That’s the Spirit – Aussie books that inform and thrill

With only a week to go before you sling a few more lamb chops onto the barbie, here is swag of ‘must read’ Aussie kids’ titles to put on your reading list, (not the barbie).

theres-a-magpie-in-my-soupThere’s a Magpie in my Soup Sean Farrar & Pat Kan

It’s that time of year when raucous baby magpies scream night and day for food. Seems they are no different when submersed in soup. Sean Farrar takes pre-schoolers on a merry epicurean romp through a menu of Australian critters as they pop up in the most extraordinary of places, (the only one that failed to make the endemic Aussie grade was the porcupine whom I felt could have been replaced by the Echidna). Snakes slither from cakes, cockatoos appear in loos. Possums get stuck in pies and blue tongues pop in for lunch. Kan’s chipper illustrations jockey this ditty merrily along  as rhyme and fauna are introduced to young readers in a fun, relatable way. A jolly little bedtime read.

Big Sky Publishing April 2016

stripes-in-the-forestStripes in the Forest – The Story of the Last Wild Thylacine Aleesah Darlison & Shane McGrath

Demonstrative illustrator, Shane McGrath teams with accomplished author, Aleesah Darlison in this picture book for mid primary readers about the last Tasmanian Tiger. Portrayed in a sweeping epic narrative from a female tiger’s viewpoint, Stripes in the Forest escorts readers through Tasmania’s pre-settlement days to present day, as she recalls a life of cyclical and human influenced changes. Gradually numbers of her kind reduce to the point of assumed extinction however, Stripes ends on a positive note of supposition; what if she is not the last of her kind?

Stripes in the Forest is alluring for its historical references, detailed Thylacine Facts and nod towards the need for environmental awareness and understanding. Full marks for this picture book for making a difference.

Big Sky Publishing July 2016

this-is-banjo-patersonThis is Banjo Paterson Tania McCartney & Christina Booth

Two leather clad gold embossed volumes of verse sit reverently upon my bookshelves: The Singer of the Bush and The Song of the Bush – the collected works of A B Banjo Paterson. Now another, smaller, more modest but equally as treasured title will accompany them; This is Banjo Paterson.

This inspired new picture book by the notable partnership of McCartney and Booth is as entertaining as it is beautiful. It begins in the middle of the Australian bush, at least Andrew Barton ‘Barty’s’ story does but do not be misled by the smooth  informative narrative of McCartney’s for Booth’s illustrations tell another story. Readers are invited into Barty’s urban backyard where they are introduced to his inclinations, desires, friends, and favourite pastimes. He has a hankering for horses and rhyming words but ‘is also a fine sportsman’.

Barty harbours a secret desire to write in verse as he grows and one day one of his anonymously submitted pieces is published. From then on end there is no stopping ‘Banjo’ as his name becomes synonymous with the classic bush inspired, character driven poetry and stories many of us know to this day.

Quiet and unassuming in its delivery, This is Banjo Paterson is visually rich and emotionally satisfying to read.  Many aspects of Banjo’s accomplished life are covered in a way that is both revealing and appreciable for young readers.  McCartney’s knack for conveying facts in a beguiling spirited fashion is put to good use in this picture book that broadens minds and warms hearts. The inspired broadsheet replication at the book’s conclusion includes sepia coloured photographs of Paterson and a more detailed chronological description of his life plus extracts from several of his most well-known poems. Highly recommended for early learners and primary aged readers, This is Banjo Paterson is a marvellous introduction to one of Australia’s literary heroes.

National Library of Australia Publishing (NLA) February 2017

lennie-the-legendLennie the Legend:  Solo to Sydney by Pony Stephanie Owen Reeder

Once upon a time, a nine-year-old boy named Lennie Gwyther took his pony, Ginger Mick for a ride. It was a very long ride, from country Victoria to Sydney, over 1,000 kilometres in fact but in the days of the Great Depression back in the early 1930s, people were accustomed to making such long arduous journeys.

Lennie’s mission was to be at the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and his tenacity and determination were recognised and admired by the entire nation. Lennie’s story is adeptly told by Reeder with animated narrative and is interspersed with complementing historical snippets. Occasionally, comparisons are made between present day and last century living. Stunning photographs of this slice of Australia’s past are included along with fascinating statistics and notable people. The result is a feature-rich read, well endowed with fact and good story telling. Ideally suited for primary aged readers and those who love legends.

NLA February 2015

the-dreaming-treeThe Dreaming Tree Jo Oliver

Whilst suffused with the essence of the Australian landscape and renowned poets, let’s take a moment to appreciate the free verse poetic stylings of Jo Oliver whose, The Dreaming Tree reflects the ‘joy and freedom of being a child in Australia’.  Oliver’s poems, many of which are centred on the fierce and dramatic beauty of the Australian countryside, flow and ebb with all the finesse and passion of a verse novel. They are both uplifting and enlightening, and an extreme joy to read. This collection is presented in a picture book format accompanied by Oliver’s own dreamlike illustrations.  Her note at the end stresses that ‘poetry is fun’ and simply ‘feeling and thought playing together in words’. Oliver’s feelings and thought play magnificently together in The Dreaming Tree, for which I can list no favourites for I relished them all.

Highly recommended for primary and lower secondary school students as an excellent illustrative tool for capturing the essence of feeling in verse and injecting an appreciation for the enjoyment of poetry into the young.

New Frontier Publishing February 2016

HAPPY AUSTRALIA DAY!

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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.

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Review: The Hate Race by Maxine Beneba Clarke

9780733632280I don’t read short story collections and I certainly never read biographies or memoirs. Maxine has now blown me away writing both. She has been described as “a powerful new voice in Australian literature”. I’d like to make a few adjustments to that quote. Maxine Beneba Clarke is the powerful voice of Australian literature. Reading Foreign Soil was like being introduced to a raw power. Like most short story collections there were stories that burst out of the book and others that slowly simmered but in every story Maxine’s power as a writer was apparent and you came away from the collection knowing that when she turned her attention to one subject, one narrative for a whole book, it was going to be something to behold. And that is exactly what she had done with The Hate Race turning her attention on herself and her childhood growing up in Western Sydney.

