This picture book is on FIRE!

A small pile of review books arrived in the post today. I’m super busy with writing deadlines at the moment, so I went to put them aside… but a picture book caught my attention. I was familiar with the author, Adam Wallace, and the illustrator, Andrew Plant. So I thought I’d have a quick flick through it. After flipping through a few pages I simply couldn’t put it back down. I was compelled to read it, study it, go over each page in great detail, read it to my daughter… and then review it. Because I can’t not tell you (oh look… a double negative) about this extraordinary book straight away. What is it? I hear you all shout.

It is a book with the deceptively simple title of SPARK. And I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like it before.


It’s a book about a bushfire. It’s told from the perspective of the fire. And to say anything more would be to give away the joy and surprise of reading it for the first time.

vanillakidSpark is written by Adam Wallace, the guy behind such wonderfully popular books as The Vanilla Slice Kid (shortlisted for a YABBA award this year), Accidentally Awesome and Jamie Brown is NOT Rich. He’s also the evil genius behind the awesome Zombie Inspiration book/course/website (go check it out).

Adam is known for his no-holds-barred humour, but with Spark he demonstrates that he is equally adept at lyrical, playful and intense words. This book is beautifully written, the words leaping off the page, demanding to be read out loud.

We tore through forests.
We flew over rivers.
We razed homes.
The clouds cried, but their tears sizzled off my back.

poppyI am a HUGE fan of Andrew Plant’s work. He is an extraordinary illustrator and storyteller. Go take a look at his picture book, The Poppy. It’s one of my all-time favourite picture books. His illustrations for Spark are GORGEOUS! They live and breathe. They are soft and gentle, intense and ravenous, and captivatingly striking.

This is such an amazing book, I just want to keep going. But I’m running out of superlatives here. I would like to highly recommend that you all (whether you have kids or not… because a great picture book is not just for children) rush out and buy this book straight away… but it doesn’t get released until October. But you can go and order it! I really think you should.

Catch ya later, George

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The Poppy

POPPYThe Poppy is a new book from author/illustrator Andrew Plant. It’s difficult to describe. It’s not a standard picture book, but it’s not quite a graphic novel either. It’s set in the present, but deals with the past. It recounts actual events, but is presented in a ‘storybook’ context. Having said all that, what it definitely is… is utterly BRILLIANT!

Poppies bloom across northern France and a petal is blown up into the air. As we follow that petal, a dual story unfolds. There is the historical story of a Word War I battle fought by Australian troops on French soil. And there is the story of a continued connection between Australia and the French village of Villers-Bretonneux.

This story is remarkable because it is true — a connection of peace and friendship from an incident of war and sacrifice. This leads to what, I think, is the most moving and evocative image in the book — the petal floating between the French and Australian flags, flying side by side at the gravesite of unknown soldiers.

“The poppies nod in the winds that blow over the Somme. Their petals turn the fields red where once they were stained with the blood of the fallen.”

The artwork is not presented in the standard picture book format. It looks a little like a comic book layout, with multiple images per page, presented in various sized boxes broken up by text. But, unlike a comic, there are no talk bubbles. The design of the book is quite striking.

The artwork is glorious. The words are heartfelt and touching. There is so much depth in this book. So much to discuss. At the end of the book is a summary of the battle and the links forged between countries — perfect for classroom discussion. This is a book that every school in Australia should be studying. The inclusion of a school and young children in the narrative makes the topic approachable for primary aged kids. But I believe that secondary students could also gain much from this book.

There is a gallery of illustrations from the book available on Andrew Plant’s website. Well worth checking out.

Catch ya later,  George

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Warambi is Aleesah Darlison’s latest picture book and it’s a delightful story about a young bent-wing bat’s journey from just born and totally dependant on her mother to becoming independent and able to leave the forest cave that is her home.

She was no bigger than a bean. Her eyes were sealed shut and there wasn’t a scrap of fur on her body.

In the safety of the nursery cave, she practiced flying with the other pups until she was ready to go outside.

