YA Books About Artists

There are countless types of art, but one of my favourites is definitely drawing and painting. And since I’m entirely hopeless at both of those, I like to live vicariously through fictional characters who are actually awesome at wielding a paintbrush. Then I can pretend not to feel so bad about my stick-figures.

Today I have a list of Young Adult books that involve art! So either you can relate or realise how extremely untalented you are. You’re so welcome for this list!


I’LL GIVE YOU THE SUN BY JANDY NELSON

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PURCHASE HERE

This is one of my all time favourite books because the book feels like a piece of art itself! The visuals are fairly dripping off the page in the form of two siblings who excel in different types of art.

Jude is a sculptor and Noah is all about charcoals and paints. It’s actually the kind of story that will make your heart beat somewhat tragically because of the pain they go through trying to figure out their futures and the fear of not being good enough to get into an art school. It’s just so beautifully written you’ll want to eat your copy. Wise suggestion: buy both editions. Eating problem solved.

 

THE INCREDIBLE ADVENTURES OF CINNAMON GIRL BY MELISSA KEIL

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This is set in a small Australian town and features Alba who isn’t sure whether to stay with her family’s bakery or leave to pursue art school in the big city. She draws! And, as if life couldn’t get any better: she draws superhero comics. Exciting nerd alert!

The story is filled with delicious cakes (which makes me happy but also very unfortunately hungry) and two lovers in denial of their feelings and a sleeping country town being jolted awake by the announcement that the end of the world is nigh and this town is the only safe place. Apparently. There are more than a few skeptics. It’s such a fantastic #LoveOzYA coming of age story that I couldn’t put it down!

 

SPLINTERED BY A.G. HOWARD

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If you need arty books with a dash of fantastical magic — this one is for you. It’s a Wonderland retelling that centres around the original Alice’s descendant: Alyssa. She gets caught up with a dark and twisted version of Wonderland that involves a dashing and manipulative moth named Morpheus and a childhood best friend trying to get her home.

Alyssa’s preferred art style is paintings and 3D collages and she veers towards the dark and macabre. So imagine skewered butterflies and fake blood and you’ve got a good idea of what her style is. Lovely. It fits the darkly magical tone of the book completely!

 

NIGHT OWLS BY JENN BENNETT

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This is a contemporary story about two different types of artists: Beatrix is an anatomy artist and draws corpses for medical reasons. She hopes to get into an excellent medical art school, but her parent is exactly supportive of this extremely dark career path she plans on. Jack, on the other hand, is a graffiti artist…not that he’s admitting it. The two meet on a bus and their adventure starts from there!

It’s such a cute and fun story, so well written, with wit and humour and a few gut punching moments. It also goes by the title The Anatomical Shape Of A Heart which is quite fantastic. The story is full of secrets, skeletons in the closet, and two people who are so different trying to align worlds.

‘Before You Forget’ and Julia Lawrinson

 

Meet Julia Lawrinson, author of Before You Forget, Penguin Australia

Thanks for talking to Boomerang Books, Julia.

Where are you based and what’s your background in books?

I am based in Western Australia, and I’ve published thirteen novels for children and young adults (lucky thirteen, I hope!)

I really enjoyed your 2006 YA novel, Bye Beautiful . Could you tell us about this and some of your other writing? bye-beautiful

Most of my books are realistic, contemporary novels. Bye, Beautiful is set in the wheatbelt in 1966, and so is a departure from that. It is about a policeman’s family, and what happens when two sisters fall in love with the same boy, who happens to be Aboriginal. Although it is fiction, it is based on my mother’s story: my grandfather was a policeman who became officer in charge of the North West before he retired, and his strong personality and morality has had a lasting effect on his family. I feel I work best as a writer when I have a strong emotional connection to what I’m writing about.

My earliest work was very ‘gritty’: dealing with bogan high schools and adolescent psychiatric hospitals. Those stories resonated a lot with readers, and were stories that needed to be told.

Your new novel Before You Forget has a devastating personal connection for you. Could you tell us about the genesis of this novel?

before-you-forgetThe novel was written in response to seeing the suffering that my daughter went through when her father developed early onset Alzheimer’s disease, which began as she was starting high school. It wasn’t just the loss of memory that was an issue: his whole personality changed, and he went through periods of being anxious and angry by turns, which was difficult for both me and my daughter. He would give money away, invite perfect strangers home, almost cause accidents when he was driving without the slightest awareness of it. He refused to see doctors, and when he finally did, they suspected he had depression, alcoholism and various other things until he saw a specialist. Being there with him when he was diagnosed remains the most awful day of my life.

It was incredibly painful for my daughter to see the father she knew disappear in this way, and nobody really seemed to understand. The only person who truly got it was her friend Gemma, whose mother had the same disease, and who tragically died the week the book was released. I want people to understand the impact of diseases like Alzheimer’s on the kids in the family, to have empathy for the extended grief such conditions create.

What is the most terrifying thing about Alzheimer’s?

That it strips away what defines you as yourself. Annie’s dad’s defining feature was his intelligence. It was so awful to see that disappear. Although he’s retained his sense of humour to the end.

How has the book helped your family?

It’s been cathartic, being able to describe some of the things that happened, and to reclaim some of what we lost through the story. The situations in the novel are common to most families where a parent develops Alzheimer’s or similar neurological diseases, so hopefully it will provide a sort of sense of community.

How can others help families in this situation?

By asking what they need. People often want to come in and take control, or offer what they think is best, but it’s really important to listen to what would make the family’s life easier. It will be different for everyone. Also, to be respectful of people’s emotions: taking care of a loved one with Alzheimer’s is an emotional rollercoaster. I remember someone saying to me early on that Alzheimer’s was a beautiful thing, which felt like being slapped in the face. Teenagers with parents with Alzheimer’s can become very impatient and frustrated, but this doesn’t mean they don’t love their parent. It means they are dealing with the grief of dealing with a parent who is no longer who they used to be.

flyawayWho are your favourite artists?