Maxine recounts the story of her parent’s emigration to Australia from England in the early days after The White Australia policy was dismantled by The Whitlam Government of the 1970s. She tells her story growing up in Western Sydney as one of the few families of colour and the systemic, casual, overt and unrelenting racism she had to deal with from kindergarten through to high school; from teachers, parents and classmates alike. She shows how that affected her, how that changed her, how that made her who she is and how it unmade who she is. At times it is painful to read and at other times infuriating. Anger that is tempered by your own shame when you remember similar incidents from your own childhood growing up where you looked the other way, did or said nothing or maybe even contributed in one way or another through your own ignorance of what was going on around you and the pain it was causing. Maxine recounts all this with humour, humility and honesty.

For anyone who thinks Australia isn’t a racist country, read this book. For anyone who thinks casual racism isn’t hurtful, read this book. For anyone who thinks Australia has changed a lot in the last 30 years, read this book. For anyone that has ignored a racist comment because they haven’t wanted to get involved, read this book. For anyone who wants to know what Australia is really like, read this book.

There are books that are often described as important. It is a phrase that can get thrown about a bit too much and it’s true meaning gets lost or is diminished. But every now and then a book comes along that makes you sit up. A book that quite literally takes your breath away. Sucks it out of you and it is not until you stop reading that you truly notice what the book has done. A book that opens your eyes to something you knew was there but have failed to really acknowledge. A book that confronts you with its honesty and raw emotion. A book you wish everybody around you would read so that they too can have the same realization. A book like that is important. Maxine Beneba Clarke has written a very important book. An extraordinary book. A truly remarkable and powerful book. A book I hope as many people as possible will read.

Buy the book here…

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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Liz Anelli Brings Life to Desert Lake

imageLiz Anelli is the author and award-winning illustrator of many, many colourful projects including children’s books, magazines, advertisements and educational websites. Her stunning artwork extends to printmaking, graphic design, watercolours, gouache and collage. Howzat!, View From the 32nd Floor and One Photo are a few of the picture books she has illustrated. Today I am thrilled to welcome Liz to Boomerang Books to tell us more about her art work, research and the illustrative creation of her latest gorgeous book, Desert Lake.

The Review:

Desert Lake is a fascinating story of survival and prosperity amongst the flora and fauna inhabiting the seemingly barren land of Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre.

imagePresented with two narratives, Pamela Freeman‘s text poses as both a lyrical and animated format and opposite, a smaller font with interesting facts. She tells the story of the rains as they arrive from the north to awaken life beneath the salty surface and enable a propagating community of birds and other wildlife to the area. Liz Anelli‘s brilliant illustrations beautifully depict this contrast, intensity, warmth and spirit with her multi-textured and layered paint, lines, pattern and complementary earthy colours. Even as the birds migrate to more plentiful waters when the lake dries, Anelli’s images carry forth the promise and richness of this outwardly desolate world.

Desert Lake literally thrives on its magical presence. It is captivating, rewarding and exquisite on so many levels. This is one information book that all primary classrooms would benefit from in their studies of Australian topography, climate change and the arts, and for the simple pleasure.

The Interview:

Welcome Liz! You have a style of art that has a distinctive flair yet is diverse in its themes and technique. Did you always paint this way or has your art changed over the years?

My style has certainly evolved over the years. I started out as a line and watercolour wash girl, then discovered how beautifully gouache paint sits on grey paper and gravitated towards dabs of bright colour within a black ink line (which I still do now for some illustrations). About 15 years ago I started incorporating collage and printmaking and learnt Photoshop so that I could choose which elements to cut and stick manually and which to add using my computer. Now I dip into materials and techniques depending on the age audience, subject and purpose of the illustration.

Do you have a favourite piece or project that you have worked on? Why is it special to you?

imageSO hard to choose! I think I love my illustrated maps above anything else, especially the first one I made of Newcastle, NSW because it was my way of befriending my new city (and country). I cycled around the Port-side suburbs for weeks with my camera and sketchbook, stopping to record every interesting building and industry and asking millions of questions. I found myself helping a prawner boat unload its catch, scampering up the side of a grain ship, in awe under the massive stacker-reclaimer wheel at a coal terminal and whizzing round the docks with a minibus full of excited school children who all wanted to show me their ‘best place to play’.

How did you come to illustrating books for children? What do you love most about this industry?

I illustrated (and wrote) my first picture book whilst still an art student way, way back. But as a child I was much more into reading and writing stories than drawing. My sisters, brother and I indulged in hours of imaginative play. My favourite was the one where we acted out snippets of radio programmes, pretending the stations were tuning in and out as we drove on long car journeys… must have been VERY irritating for our parents (but they never did replace us with a real car radio). I got hooked on drawing at Art School. You walk along the street and see stories being played out all around you. I draw what’s going on and voila… a picture book emerges.

The texture, depth, symmetry and combination of colours and media in Desert Lake are simply divine. How did you plan your process? What were the most challenging aspects in creating this book?

imageThe hardest thing is knowing when to stop. I try out colours and textures on separate bits of paper (and sometimes scan them in when they work better than the ’real thing’). I do a lot of research drawing at the ‘roughs’ stage but then clear my references away to make the artwork more intuitively. There are so many choices to make but in the end each spread has to work as a whole picture in relation to its neighboring pages.