This simply told story manages to endear Warambi’s character to the reader and at the same time introduce them to the reality of the life of a baby bat.

One day Warambi’s world is thrown into turmoil by an excavator that destroys the bat’s cave home and separates her from the rest of the colony. Wanting to know the young bat’s fate will keep readers turning the pages..

One of the things I enjoyed most about Warambi was the way three important threads were woven seamlessly together – Warambi’s story, facts about bats and the impact of man on the environment.

The author uses beautiful imagery to allow the readers to picture the world in which Warambi lives. “Sunlight and metal burst into the darkness.”

Warrambi is a narrative non-fiction picture book and the text is taken to a new level by the illustrations of former zoologist, and well-loved illustrator, Andrew Plant. His understanding of, and appreciation for wildlife are apparent in his stunning pictures.

As well as being a visual delight, Warambi offers many layers of meaning for the reader, and the end papers are full of additional interesting facts about bats.

Lower Primary readers will find a lot to enjoy about Warambi. The story is based on a real event and has been released in the “Year of the Bat.”

This book tells two stories – the true life story of a bat’s life cycle and Warambi’s journey.

Warambi is published by Working Title Press.





Picture book author Catriona Hoy has always loved writing.

I wrote lots of bad poetry as a teenager, filled with angst, and dreamt of being a songwriter. I didn’t’ see writing as a career though and did a science degree at university. I did a lot of writing as a teacher, designing units etc which was probably good training. But it was a bottle of red wine and a conversation with a friend which began …’if you had your life over, what would you be?’ She’d wanted to be an artist and I’d wanted to be a writer. She’s now just put on her first exhibition of textile art and it is stunning.

My friend gave me the courage to try my hand at writing picture books. I had my share of rejections and made cringeworthy mistakes but at each bump in the road, I kept going. Thankfully my book The Music Tree landed on the right editors desk at the right time and went on to become a CBC notable book for  2006.

What inspired you to write Puggle?

I visited the home of some wildlife carers a few years ago. It was a great experience as every room of their house held baby animals or injured animals being nursed back to health. These wildlife carers were volunteers and cared for and fed the animals until they were strong enough to be released. It was their sheer dedication that inspired me. My children got to feed a baby wallaby from a bottle, hold snakes and squashed flies to baby birds.

What’s it about?

Puggle is the story of one of the animals living in this amazing home in the bush. A puggle is the name for a baby echidna.  Because they are so slow, echidnas are in danger when they cross roads. Puggle’s mother had been killed accidentally but Puggle had been saved and brought around to the home of these wildlife carers. He lived in a woolen beanie when I visited him. The story is about how he learns the skills necessary to survive before he can return to the wild. There are some other lovely animals in there too.

What appealed to you about Puggle?

For me, it was the sheer vulnerability of Puggle when I first met him, like most babies. He was pale, grey and completely helpless. I thought he looked a bit like a chicken fillet with the skin on…same texture! And of course I loved the name. When Sue told me his name was ‘Puggle’ and that he actually was a ‘Puggle’ my eyes lit up and the idea for the story took root. I kept in touch with Helen and Sue, his carers, to find out how Puggle progressed and there was that little bit of tension about whether or not he would grow up and become strong and healthy enough to return to the wild.

On my website I have also listed a number of websites which link to information which can be used by classes as part of research work, including the Pelican Bay Echidna Research Centre on Kangaroo Island.

Even better, there are some great pictures of Puggle, starting from the day he first arrived up until he was fully grown and ready to return to the wild.

How did the pictures fit in with your idea of the book?

I think Andrew Plant’s illustrations are fantastic. He has a real love of animals and the bush and his zoology training means that all the drawings are realistic. However, this doesn’t mean they aren’t also incredibly cute. I was overseas when I saw the proofs for the book and they made me feel incredibly homesick. I swear I could smell gum trees and dry dusty bark and leaves coming from the page. The colours too were also so, well, Australian!

More about Puggle is available on Catriona’s website