Visual artists? Monet, Van Gogh, Rene Magritte, Brett Whitely, Frida Kahlo, Jeffrey Smart, Margaret Olley.

The protagonist, Amelia, loves art. How have you used art to reflect Amelia’s experiences?

I tried to have Amelia’s struggle to express herself as an artist parallel her difficulties in expressing her feelings about what is happened to her and her dad. Amelia is quite self-contained, but her art shows what is important to her.

How have you incorporated 9/11 into the story?

Amelia obsessively watches 9/11 footage, reads about it, tries to imagine what it would have been like to be there. To her, it is her personal disaster writ large. Instead of having something slow and invisible up-end your life, there is something fast, immediate and visual. But she also learns that it is not just one story: there are lots of stories out of 9/11, including stories of hope and bravery and fellow-feeling.

Amelia’s best friend Gemma has a problem. Could you tell us about this?

Gemma develops an eating disorder almost by accident: she begins dieting and then finds herself on a path she can’t get off. I’ve seen this happen with a lot of young people, and it happened to me as a teenager. You can’t mess with restricting food: once you start, the problems you may have been using food to deal with get magnified. Amelia can’t understand it, because to her Gemma has everything, and she is also upset that Gemma can’t appreciate Amelia’s serious problems. They can’t help each other, in a sense, because of what’s going on in their own lives, but they do try to find a way back to each other.

I should note that I used my daughter’s best friend’s name with permission in the novel, but the real Gemma bears no resemblance to the fictional one!

1b28f-chessnutscoverAmelia’s neighbour, Will, plays chess and one of your earlier books is called Chess Nuts. Why have you used chess in your YA novel, rather than another pastime or point of contact?

Again, this was part of the autobiographical aspect of the novel: my daughter played chess, and her dad was a chess coach (which is how Chess Nuts came about). It was also one of the first things that alerted me to his mental decline: a man who remembered every move of his year seven chess final to suddenly forget how to move a knight. It was a clear sign something was wrong.

What other books have left a deep impression on you?

I read a lot of books featuring bodily or mental illness when I was a teenager. Lois Lowry’s A Summer to Die had a big impact on me, as did The Bell Jar, A Patch of Blue by Elizabeth Kata, and Second Star to the Right by Deborah Hautzig.

Thanks very much, Julia, and all the best with your new book and your family. Your story will no doubt help many others.

Superb Sequels – Picture Book Reviews

We certainly got a buzz upon discovering the latest sequels to a few of our favourite picture books. Still highly capable of capturing our hearts and imaginations, just like their predecessors, these titles don’t disappoint. From forming new friendships to rekindling old ones, from commencing inspiring adventures to revisiting good old-fashioned traditions, preschoolers and early primary aged children will delight in every part of the wonderful journeys these books will take them.

imageSnail and Turtle Rainy Days, Stephen Michael King (author, illus.), Scholastic Press, 2016.

With the same warm and playful narrative and animated illustrations as in the original Snail and Turtle are Friends, King beautifully compliments this sequel with an equally gentle and humbling innocence in its tone. Once again, King has successfully alllured his readers with a tactile, blithe and innovative experience.

Snail and Turtle Rainy Days is a creative and heartwarming tale about going to assiduous measures to help out a friend in need. I also love the undertone that Turtle might possibly be doing so to satisfy his own little pleasures in life! However, children from age three will absolutely soak up these busy characters and adorable qualities in this sunny story set in the rain. See my full review here.

imageI Don’t Want to Go to Bed, David Cornish (author, illus.), Angus & Robertson, 2016.

Immediately following on from its prequel comes the opening line, “Every night when dinner was done, Rollo would cry ‘I Don’t Want To Go To Bed!‘”. Cleverly written and hilariously illustrated by David Cornish, this next title in the series certainly ticks all the stubborn-child-mastering-routines boxes.

In this short and sweet tale, Rollo attempts every excuse under the sun to avoid going to bed. Fortunately, with a little imagination (and perhaps some imperceivable parent influence) Rollo can check off his ‘story, food, water, toilet and monster’ checklist. Is he finally ready for bed?

Bold, vibrant and loud, and exhaustingly true, preschoolers and their parents will both cringe and delight in the arduous strategies determining when and how they will go to bed.

imageMe and Moo & Roar Too, P. Crumble (author), Nathaniel Eckstrom (illus.), Scholastic Australia, 2016.

When Me and Moo first made its grand entrance we were udderly – oops, utterly – delighted by this comical tale of friendship between a boy and his mischievous cow companion. Now, roaring onto the scene is their newest comrade, surprisingly delivered straight from the zoo; Roar.

In Me and Moo & Roar Too, it is Me and Moo’s quest to return Roar back to his home-away-from-home after he causes chaos in their house. Although this might be disheartening for readers, they will be reassured to know that every animal is happy in their place of belonging, and that Me and Moo may just encounter yet another wild pet adventure any time soon!

With its child-friendly narrative voice and gorgeously textured and discernibly witty illustrations, this sequel perfectly compliments the first and will have its preschool-aged readers roaring for more.

imageBird and Bear and the Special Day, Ann James (author, illus.), The Five Mile Press, 2016.

In a story of discovering the beauty and nuances of the world around them, Bird and Bear explore nature, science and their close relationship. When they meet again in Bird and Bear and the Special Day, Bird, on her ‘Birdday’ enchants her friend Bear with a series of ‘Eye-Spy’-esque challenges as they take a stroll through the park.

James’ winsome dialogue cleverly integrates concepts of prepositions, opposites and scientific observations, as well as the pressing problem of whether Bear will remember Bird’s Birdday. Watercolours, pencil and pastel tones perfectly suit the whimsical yet tranquil adventure walk and the gentle, harmonious friendship between the characters.

A joyous exploration of words and the outdoors, imagination and strengthening bonds, this series has the magic of childhood autonomy at its forefront. Recommended for children aged three and up.

imageLet’s Play!, Hervé Tullet (author, illus.), Allen & Unwin, 2016. Originally published by Bayard Editions as ‘On Joue?’, 2016.