What was it like to collaborate with author Pamela Freeman? How much creative licence did you have working on Desert Lake?

imageWalker’s ‘Nature Story Series’ allow author and illustrator a more poetic approach than other picture books and I had the sense of a huge amount of freedom. The manuscript changed a lot along the way and although this entailed more work for both of us I think it made the book even better in the end. Our editor played an expert role as catalyst. My compositions come from a lot of real life observation (I had an ASA Research Award to visit the Outback) mixed up with a good shake of imagination. It was cold and dry when I went to the Lake so I also spent hours drawing and watching the colours on the water here in Newcastle Harbour.

What little secrets can you share about the making of Desert Lake? Any minute details that your audience should particularly be aware of?

An insect (that triangular shaped back and white one who appears on several pages) crawled into the seat of my jeans while I was drawing at the lake, I swallowed more than one bush fly and I went to sleep at night with all my clothes on… it was very, very cold. Can you see the little bug hiding on the night-time scene near the end of the book? Tracing paper collage makes very good frogspawn – just the right translucency.

Fun Question! If you lived in the desert which animal would you choose to be and why?

Hopping mouse – so sweet! NOT a bush fly.

You have recently launched a marvellous exhibition of your artwork at the Lovett Gallery in Newcastle. Congratulations! Please tell us a bit more about it. What have been the highlights so far?

We wanted to allow viewers inside the process of creating a picture book so have included the story of our research trips and examples of my storyboards as well as all the original paper artworks. Visitors can spot the variations between these and the printed pages, working out for them selves what parts I ‘collaged’ on screen. We deliberately asked the framer to include all my rough notes and workings around the edges of each piece and I love it when children ask me if I know there is an apple sticker on one… yes, I eat a lot of apples when I’m working.

imageI’m also enjoying watching another piece of desert floor come to life. We created a 4 metre long panel of one of my sketchbook paintings of the sandy ground with cracks and a few scrubby plants on it and I’ve been helping children make creatures using collage, paint and print in workshops. I think there are over 100 creepy crawlies on there already.

What would be your greatest piece of advice for emerging artists wanting to succeed in illustrating children’s books?

Don’t give up! Network, work hard and make pictures about the things you love not just what you think publishers would like to see. Be yourself, that’s the thing they won’t find anywhere else.

Thank you so much for talking with us, Liz! It’s been a real pleasure! 🙂

To connect with Liz Anelli please visit her website, Facebook and Twitter pages.

Her Desert Lake exhibition displays original artwork, sketches and studies of Liz’s research in the outback. It is being held at the Lovett Gallery in the Newcastle Region Library until May 14. Click here for more details.

Desert Lake is written by Pamela Freeman, illustrated by Liz Anelli and published by Walker Books, 2016.

Pre-order your copy of Desert Lake.

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Children with Anxiety – Picture Book Reviews

Often it is our differences, fears and anxieties that contribute to our feelings (or lack thereof) of self-worth. It is common within our society to feel out of place or lack self-confidence. But you know what? That’s OK! Maybe it just takes a little time to warm up, to find your feet and be ready to tackle the world. Understanding and accepting oneself can often be a process that takes maturing, and a gentle and sympathetic support system can be a vital part of that growth. The following two books deal with these tender matters in beautifully delicate and encouraging ways.

imageThe Underwater Fancy-Dress Parade, Davina Bell (author), Allison Colpoys (illus.), Scribe Publications, 2015.

A sensitive young boy named Alfie feels the weight of the world on his shoulders as he struggles with social anxiety. Naturally, he’d rather hide than face performing as Captain Starfish in the upcoming fancy-dress parade. Those all-too-familiar feelings of nervousness that he has experienced before return. Admitting his fear of failure to the cowboys on his wallpaper is scary enough, but how will his Mum react when he tells her he can’t go?

Well, Mum (and Dad) are gratefully understanding. In fact, Mum takes Alfie to the aquarium instead. The underwater world is beautiful and wondrous, but upon spotting a starfish, just like his costume, he feels that heaviness weighing upon him once more. Fortuously it is a little shy clownfish that he connects with who shows him that it’s alright to wait in the wings (or coral, so to speak) until the time to emerge from the depths feels right.

imageDavina Bell’s genuinely heartfelt and beautifully written text so effectively relates Alfie’s fears and nightmares in an empathetic, delicate manner. Equally, Colpoys‘s exquisite illustrations with their soothing blues and greys and pops of neon orange, and the fantastic use of space and perspective add that perfect depth of soul and vulnerability.

The Underwater Fancy-Dress Parade’ speaks into the lives of many children facing anxiety. A poignant and enchanting tale set to add a little sparkle and illumination to the more sensitive souls of this often daunting world.

imageBeing Agatha, Anna Pignataro (author, illus.), The Five Mile Press, 2015.

Here we have another reserved child fearing the judgement of others. But just like it did for the boy in Davina Bell’s book, it takes time and encouragement for this character to truly realise what makes her an individual and thus overcome her internal struggles.

We are immediately drawn in with a pertinent discussion topic. First we see that Agatha’s parents are of an inter-racial (or inter-specie) communion, and that Agatha is centred at this somewhat of a divide at family get-togethers. Then there’s the fact that her likes and abilities seem less impressive than others’ – another reason to feel a sense of lack of worth. So Agatha decides that hiding from her classmates is the solution, until she realises that she’s more important than she thinks. With a little reinforcement from her teacher, Agatha’s friends are able to rattle off a number of traits that make her special. But they all agree, “no one else is a better Agatha than you!”

imageWhilst Anna Pignataro‘s simple narrative relays Agatha’s worries about her lack of belonging, it is her pictures that form the basis for its interpretation. Anna’s language is sensitive and gentle, and her illustrations support these qualities unequivocally. The grey tones of the charcoal render the story’s restrain and softness yet carry a sense of similarity amongst the characters. And it is the pops of watercolours and collage elements that give life, spirit and individuality to each of them, too. A wonderfully eclectic mix that this book highlights of difference as well as belonging.

