denying the positive impact pets have on small minds and well-being no matter what species they are. The therapeutic effect dogs have on the lives of their humans is well documented. Their cuteness appeal however is much harder to chart. It simply knows no bounds. Here is a smattering of doggy-inspired reads for kids that may lure more of the feline-inclined over to the dog-side.

Cute Appeal

The Pocket DogsThe Pocket Dogs and the Lost Kitten by Margaret Wild and Stephen Michael King is a jolly little new addition to the extremely likeable picture book series, The Pocket Dogs. Mr Pockets’ dogs, Biff and Buff struggle to accommodate a new member into the family in this picture book that pre-schoolers will soak up with glee and older readers can easily tackle on their own. King’s iconic illustrations thrill to the nth degree. Learn more about Biff and Buff’s adventures here, in Romi’s fabulous recent review.

Omnibus Books Scholastic Imprint February 2016

Winner!

Pig the WinnerI have to confess, Pig was not my favourite Aaron Blabey character when he first forced his way into our lives. Bulgy-eyed and ill-tempered with the most pugnacious attitude on four legs, Pig was hard to love. Nevertheless, his irascible nature eventually got under my skin like a coat-full of fleas and by Pig the Fibber, I had to agree with my 9 year-old that this cantankerous canine really was worth trying to love. Pig the Winner is quite possibly my favourite account of this bad-mannered pooch to date. His behaviour has not altered and his agenda remains purely pug-orientated; poor second-best, Trevor is treated with the same distain and disrespect as before for Pig’s greed to be first at everything outweighs any compassion he has for his kennel buddy. He’s a cheat and a gloater who has to learn the hard way that good sportsmanship should be about fun, friendship, and fitness not just coming first all the time. And he does learn eventually, sort of… Pig the Winner is a gloriously gauche and enjoyable mockery of man’s best friend behaving badly. A winning addition for your Pig collection.

Scholastic Press March 2016

Tips and Tricks

Wonderdogs Tips and TrainingIf you need help changing your pooch from a Pig to a well-mannered pup, look no further than Dr Katrina Warren and Kelly Gill’s Wonderdogs Ticks & Training. This doggy training guide isn’t just about extending the mental prowess of one of the world’s smartest dogs, the Border Collie, although it does feature Kelly Gill’s troop of wonder collies. It guides readers through the basics of puppy care, socialisation, initial good manners training and harnessing canine respect and psyche. Moreover, it does all this in a supremely conversational and digestible way, perfect for the young dog owner. Children as young as five will gain much from the clearly laid out explanations and sweeter than cotton candy photos of some very cute collie pups. Part 2 ramps up the training to wonderdog level introducing readers and their dogs to dozens of trainable tricks ranging from basic to advanced, again in step-by-step logical progression. It’s easier than following a recipe and just as rewarding. You don’t have to be a new dog owner either to appreciate this book and transform your dog into something even more wonderful.

HarperCollins Publishers March 2012

Leader of the Pack

Me TeddyChris McKimmie’s creations either make you cringe with discomfort or cheer with exuberance. His picture books brim with artwork that is simultaneously bewildering and bewitching, crowded with observational humour and flushed with detail. I don’t always find them easy to read but immensely interesting to absorb, often across a number of readings.

Me, Teddy echoes much of the iconic McKimmie brilliance we’ve come to associate his tales with however, for me, it represents a significant piece of art and comedy, as well. This is Teddy’s scrapbook, a carefully scraped together collection of memories, anecdotes, pictures, and internal thoughts by the McKimmie’s much-loved black Labrador. Teddy introduces us to his chewed-shoe and soap-eating, puppyhood then invites us to romp with him through his day-to-day adventures including his confusion when his family temporarily depart with their suitcases, leaving him behind. I love Teddy’s dog-eared perspective of life and the subtle intimation that he is the one who really calls the shots. Actual drawings, photos and hand written notes create a delicious sense of authenticity for what could have been a self-indulgent tribute for a (beloved) family pet, which it is but which also elevates it to a heart-warming picture book that any child, person and dog lover will instantly ‘get’ and love, too.

Allen & Unwin Children’s February 2016

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Animals behaving badly – Picture book reviews

Archie illos spreadThey say animals have been done to death in picture books. Why then does nearly every second illustrated story I pick up feature talking, singing, skydiving critters of every shape and body-covering-skin type? Because kids adore them, that’s why. The funky demeanours of our animal friends serve not only to relay real-life stories and situations in non-threatening, easy to assimilate ways for young readers, they also ultimately create characters of irrepressible entertainment. This next selection of recently released picture books ably illustrates this point.

Cheeky monotremes, mammals, and avians

Echidna Jim went for a SwimEchidna Jim went for a Swim bristles with fun and frivolity until you realise things are shaping up to end very badly for poor old Jim who just wants to enjoy a day at the beach with his mates. The archenemy of inflatables is of course anything spiky, but Jim is not about to let that ruin his fun. Phil Cummings is known for his poignant, super sensitive picture books. Echidna Jim represents a more quirky, unconventional style for him that nonetheless embraces difference and friendship. I loved Laura Wood’s interpretation of the moon-jumping cow in, The Cow Tripped Over the Moon. Her portrayal of surfing dingoes and soggy cockatoos is just as beguiling. Great for tots over three.

Scholastic Press February 2016

ChipWestern Australian author illustrator, Kylie Howarth was raised on an emu farm so presumably understands the fevered machinations of our feather-minded friends. Chip is like most other gulls…he adores fish and chips; can’t get enough of them in fact. Sadly, his obsession leads to total prohibition of all fried foodstuffs from Joe’s Chips Van until one day Chip cooks up an idea involving the rest of his seaside-clan. Together, with a little perseverance and a lot of verve, they convince Joe of their potential sales benefit to him and thus earn a place at his table. This is a deceptively simple book featuring cuter than cute seagull pictures, an extra surprise element within, and the commendable message that human food is perhaps not the best for our wild native buddies no matter how hard they try to convince us otherwise. Fun reading for pre-schoolers with the potential to lead to real-life discussions.

The File Mile Press March 2016

Archie no ordinary slothHeath McKenzie is no stranger when it comes to capturing animal antics between the pages of picture books. Archie no ordinary sloth, is his latest creation featuring one of my favourites in the jungle, the ebullient sloth. Well, at least Archie is which is what immediately alienates him from the rest of his inactive tribe. Lonely and unable to accept his unsloth-like incongruities, Archie flees and happens upon a group of outcasts whose appearances and attitudes help him turn his own around. They convince him to return to his friends whom he discovers, are in grave danger. Will extra-ordinary Archie save the day? A charismatic little picture book full of McKenzie’s zest-filled drawings, lovable characters, and comical prose perfect for focusing on the usefulness of being different.

The Five Mile Press March 2016

Big Bad Bears

Bear Make DenNot since Goldilocks and the Three Bears have I wanted to doss up under the same roof as a bear so much. Bear Make Den is the combined effort of Jane Godwin and Michael Wagner and is gloriously illustrated by Andrew Joyner. In a subtle uproarious salute to the home handy man, Godwin and Wagner reveal Bear’s Ikea-inspired side as he blunders through a bout of home renovations. As his den fills with furniture and other home-making necessities such as art and ovens for cake baking, it slow dawns on Bear that there is little point in having a great home if you’ve no one to share it with. EBear Make Den cake illo spreadlementary, bear-like prose roars into life within Joyner’s intelligently drawn pictures. Bear is someone I’d love to share cake with. Bear Make Den  is a splendid book to share with toddlers, pre-schoolers, and early primary readers a like because of the scope of its vocabulary, visual story, and suggestion about ‘the value of relationships in making us happy’.

Allen & Unwin January 2016

A Beginners Guide to Bear SpottingIf you’re going to keep hanging around bears, you would be wise to swat up on Michelle Robinson’s and David Roberts’ Beginner’s Guide to Bear Spotting. This big, hulking bear of a picture book is laugh-out-loud funny and constitutes a primary- schooler’s essential guide to surviving a walk through bear country. It patiently takes readers through a series of serious definitions whilst trying to focus young attention spans on the various dangers and attributes of the Black and the Brown bear, which as it turns out, are confusingly similar. By the end, we are none the wiser as to whether bears are truly sweet cuddly teddies in disguise or not, but sufficed to say, we were warned. In spite of the drop-bear being the most fearsome Ursus we Aussies have to contend with, Bear Spotting is still a convincing and very comical read. Robinson’s text is as wry and witty as it was in There’s a Lion in my Cornflakes, while Robert’s drop-dead brilliant illustrations read like a box-office smash. Highly recommended.

A Beginners Guide to Bear Spotting illo spread jpgBloomsbury children’s Publishing Australia March 2016

 

Finding the Love within – Part 1 – Elephant Man

Elephant Man cover 2The old proverb ‘you can’t judge a book by its cover’ is a mantra often touted but sadly, sometimes forgotten in our instantaneous summarising of a person’s character based on their outward appearance. In spite of our best efforts to ignore the extraordinary and bypass the bizarre, unusual can equate to different which can persuade us to believe it as being wrong which means we are liable to overlook the true beauty of a thing or personality of a person. Here (across two reviews) are two picture books that I believe will help young children see beyond the ‘covers’ of difference and discover a deeper greater understanding of what dwells within.

Elephant Man

Written Mariangela Di Fiore (translated by Rosie Hedger) Illustrated by Hilde Hodnefjeld

I first learned of Joseph Merrick aka the Elephant Man in my early teens thanks to the 1980 movie release dramatizing this man’s short life during the late 1800s. I remember with indelible clarity the poignant ending and cruel indignities portrayed so effectively in black and white, but confess I never sought out written information about the man behind the mask. Life moved on as it does, till now.