A brilliant companion to the best-selling books, Press Here and Mix It Up!, pushing boundaries and exciting creative imaginations is the latest by Hervé Tullet; it’s Let’s Play! A genius masterstroke by the artist, engaging readers in a vibrant sensory, kinaesthetic and all-round enjoyable interactive experience.

Instructing its willing participants to join in, the yellow dot pulls us on its journey along, up, down, round and round a simple black line from start to end. With the dot we encounter more dots in primary colours, play games of hide-and-seek, face ominous dark tunnels and black, messy splashes and scribbles, until we finally reach the safety of clean pages and fairy-light-inspired canvases.

Children and adults alike will delight in this gigglicious, playful adventure exploring shape, colour, space and line with its subtly thrilling storyline to tempt your curiosity many times ’round.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

5 Books for LEGO Lovers

Are you an Adult Fan of Lego (AFOL)? I recently finished reading Brick History – Amazing Historical Scenes to Build from Lego by Warren Elsmore and thought I’d put together a short list of books for LEGO lovers, or AFOL (Adult Fans of LEGO) as I now know them.Brick History Lego Warren Elsmore

  1. Brick History – Amazing Historical Scenes to Build from Lego by Warren Elsmore
    Brick History contains detailed scenes from history made entirely from LEGO bricks. Beginning with the birth of civilisation itself in the Big Bang, Brick History takes us through the ages to the year 2011 with the Royal Wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton. There is a short description of each historical scene, which is accompanied by photographs and a scattering of model projects to try.
  2. Brick Flicks – 60 Cult Movie Scenes & Posters Made from Lego by Warren ElsmoreBrick Flicks Warren Elsmore
    Brick Flicks is a collection of iconic film moments and movie characters of all time, all built from LEGO.
    It includes a variety of movies, including Ghost Busters and The Godfather and contains more than 60 recreations of favourite movie scenes and classic poster designs. There are also instructions on how to replicate many of the scenes at home from your own LEGO collection.
  3. The LEGO Ideas Book by Daniel LipkowitzLego Ideas Book
    If you have a pile of LEGO and you want to make something, then The LEGO Ideas Book is for you.
    Written by Daniel Lipkowitz, this book is broken down into six themed chapters – transport, buildings, space, kingdoms, adventure and useful makes and contains more than 500 models and ideas so there’s bound to be something in here for every AFOL.
  4. Beautiful LEGO & 5. Beautiful Lego 2: Dark by Mike DoyleBeautiful LEGO Mike Doyle
    Beautiful LEGO is the stunning result of talented artists using their creativity and letting their imaginations run wild with thousands of LEGO bricks to create something truly special. This is a compendium of LEGO artwork showcasing an impressive array of pieces including lifelike replicas of everyday objects, famous monuments and more. The author has included interviews with the artists to give the reader an insight into the creative process behind the work.Beautiful Lego DarkFans of gothic fantasy and sci-fi should check out Beautiful Lego 2: Dark by Mike Doyle. It’s full of dark and mysterious creations and shadowy nightmares. Perhaps not one for the kids.

    I hope you’ve been inspired by this collection of 5 LEGO books for AFOL. Winter is the perfect time of year to sit inside and create a masterpiece or two, or just play with your kids, cousins, nieces and nephews. Just remember to pick up all the pieces up off the floor when you’ve finished.

Surrealism and Wes-Quez with Leanne Hall & Iris and the Tiger

Thanks for speaking to Boomerang Books, Leanne.

Once you read Leanne’s fascinating responses, you’ll rush to read her books.

Ursula-and-SunflowerWhere are you based and how involved in the children’s and YA literary community are you?

I’m based in Melbourne, which is luckily a very bookish and literary city. My involvement in the kids and YA community is as an author, reader and bookseller. I work in an independent bookshop, where I can often be found in the children’s and YA section, chatting with customers and staff members about what we’ve been reading. There’s also a great camaraderie among writers of books for young people – we go to each other’s launches and talks, we see each other at festivals, we have coffees to talk shop, and we read and comment on each other’s work.

You seem to lead an exotic life. What interesting thing is happening to you at the moment?

Sometimes it feels exotic, and other times it feels plain weird! At the moment I’m living with my partner in a 1970s Glendale caravan in my friend’s inner city backyard. It’s an experiment in small, simple and cheap living. No doubt a caravan is going to show up in one of my stories soon…

This is Shyness, your first YA novel, is one of my absolute favourites. How did you create its incredible atmosphere?This is Shyness 2

Thank you, it’s still a surprise to me how much people liked This Is Shyness. I get obsessed with my own ideas, but it’s amazing to me that others also find them interesting. This Is Shyness was the first novel I managed to finish, and it’s full of the fire and passion and experiences of my youth. I suppose its atmosphere comes from ten years of cycling around at nighttime with my friends having adventures!

What is your favourite type of art and why?

Unsurprisingly, my favourite type of art is anything surreal and absurd and dreamlike in nature, whether that’s painting or photography or sculpture. Some of it is older work, and some of it is very contemporary. While writing Iris, I kept a Pinterest board full of my favourite images to use as inspiration. (https://www.pinterest.com/lilymandarin/iris-and-the-tiger/) If I have writer’s block, or I’m feeling uninspired, I’ll often visit galleries to recharge my battery.

How have you used art in Iris and the Tiger (Text Publishing)?

Art is in every scene of Iris and the Tiger: either inspiring or driving the fantastical events that happen, or literally there on the walls to be described. I browsed art books to decide what real paintings could be turned into strange things that might exist on a mysterious country estate, and then I also had to turn myself into a hypothetical Surrealist painter and make up paintings that don’t exist in real life.

Iris and the TigerHow did you select which elements to make surreal? Why the sunflowers and music notes rather than, say, furniture, books or a garden fountain?