‘Being Agatha’ is a modest, sweet and intriguing story lightly addressing feelings of anxiety with a reassuring touch that a range of young children (and species) between 2 and 6 will be able to relate to.

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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.

Review – Adelaide’s Secret World by Elise Hurst

imageHighly talented artist, Elise Hurst‘s illustrations seem to metamorphose with every title, from fluid watercolours to fine ink lines and bold, sweeping strokes of oil colours. In this latter artistic style, differing to that of some of her other titles, including My Boots in Season and Imagine a City, Elise Hurst has produced an intriguing, heart-stopping new book, its words and pictures working together to take your breath away; it’s Adelaide’s Secret World.

imageShe lives a solitary existence. A life once full of delight and wonders, now, a world confined in glass jars, hidden within a cloak and a red curtain. The town in which Adelaide lives is bustling with movement, but it seems the townsfolk are simply, and privately, just passing through each day. Longing for a connection, a serendipitous moment finds Adelaide at the door that opens her heart and soul to a whole new world full of possibilities. As she finds her inner calm, it is that very red curtain that once blocked her vision that she courageously uses as the missing link. By connecting the torn thread amongst the townsfolk, those who were once lonely and silent, including Adelaide, have now found a voice, and each other.

With her stunning collection of dreamy oil paintings and evocative words, Elise Hurst takes her readers on a soul-searching journey that touches a little piece of all of us. Feeling lost and isolated is not uncommon, particularly in a world of chaos. But Adelaide reminds us that friendship, humanity and self expression can always be found, and celebrated with a little bit of courage and an open heart.

imageThe exquisite mixture of colour, movement, emotion, and poetic softness in both text and illustrations work flawlessly together to evoke feelings of angst, peace, turmoil and calm. Pale yellows and greens in the beginning and end shed light on a world that is safe and comfortable, and becomes brighter even more so as Adelaide’s world is suddenly flooded with energy and an inner peace. The mid-section carries deep greens, blues and greys, signifying this spinning, chaotic whirlwind inside her mind. And throughout the book, pops of red burst with visual warmth, power and imagination.

‘Adelaide’s Secret World’ is undeniably uplifting and visually rousing, a perfect choice for early primary children to revisit over and over again. This book has potential to win awards and would make a gorgeous film. Highly recommended.

Allen&Unwin, 2015.

Click here for more information on Elise Hurst.

***Read my exclusive interview with the talented author illustrator herself! Click here!***

Freya Blackwood’s Books Make the Perfect Gift

It’s true. You can’t deny it. Freya Blackwood‘s art is so exquisite that whether it’s for a Christmas or birthday gift, or a ‘just because I want it’ gift, every household should own a piece of her talent. And of course, coupling with superb artists of writing makes purchasing decisions all that much easier. Two of the many books on this year’s Kids’ Reading Guide list are ‘The Cleo Stories: A Friend and a Pet’ and ‘Perfect’, both illustrated by Freya Blackwood.  

imageThe collaboration between Freya Blackwood and Libby Gleeson continuously impresses, with previous winning titles including ‘Clancy and Millie and the Very Fine House’, ‘Banjo and Ruby Red’ and ‘Amy and Louis’. Also on the awards list is ‘The Cleo Stories: The Necklace and the Present’ (review) with its success for Younger Readers in the 2015 Children’s Book Council Awards. Following on with another beauty is the second in the series; ‘The Cleo Stories: A Friend and a Pet’.  

Text and illustrations once again work harmoniously, beautifully connecting emotion, energy, playfulness and a sense of familiarity and everyday life. The colourful, pencil sketches throughout this hardback chapter book are delightfully engaging and appealing to its intended audience; perfectly relatable as a read-alone or read-aloud experience.  

In A Friend, Cleo has nothing to do on a rainy day, and cleaning her room just doesn’t appeal. But her parents’ patience with her food-splattering, mascara-splashing ways are wearing thin. Cleo is a fun-loving, creative and resourceful little girl with a big imagination. How will she overcome her boredom? In A Pet, Cleo’s friend Nick, and the rest of her class (almost) have a pet. But not Cleo, and she is desperate to have one. When her parents refuse Cleo is disappointed, but her inquisitive and rational nature leads to a win-win solution for all.  

imageThe authenticity of the conversations and actions in the stories effectively translate through Freya’s illustrations. When Peanuts the puppy pees on Cleo’s dress, you can see that real shift from gentle comforting to true frustration (and the puppy’s confusion), all drawn with spot-on body language and perfect line placement. Genius!

‘A Friend and a Pet’ is a book packed with genuinely heartfelt, and humorous moments, encouraging readers from age six to explore their own imaginative and creative sides, just like the loveable Cleo.  

Allen & Unwin 2015.  

image‘Perfect’, written by Danny Parker, explores a wonderfully carefree Summer day for three little children and their cat. This picture book, aimed at the early childhood age group, oozes beauty and tranquility, radiance and tenderness.  

With Danny Parker‘s expressive, poetic verse, accompanied by Freya Blackwood‘s soothing, soft shades of blues and yellows, you can’t help but feel a sense of transcendence wash over you with each page turn. Sunshine and baking, construction and balancing, fresh air and cool shade, windy skies and ‘one great big day’. We are taken on this joyous path as the children wander and explore the beautiful seaside beside their lush green country town, and then settle for a snuggle and a night-time dream.  

imageI adore Freya’s magical pencil and acrylic illustrations that enlighten all the senses, and her beautiful way of capturing light and movement through sequences, texture, depth and perspective.

A ‘Perfect’ resemblance of the spirit of childhood, the warmth of togetherness and the refreshment of a cool breeze on a balmy Summer’s day.    

Little Hare Books 2015.

Review – Mr Huff by Anna Walker

Mr Huff, Anna Walker (author, illus.), Penguin Viking, July 2015.