Elephant Man illo spreadThe picture book, Elephant Man is the first time Merrick’s story has been told with children in mind. Firstly, it blows current 400-words-or-less picture book constraints out of the water. Di Fiore is deliberately unrushed and methodical in her telling of Merrick’s story from the time of his birth, when he looked ‘like any other baby’ to his rapid physical corruption, possibly caused from Proteus syndrome and the disease called neurofibromatosis type 1.

Mid-primary readers will easily handle this account thanks to the inclusion of beseeching dialogue and Merrick’s fictionalised internal thought. There is a satisfying balance of story interwoven with fact and intimate events. By the final ‘reveal’, we have endured the pain and humiliation as Joseph did as well as being heartened by his tremendous sense of self-regard despite his dispiriting existence.

Mariangela Di FioreDi Fiore’s compassionate narrative aligns effortlessly with Hodnejeld’s mesmerising illustrations, describing Joseph’s devastating loss of his mother as a wee lad, his alienating deformities, his surrender to life as a spectacle and his eventual salvation by the kind doctor, Frederick Treves.

Hodnefjeld’s artwork is heart stopping. Combining illustration, and photographic montage it gives readers tantalising glimpses into real Victorian London, including the London Hospital where Joseph resided until his death.Hilde Hodnefjeld

This is a true story both confronting and liberating. It is moving and memorable. It bares the worst and best of humanity without sacrificing dignity. Above all, it demonstrates the strength of will, that once uncovered can make love accessible to anyone, no matter whom or what they are – or what they look like.

I read this to my 10 year-old who insisted I complete it in one sitting. I could see the profound effect it had on her from the look on her face as she assimilated something almost unimaginable. She commented repeatedly afterwards on Joseph’s plight, trying to come to grips with the way he was treated, the way he looked and most touchingly, how he must have felt. ‘That poor man…’

Gather round – prepare to be amaze! You simply won’t believe it’. Elephant Man is neither gruesome nor frightening, rather simply beautiful and so very very relevant. I entreat you to share it.

Allen & Unwin Children’s January 2016

Stick around for Part 2 of Finding the Love within when we go a little crazy with, Annabel’s Dance.

 

 

Australian YA: Meet Lili Wilkinson and Green Valentine

 

Thanks for speaking to Boomerang Books, Lili

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

I’m in Melbourne, and I’m as involved as a lady with an eleven-month-old baby can be! I used to work at the Centre for Youth Literature at the State Library of Victoria, where I helped establish insideadog.com.au, the Inky Awards and the Inky Creative Reading Prize. I’ve just finished my PhD in Creative Writing, and I’m part of the #loveozya movement, as well as just being generally around on social media.

ScatterheartI’ve followed and admired your work for many years, in the past reviewing Scatterheart for the former version of Books+Publishing and writing teacher notes for Joan of Arc.

How has your writing changed over time?

Thank you! I’d like to think my writing has gotten better – I certainly feel like I’m always learning and trying to improve. I’m more confident now, and my writing process is more streamlined. I’m also becoming much more aware of the gaps in literature (my own and more broadly), particularly in the areas of feminism and diversity, and am trying to do a better job of filling those gaps.

What is the significance of your title, Green Valentine (Allen & Unwin)?

Titles are the absolute worst. Green Valentine was originally called Garden Variety, then Bewildered, then Bewildering, then Lobstergirl and Shopping Trolley Boy. Then the wonderful Penni Russon suggested Valentine, and it ended up Green Valentine. Valentine is the suburb where the protagonist Astrid lives – it’s an awful, grey, ugly suburb where nothing grows and everything is shabby and run-down. Astrid’s interest in environmental issues inspires her to bring some green back into Valentine. It also works on a couple of other levels – the name Valentine suggests at some romantic possibilities, and the ‘green’ part refers not only to actual green growing things, but also the environmental activism movement, as well as signifying jealousy.Green Valentine

I love Green Valentine, not least because it’s very funny. Humour is difficult to write. How have you done it?

I love humour, and it is tricky to get right. Mostly I just try and make myself laugh. You feel extremely conceited sitting there at the computer chuckling away at your own jokes. But it has to be done! For me humour has to be paired with heart – I think humour and romance go hand-in-hand.

Which of your other books have humorous elements?

The Not Quite Perfect Boyfriend, Pink, A Pocketful of Eyes, Love-Shy and The Zigzag Effect. I’ve been on a bit of a funny bender. My next book won’t be funny at all! It’s going to be dark and sad, which is actually quite a fun change of pace for me.Pocketful of Eyes

In Green Valentine you have paired Astrid with Hiro. How unlikely is this match?

I love unlikely matches. For this pairing I wanted to mess with a few tropes – the Romeo/Juliet starcrossed lovers thing, a comical take on the masked-ball-mistaken-identity thing, and a sort of genderflipped Cinderella, where the girl is in the position of privilege. And I really wanted to take that well-worn trope of the Popular Mean Girl and make her the protagonist of the story, instead of the villain. I like writing stories about how putting people in boxes is stupid.

How have you used other texts in the novel?

Being a reader, so many of my experiences are shaped by the books I’ve read and loved, and it makes sense for me to extend that to my writing. Green Valentine references heaps of different kinds of texts – from Pride and Prejudice to Tom’s Midnight Garden. But probably most significant is the use of comic books and superheroes. Hiro is a comic book fan, so he and Astrid frame their guerilla gardening activities through a superhero lens, using those characters as a kind of tool to interrogate their own actions and emotions. This was inspired by activist fandoms like the Harry Potter Alliance, who are motivated by literature to try and make the world a better place. I love the idea that stories can act like a kind of blueprint of how to change the world.Tom's Midnight Garden

Greening a community is such a wonderful premise. Is this something you try to do also, maybe even at home?

The whole book came about because I started a veggie garden and was so excited about growing my own food that I wanted to write about it. I have a relatively small little patch of backyard, but manage to grow a lot of fruit and vegetables due to careful planning and some solid permaculture principles. Next, I want chickens.

In the novel you refer to the Cuban Garden Revolution. What is it?

Cuba used to grow lots and lots of tobacco and sugar, and sold most of it to other countries. But to grow a whole lot of just one thing is difficult, so you need lots of pesticides and synthetic fertilisers. After the Cold War, Cuba couldn’t get that stuff from the US any more because of the trade embargo, and when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1989, Cuba’s whole economy collapsed too because they had nobody left to trade with. They didn’t have enough food, medicine or petrol, which meant that all that sugar and tobacco just rotted away in fields, because there was no one to harvest or transport it. Plus, none of those fertilisers or pesticides for the next crop. They couldn’t import food the way they used to, because they weren’t earning any money from their exports. People were starving to death.

So in Havana, they started growing food in the city. They turned vacant lots and rooftops into gardens. Every school and small business had a little veggie garden. No more big petrol-guzzling tractors required, just people, wheelbarrows and a few oxen. When you grow lots of different things together, your biodiversity increases, and you don’t need any pesticides or fertilisers. They went back to ancient traditions of crop rotation and companion planting. They made compost and harvested animal manure. Today, nearly all the seasonal produce consumed in Havana is grown within the city, as well as all the eggs, honey, chickens and rabbits. They’re a world leader in worms and worm farm technology.

It’s really inspiring stuff, and as large-scale agriculture becomes more and more difficult as we face the challenges of climate change, these small-scale intensive urban farming projects are going to become more and more vital to our survival.

What are you enjoying reading?Cloudwish

I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, a stunning exploration of love and family and art. I read it when my baby was very small, and I actually looked forward to him waking up in the middle of the night so I could tiptoe into his room and feed him while reading it on my phone.

Cloudwish by Fiona Wood. Just finished this and adored everything about it. Beautiful writing, beautifully crafted story and character, handling diversity with a very sensitive and respectful touch.

Thanks very much, Lili. I hope Green Valentine finds an enormous readership.

Trace Balla’s Time to Shine

IMG_7630Up-and-comer author illustrator, Trace Balla, has quickly hit the scene with the recent success of Rivertime, being both shortlisted in the 2015 Children’s Book Council of Australia Picture Book of the Year Awards, and winning this year’s Readings Children’s Book Prize. Her work stems from a background in art therapy, animations and community involvement, with a strong focus on environmental themes. Let’s enter the magical tales of nature, love and loss with her two books, Rivertimeand ‘Shine’.  

9781743316337Rivertime, published by Allen & Unwin in 2014.  

You know a book’s going to be special when the front cover is graced with both an entrancing illustration and a testimonial by acclaimed environmentalist, David Suzuki, telling us about the delight and magic that awaits inside. I’m already loving the endpapers that greet us with a wonderfully hand-drawn menagerie of native birds at the front, and other flora and fauna at the back, all ready to be spotted along our river journey.

Rivertime book image2Boxed vignettes, speech bubbles of handwritten dialogue and endearing pencil drawings form the visual and sensational adventure that we embark on with characters, ten year old Clancy and his Uncle Egg. When number-loving Clancy is finally big enough, his bird-loving uncle plans a ten-day (or 240-hour, or 14,400-minute) paddling trip along the Glenelg River, minus all the technological gadgets. At first, Clancy is grumpy, but as the days pass, so does his temperamental attitude. The pair encounter beautiful wildlife, serene views and fascinating people of the land. Clancy learns to appreciate the beauty of nature and its creatures, a few camping skills, and particularly, to conquer the jetty exit! I just adore the tranquility, including scenes of ‘timelessness’; of gentle, seemingly-infinite rivertime drifting and star gazing on double page spreads. Final pages include a map of the canoe trip on Bochara (the Glenelg River), and the author’s inspiration for the story following her own river journey, away from the modern world.

Rivertime is a calming influence on what is normally a chaotic lifestyle for most of us. It lets us take a breath, or a few, and enjoy the Australian river ride, encouraging its readers to connect with, and hopefully strive to sustain, our unique and wonderful natural environment. Paddling up this river is a true delight; ‘oar-some’ to be explored independently and as part of a class discussion.  

Download a handy pocket bird-watching guide to accompany Rivertime here.
And, look out for Trace Balla’s sequel to ‘Rivertime’; ‘Rock-hopping’.  