Some of the most surreal elements in the book come from real life paintings. The sunflowers are inspired by Eine Kleine Nachtmusik by Dorothea Tanning – a truly spooky painting where a sleepwalking girl’s hair stands on end while a massive sunflower lies indolently at the top of a staircase. The strange creepy-crawly music notes come from Dali’s Partial Hallucination: Six Apparitions of Lenin on a Grand Piano. Mostly, I tried not to force the surreal elements; I would write scenes and wait for something odd to disrupt them.

How carefully did you balance the realist elements of the plot with the surreal touches?

I focused very hard on Iris’s personal experience of traveling to Spain for the first time as a way of grounding the story. I really wanted the reader to feel how exciting and intimidating that might be for her. With that solid ground laid, I could allow surreal things to come in for short periods of time and turn things upside down (sometimes literally).

How important is Iris’s racial background to the story?

It’s both really important, and not important at all. It’s important to me personally, because I never had the chance to read about a Chinese-Australian character when I was younger. So it’s me fulfilling a need I had as a young reader. But it’s NOT important in the sense that her family background isn’t an “issue” to be explored, it isn’t the dominant feature of Iris’s character or her story, it’s simply that heroines should come in every shape and form, and frequently don’t.

What does she learn about friendship?

For me, despite all the surrealism and magic, the real point of the story is friendship. Iris is struggling with the fact that her best friend at home is losing interest in her, and that they’re growing apart (a common thing to happen at this age, I think). But at Bosque de Nubes she forges new friendships across national and age (and species!) boundaries. She becomes firm friends with Jordi, a Spanish boy her age, connects with an older, cooler American girl, Willow, and bonds with her much older great-aunt, Ursula. It’s nice to know that friendships can be found everywhere, with surprising people.

A comment after the review of Iris and the Tiger on the Boomerang Blog wonders if you are creating a new genre. Are you and what could the genre be called?

I do feel as if my writing is very difficult to categorise. I’ve most often heard it referred to as magic realism. After writing the two Shyness books, I named my writing style “reality made strange”, but I recently read a review of Iris that described it as `the lovechild of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Wes Anderson’. So, yes, let’s make up a new genre called `Wes-quez”!

Have you played the surrealist game of Exquisite Corpse and, if so, how successful was it?

I did play Exquisite Corpse in the writing of this book, and it was successful only because of other people! I’m similar to Iris in that I’m not very confident with drawing, so I do cringe at the parts I’ve drawn. My advice for successful Exquisite Corpse-playing is to find some people who can draw to play with!

What else are you enjoying reading? 

I have just read Summer Skin by Kirsty Eagar and My Sister Rosa by Justine Larbalestier – two very different and very excellent books. I read everything that Kirsty and Justine write. I feel like this year is going to see a lot of good new Aussie YA hit the shelves, so I’m looking forward to supporting my colleagues’ great work.

Is there anything else you’d like to mention?

Thank you so much for your thoughtful questions. I’ve been alone with Iris and the Tiger for so long that it’s wonderful to hear how readers have been engaging with it.

Thanks very much, Leanne. I hope to meet you again soon.

Elise Hurst’s Incredible Narrative World

imageIt’s no secret that Elise Hurst is a champion in the world of children’s literature, with over 55 published books to her name, ‘The Night Garden’ being shortlisted in the 2008 CBCA Awards, and her unequivocal skill in fine art, portraiture and landscape artistry. Her works, such as ‘My Boots in Season’ and ‘Imagine a City’, are full of energy, imagination and surrealism, and at the same time touch their audience with their intense, nostalgic and indelible, classic qualities. It is a great honour to have had the opportunity to discover more about Elise’s creative world, and her secrets behind ‘Adelaide’s Secret World’ (read my review here)  

imageCongratulations on the launch of your latest picture book release, ‘Adelaide’s Secret World’! Your recent exhibition displayed a stunning collection of your oil paintings from the story. Please tell us about the response you’ve received and the most rewarding part of the whole process.

It was really special to have the book wrap around me in the gallery, and for people to be able to read it as they moved around the walls. By far though, the best responses have been from people being immersed in the text and telling me about their genuine connections to the character. That has been from adults and children alike.  

‘Adelaide’s Secret World’ is a touching tale full of imagination, reflection, serendipitous and courageous moments that empower change and finding one’s voice. Where did the inspiration for this story come from, and how did it develop?

I understand Adelaide, and I think there is a little bit of her in many of us. She is that person who has a beautiful rich world within her but no one notices. She is wrapped up in loneliness and has turned it into a safe place. She is observant and thoughtful, creative and active but she simply doesn’t know how to reach out to those around her. She grew from the coming together of many things – a painting of a solitary rabbit in a cafe that I created some years ago, a character of a woman striding through a street in New York with a strange huge bird, the memory of being at university before I had made new friends and how lonely that was even though I was surrounded by people. And the movie Amelie was one that struck a chord too, in dealing with a similar character. The more I thought about the character and the source of her isolation, the more she developed into a real person for me.  

How long did the process take from inception to completion? What were the most challenging aspects of creating ‘Adelaide’s Secret World’?

imageSome of the earliest emails I was trading with my editors Erica Wagner and Elise Jones at A&U are from 2011 – so the story has been on the boil for some time. The character was still changing then and the story was quite different. Over the next 4 years we met and talked a lot about what we wanted the story to be and how to make it flow naturally. One of the challenges is to make the story reinforce itself at every turn. Picture books are short so nothing should be wasted. All of the tiny details should support the narrative and should be symbolic in some way – from the colour choices to incidental details. In an early version I had intended that Adelaide would have a red coat hanging on her wall which she wasn’t brave enough to wear until the end of the narrative. However, I changed that to have her wear a red coat throughout the story. This way she was a visual focus, but also it showed that she was the warm beating heart of the story. It was important to me that she was not seen as broken or empty, but that she had so much to give if she could just find a way to speak out. In the red coat she carried all of that imagination and warmth around with her. It was also a nice visual link to the red curtain, itself a powerful metaphor. The curtain changed from being a comfortable buffer between her outer and inner world, to being torn apart and reused as an agent of change and connection when it is pulled into a long strand. This is used to physically connect others in the community, as well as Adelaide, so that when they leave their houses in the morning they follow the red strings and meet each other for the first time.  