9780670078042Delicately explored in her books are often the themes of maintaining a sense of being, having belief in yourself and looking on the brighter side of life. With treasures including the ‘I Love’ series, Peggy, I Don’t Believe in Dragons, Hurry Up Alfie, and Alfie’s Lost Sharkie, Anna Walker has once again brilliantly captured a little ray of sunshine in the delightful, Mr Huff.  

As soon as Bill wakes up he is burdened with a gloomy scribble cloud above his head. His morning goes from bad to worse, with dog-chewed socks, soggy cereal and an uncooperative backpack. As Bill’s bad mood heightens, so does this growing sense of apprehension that overshadows his every move. It’s Mr Huff. Bill grumbles about Mr Huff’s presence at bathtime, bedtime, toilet breaks and has moments of attempted bravery to banish him. Whilst funny on the surface, we feel his pain. His internal struggle finally explodes like a raging storm. And then all is still. Bill eventually finds his calm, befriending the vast grey mass, and the sun is able to shine through the clouds. Mr Huff, the symbolic ‘worry’, has diminished, and we’re left with an ending that is bittersweet.

large_mr_huff_6Anna Walker has so masterfully been able to convey Bill’s emotional journey, from his feelings of anxiety and misplacement through his progression to a more positive outlook, in her sensitive, thought-provoking text. But not without injecting that gorgeous sense of humour that makes her books so engaging and loveable. As for the illustrations, naturally they are whimsical, enchanting and exude personality. If you were able to cast your very own eyes on the visual feast displayed at her recent Mr Huff Exhibition in Melbourne, like I did, you would appreciate the absolute skill of Anna’s individually painted, cut and pasted pieces, multiple textures and media (including paper, fabric, watercolours, etching and woodblock prints). Just incredible!

Mr Huff is a gentle, touching and multi-layered story of embracing one’s feelings and finding beauty in the world. It’s a charming and meaningful book for both young children and adults who will ensure that Mr Huff visits them again and again.  

Read the exclusive interview with Anna Walker, here!

View Anna Walker’s ‘Mr Huff’ Behind the Studio Door and Book Trailer here.
See my experience at the Mr Huff Exhibition here.
 

Stephen Michael King’s Triumphant Trio

29cde5eWhat is it about Stephen Michael King‘s illustrations that make his picture books so sublime? How can his drawings make us want to delve into those stories over and over again? Well, that’s just it! It’s the artwork that adds another dimension to those already meaningful stories, allowing us to dive right in with those characters; feeling what they feel – emotionally and sensorially. With a multitude of divine books under his wing, the extremely talented Stephen Michael King has three that are currently soaring to the top with their prize winning prowess, being shortlisted in the CBCA’s 2015 Early Childhood and Picture Book of the Year Awards and nominated in the 2015 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards.  

snail-and-turtle-are-friends-293x300Snail and Turtle are Friends, Scholastic, 2014.
CBCA Early Childhood Shortlisted Book.

Stephen Michael King’s distinctive style of sweet faces, with a combination of little dot eyes and large round ones, always seem to perfectly suit the mood of the story and personalities of the characters. In the case of ‘Snail and Turtle are Friends’, these two gentle animals emanate a feeling of peace and calm about them, but not forgetting a wonderfully whimsical touch of cheekiness. Even at their craziest moments, when Turtle sings in the rain and dives in the water, or Snail boldly chomps leaves and paints swirls, the vibrant colours, eclectic patterns and varying shapes fit together beautifully harmoniously.  
Just like Snail and Turtle, the illustrations display an eye-catching array of techniques to reflect aspects in common and those that are unique from one another. I love ‘Snail and Turtle are Friends’ for its ability to capture a sense of adventure, playfulness and its underlying message in friendship and accepting differences.  

9781921504631Scary Night, Working Title Press, 2014.
CBCA Early Childhood Shortlisted Book.

On a more dramatic note, but no less animated, is ‘Scary Night’, written by Lesley Gibbes. With his usual, striking use of pen, ink, brush and digital compilations, Stephen Michael King manages to tick all the boxes once again when it comes to creating just the right mood. The story, set in darkness as the characters journey through treacherous fields with only the glow of the pale moonlight to guide them on their way, is far from gloomy. Its upbeat rhythm, rollicking text and leading suspense are perfectly captured in King’s drawings. When the characters sneakily tip-toe through dark woods and crocodile-infested terrain, it is their wide, terrified eyes and the scenes’ cool, moody hues that keep the thrill-seekers in us entertained. When we turn the page to be blasted with a shock of bright orange and large ‘roaring’ font, it is not just the characters getting the most wonderfully horrifying fright of their lives.
The playfulness, facial expressions, effective use of colours and gorgeous Suess-like sketches are a real treat that will ensure young children want to journey on this most mysterious, spooktacular experience again and again.  

Duck and DarklingsThe Duck and the Darklings, Allen & Unwin, 2014.
CBCA Picture Book of the Year Shortlisted Book.
NSW Premier’s Literary Award Nominated Book.

In similarity to ‘Scary Night’, ‘The Duck and the Darklings’ is disposed to the darkness, with just a glint of a glimmer that so significantly paves the way to a brighter future. With more of a complex storyline than the previous two books, ‘The Duck and the Darklings’, is written creatively and almost poetically by Glenda Millard. Its message is strong with the metaphor of dark versus light to represent ‘disremembered’ yesterdays versus the glow of forbidden fondness (happy memories). With this theme, Stephen Michael King’s illustrations are spellbinding. He has created depth, texture and warmth amongst the darkness. His characteristically adorable characters are hand-drawn as outlines and set against the silhouettes of black and white; shadow and light, past, present and future, that hit Millard’s intention so brillliantly.
‘The Duck and the Darklings’ is a heartwarming story of family, friendship and optimism that is beautifully captured in its words and pictures. Primary school children will definately hold a candle to this shining star. Stunning.  