9781743316344Shine; a story about saying goodbye, published by Allen & Unwin in 2015.  

From an intensely raw place in her heart, Trace Balla wrote ‘Shine’ for her sister’s children after the sudden passing of their father. From the dedication page, this book takes the reader on an emotional journey, even for those who haven’t experienced loss of great magnitude.

With its heavenly, Indigenous-look line and dot paintings, and equally sentimental Dreamtime essence in the words, we are introduced to a shimmering light amongst the golden stars; a young horse called Shine. As the planets align, he meets the lovely Glitter, and together they are blessed with two little sparkles, Shimmer and Sparky. When Shine has to return to his star, the family weep golden tears that form a huge golden ocean. But this is the part that really got me… As they climb the steepest of mountains to reflect upon its beauty, Glitter explains that its vastness represents the endless and enduring love they have for Shine and for each other. Finally, it’s the brightest, most special star of all amongst the twinkling night sky that allows them a deep and beautiful sleep.

Shine book image ‘Shine’ is a touching story that sensitively deals with ‘saying goodbye’ in a simple, yet profound way. Trace Balla cleverly uses yellow and blue hues not only to represent the shine amongst the dark, but also as the hope and love amongst the tragedy of loss.

A metaphorical beauty for young children, with the power of everlasting love at its core.  

Both these stories inspire an appreciation for every moment spent with the things that matter most in this world, and far beyond it…  

Review – Teddy Took the Train

Teddy Took the TrainLoss is a natural part of life. Nearly all of us have experienced it, losing a pet, a loved one, a favourite piece of antique china, mental sanity. As adults, we are equipped with strategies and understanding enough to assist us to the next station in life, to get over it. However, when a child is faced with the sudden loss of say, a beloved toy, feelings of desperation and grief amplify because of their less refined fields of reference.

This new picture book, Teddy Took the Train by Nicki Greenberg mirrors an identical incident my Miss experienced several years ago (cue Pinkie, the Rabbit) and is one I’m positive many a distracted parent has had to contend with.

Teddy and DotDot loves days out in the city with her mum. They enjoy many child-cherishable moments together like shopping at the markets and munching on buns for morning tea. Teddy is Dot’s silent companion and experienced commuter. He and Dot take in the world together through the rain-splattered windows of the train home, oblivious to the crushing crowds surrounding them because after all, for a child the window seat is everything.

Distractions spring up everywhere but when mum cries to follow her at their stop, Dot has to make a hasty exit completely forgetting about Teddy. Her best mate’s absence goes unnoticed at first. Splashing in storm puddles creates too much here and now pleasure that is impossible to ignore. When the crushing reality that Teddy is missing hits, Dot is plunged into despair.

But wait, did the train take Teddy or did he take the Train? Dot suspects this is exactly what Teddy had in mind all along and is using this opportunity to get to the picnic he’s been invited to at Bear Bend; crafty old bear.

Nevertheless, he is taking an awfully long time to get back home. Concerns creep into Dot’s curly-haired head as she counts the hours of his disappearance and is torn between hope and dismay. Thankfully, Dot is made of sturdy stoic stuff and gives our roving ted all the credit he deserves.

Nicki GreenbergGreenberg portrays this familiar tale with visceral warmth and verve. Her use of causal rhyme moves Dot and Teddy’s day along at a comfortable pace that allows young readers to becoming fully absorbed in Ted’s adventure.

The illustrations, executed in a variety of mediums including scanned objects and digital collages provide plenty of stop and seek moments and create an authentic inner-city-storm-day mood.

I’m not going to tell you if Dot and Teddy are ever reunited. It’s the kind of anxious desperation many of us (as kids) have lived through and that future generations who insist on taking their toys everywhere with them, will have to endure. Needless to say, Pinkie, the Rabbit never made it back after his trip around the Brisbane train network, but we like to think he found a new little girl (or boy) to roam the rails with, and is seeing the world in the way only a stuffie can.

Experience Teddy’s amazing adventures for yourself and with children 3 to 5 years old, here.

Allen & Unwin April 2015

Elizabeth Honey’s ‘Hop Up! Wriggle Over!’ – One for Mum and Bub

1733911_origHop Up! Wriggle Over!, Elizabeth Honey (author, illus.), Allen & Unwin, April 2015.  

Cherish the moments of early mornings, chaotic meal times, constantly chasing tails and a house that’s never tidy, because one day it will be a distant memory; and you’ll miss it. This recent release emanates all this energy, and more; it’s a gorgeous, totally relatable book for mums to share with their little cherubs for Mother’s Day.  

elizabeth_honeyAward-winning author of poetry, novels and picture books, Elizabeth Honey‘s books exude vibrancy, joyfulness and wit. She also illustrates her own books, which are characteristically heartwarming and delightful. Some of her titles include I’m Still Awake, Still!, Ten Blue Wrens and That’s not a Daffodil! (CBCA 2012 Honour Book).  

Distinct to her charmingly boisterous style is her latest celebration of our unique national fauna; ‘Hop Up! Wriggle Over!’ is a completely adorable book of an Australian animal family bouncing through a busy day.  

With glorious onomatopoeia in short, punchy bursts, the baby mammals jumpstart the day with a scene parents know all too well. No more rest for the wicked; Mother Koala and Father Kangaroo are soon hustling as the daily routine begins.

”Hop up! Wriggle over! Wakey wakey. Hungry.
Crunch crunch. Gobble gobble. Lick lick. More!
Bong! Bong! Clang clang! Ting ting! Shhhh!”
 

Hop up! Wriggle Over! ImageWith nine little ones to attend to, breakfast is like a clanging, tinging orchestra of bowls and spoons. A trip to the playground is like running a marathon trying to keep up with their abundance of energy. Tea time sounds of nibbles, chomps, slurps and burps. And bath time is bubblicious pandemonium. Finally, the kidlets settle for a story, and kisses, snuggles and sweet dream wishes see the babes peaceful at last.  

As playful as the text, Elizabeth Honey’s illustrations radiate life, animation and spirit. Typical toddler-like actions in the pictures suitably mimic the frolicsome hubbub that the words express. At the same time, her pencil and watercolour paints create a gentle feeling in its technique and natural earthy tones; perfect to capture the warmth and innocence of this loving family.  

‘Hop Up! Wriggle Over!’ is a beautiful introduction to different Australian animals and the reinforcement of the daily routine. It is a book of romping good fun, but also a nice way to end a busy day. What could be better than a story and a snuggle with your precious ones just before bed? An enchanting, lively book recommended for babies and young children, and their mums.
6606098

Picture Books to Celebrate the ANZAC Centenary

In just a couple of days we commemorate the legacy of the brave soldiers and the tragic events of World War 1 that occurred one hundred years ago. A beautiful selection of ANZAC books for children have been reviewed by Dimity here, but here’s a few more that certainly captured my heart with their touching themes of heroism, love and dedication.  

9781921720628Once a Shepherd, Glenda Millard (author), Phil Lesnie (illus.), Walker Books, 2014.

Gorgeous in its lyrical prose. Devastatingly provocative. Stunning imagery. ‘Once a Shepherd’ is a war story of love and loss, sure to break its readers’ hearts.
It tells of a young shepherd, living amongst a backdrop of emerald green beauty. “Once Tom’s world was all at peace.” He marries his sweetheart, and all the world seems right. Until he is called to war and he bids farewell to his wife and unborn child. A stranger veteran calls upon Tom’s home once the war had ended, only to share the shattering news of his heroic fall with a now grieving widow. Of the hand-stitched coat she once darned, now a new toy lamb is mended for Tom Shepherd’s baby boy. And the world is at peace once again.
‘Once a Shepherd’, with its carefully crafted verse and exquisite watercolour images of greens and browns, is a powerful, moving tale of the heartbreaking reality of war and the inherent hope for peace.
Prized Notable Picture Book of the Year in the Children’s Book Council of Australia’s 2015 Awards.  

9781921977718Midnight: The story of a light horse, Mark Greenwood (author), Frané Lessac (illus.), Walker Books, 2014.

A foal born at midnight; black as coal, eyes glimmering in the moonlight. She is Midnight, the Australian Light Horse trained by Lieutenant Guy Haydon and gracious in her charge in the last great cavalry.
The first port of call for the soldiers is four months in the trenches at Gallipoli without their horses. Reuniting once again in Cairo, the relationship is further bonded as the pair endure the harsh conditions of the heat, scarce water supply and flying shrapnel. But still, soldier and mare commit to their duties, and to one another. In a devasting final battalion (Beersheba, August 1917), riders tumble and horses fall. Guy and Midnight are both struck; a heartbreaking yet poignant moment as the pair share their last breath side by side.
The succinctness of the text reads almost poetically, and the continual references to the affectionate bond between Guy and his beloved Midnight make this war story more of a tender account of their time on the battlefield. The gouache illustrations by Frané Lessac compliment Greenwood’s evocative words and capture the starkness of each war scene.
With notes referencing background information on the Light Horse and the details of Beersheba, ‘Midnight’ makes for a terrific resource for studying the war, as well being as a heartrending tale of love and dedication.    

9781742833477Anzac Biscuits, Phil Cummings (author), Owen Swan (illus.), Scholastic Press, 2013.

This book is probably my favourite of the Anzac stories. ‘Anzac Biscuits’ poses a lovely contrast between a child’s warm and safe home, and her father battling the cold and dangerous conditions out in the trenches.
Rachel and her mother spend time together baking Anzac biscuits. As pots and pans bang and crash to the floor, the soldier lays low as shots bang around him. As Rachel sprinkles oats like snowflakes, the soldier turns his back to the bitter cold. The little girl loves the smell of burning red gum in her stove, but the soldier will never forget the choking gun smoke drifting across the fields. Despite the treachery that the soldier has faced, we are given a heartwarming ending we can cherish; the soldier – Rachel’s father – loved the biscuits made just for him.
An endearing story of affection, commitment and sacrifice, with equally warm and gentle illustrations, ‘Anzac Biscuits’ is a beautiful way to introduce the topic of wartime to young children. They will also find little clues in the pictures upon revisiting the book, which make for wonderful discussions about what life was like for both the soldiers and their families at home (and the significance of anzac biscuits).  
Prized Notable Picture Book of the Year in the Children’s Book Council of Australia’s 2014 Awards.
 
resized_9781743317235_224_297_FitSquareI Was Only Nineteen, John Schumann (text), Craig Smith (illus.), Allen & Unwin, 2014.