I loved creating the paintings, but it was the story that was the biggest and most important challenge. I wanted a story with real heart, not just a lot of nice pictures.  

Your paintings are contemporary yet reflect classic detail in their artistry. Which illustrators have been your greatest influences in becoming the successful artist you are today? How did your path lead you to illustrate children’s books?

I think I looked at people who had certain skills – and it didn’t matter what field they were in. I loved John Singer Sargent for his incredible portraits and use of colour. John William Waterhouse for his accurate but dreamy narrative works. The Lindsays and Albrecht Durer and other etchers for their line and drama. E.H. Sheppard and Beatrix Potter for expressive lines and capturing animal characters…

To some extent I studied them when I was a child, but after that I think I just carried around aspects of their work in my head, just the same as you keep certain music and scenes from films and books, characters you meet and things you witness. They all swirl around together and find their own way out. I was a traditional artist first, before moving into illustration. This was great for assembling the skills I will draw on for the rest of my life as an artist. What that area lacked, though, was story. And once I began illustrating I found the other artwork I was doing to be curiously hollow. I could like it for what it had achieved but I didn’t have the same feeling and excitement for it as I do with narrative works.  

imageYour range of books showcase a variety of illustrating styles, from ink and watercolours to oil paintings, whimsical to soul-stirring. Do you have a preference over which medium you like to use? What is your process in determining which style best suits the story?

I used to change all of the time because I had all of these styles and media at my disposal (because of the traditional art beginnings). Now I have my two favourite styles that I think are the best conduit for my imagination. One is highly detailed and precise drawings in black and white. The other is expressive oil painting. They are opposites, really. Oils are fast and expressive, emotional and dramatic. The drawings are slow and considered, evolving and detail-filled. They are great for expressing completely different stories and aspects of the world I love.  

What does your art studio look like? Meticulously organised or creative clutter?

It has evolved from creative clutter to meticulously organised. I used to love being surrounded by inspirational things, but it got to a point when the functional space in my room was about a third of its actual size. It had to stop. Having kids too, there needs to be one space where I can go that is organised.  

What are your favourite figures / scenes to draw / paint? Why?

I like to draw without an agenda and see what happens. Unplanned drawings where a character finds themself in the middle of an adventure – that’s great fun. All I need is the beginning detail and it just goes from there. My inner child often gets to star there somewhere.  

imageYour writing style is equally as emotive and enchanting as your pictures. How do you get this harmony so aligned? Do you prefer one aspect of the book creation over the other?

I think the writing and pictures are really two hands working on the same task. They may have different things at their disposal but they are always supporting each other. I pay particular attention to the strengths of each medium at evoking the senses and helping us to make connections. So colour has an emotional language for me where cools shades might be sad or reflective, and warm ones are happy or excited or angry. Likewise I’ll describe sound or smell with the words. The more connections we make, the more immersive the experience of reading can be and the more real the story becomes.  

What do you love most about writing and illustrating for children?

I would have to say that I write and illustrate for me. And I sincerely hope that the adults enjoy the books as much as the children.  

What advice would you give to aspiring writers and illustrators wanting to succeed in the children’s literature industry?

I guess – become good at what you love. Keep learning, keep practising. Go to life drawing classes and get to know the human body. But above all else keep experimenting to find what it is that comes naturally to you and how you can use that strength and individuality to create things that are distinctly yours.  

What are you currently working on? What can all of your fans look forward to seeing from you in the near future?

I am completing a few commissions, while I think about the next story. I know it and the main character but I have yet to get anything onto paper. If you have read Adelaide then you have already met him. Next, the Fox gets his story.  

Thank you so much, Elise! Looking forward to Fox’s adventures!

Connect with Elise Hurst at her website and facebook page.

Teaching notes for Adelaide’s Secret World can be found here.

6 Young Adult Books That Use Illustrations

Is it possible to grow out of picture books? Because I HAVEN’T YET. The highlight of my week is taking my pre-schooling niece and nephew to the library and getting to reread all my favourite childhood picture books. Young Adult books are totally missing out. Seriously.

But there are some YA books that make use of art and illustrations to help tell the story. And I praise the bookish universe for their existence. There should be more of this! Huzzah!

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  • ILLUMINAE: This book is brand new (released just a few weeks back!) and it. is. amazing. It’s a sci-fi but it’s told purely in transcripts, instant messaging, emails, and diagrams. Yup, that’s right folks. SOLELY. So there are pictures of space ships in here. Space ships I tell you. It’s glorious! Plus the book felt like reading Star Trek but with sassy teens and zombie-viruses.

 

  • INK: I raved and hugged this book in a review a few weeks back, and I pointed out (um, basically I screamed about it) the fact it had illustrations! Not many! But every few pages we got an inky, calligraphy sketch that just added to the story so, so much. Particularly since Ink is focused on Japanese culture and art — it just worked SO WELL.

 

  • A MONSTER CALLS: Oh this book has some of the most beautiful illustrations of ever. The artist is Jim Kay, who also does copious illustrations for Harry Potter (!!). I just love his depiction of the dark tree monster. Also, fair warning, but this book will probably make you cry.

 

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  • THE INVENTION OF HUGO CABRET: This book is a great big blob of WOW. I’m particularly fond of that reaction to books, I might add. And you might have heard of it from the movie?!? The movie is only called “Hugo” (and stars Asa Butterfield and Chloe Grace Mortez) but it’s exceptionally beautiful and I recommend you go swallow it immediately. Go! Go! NO WAIT…finish this post first because I have more picture-y goodness to show you. But The Invention of Hugo Cabret is set in Paris and is about clockworks and orphans. Quite a huge hunk of the book is told solely in black-and-white pencil drawings!
  • THE MARVELS: Speaking of HugoThe Marvels is by the same author. But this time it’s not just a smattering of pictures…HALF THE BOOK is done in pictures!! The first 400 pages are drawings! It flows so seamlessly and for a while I forgot I wasn’t even reading because the pictures told the story so strongly and well. Also you might want to take a moment to admire the cover. Pet it a little even. Don’t worry, I won’t judge. It’s gorgeous.