More information about Stephen Michael King and his books can be found at:
http://www.stephenmichaelking.com

Teaching notes for ‘Scary Night’ and ‘The Duck and the Darklings’ can be found at:
http://www.romisharp.wordpress.com/teaching-notes

Review – Pig the Fibber by Aaron Blabey

pig-the-fibberPig the Fibber, Aaron Blabey (author, illus.), Scholastic, May 2015.  

Okay, Pig fans! He’s back! And he’s up to a whole lot of mischief…again!  

aaron blabeyAward-winning author / illustrator, Aaron Blabey, is renowned for his ability to create books with clear morals, but particularly his distinguishable style of outlandish characters in farcical situations…mostly self-inflicted! You may notice this theme in such books as ‘The Brothers Quibble’, ‘The Dreadful Fluff’ (reviews here), ‘Thelma the Unicorn’ (Dimity’s review), and our beloved (or maybe not-so) ‘Pig the Pug’.  

We first got to meet Pig as a most greedy and selfish little Pug, refusing to share with his sausage dog flatmate Trevor, and even going as far as spitting and name calling. Once again, in ‘Pig the Fibber’, Pig is just as maniacal with his protruding eyeballs and lunatic behaviour! This time, he has learned something, and it’s not a valuable lesson. It’s how to lie… big, fat lies!  

pig the fibber spreadLiterally marking his territory; that is, this book, the naughty little canine has set the tone from the outset. Pig loves to get his own way, and he’s perfectly comfortable hand-balling the blame onto his trusty victim – Trevor. He attacks pillows and smears dog food on the living room mat in a wild stupor. He breaks delicate household items in a crazed hula romp. He even tears up a wedding dress…just for fun. But Pig confesses – it was all Trevor. With absolute disregard for his flatmate’s feelings, Pig ‘lets off’ the biggest lie to be able to sneak into the cupboard to steal more food. Luckily, one dog is rewarded with the treats he deserves…and it ain’t Pig. Who knew a hard knock would see Pig wrapped up in his own head of truths?  

Again, just like in the first book, brilliantly hysterical and energetic illustrations that are so characteristically Blabey are expressed in ‘Pig the Fibber’. Be aware of facial expressions to sympathise with Trevor, as the text is so focused on Pig’s actions. The animated rhyming text seems to roll off the tongue. Perhaps it’s slightly easier to read than ‘Pig the Pug’, and it’s equally enjoyable but a hint more crude.  

We thought that Pig had changed his insolent ways last time, and he has since proved us wrong. Will he taunt us for a third time with more disturbing antics? Let’s hope so!

With another clear moral in being truthful and honest (or lack thereof), ‘Pig the Fibber’ is an inexorably amusing and crowd-pleasing book for children of all ages.  

Scholastic, May 2015.

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 – The Last Anzac by Gordon Winch and Harriet Bailey

The Last Anzac, Gordon Winch (author), Harriet Bailey (Illus.), New Frontier Publishing, March 2015.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli landing. For this significant Anzac Centenary, a myriad of children’s books have been released to teach our young ones about the physical, emotional and historical impact of war, and to celebrate our war veterans; our heroes.

the-last-anzacOne such picture book that does just that is ‘The Last Anzac’, written by Gordon Winch and illustrated by Harriet Bailey. And this one is certainly special. It is based on the real life experience of a young boy’s meeting with Alec Campbell in 2001, who served in Gallipoli in 1915. Having being enlisted at the tender age of 16, at the time of the interview Alec was the last living Anzac at the ripe age of 102. Amazing!

The last anzac pic endpaperEndpapers with original letters, photos and stamped envelopes set the scene for the historical journey we are about to encounter. Alternating between past and present, we are told of the day that the young boy, James, and his father stepped off the plane in Tasmania to visit and interview the last Anzac, Alec Campbell.
He, too, was young and small, nicknamed ‘The Kid’ at the time of the Great War (1914 – 1918). Alec was a noble and brave teenager, having endured treacherous experiences in Anzac Cove. In comparison, whilst in the comfort of Alec’s present home, James nibbles on biscuits as he asks the veteran questions about his responsibilities, fears, safety, living conditions and health during the war.

The story retells Alec’s six weeks worth of dodging bombs and escaping firing gun bullets, eating tinned bully beef and hard biscuits, and the celebratory treat of oranges when leaving Gallipoli. An image of young and old hands touching war medals portrays the sheer dedication of this man in his short service, but also a reminder for children (and adults) to respect and honour all the soldiers who fought for our country long before they were born.
Alec was sent back to Australia after suddenly falling ill; now a Gallipoli veteran – at the age of seventeen. As boy and veteran bid farewell, it is this serendipitous moment that James realises he is in the presence of a true hero.
(Alec lived to the age of 103, passing the year after James’ interview.)

The last anzac picHaving had done extensive research on the subject, New Zealander, Harriet Bailey has illustrated this book with precision and sensitivity; appropriate for the given era. There are enough details to depict the harshness and trepidity of the wartime, but without any graphic or shocking images. The same is felt about the gentle nature of Gordon Winch’s text; the story provides basic information that is suitable for younger children to understand and digest. The juxtaposition between the 1915 retelling and the 2001 meeting is cleverly highlighted in the pictures with bold, earthy tones of khaki and burnt orange for the past, and softer, pastille shades for the present.