The words versing the iconic song about the Vietnam War, ‘I Was Only Nineteen’ tells of the devasting loss, sacrifice and emotional impact an elderly man is reliving of his time as a teenager at war.
We travel with this veteran from the moment he set sail, to inhabiting a firey, orange scrub, battling for hours and weeks amongst bullets and grenades and watching mates hit by the blasts. No-one told him about the mud, blood, tears, rashes and chills that would haunt him until he was old.
These memories of the war, through these unforgettable words, have been beautifully illustrated by Craig Smith, rendering warmth and respecting the spirit of our soldiers – the fallen and the survivors. I love the clever connection between the past recount and the present with a touch of army green evident in each scene showing the veteran and his grandson.
‘I Was Only Nineteen’ is a poignant rendition of a groundbreaking song by John Schumann, with great historical significance and plenty of scope for wartime study.
Prized Notable Picture Book of the Year in the Children’s Book Council of Australia’s 2015 Awards.

LEST WE FORGET

Review – WANTED! Ralfy Rabbit, Book Burglar

Wanted Ralfy Rabbit It is wise to start a new year on a positive note. Many begin with a resolution. A new book excites me. But how do you choose the perfect title that will not only entertain and enthral but also convince you to pick up another, again and again? Best to begin with a tale of intrigue, mystery, and devil-may-care with a convincing love story involving passion and redemption. Happily, I found such a (picture book) tale so began the New Year with Ralfy the Rabbit!

Ralfy has a touch of OCD. He likes making lists and is a bit of an over-sharer all because he harbours a passion that runs deeper than a need for carrots. Ralfy loves books. In fact, he can’t get enough of them.

And, as some obsessions are wont to become, Ralfy’s soon evolves into one of criminal dimensions. Ralfy can’t stop taking other people’s books in order to satisfy his need to read.

It appears Ralfy’s bibliophilic book thief existence is unstoppable until he meets Arthur, who also loves books and becomes more than a little agitated by the loss of his favourite title. Unable to curb his lust for books, Ralfy is finally nabbed by PC Puddle. At first, Arthur rejoices but then sympathises with the bookworm in Ralfy.

Emily MacKenzieHow can Arthur save Ralfy from imprisonment and cure his burglary tendencies without curtailing his lifelong love? Tune into author illustrator, Emily MacKenzie’s Wanted! Ralfy Rabbit, Book Burglar to find out.

MacKenzie’s bouncy picture book text and adorable crayon/watercolour illustrations give wonderful insight into the heart and soul of would-be criminal, Ralfy. Wanted! Ralfy Rabbit, demonstrates to young readers how two very different people can find unity because of a shared common passion and, in this case, become best (book) buddies.

I love how Wanted!… ultimately celebrates books and unashamedly encourages reading at every level, on almost every page. One can’t help but giggle at Ralfy’s’ expansive To Read, Read and Favourites Lists which include some time honoured literary masterpieces such as: A Hutch with a View, Warren Peas and The Hoppit.

the children who loved booksThe Bush Book ClubLike several other picture books before it, namely: The Children Who Loved Books, It’s a Book, Parsley Rabbit’s Book about Books, I Love You Book, and Bush Book Club, Wanted! Ralfy Rabbit, Book Burglar embraces the literal physicality of books and re-establishes the importance of the havens that show case them (libraries for instance) by subtly emphasising their significance in our world. Ultimately, a book about loving words and libraries and treasuring the worlds they harbour.

This one is definitely going on my Favourites List. Fantastic reading for 5 – 8 year olds and five out of five carrots from me!

Bloomsbury Publishing January 2015

 

Books of Summer – For Kids

In Australia we’re in the midst of Summer, although here in Melbourne we’ve already had all four seasons in one, sometimes even in one day! A great way to familiarise children with all that the season encompasses is through engaging language experiences. That means providing children opportunities to see, do, touch, listen, read and think about different activities (going to outdoor places like the beach, pool, etc), and then talk, write and create about them.   
I’ll suggest a few fantastic picture books to get stuck into following your outdoor Summer adventures, as well as some fun learning tasks to enrich and reinforce what your child has discovered.  

rules-of-summerRules of Summer, Shaun Tan (author / illustrator), Lothian, 2013. CBCA Winner 2014, Queensland Literary Awards Winner 2014.

Wow. Just wow! Shaun Tan has brought a truly fantastical, mysterious and somewhat dark version of what Summer means to a pair of young brothers. Amazingly thought-provoking and surreal, with spectacular, Van-Gogh-like paintings, this book promotes analytical skills in deciphering its’ content; both the text and the images.
Exploring the complicated relationship between the boys, each spread states a new rule to obide by. But failing to comply results in harsh consequences, particularly for the younger brother. In the end the pair join forces in an imaginatively delightful celebration of summer fruits and a beautiful sunset. And after all the emotion, conflict, darkness and out-of-this-world imagery, there’s still room for a little chuckle as seen in the endpaper.
Suited to primary school aged children who will enjoy adding their own interpretation to the depth and meaning that Shaun Tan has conveyed.  

2015-01-07-15-06-02--1990215886Granny Grommet and Me, Dianne Wolfer (author), Karen Blair (illustrator), Walker Books, 2013, CBCA Shortlist 2014.

An enchanting book about a boy narrator who delights at the sea’s wonders, with his Granny and her elderly, grommet friends (a grommet is a young or beginner surfer). There is much humour in watching old ladies twisting, turning, zooming through dumpers and riding a curler wave to the shore! However, the boy feels nervous about what he doesn’t know, but Granny reassures and shows him safe and friendly things in the sea.
Lovely, gentle text by Wolfer, from the perspective of a child, beach safety tips, and fun, colourful paint and pencil drawings by Blair, make Granny Grommet and Me an engaging and reassuring story to be read many times over.  

noni-the-pony-goes-to-the-beachNoni the Pony Goes to the Beach, Alison Lester (author / illustrator), Allen & Unwin, 2014.

Following the original Noni the Pony, the loveable pony is back and ready to set off to the beach with her companions; Coco the cat and Dave the dog. As far as cats go, Coco prefers to be nonchalant and stay dry. But like any typical energetic dog, Dave bounds off through the waves to find a whale, only to become stranded in the middle of the ocean. In her true heroic, caring manner, Noni is there to fish him out and return to the safety of the shore.
With Alison Lester’s characteristically gorgeous, endearing illustrations, and gentle, rhythmic wording, Noni the Pony Goes to the Beach is a fun, positive tale of friendship and all things magical about visiting the beach.  

a-swim-in-the-sea-1A Swim in the Sea, Sue Whiting (author), Meredith Thomas (illustrator), Walker Books, 2013. Speech Pathology Australia Winner 2014.

A gorgeous story of an excitable young Bruno who can’t wait to experience the big blue sea for the first time. Wildly eager to dive right in, Bruno suddenly halters at the loud, thumping, pounding waves, which frighten him. As his family introduce him to other fun beach activities, like rockpools and sand cities, Bruno eventually discovers that the big blue sea is far from scary.
Sue Whiting’s text is beautifully descriptive and engaging. I love the way she talks about the sea; ”wobbling like a sparkly blue jelly”. And Meredith Thomas’ illustrations are equally expressive, bold and moving with bright, complimentary colours that almost literally wash over the pages.
A delightfully sunny story about first-time experiences at the beach, and facing one’s fears.  

seadogSeadog, Claire Saxby (author), Tom Jellett (illustrator), Random House Australia, 2013. Speech Pathology Australia Winner 2013.

An adorably funny story about a dog who is not like other working, well-trained dogs that fetch sticks, sit still then roll over and stay clean. Their dog is a Seadog, a run-and-scatter-gulls, crunch-and-munch, jump-and-chase Seadog. And although he is not a bath dog, there comes a time to sit-still-till-it’s-done, until…
With Jellett’s characteristically boisterous and comical illustrations, Seadog is a great read-aloud book perfect for little ones who enjoy romping with their dogs at the beach.  

9781925161168_ONASMALLISLAND_WEBOn a Small Island, Kyle Hughes-Odgers (author / illustrator), Fremantle Press, 2014.

‘On a small island, in a gigantic sea, lives Ari.’ Ari lives alone, collecting objects and watching the large ships pass by. One day a captain visits and tells Ari of the wonderful and intriguing people, buildings and exceptional artefacts of a great land on the horizon. Ari longs for a place like this and feels alone on his island. Until he has a brilliant, creative idea which eventually attracts the footsteps of many, and he is finally able to appreciate his surroundings and frequenting company.
Exotic, Mediterranean-style paintings, packed with mosaics, pattern and texture, artist and author Kyle Hughes-Odgers has created a magnificent flowing story exploring isolation, friendship, creativity and recycling that is both sophisticated and unique.  