 

  • MISS PEREGRINE’S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN: This is kind of cheating because the illustrations are photos instead of drawings. But just pause with me for a second — PHOTOS. The photos play a huge part in the story and they’re absolutely…weird. They’re really old vintage photos of “freaks” and human oddities. Like just check out the girl on the front cover who is levitating…okay. YAY. And freaky. Definitely an illustrated book to snabble up!

 

The Strays by Emily Bitto

The StraysWho are the strays in Emily Bitto’s literary novel, The Strays (Affirm Press)?

The new Melbourne Modern Art Group tries to set up a bohemian utopia paralleling Sunday and John Reed’s Heide group, or Norman Lindsay’s enclave, on affluent Evan and Helena Trentham’s property during the Depression. Patrick is a stalwart and Ugo, Maria and Jerome are artists who seem to relish the opportunity to receive the patronage, protection and stimulation of famous Evan.

It may be the three Trentham daughters who are most affected by these living arrangements, although the temporary residents take some of the burden off the eldest daughter, Bea, in raising the younger girls. Painter, Evan, and miniaturist, Helena, are neglectfully preoccupied.

A fourth girl, Lily, meets middle daughter, Eva, when she moves to the local primary school. Lily is an only child and revels in the verdant exotica of Eva’s family, home and garden and, especially, of the art. Her own family seems dull and conventional beside the excesses of the Trentham lifestyle and Lily becomes a surrogate daughter, perhaps displacing youngest girl, Heloise. Lily’s relationship with Eva is close, in that first chaste trial marriage between girls. They are bound by bonds of imagination and, in Lily’s case, of some envy. As an observer of this sought-after life, Lily possibly becomes benignly manipulative.Shelley

Artist prodigy, Jerome, loves the work of poet Percy Shelley, husband of Frankenstein author, Mary Shelley, and is creating a series of art inspired by Shelley’s work. Like Jerome’s artist community, the Shelleys were part of an intimate circle that included Lord Byron, and Bitto casts allusive ties between these two groups. Jerome shares the poems with Lily but it is Eva who agrees to pose topless for him.Frankenstein

Descriptions of the garden and, particularly, the art are provocative. It is not surprising that politician Robert Menzies and the established arts community of the day viewed these avant-garde artists with suspicion. They were the antithesis of the adored late nineteenth century Heidelberg School of Tom Roberts, Frederick McCubbin and Arthur Streeton.

Lily relates her story as a girl growing into a teenager but the narrative is encircled by an account of her life as an older woman. Her reluctance to accept an ordinary life remains.

The Strays was shortlisted for the Victorian Premiers Literary Award for an Unpublished Manuscript and is recommended for fans of Siri Hustvedt’s exceptional The Blazing World (Septre) and Alex Miller’s, Autumn Laing (Allen & Unwin).Blazing World

 

 

How Nietzsche Turned me into a Reader

Hey! Nietzsche!I’m not really interested in giving people a quick introduction; I tend to mix my personal life, humour, sarcasm and knowledge into my book reviews and blog posts. However I do want to kick off talking about the book that turned me into a reader.  It wasn’t until 2009 that I discovered the joys of books and reading and something inside me clicked and I wanted to consume every book I saw. This life changing event was all because of one book, an Australian non-fiction title called Hey! Nietzsche! Leave Them Kids Alone! by Craig Schuftan.

At the time I listened to a lot of music and would have cited AFI, My Chemical Romance, Weezer, and so on as some of my favourite bands. In face I was right into the music that was been played on Triple J. Craig Schuftan was a radio producer at Triple J at the time and there was a short show he made for the station called The Culture Club. In this show he would talk about the connection rock and roll has to art and literary worlds. Friedrich Nietzsche was claiming, “I am no man, I am dynamite” well before AC/DC’s song TNT.

That was a real revelation for me and I picked up Hey! Nietzsche! Leave Them Kids Alone! (subtitled; The Romantic Movement, Rock and Roll, and the End of Civilisation as We Know It) and began reading it. However it didn’t stop there; this book connected the so called ‘emo’ movement with The Romantic Movement, I never thought these bands would have anything in common with the greats like Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley or John Keats but I had to find out.

Hey! Nietzsche! Leave Them Kids Alone! by  Craig Schuftan ended up taking half a year to complete; not because I was a slow reader but I wanted to know more,and  I read poetry by Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley and John Keats, and researched online. I picked up books like Frankenstein (an obsession of mine), Dracula and Wuthering Heights just because they were mentioned. This was a weird turn in my life but my growing thirst for knowledge became an obsession with reading. I have now set a life goal to read everything on the 1001 Books you must read before you die list.

It is weird to think one book can have such a huge impact on my life but I credit Craig Schuftan (and my wife) for such a positive improvement in my life. I will eventually read Craig Schuftan’s books The Culture Club: Modern Art, Rock and Roll and other stuff your parents warned you about and Entertain Us!: The Rise and Fall of Alternative Rock in the Nineties but I’ve put them off because I suspect the same amount of research will be involved.

Has a book had such a positive impact in your life? I would love to know in the comments. Also are there any other books that explore the connections between art and literature with pop-culture?

This tapped into emotions no other book has done with me before.

9781408704950Review – The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

Donna Tartt is a true enigma. She is a phenomenal bestseller with a cult following. There isn’t very much known about her but you wouldn’t call her a reclusive author either. The Goldfinch is her third novel in twenty years, a decade gap between each book. All of them worth the wait.