‘The Last Anzac’ is a beautifully written true account of this exceptional and humble soldier, Alec Campbell during World War 1. Its non-confronting and meaningful approach, and significant historical value make this resource engaging and suitable for early primary students.
Teaching notes are available at http://www.newfrontier.com.au/depot/item/898-20150317102244-The-Last-Anzac.pdf

0 aleccampbell

———-LEST WE FORGET———-

Libby Gleeson’s Books in Review

With a multitude of Australian and international literary and service awards, and over 30 books written for children and young adults, Libby Gleeson AM has proven her commitment, talent and prestige in the children’s literature industry. Here we explore a few of her latest books for young readers; the most recent is the quintessential, ‘Mum Goes to Work’.  

mum-goes-to-workMum Goes to Work, Libby Gleeson (author), Leila Rudge (illus.), Walker Books, 2015.

Originally published in 1992, Mum Goes to Work is back in 2015. A story of the importance of mums and an awareness for the many hats they wear, including a view into the world of working mothers.
We are introduced to all the mums and their children as they congregate at the child care centre. The story continues with snippets into the busy days of each mum at work, and their child at care. Nadia’s mother is a student (of architecture, as seen in Leila Rudge‘s illustrations), and it is paintings of houses and building blocks that Nadia meticulously works on at child care. Laurence’s mother serves food and coffee in a cafe, whilst he makes a three-layer sand cake and lots of sand biscuits with his friend in the sandpit. We see mums as nurses, at-home mums, receptionists, retail assistants, office workers and teachers. Meanwhile, the children play with baby dolls, puzzles, construction, ride bikes and read books.
Libby Gleeson‘s text gives equal significance to the mother’s work as it does to the activities of the busy children. Leila Rudge’s illustrations perfectly suit the tender feel of the story, delivering a touch of humour and meaning to the words, and plenty of details to explore. Her gentle watercolour, pencil and collage pictures are gorgeously expressive and beautifully spread between the text.
Mum Goes to Work is a welcome insight into the daily lives of working mothers and children in child care. It’s a joyous story of identity and having a place in this big world. Readers can gain a greater appreciation for the commitment, sacrifices and pleasures that women achieve for their families. Equally, this resource allows mums wonderful opportunities to further bond and relate to their children. Fun, interactive and visually appealing; it’s a win-win for all!  

go-to-sleep-jessie--1Go To Sleep, Jessie!, Libby Gleeson (author), Freya Blackwood (illus.), Little Hare Books, 2014.

A little girl cannot sleep while her baby sister occupies the same bedroom…and screams. No amount of comfort and pats from Mum settle baby Jessie. No amount of sweet stories and lullabies from Dad settle Jessie. The girl is frustrated beyond words, but when Jessie is taken out and all is quiet, she still can’t sleep, and finally comes to realise the perfect solution… A little bit of sisterly love and affection goes a long way.
A really gentle and endearing story that delicately explores the struggles of sleep-time routines. I love Libby Gleeson‘s descriptions of the baby’s behaviour, paired with the raw emotions of the older sister. I also love Freya Blackwood‘s whimsical and dynamic images that show these feelings with vignettes and contrasting tones of orange and blue.
Go To Sleep, Jessie! will melt your heart. It is perfect as a bedtime story at the end of the day, and especially for children who understand the joys and angst of having a younger sibling.  

resized_9781743315279_224_297_FitSquareThe Cleo Stories: The Necklace and the Present, Libby Gleeson (author), Freya Blackwood (illus.), Allen & Unwin, 2014.

In two delightful chapters we meet a little girl named Cleo, who brilliantly solves some real life problems. In ‘The Necklace’, Cleo envies her friends as they show off their glamorous jewels, but all Cleo has to offer is a jumper she received at Christmas. Unable to wait until her birthday, Cleo takes the initiative to gather her resources and creates a beautiful, unique necklace on her own. The next chapter, ‘The Present’, sees Cleo desperate to give her mum a nice present for her upcoming birthday. She’s wracked her brains, emptied her piggy bank, and even got herself into a very sticky mess attempting to piece an old broken bowl back together. Finally, Cleo cleverly presents her mum with the best gift ever!  
Once again, this dynamic duo that is Libby Gleeson and Freya Blackwood have created a stunning book for young readers, with such a loveable and relatable character that is Cleo. Gleeson’s text is suited to both independent readers, as well as being an engaging read aloud story to those in the early stages of reading. And Blackwood’s illustrations are just gorgeous, soft yet complimentary of the energy and personality of the creative little girl.
The Cleo Stories is a charming short chapter book of a girl with resilience, ingenuity and flair. If she hasn’t already captured your heart, she will! I can’t wait to find out what she has planned in the next instalment of The Cleo Stories (Book Two coming out in 2015).  

banjo-and-ruby-red-1Banjo and Ruby Red, Libby Gleeson (author), Freya Blackwood (illus.), Little Hare Books, 2013.

Banjo the chook dog is very efficient when it comes to rounding the chickens… Except for Ruby Red. This obstinate chook would rather sit on the woodheap, staring at the sky. Then comes the day when Banjo discovers Ruby Red not on her pile, but rather flat on the ground with her eyes shut. Will his loyalty and commitment to his job see Banjo take on a new role? What becomes of this complex relationship between dog and chook?
A heartwrenching and warming tale all encompassed into one beautiful story of rivalry and friendship. Libby Gleeson‘s text is simple, yet compelling and evocative. Freya Blackwood‘s illustrations are equally expressive, fluid and powerful, creating both calm and chaos with her sketching, varied perspectives and earthy tones.
Banjo and Ruby Red won Honour Book in the CBCA Awards 2014, and deservingly comes highly recommended for anyone looking to engage in a touching, funny and energetic story.  

Love these books? How would you like to discover more about their remarkable author; Libby Gleeson? Stay tuned for a very special appearance on Boomerang Books! Coming soon!

Books of Love – For Kids

How will you be celebrating this Saturday February 14th?  Some see it as a chance to demonstrate the most romantic of gestures, showering their special ones with gifts of affection. Others only need to show an act of kindness to prove they care. Either way, whether it’s Valentine’s Day, International Book Giving Day or Library Lovers’ Day for you, this Saturday marks a day of appreciation for those we adore (including our love for books).
Here are some heartwarming stories that beautifully incorporate tenderness, charity, compassion, friendship and giving.  