With a few more weeks of Summer school holidays left, there’s plenty of time to head outdoors and enjoy the sunshine with your little ones (and furry ones, too!). Then find a cool, shady spot like Coco the cat for some relaxing summertime reading!  
And for some fun teaching and learning activities related to the Summer theme, head to www.pinterest.com/mylilstorycrner.
www.romisharp.wordpress.com
www.facebook.com/mylittlestorycorner

Kylie Westaway Makes a Big Splash with her Debut Picture Book, ‘Whale in the Bath’

Author-pic-in-tree-close-upKylie Westaway is the author of her popular debut picture book, Whale in the Bath. She has literally travelled far and wide, worked in foreign schools, events and in theatre. But there’s one thing that has remained constant in her life; her love of writing. Here, I’ll give you the brief run-down of her captivating tale, Whale in the Bath, then we’ll find out more from Kylie Westaway about how it’s all come together.  

whale-in-the-bath The Review:
Get ready to dive right in to this splashing ‘tail’ of a stubborn whale and a boy with a huge problem. Kylie Westaway and Tom Jellett have brilliantly combined to fill our homes with laughter with the whimsical ”Whale in the Bath”.
Bruno finds himself in a ‘conveniently’ misfortunate situation when he’s sent off to take a bath. A massive whale overfills the tub, and it is using Bruno’s bubble-gum bubble bath, which is not even the whale’s flavour of preference. But his family won’t have a bar of it, and accuse Bruno of lying and purposely avoiding his bath. With several failed attempts to get the whale out of the bath, it finally squirts out a genius plan to help Bruno get clean and smelling, well, fishy!
A very comical story with Tom Jellett’s distinguishable trademark cartoon-style drawings and cool, retro colours, makes ”Whale in the Bath” a most engaging, imaginative and charming read. It aims to encourage preschoolers who just want to be heard, and to simply have a whale of a time!  

The Interview:
Congratulations on your first picture book release, ‘Whale in the Bath’! How did you celebrate its launch?
My family held a surprise launch for me! I turned up, expecting it to be a party for Father’s Day, and all my family and friends were there holding copies of my book. It was really lovely!  

Inspiration-Whale-in-the-BathWhere did the inspiration for this story come from?
It actually came from a drawing I found in a market a few years ago. It was a cartoon-style drawing of a whale in a metal tub, floating on the ocean. The whole story popped into my head at once. I’ve put the original drawing up on my website.  

What was your favourite part of creating ‘Whale in the Bath’?
Definitely seeing the illustrations from Tom Jellett. I’ve been writing stories ever since I can remember, but I’ve never been very good at drawing. Seeing Tom’s amazing images bringing the story to life was an incredible feeling. He did such a spectacular job.  

How did you find the publishing process and working with illustrator, Tom Jellett?
It was fascinating for me, because I hadn’t known quite what to expect, but the whole team I worked with was fantastic. I loved getting updates from Tom, and seeing the drawings progress from sketches to finished pieces. It was a real thrill when the designer started placing the words into the images and playing with different fonts and moving the type around. I feel like the finished book is so much more than I could ever have imagined because I had so many great people pouring their hearts into it.  

whale in the bath whooshI love the final surprise on the last page of the book! How much illustrative detail did you provide, and how much was left to Tom’s imagination?
It was almost all Tom’s imagination. The only illustrative detail I provided was that the whale shot a bath load of water into the air on the page that says “whoosh”, otherwise it was all Tom! That page was actually the most difficult to get right, and from memory we went through about 10 different roughs before Tom hit on the aerial view, and we all agreed that was perfect. One of my favourite illustrative details was Tom’s inclusion of the krill, which snuck into almost every page with the whale on it. In fact, when Tom provided the final page, which happened to be the imprint page with our dedications on it, he had added more krill to the page with a note saying “hope this isn’t overkrill.” He is completely brilliant.  

What has been the best response from a child and/or parent about your book?
Having kids want to read it has been the best response. It is such a thrill everytime someone tells me that their child loves my book and asks for it to be read over and over again. That is indescribably wonderful. Although one child has sent me a card with a picture of a whale in it (my very first fan mail!) and I love that too!  

Do you have plans to write stories on a similar tangent? Will Bruno feature in more books?
I really love Bruno and I definitely think he is going to have more adventures. At this stage I haven’t got anything in works, but he is pottering around in the back of my mind, and I’m sure he will come out again soon!  

You obviously have a good imagination! If you could be any animal, what would you be, and why?
Thank you! That’s a tough question! Probably I would have to be an animal that could fly – maybe an eagle or an albatross. I would love the feeling of being able to soar on big wings. Every now and then I have dreams that I can fly, and they are always incredible.  

Have you always wanted to be a picture book author? What do you like about writing children’s literature?
I’ve always wanted to write books for kids, whether that’s picture books or young adult. I think the problems you face as a child and how you handle them mould you into the type of adult you are going to become. Setting up good morals and codes of behaviour (without being preachy or saint-like!) in books, helps kids know how to handle those sorts of situations when they get into them. For me, Whale in the Bath is a story about telling the truth and not being believed. This is something that happens to kids a lot, and I like that Bruno doesn’t back down and is able to find his own way through it, even though no one believes him. You are often very powerless as a child, and I think that writing stories about people like Bruno is a great way of showing how you can empower children, and that’s something that I think is very important.  

What were your favourite books to read when you were a child?
Goodness, I could go on and on for pages here! For picture books, I loved The Most Scary Ghost and The Monster at the End of This Book. When I was a bit older, I loved Enid Blyton’s Famous Five series! I always wanted to be off having adventures with a dog like Timmy! My all time favourite book is To Kill a Mockingbird, and my first dog was named Scout, but I also love JRR Tolkien, Harry Potter, and Diana Wynne Jones.  

You’ve written a fantastic article about getting a book published (read it here). What is your greatest piece of advice for new and emerging writers?
Get as many people as possible to read your work, don’t spend years on the one story (write lots of stories) and keep submitting to magazines and publishers! That’s three pieces of advice, sorry! I couldn’t decide which was most important.  

I’d like to thank Kylie for her time and brilliant responses, as well as a very Merry Christmas and wonderful New Year!  

Find Kylie Westaway at:
http://www.kyliewestaway.com.au
https://www.facebook.com/kyliewestawayauthor
http://www.twitter.com/kyliewestaway  

Romi Sharp
http://www.romisharp.wordpress.com/whale-in-the-bath-teaching-notes
http://www.facebook.com/mylittlestorycorner
http://www.twitter.com/mylilstorycrner  

whale in the bath krill

More about the 2014 Prime Minister’s Literary Awards

PureheartIt is commendable that recent Prime Ministers have continued the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards even though, as with some other literary prizes, its future has often seemed under threat. It is a prestigious national award amongst the also-important state and other literary prizes. And it is lucrative, with winners receiving $80 000 and shortlisted authors $5 000 – the latter amount equal to winners’ prize money in some other awards.

The complete shortlist is listed here: http://www.pm.gov.au/media/2014-10-19/2014-prime-ministers-literary-awards-shortlists-0

I’d like to make some additional comments on some categories and specific titles.

It is excellent to see that poetry has its own category here, as in other awards. There is a thriving Australian poetry community and publishing output that readers might not be aware of. As a starting point, explore the Thomas Shapcott Prize, an annual award for emerging Qld poets, which reminds us of the exquisite poetry and prose of venerable Shapcott himself.

The fiction category includes the delightful Fiona McFarlane’s The Night Guest (Penguin: Hamish Hamilton), which may have been shortlisted for as many recent awards as Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North (Vintage). Australian writers and readers are still celebrating his well-deserved Man Booker Prize win, almost as though we won it ourselves. Moving Among Strangers

Gabrielle Carey’s Moving Among Strangers (UQP) about Randolph Stow and her family appears in the non-fiction category. I chaired a session with Gabrielle at the BWF several years ago and was interested then to hear about her research on this important Australian poet and novelist.

Merry Go Round in the Sea

Shortlisted in the history category, Clare Wright has been scooping awards for The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka (Text Publishing). She is also a knowledgeable and entertaining conversationalist.

The Young Adult fiction shortlist deservedly emulates some other YA awards, affirming Melissa Keil’s debut, Life in Outer Space (Hardie Grant Egmont), The First Third by Will Kostakis (Penguin) and The Incredible Here and Now by Felicity Castagna (Giramondo). It is great to see Simmone Howell’s edgy Girl Defective (Pan Macmillan) and Cassandra Golds’ groundbreaking Pureheart (Penguin) included. But where is Fiona Wood’s Wildlife (Pan Macmillan), which won this year’s CBCA award for Older Readers?

I have blogged about some of these books here: http://blog.boomerangbooks.com.au/what-will-win-ya-book-of-the-year/2014/07

Most State Awards have a children’s category, although it is inexplicably missing in the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards. Children’s books are the foundation of our publishing industry – and keep it afloat. If our children are not encouraged to read, who will buy and read books in the future? How literate will Australia be? Most of the PM children’s shortlist has been appearing on shortlists across the country this year, reinforcing the quality of these books. Barry Jonsberg’s My Life as an Alphabet (Allen & Unwin) has been straddling both the children’s and YA categories. This, as well as Kissed by the Moon by Alison Lester (Puffin) and Rules of Summer by Shaun Tan (Hachette) have already won notable awards. It is great to see Julie Hunt’s original fantasy, Song for a Scarlet Runner (Allen & Unwin) appearing on yet another shortlist and Bob Graham, Australia’s world-class author-illustrator, has done it again with his latest picture book, Silver Buttons (Walker Books).Song for a Scarlet Runner

Artfully Yours – Connecting with Picture Book art

Book Week Logo 2014Today officially heralds the start of the Children’s Book Council of Australia (CBCA) Book Week 2014. This year’s theme: Connect to Reading – Reading to Connect can be interpreted in many ways just as ones connection with art can take place on several levels. I have long purported that the humble picture book is one of our most powerful and meaningful manifestations of art. Why? Because of its ability to entertain, educate, enlighten, and enthral at a level wordless infants and the most mature members of society are able to appreciate.

There are few finer expressions of tenderness, joy, comedy, and pain than the marriage of images and words in a picture book. They represents true art, able to transport anyone, anywhere to other times and worlds with the flick of a page. This selection of picture books aptly illustrates my point. All are artful in their own ways. You will not love them all equally, just as you will not love everything you see on the walls of an art gallery, but therein lies the enigmatic beauty of the picture book.