I can distinctly remember first discovering Donna Tartt. When I first started doing the buying 11 years ago there was a lot of fuss about a novel called The Little Friend because it was the author’s first book since The Secret History. I had no idea who the author was or why, after ten years, there was such excitement and anticipation for her second novel. My rep, who was selling the book in at the time, told me to read The Secret History. Which of course I did and was totally blown away.

It was unlike anything I had read before (or since). I am not big on classics, ancient or modern, but the world Tartt created in The Secret History sucked me straight in (just like the book’s protagonist Richard). She is one of the few writers whose writing is truly mesmerizing. I was straight on the bandwagon after that, dying for a copy of The Little Friend. Which I also loved.

A lot of Donna Tartt fans were disappointed with The Little Friend but I was not one of them. I think people were expecting another The Secret History which was always going to be impossible and Tartt gave us something completely different. The Little Friend is a bit of a modern-day To Kill A Mockingbird without the anchor of a parent and where the outside world is full of much more menace. 12-year-old Harriet, bright and bookish, believes she can solve the mysterious death of her younger brother 12 years ago. The death fractured her family and Harriet is determined to set things right. Again Tartt’s writing is captivating and I can still vividly remember a scene involving Harriet’s best friend Hely and some snakes. I later found out that Harriet was inspired by Mattie Ross in True Grit by Charles Portis, one of Donna Tartt’s favourite books growing up,which also has another unforgettable scene involving snakes.

In many ways The Goldfinch is a combination of elements of her first two novels but the only thing familiar is the once again mesmerizing writing that draws you into her world immediately. When I first started The Goldfinch it felt like I was holding my breath and when I came up for air the first thing I wanted to do was re-read The Secret History and The Little Friend. I’d forgotten the power of Tartt’s writing and wanted to re-immerse myself in as much of it as I could find. And then I plunged back into The Goldfinch.

The central character of the novel is Theo Decker and a painting called The Goldfinch. Through traumatic circumstances the painting comes into his possession and becomes a talisman throughout his life. I am not into art or paintings but Tartt has this ability to draw you into any subject, in very detailed and extraordinarily intriguing ways (including antique furniture and its restoration!). The book is almost 800 pages, every one of which is totally absorbing, compelling and majestic. Unlike Tartt’s previous two novels this story is also wide-ranging, from New York to Las Vegas and Amsterdam. The Secret History and The Little Friend were very localized stories where as The Goldfinch is much more spread out while still hauntingly focused. It is also very philosophical and tapped into emotions no other book has done with me before.

I hope we do not have to wait another ten years before getting to read Donna Tartt again but then again she can take as long as she wants. In the meantime I am going to revisit her first two books something I should have done before now but that’s the magic and the joy of great books. They are always there to be enjoyed again and again, even when you forget!

Buy the book here…

A Feast of Books

Last week I blogged about my desire find a house with a library (preferably one behind a hidden door), where I could pander to my love of reading and store my ever-expanding collection of books.

I’ll cheerfully admit that my reach definitely exceeds my grasp on this one. House with libraries tend to come with wings and servants and other items that I can’t really afford, no matter how much I want them. I have lavishly-illustrated coffee-table book tastes on a mass-market paperback budget, sadly, so I need to look at other options for indulging booklovers’ desires.

Instead of insisting on a full library, you could always just get really creative with where I put my bookshelves or invest in some bookshelves that double as decoration, as some places have done.

Or you could pick up a spectacular piece of book art, such as Brian Dettmer‘s intricate and amazing creations, made from out-of date encyclopedias, medical journals, illustration books and dictionaries. He uses knives, tweezers and surgical tools to cut, carve and shape these old books into three-dimensional works of art. Nothing inside is relocated or implanted as he manipulates the books to forms sculptures that reveal and revel in the books’ contents and their breath-taking complexity of illustration. His work isn’t cheap but if you did find between $3,800 to $32,000USD down the back of the sofa, you could be the proud owner of one of these pieces.

If you want to go the whole hog*, but don’t want to spend a king’s ransom**, you could always indulge your love of books with a culinary adventure, such as Gastro Park’s Game Of Thrones’ feast. Inspired by the TV adaptation of George R R Martin’s infamously bloody series, this fantasy-fueled banquet will set you back a pricey but affordable $100.

Much like the books, the meal is not for those scared of a bit of gore. The feast opens with bloody strips of raw venison, pinned by arrows and garnished with eyeballs and dirt. That grisly appetizer is followed by charred raven’s feet in broth, then a huge portion of crispy suckling pig (complete with a large knife for back-stabbing), and then the dessert; a glistening dragon’s egg, served on a bed of snow and sand and topped with a generous pouring of pure liquid gold.

It’s a feast fit for a king (or, in the case of the liquid gold, for someone who believes they are one). And considerably more delicious than it sounds; the eyeballs in dirt are liquid mozzarella served on tapenade, for example, and the raven’s feet are piquillo peppers in a black squid-ink batter. The spectacular dessert is a work of delicious fiction; some smashing reveals the “dragon’s egg” to be a spray-painted chocolate shell encasing a liquid passionfruit and vanilla centre. And the liquid gold, deployed to such a devastating effect in the books, is a far more feast-friendly orange curd.

The meal is a marketing ploy for the Game of Thrones‘ TV show Australian DVD release. Chef Grant King is less that a bibliophile himself – he had never heard of the books or the show but quickly discovered it to be to his taste: “Anything about chopping dudes up, I’m into that.”

As for this bibliophile? I’m still looking. I have found one ideal home; a lovely and spacious house where one room has walls completely covered in bookshelves. It was love at first sight.  I’m just hoping that love will get the hint and send the several hundred thousand through extra to me I need to purchase this place. If anyone wants me, I’ll be looking down the back of the sofa.

 

*The whole hog is, of course, the suckling pig.

**Okay, there’s just no excuse for this much pun.

 

Mugshot or marriage material?

Recognise this rather guilty-looking face?

Srs Rochester is srs.

If you’re a fan of Gothic romances or if you’ve studied the Brontë sisters’ novels, you probably should. Let’s see if some text can jog your memory a little.