Lisa Absolutely Loves Art Lisa Absolutely Loves Art by Sophie Norsa is a brief visit with some of our great artists and their well-known paintings through the eyes of young Lisa as she plunges into the dreamlike world of her local art gallery after her runaway cat, Picasso. Her search for him transports her through the 1800’s, capably combining impressionism and post-impressionism art forms in an on-canvas adventure, only ending once she returns to where she began.

Norsa is a young artist herself whose reproductions and interpretations of the techniques and style used by some of our most recognisable artists are artfully rendered in this unique picture book for pre-primary art lovers and artisans alike. New Frontier Publishing July 2014

Outside Outside by Libby Hathorn and Ritva Voutila is a glorious sensory celebration of what it is to be a child, carefree and at one with nature. The magic of being outdoors, of having grass beneath ones feet and clear bird-filled skies above is something not all young children are able to take for granted. Hawthorn’s poetic, repeating verse centres around the single question – ‘What’s that?’ between a curious young boy and his sister as they venture through their backyard on ‘a summery day’.

This is an unusuOutside illos spreadal picture book, lulling the reader into an almost hypnotic rhythm of straightforward explanation while steering us close to the nonsensical thanks to Voutila’s surreal illustrations: the cat looks almost human, the sky is a tapestry of patterned colour, the sun blazes stylised fleurs-de-lis. I found these digital creations rich and complementary to the text however not all young children will agree. They may find the oversized heads and features of the human characters a little too bizarre to comfortably relate to. A lavish homage to the simple things in life and being young nonetheless. Little Hare Books imprint of HGE August 2014.

Mr Chicken London Mr Chicken lands on London. The passion one feels towards art, something that monumentally moves and inspires them can be likened to love. This love need not be confined to one line or one picture; it may encompass a whole city and culture just as it did for Leigh Hobbs and Mr Chicken.

I know many adults and youngsters alike who have nibbled their nails down to the quicks in anticipation of the return of Mr Chicken since his flamboyant debut visit to Paris. Thankfully, they do not have to wait a minute longer and neither does Mr Chicken who is returning to his favourite city in the whole wide world, London.

Hobbs, creator of Old Tom, shares his love for London with Mr Chicken in an adroitly accurate, subtly comic, whirlwind tour of some of London’s most iconic landmarks.

Mr Chicken illoOur canary yellow, oversized poultry protagonist cuts a striking contrast amidst the common placed drabness of the city as one by one, he ticks off his must-sees and dos. His encounter with Her Majesty is amusing to the extreme but it is Mr Chicken’s moon lit stroll over Westminster Bridge that truly rings my bells.

A pictorial postcard of London that will resonate with both past visitors and those yet to experience the city’s many allures, not to mention 4 – 7 year olds who love talking, walking drumsticks. And, like fine art, Mr Chicken lands on London is something to savour. Allen & Unwin July 2014

Connect here with the CBCA 2014 winners and more great reasons to read.

Review – The Duck and the Darklings

The Duck and the DarklingsFrom beneath a mountain of brightly coloured picture books all screaming for review, I spied the oddly unassuming cover of The Duck and the Darklings. Odd because apart from Peterboy’s candle-hat, this was one sombre looking picture book. Even the title sounded desolate, quirky. Surely though something fantastical had to be dwelling between those black covers because this was the new creation of two of Australia’s most revered story tellers, Glenda Millard and Stephen Michael King.

The Duck and the Darklings is less of a blasé five minute read and more of a whimsical journey of despair, discovery, renewal and hope. It opens bleakly in the land of Dark and is about a small child named, Peterboy and his Grandpa, who share everything. Their home, though ‘built with care and lit with love’ is not a joy-filled place and is populated by others who depressingly are trapped by their own decayed memories.

But buried deep within Grandpa are ‘scraps of wonderfulness’ and ‘symphonies of stories’ past; tinder that Peterboy hopes to ignite and so rekindle the fire in his Grandfather’s eyes. He searches the ‘finding fields’ for something to make Grandpa’s inner light burn bright again but instead finds a wounded duck and takes her home.

Grandpa reluctantly repairs Idaduck and fosters a ‘forbidden fondness’ for her. But, just as Grandpa warned, it isn’t long before Idaduck gets the urge to be gone on the wind.

Peterboy is determined to make Idaduck’s departure memorable and enlists the Darkling children and Grandpa to help him light Idaduck’s way. It is a farewell and dawn that will never be ‘disremembered’ in the land of Dark.

This picture book sent tremors through nearly every one of my heartstrings. As I navigated my way through Peterboy’s and Idaduck’s story for the first time, it felt that Glenda Millard was deliberately tailoring each piece of prose for Stephen Michael King to work his illustrative genius on. Turns out, that was the case.

Glenda MillardMillard delivers unforgettable word images and unique refrains that defy banality and fill every page with pure poetry. Sorry drops; rusty latch key of his magnificent remembery; crumbs and crusts of comfort; and speckled surprises are just a few of my favourites amongst many of the fine examples of Millard’s exemplary way with words.

The Duck and the Darklings appears something of a departure from the norm for Stephan Michael King as well, at first. A noticeable lack of colour, definition and tea pots marks the first two thirds of his illustrations. Splats, smears and stains define the imperfectness and soulnessness of the land of Dark. The world Peterboy inhabits, bereft of light and cheer and hope, reminded me of the slum cities of some third world countries and of the dark depths of one’s own despair.

SMKBut gradually, almost imperceptibly, the landscape lightens as we eventually rise from the dark of night and the bruised ‘wounds man had made’ with his indifference, heal. A new day dawns, happily, in true trademark Stephen Michael King style.

The Duck and the Darklings is indeed a little bit strange, a little bit dark and a little bit different. It is also a lot of wonderful. Beneath an opaque veil of futility and the poignant reality of the inevitability of life, glows an inextinguishable brilliance.

Millard and King reassure us that even though physically all may be lost, deep down inside, hope beats. It hangs on like life itself and can be strengthened and restored to full splendour; ‘quack, waddle and wing.’ Truly inspirational.

Share this triumphant story with children 5 years and beyond and any adult who’ll listen.

Then, listen to this – not certain if the book motivated my mindset for this song or the reverse. Either way both are something special.

Allen & Unwin March 2014

 

 

 

 

Review – The Simple Things

Great Aunt Lola is about to die. At least ten year-old Stephen thinks she could because she’s that old, and grumpy. And Stephen, labouring under a self and parent imposed ‘shy label’, is more than a little scared of her. He simply wants to flee, but is stuck in Aunt Lola’s house for the next three weeks until she turns eighty, or dies.

The Simple ThingsThey say the simple things in life are the best, but could friendship with his elderly aunt be that easy and straightforward? Award-winning author Bill Condon convinces me it can.

Condon’s latest ‘tween’ novel, The Simple Things is for bridging the generation gap, what styling gel is for rampant adolescent hair-dos; maybe not 100% essential but essentially 100% worth the effort.

Actually, it was no effort at all to immerse myself into this heart-warming tale about letting go, facing personal doubts and overcoming uncomfortable situations. It’s a story about an only child who does what his parents tell him to do, is scared of climbing trees and doesn’t seem surrounded by an ocean of friends.

Blue, Stephen’s dog back home, is the one he misses most during his enforced exile at Aunt Lola’s place. However, he soon meets Lola’s neighbour and past flame, Norm, and Norm’s granddaughter, Allie. With their help, Stephen is able to confront a few of his short comings. He also embarks on a small sojourn of self-discovery as he learns about the simple things in life – like fishing, cricket, climbing trees and death. All this explicably pulls him closer to Aunt Lola. They form a prickly alliance, each benefitting from the other until finally they are forced to admit a deep and special friendship.

The Simple Things is ‘smiley face perfect’ (re; the wet cement moment page 127). Condon writes with unaffected adroitness, delivering this story with equal measures of gentle humour and poignancy, and just enough secrecy to entice readers to want to find out what really lurks behind Aunt Lola’s tough-guy bravado.

Bill CondonCondon’s characters are bright, sharply drawn individuals with enough depth to make us laugh and cry, minus the melancholy. I found Stephen’s charismatic, larrikin father and sarcasm-welding Allie most endearing along with our hesitant hero’s comical boyish charm.

The Simple Things is one of those easy to read, easy to enjoy books, so I suspect it was not that simple to write. But I for one am grateful Condon persevered as Stephen did with his aunt, for it simplifies the complexities of a young person’s relationship with themselves and their aging relative with composite grace and humour, allowing young male and female readers to value and cherish their own relatives all the better.

See why here.

Allen & Unwin February 2014

 

Review – Where Are You, Banana?

Where are you BananaEver had a little buddy you just can’t live without? A certain something or someone that insinuates itself so deeply into your heart that to be without it would be like losing part of yourself? Pets especially imbue a certain sticky charm and no pet wheedles our affection better than the humble dog. This is exactly what, Roddy, the young star of Allen & Unwin’s latest picture book release, Where Are You, Banana? encounters when a pooch named Banana joins his family.

Banana and Roddy share an intimate history together. Banana was Roddy’s first word. He is Roddy’s constant companion, a devoted playmate and supreme guardian. But Banana is not without his shortcomings. One of the slight disadvantages of being so close to something is that it makes letting it go all the more difficult. Banana’s obsessive dependency results in a trail of chewed possessions, one very irate neighbour and the banning of visits to Aunt Celia, whose chooks Banana has an unhealthy predilection for.

The tale tangles when Roddy leaves Banana alone with nothing more than a bone and his own devices one day when they are at Aunt Celia’s. Her new chicks are a short-lived novelty and can’t quite stop Roddy from making mental promises to the dog he feels he has abandoned. He can’t wait to return home and make amends but when the family return, Banana is nowhere to be found.

In spite of everyone’s constant reassurances, Roddy begins to worry, a lot. The house bereft of Banana’s presence, is eerily empty. Roddy is disconsolate. Unable to sleep, he sets out to look for his dog by himself. What follows is a marvellous example of simple ingenuity and heart-warming humanity.

Sofie LagunaWhere Are You, Banana? Is an absorbing little adventure by highly acclaimed, award winning author Sofie Laguna. Laguna’s frank first person narrative weaves a story that is easy to read, easy to like and perfect to share with the whole family.

Craig Smith Craig Smith’s animated watercolour illustrations leave us in no doubt as to how excruciating it can be searching for something you’ve loved and lost. They are just the right mix of whimsy and pull-at-your-heart cute.

If you’ve ever lost a pet, even for a short time, or misplaced a beloved object, then this picture book will strike an emotive chord. Children often feel these kinds of losses in the most dramatic of ways. And indeed, this tale resonates with ‘child-trapped-down-a-well’ drama and appeal. Thankfully, Where Are You, Banana? ends happily, reinforcing the feel-good notion that tenacity and love really do triumph over adversity.

Just right for 3 – 6 year olds.

A lovely addition to this hardcover edition is the QR code inside the book’s cover. Readers can scan the code for a free audio reading, ideal for playtime and bedtime. Or they can click on the Allen & Unwin website.

Craig IllustratingMeet Sofie and watch Craig draw images from this book at the launch for Where Are You, Banana? this Saturday 6th July at Readings St Kilda, Victoria 10.30 am. Check here for details.

 

 

 

Review – Not a Nibble!

Not a NibbleFamily holidays are the stuff many childhood memories are forged from. With just a couple more weeks of summer holidays left, I revisited an old favourite and evoked some happy would-be memories (if mine had been the type of family to embark on seaside camping trips).

The excitement is palpable as Susie’s family head to the beach, car packed to the roof racks. They soon set up camp and immediately immerse themselves into all things seaside: hunting in rock pools, feeding seagulls, swimming the surf, and of course, fishing.

Led by over enthusiastic Dad, Susie, her brothers and cousins begin each day with great expectations, but for Susie, catching fish proves as elusive as keeping waves upon the sand. Her determination however never wanes, not even when her brother Alex taunts and teases her with fake-fish-hope. It’s not until the last day of their holiday that Susie glumly concedes defeat. Not everyone is lucky with fishing. She appears to be that luckless somebody.

Incredibly, Susie’s luck changes. She catches a glimpse of two Southern Right whales off the jetty much to the disbelief and delight of the surrounding crowd. She, her Dad and a dozen fascinated on-lookers, unite as they share a few special moments together watching mother and calf frolic in the waters before them. It’s a holiday memory bigger than any fish her family have caught before and one Susie won’t easily let get away.

Elizabeth HoneyElizabeth Honey’s entrancing sojourn to the beach captures precious familiarity and the exuberance of youth with playful grace. It is a story we can cherish for years to come much like a treasured cowrie shell. Honey’s spirited prose makes me want to kick off my sandals and grab a rod and bucket of bait. Susie’s Dad’s regular morning wake-up calls, addressing his kids as various species of marine-life, caused me to smile often. And who doesn’t delight in a big frothy milk shake from the local beach town café?

Each page drips with Honey’s sparkling watercolour illustrations, capturing the very essence and light of the seaside. Vintage Honey and deserved CBCA Picture Book of the Year.

Ideal to share with primary-aged readers.

Published by Allen and Unwin 1997

Review – Darius Bell and the Crystal Bees

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review – The Coat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Allen & Unwin gets Short-y

While I have been cocooned away in chilly Canberra studying, Allen & Unwin has been busily launching two new digital lists, mirroring recent developments at fellow digital pioneer Pan Macmillan where Momentum’s titles are already making waves on bestseller lists.

First up, early this month, Allen & Unwin shorts arrived. The Australian publisher has just published five short fiction ebooks: Charlotte Wood’s Nanoparticles (which I had already read in last year’s Get Reading anthology), Tom Keneally’s Blackberries, Alex Miller’s Manuka, Peter Temple’s Ithaca in my Mind and Christos Tsiolkas’s Sticks, Stones.

“Some of Australia’s best-loved novelists also write great short stories,” the publisher writes on its website.

“They can be hard to find, but now digital publishing offers new opportunities for short form writing.”

So true. How wonderful for authors that they can finally make money from short forms, and how equally brilliant for us that we can buy them individually rather than having to buy a whole collection.

The A&U publicity material says “For less than the price of a cup of coffee, you can download a story on the train to read on the way to work.”

This I can vouch for too. I read two Kindle Singles this week, and knocked them over in less than an hour each. A&U has prices its shorts at $1.99 each (although Booku.com is offering them for $1.81 here).

Did I mention I’ve been locked away with my MacBook and a bunch of journal articles for the past couple of weeks? It’s end of semester crunch-time at university, and the research proposal for my Social reading, long form journalism and the connected ebook project was due in last week, with a presentation on it coming up this Wednesday. I mention this because it’s all about short form non-fiction ebooks. You can take a look at my slides on Prezi (a very clever zoomable presentation software program I find much more fun than PowerPoint) here.

Back at Allen & Unwin, the publicity department had just finished their teaser campaign for the shorts, when it was time to move on to promoting the next phase of their digital strategy: reviving works by classic Australian authors like my cousin Miles Franklin (OK, first cousin twice removed, but still!).

Both My Brilliant Career and My Career Goes Bung are on the list.

A&U’s House of Books also includes classic titles by Thea Astley, Alan Marshall, Eleanor Dark, Dymphna Cusack, Katharine Susannah Pritchard, Xavier Herbert, Kylie Tennant, Marcus Clarke and Henry Handel Richardson.

The PR tagline for the list is “Good books never die in the digital age”. I’m hoping that more childhood favourites, many of which are out of print, will come back to life in this ebook era.

More recent works by Blanche d’Alpuget, Nick Earls, Andrew Riemer, Judith Armstrong and Rodney Hall are also being revived.

The first 30 titles will become available in June 2012. Additional titles will be added to the list each month thereafter. Print lovers will be able to buy physical copies via print on demand technology. The books will be listed at between $12.99 and $19.99.

Apologies for the appalling headline pun. Couldn’t resist.

VULTURE’S GATE

Vulture’s Gate is a compelling novel for teen readers by Kirsty Murray set in the future. It has a spellbinding plot, and strong themes that reflect on our modern day world and the repercussions of how we currently interact with our environment.

Kirsty Murray depicts a frightening but very real world in which girls are thought to be instinct due to a terrible plague, and the land has been destroyed by war and greed.

But not all girls have been exterminated. Bo, one of the main characters is very much alive. Raised by her Poppy until he was killed, she has survived on her own, helped only by her Robotraptors, especially Mr Pinkwhistle.

But everything changes for Bo when she rescues a young boy, Callum in the burning desert.

She is forced to leave her underground home. In search of Callum’s fathers, they journey across a dangerous continent, escaping outstationers, street gangs and terrorists, but nothing can prepare them for the world that awaits in Vulture’s Gate.

Callum has been kidnapped and is forced to perform in a freak show. The skills he acquires there hold him in good stead and provide him with the flexibility, balance and survival skills he’s going to need to survive in the new world.

Once they join forces, Bo and Callum look for a safe haven, but it’s not easy to find in a world where factions are fighting against each other – runaway boys against religious terrorists.

As well as being an action packed adventure, this book explores the vulnerability of both genders as the two protagonists struggle to survive in their harsh new environment.

Vulture’s Gate reflects on the intricacies of society and examines themes of loyalty, adaptability, friendship and belonging.

The relationship between Bo and Callum is real and courageous and is an authentic portrayal of two characters moving towards adulthood and the new responsibilities and difficulties that brings.

One of the most poignant things for me about this book was that children in this society are not raised in a nurturing environment, but rather one where they have to fight for their survivl.

Vulture’s Gate hooked me from the first page and kept me mesmerised till the end.

I’m hoping there will be a Book 2 to follow.

Vulture’s Gate is published by Allen & Unwin.

 

Review – Santa Claus: The Magical World of Father Christmas

Remember the days when we called Santa ‘Father Christmas’. Not too long ago, that’s for sure.

It’s also not too long ago that Santa saturation and adulation was a far less commercial thing. There was an inherent mystery and innocence about our connection with this most historical of creatures. Sadly, the fate of Father Christmas now seems to rest in how many DS games he can cram into his sack.

Santa Claus: The Magical World of Father Christmas brings back the whimsy and tradition of days gone by in this lovely picture book.

Combining digitised photographs and computer illustrations, the book takes children on a journey into the past introducing the origins of Santa and taking a peek into his illustrious and very elusive world.

Santa started his incarnation as the Bishop of Myra in Turkey. A rich but generous man, he gave much of his fortune away to the poor, especially kids. Legend says he even dropped gold coins down the chimney of one poor family, and they landed in stockings hung by the fire to dry.

Kids will love taking a little trip to the North Pole to visit modern day Santa, his mail room, workshop and even his home. They’ll meet Mrs Claus, the elves and the reindeer, and will even learn about the man in red’s magic snowsuit and the inner workings of his sleigh.

Just how does Santa travel around the world delivering presents in one night? Find out in this fun and very festive book.

Santa Claus: The Magical World of Father Christmas is published by Allen and Unwin.

 

Review – The Little Refugee by Anh & Suzanne Do

Anh Do – Vietnamese refugee, comedian, Australian, and all round lovely guy has a powerful tale to tell. His best-selling autobiography – The Happiest Refugee – has won numerous awards, including Best Non-Fiction Book of the Year at the 2011 Indie Awards, and tells the tale of his original voyage to Australia aboard a crowded fishing boat – the quintessential horror journey for any refugee.

In this beautiful picture book, an abridged retelling of this fateful oceanic journey, Anh and his wife Suzanne tell of a voyage of courage and hope. After fighting for Australia and America in the Vietnam War, Anh’s dad needs to take his family to safety. There is no other way. They must leave everything behind and board the boat.