“I knew my traveller with his broad and jetty eyebrows; his square forehead, made squarer by the horizontal sweep of his black hair.  I recognised his decisive nose, more remarkable for character than beauty; his full nostrils, denoting, I thought, choler; his grim mouth, chin, and jaw—yes, all three were very grim, and no mistake.  His shape, now divested of cloak, I perceived harmonised in squareness with his physiognomy… My master’s colourless, olive face, square, massive brow, broad and jetty eyebrows, deep eyes, strong features, firm, grim mouth.”

That shifty miscreant is none other than Charlotte Bronte’s stern-but-deliciously-squishy Mr Rochester. And the reason that he looks so guilty is that he – along with several other fictional characters – have been recreated from the author’s descriptions via a method normally reserved for society’s less law-abiding people – law enforcement composite sketch software.

According to it’s creator, writer and auther Brian Joseph Davis, the project “is a combination of literary criticism — which I know well — and forensics — of which I’m an utter amateur.” He uses the forensic software program Faces ID to visualise some of literatures’ most famous characters.  This program gives users about 10,000 individual facial features to choose from and Davis used the authors’ own descriptions of their characters as guidelines for his selections. The results – strange, enlightening and occasionally creepy as they are – often throw an intriguing new light on an old story or character when he posts them on his project’s Tumblr site, The Composites.

Characters done so far include Aomame from Murakami’s 1Q84, Judge Holden from Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, and Nabokov’s Humbert Humbert from Lolita. Davis is happy to take requests but warns you need to know if there’s enough of a physical description before you send them in. No amount of clamouring from readers will enable him to achieve the impossible and craft a likeness from thin air when the author hasn’t provided the needed descriptive text, he points out.

“Unfortunately, there will be no Holden Caulfield. At a glance, the entirety of his self description amounts to “I have a crew cut.”

I have been debating sending in some of my own literary crushes. He may already covered Mr Rochester but there is always Wesley from the Princess Bride, Jaime Lannister from George R R Martin’s Game of Thrones series and (lest you think I am all about the men of days gone by) my one and only Twue-est Wuv – the Batman.

Yes, Batman. He’s tortured and complex AND he has a bat-belt and remote-controlled car. What more do you want? Who else would you rather see described? And would you take a chance with this version of Mr Rochester, or are you holding out for one of the other faces that have played him over the years? (Michael Fassbender, anyone?)

 

 

 

Great Expectations – 2012 and Australian non-fiction

It’s only Tuesday, but it’s been a good week so far for Australian non-fiction and for those of us looking to get our hands on some great new books to read.

First off, the shortlist for the 2012 Indie Awards has been announced and it has highlight four of Australia’s best non-fiction books released in the last year, just in case you missed reading them. The Indie Awards recognise independent booksellers’ favourite Australian authors from the past 12 months in the fiction, non-fiction and children’s categories, with a special award for debut fiction. The category winners will be chosen by panels of readers and independent booksellers, and independent booksellers then vote on the ‘Book of the Year’ with the winners announced on 10 March at the Leading Edge Books conference.

Last year’s Book of the Year winner was Boomerang bestseller The Happiest Refugee by Anh Do. His adaptation for children, The Little Refugee (co-written with Suzanne Do), is nominated in this year’s Children’s category. You can see a full list on our blog, but here are the four non-fiction books picked out as  some of the best reads in the genre in 2011, and all are well worth picking up for your reading pleasure.

  • Worse Things Happen at Sea by William McInnes & Sarah Watt. This memoir is a charming, hilarious and touching tribute to family and everyday life, celebrating the simple things that make up the normal life of a family in the suburbs;  raising children, renovations that never end and the trials and joys of daily life and dog obedience classes.
  • Notebooks by Betty Churcher. Betty, who was recently on ABC’s “Hidden Treasures” presenting obscure and amazing items from National Gallery of Australia, has penned and sketched this gloriously illustrated book guide to her most beloved artworks.  Betty is justly famous for her knack for making art accessible and fascinating and this book, revealing the secrets in masterpieces such as those by Rembrandt, Manet, Vermeer and Cezanne, will captivate art novices and lovers alike.
  • After Words: Post Prime Ministerial Speeches by Paul Keating. Love him or hate him, there’s no doubting that Keating has a memorable way with words (his insults, for example, have their own website). This book of speeches are all his work and range over a huge range of topics from international relations to the role of the monarchy, to the current direction and future of Australian politics, economics and society, leaving the reader in no doubt that Keating is still a man with plenty to say and a stirring way of saying it.
  • A Private Life by Michael Kirby. Michael Kirby is a very public figure, known for his work as a judge, academic and former Justice of the High Court. This book offers a look at his private life, the challenges he faced both growing up as and coming out as gay and the convictions and relationships that have kept him going throughout his career and personal life. Kirby’s writing is warm and humourous and this memoir explores and entertains without navel-gazing.

If the highlighting of four of the best non-fiction books wasn’t reason enough to look forward to hitting the bookstores, a new annual prize promises to reward excellence in Australian science writing and make it easier to access. NewSouth Publishing has established a prize for the best short non-fiction piece on science written for a general audience; the Bragg UNSW Press Prize for Science Writing.  Named in honour of Australia’s first Nobel Laureates William Henry Bragg and his son William Lawrence Bragg, and supported by the Copyright Agency Cultural Fund, all winning entries will be included in an anthology (The Best Australian Science Writing 2012) which will be published late in 2012.

Scientific books can get a bad rap for being impenetrable but, as any regular readers will know, there is plenty of wonderfully written, surprising and inspiring scientific writing out there. While this isn’t the first book that NewSouth have into this area (they published The Best Australian Science Writing 2011 in November last year) the establishment of an annual prize shows an ongoing commitment to the accessible in Australian Science writing that can only be a great thing for those of us who love to curl up with a good book that educates as it fascinates.

2012 has barely started, but I’m confident that it’s going to be a year with some seriously enjoyable Australian non-fiction to get into. What are you looking forward to getting your hands on?