Anh was just a wee lad when he left his war-torn home – along with his mother, father and baby brother – in search of a better life. A group of 40 men, women and children crammed into that small fishing boat and set sail, though searing heat and wild storms. The boat was even robbed by pirates, Anh’s baby brother Khoa dangled dangerously over the side of the boat, ready to be tossed asunder.

The pain and fear his parents would have experienced – I can’t even imagine, yet, the family held hope. Indeed, even when the boat was rescued and Anh began a new life in Australia (which beset a whole other set of challenges) his mother oft repeated that their fortunes would one day turn around. And indeed, through perseverance and faith, they did.

This is a beautiful, touching and insightful book. Watercolour illustrations by the masterful Whatley have a Japanese-style feel in their construction, and perfectly wrap this remarkable story – one experienced by so many around the world – in visual splendour.

Most generously, 100% of the profit from The Little Refugee will be donated to the Loreto Vietnam-Australia Program, run by the dedicated Sister Trish Franklin.

The Little Refugee is published by Allen & Unwin. Visit Anh Do’s website to learn more about his inspirational life journey.


Douglas Adams, the Rocket and me

When US book industry blogger Kassia Kroszer told me she’d been writing about digital publishing since 1998, I got to thinking about when I’d first contemplated, and written about, the ebook concept.

Reading the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy as a teenager no doubt helped my thinking on the subject along. What a tragedy that its Mac-mad author, Douglas Adams, wasn’t around to see Steve Jobs launch the iPad. He would have been beside himself (like Zaphod Beeblebrox) with excitement.

I interviewed Adams in April 1998 for The Sydney Morning Herald’s Icon section. He came to Australia to promote his Starship Titanic computer game at that year’s Sydney Writers Festival. Our discussion inevitably came around to the future of the book.

I asked Adams whether he thought the book was under threat from new media.

“No. No more than it was from films, TV and radio. Each of these had an impact on the book, and indeed on each other, but it’s mostly a question of adjustment,” he said.

“Each medium has its own strengths and weaknesses. I’d be interested to know how many books will still be printed on paper in 10 years’ time and how many will be printed electronically.

“But the idea of the book, in its form if you like, in other words 100,000 words arranged into a story, will persist, whatever other forms come to exist alongside it.”

Adams died three years later, but his predictions have played out. By 2008, major publishers’ titles were available (in the US at least, it was later here and in the UK) for the Amazon Kindle and Sony Reader among other devices. In Australia, as many as 5 per cent of book sales are now digital, but we trail the UK (11 per cent) and US (20 per cent).

What do you think he would’ve made of the iPhone and iPad? I suspect he’d have started an app business, creating enhanced ebooks that would have made our minds boggle.

I wish for his sake and for ours that he’d lived on to be a part of all this.

That profile wasn’t my first writing on the ebook.

There was plenty of talk (and writing) on ebooks in the late 1990s.
In October 1997, Icon’s editor, Tony Sarno, published a joint print and digital project called The Online Book Fair. As Icon’s web site producer, I helped coordinate the online publication of extracts from 15 new Australian books (including a couple by authors who became all time favourites: Madeleine St John and Linda Jaivin), and an interactive online novella started by Bryce Courtenay with contributions by our readers. I interviewed Jaivin and two more of the authors, Emma Tom and Richard Ryan, on camera to produce short video clips for Icon’s Net TV section.

I remember being incredibly jealous of my colleague Sue Lowe, who wrote the main feature for the print edition. She interviewed local and international booksellers, who were just starting to sell their physical books online; authors who were thrilled at the prospect of their work reaching new audiences via the web; and publishers who even then were wrangling with the complex issues around digital publication.

Lowe spoke to Allen & Unwin publisher Elizabeth Weiss, who remains one of industry experts on digital in Australia, for the 1997 story. Weiss said Allen & Unwin was hoping to start publishing online late in 1998, allowing sections of text to be downloaded and charged for separately.

“We’re not talking about entire novels, but [a service for] people who want a single chapter of a book and are willing to pay to have it immediately available at home,” she said.

Back then, the online experiments were limited because people didn’t want to read large amounts of text on computer screens, which were tiring on the eyes and not portable.

Fast forward to 2011, and readers are increasingly taking advantage of “chunking” to buy novellas, individual short stories and long form journalism in ebook form on their handheld smartphones, ereaders and tablets.

Lowe’s piece ended with a reference to a Massachusetts Institute of Technology experiment in ereader production. Their prototype of a leather-bound book with electronic pages would allow its users to “be alerted the day the manuscript is finished and download it from the publisher – or even the author. No printing, distribution, no territorial licensing, no expensive inventory and no returns”.

These were more predictions that have proven to be spot on, then, particularly the move to self-publishing for authors, though territorial rights continue to exist and confound in our 2011 ebook world, and few are publishing raw, unedited manuscripts.

By 1999, when Penguin published my little green book about the Internet, Weird Wild Web, online bookshopping was such a big deal I devoted two pages to it. The last couple of lines?

“Eventually, of course, you’ll be able to download novels to groovy little electronic book viewers, like the Rocket eBook (check out www.nuvomedia.com for more).”

I had forgotten all about the Rocket until I thumbed through the book last week, and that link no longer exists because NuvoMedia has long since been swallowed by a bigger fish, but here’s some info on the device from a press release on launch that same year:

“The Rocket eBook and future Rocket eBook-enabled readers will allow users to easily carry a small library with them, wherever they go. This 22-oz. (627 grams) hand-held information appliance can hold at least 4,000 pages (about 10 novels) of text and graphics at a time. Its user interface is designed for reading with optimised screen technology that is easy to read in all lighting situations. A battery life of 17 hours with the backlight on and 33 hours with the backlight off will provide users uninterrupted reading whether in the office, at home or on the go. Being digital, books read on the Rocket eBook can be browsed, searched, annotated, highlighted, bookmarked, linked and indexed in ways impossible with a paper book.”

Ten novels, eh? Compare that to the 1000+ books we can load onto an e-ink reader these days and it’s no wonder the Rocket didn’t take off.

Charlotte’s posts on books, digital publishing and social media also appear on Twitter (@ebookish), Facebook (www.facebook.com/ebookish) and at ebookish.com.au.

HEAD SPINNERS

Great suspense, quirky characters, action and humour are features of the six mind twisting stories in Head Spinners by Thalia Kalkipsakis.

Thalia is best known for her Go Girls and Girlfriend Fiction, but she’s really hit the boy’s market running with her new short story collection.

In Head Spinners, There are six engrossing tales featuring different characters and each one has a strange twist at the end.

The six tantalising tales are Tick-Tock Time Machine, It Began With a Tingle, Alive Again, Face the Vortex, Night Sight and Evil Eye.

There are time travellers, special gifts, limbs with an identity of their own, fish with strange secrets and an encounter with great grandma’s ghost.

These stories are fast-paced, funny and sometimes a bit scary. But the language is not complicated and they are easy read and enjoy. They’re told in the first person to draw the reader closer and each story hooks you right from the start.

“IT SEEMED LIKE A GOOD IDEA at the time. Well no…if I’m being completely honest, I thought it was a risky idea that no one was going to find out about.” (From Evil Eye)

“LET ME MAKE ONE THING CLEAR: I didn’t steal anything from The Big Cow Cafe. Why would I? I don’t even like smoked-trout sandwiches, and I’d already had lunch – a steaming sausage roll with zigzag sauce.” (From Alive Again).

In Head Spinners, there are strong themes of friendship, loyalty, guilt, facing your fears, and standing up for what’s right. But they’re all really good fun stories. The dialogue is realistic and the family situations will be very familiar to many readers.

I loved all six stories and it’s hard to pick out a favourite, but I particularly loved the characters in Tick-Tock Time Machine and the dilemma that Sam the main character finds himself in.

Readers will still be thinking about Head Spinners long after they have turned the last page.

The stories are for mid to upper-primary readers, but they’re something parents will get a giggle out of too.

Head Spinners is published by Allen & Unwin.

 

What’s the greatest idea anyone ever had?

Go online and vote now for what is the greatest idea anyone ever had.

The final result of this site will be a book, The World?s Greatest Idea, to be published by Icon Books. In the book John Farndon will attempt to argue each case for exactly why each idea could be considered the greatest of them all. But the order in which they are ranked in the book will be entirely down to the results of the poll on this website ? and therefore down to you!

Where would we be without fires?

What would we say without words?

Is banking brilliant?

Is god a good idea?

Would you vote for democracy?

Could we live in a world with slaves?

Does Marx get top marks?

How would our cities smell without sewers?

Would we be red-faced without clothes?

How would we get along without laws of motion?

Through the ages, Humanity has had lots of VERY GOOD IDEAS (and quite a few very bad). But which of them are the best? Which are the top notch, brilliant, world-changing, absolutely essential ideas that we simply couldn?t do without?

THE WORLD?S GREATEST IDEA centres on a poll in which you get to vote on which idea gets the gold medal ? place your vote here. It?s partly fun, of course, but it?s also an attempt to kickstart a genuine debate about what really matters to humanity.

To get the ball rolling, we?ve enlisted a distinguished panel of experts from across the fields of science, arts and philosophy to draw up a list of 50 ideas, with the aid of author John Farndon, for you to vote on.

All you have to do is look at our list of 50 GREAT IDEAS, mull them over, then make your choice and VOTE which one or ones you think should come top. Of course, you may utterly disagree that any of the ideas in the list are even any good, let alone great. You may feel there are others that are so much better. If so, then join in the GREAT DEBATE. Suggest new ideas. Make your case. Show the panel the error of their ways. Convince the world ? and share your opinions with friends using the Share buttons or via our Facebook and Twitter sites.

Visit the website here:

Book details:

  • ISBN: 9781848311961
  • Australian Pub.: December 2010
  • Publisher: Icon Books
  • Format: Hardcover
  • Price: AUD $29.99 NZ $36.99