514TikhmbnL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_Hooray for Hat!, Brian Won (author / illus.), Koala Books, 2014.

Hooray for Hat! is an entertaining story that explores feelings, generosity and friendship. Depicted with a black scribble above his head and a wrinkled brow, Elephant woke up feeling grumpy. But an unexpected present at the door soon changes his mood. A marvellous multi-tiered hat immediately cheers up Elephant. Here, the book makes full use of the double page spread by turning Elephant on his side and includes large, colourful text, ”HOORAY FOR HAT!” Eager to show Zebra, Elephant discovers that he, too is grumpy. ”Go Away! I’m Grumpy!” As the story continues, Elephant carries on spreading the cheer by gifting each animal with a magnificent hat, bringing them out of their terrible mood. Showing concern for Lion’s friend, Giraffe, the group plan a spectacular surprise; a very grand, loving gesture.
With gorgeously strong and colourful illustrations, repetition and boldness of the text, Hooray for Hat! is a fun read-aloud book about friendship and compassion that young children will love.  

AllMyKissesAll My Kisses, Kerry Brown (author), Jedda Robaard (illus.), ABC Books, 2014.  

Another book about inspiring generosity is this story of a loveable piglet in All My Kisses. Abby is very kissable. She receives lots of kisses at bedtime, and likes to collect them in a special bucket. Abby is over-protective, claiming the kisses are too precious to share around. The overflowing bucket of kisses eventually turn into bleak, grey pebbles, so she discards of them in the playground. Soon Abby discovers that her pebbles are more than just that; they are a source of joy and delight for other children, with magical glowing properties at night. Abby eventually realises that sharing her kisses makes them much more valuable than keeping them to herself.
The message of spreading warmth and togetherness flows across the pages, depicted by the soft and gently painted pig characters. All My Kisses is a tender story about encouraging affection. It is a beautiful bedtime story for toddler to preschool aged children.  

61VkdeZCUsL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_The Scarecrows’ Wedding, Julia Donaldson (author), Axel Scheffler (illus.), Scholastic UK, 2014.
From the dynamic duo that brought us The Gruffalo is Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler’s, The Scarecrows’ Wedding. A story of love between two scarecrows, Betty O’Barley and Harry O’Hay.
In beautiful, sophisticated rhyme, the verses tell of their journey as they plan their big wedding day. Hunting around the farm for the necessary items, the animals are more than charitable in offering to help with the dress, music, jewellery and flowers. But when Harry goes astray on his quest, the farmer replaces him with an obnoxious, greedy scarecrow called Reginald Rake. Luckily, Harry returns to save his future wife from deadly peril, Reginald abandons the scene, and the lovebirds enjoy the best wedding yet.
Scheffler’s characteristically enticing and bright illustrations, and Donaldson’s delightfully rhythmic and humorous text, proves The Scarecrows’ Wedding to be both a fun and heartwarming read that kids and adults will love to share many times over.  

517Hb7bBBAL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_Spots: One bird’s search for the perfect plumage, Helen Ward (author / illus.), The Five Mile Press, 2014.

We love this story of a guinea fowl who just wants to fit in. It is a book about learning to love yourself, and spreading warmth around with something so simple… a smile.
This particular guinea fowl is missing his spots. So he orders a delivery, only to discover the spots were all wrong. As more spots arrive, he finds they are too small, too invisible, and too bright. Join-the-dots spots are not quite right, and neither are splats, dots from i’s, freckles, leopard or ladybird spots. The spots that he finally wears are certainly unique and unashamedly eccentric, and this acceptance of himself assures his happiness.
Beautifully simple text in rhyming prose, with the elements of humour and ingenuity. The illustrations are equally whimsical and expressive, and include interesting texture; both seen in the paintings and felt on the paper.
Spots is an endearing book about giving, receiving and appreciating what you’ve got, and is perfectly suited to preschool-aged children.  

the+swapThe Swap, Jan Ormerod (author), Andrew Joyner (illus.), Little Hare, 2013.

From the late Jan Ormerod and Andrew Joyner is a story of sibling love (in disguise); the award-winning The Swap. Here we have a classic case of a mother ogling over her precious baby, and an older sibling feeling the jealousy curse. Caroline Crocodile is tired of hearing how gorgeous her baby brother is, and how he takes up the room on her Mama’s lap. She just wants some smacky-smoochy love for herself. When Mama Crocodile asks Caroline to look after her brother for a little while, it is what happens next that really hooks us in. Caroline decides to take her dribbly baby into the Baby Shop, and it is one of those laugh-out-loud moments when in a surprising twist, the shopkeeper agrees to swap him for other animal babies. With all good intentions, Caroline trials one at a time, only to discover that none of them quite match the brief. With a ‘gorgeous’ ending, Caroline understands why her brother is special and accepts him just the way he is, dribbles, smells and all. She also gets the reward from Mama that she always longed for.
The warm, humorous text matches perfectly with Joyner’s illustrations, including terrific character expression, plenty of fun and interesting details in every scene, and the soft pastel colour tones and patterns that reflect a bit of a groovy, retro vibe.
Classy look, classy tale, The Swap is a true all-round classic that is irresistibly lovely for children and adults, alike.  

So which beautiful books will you be sharing with your loved ones this Saturday?  

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

‘When I see Grandma’; A Compelling Account with Author, Debra Tidball

I love the way award-winning author Debra Tidball describes her view on valuing connectedness across the generations. I also love the sentiment in celebrating people’s personal histories and appreciating who they are now, and then. Having had a grandmother with whom I had a strong bond, ‘When I see Grandma’ really resonated in my heart. It is the perfect book to share with young and old, and what better time to do so than Christmas time.  

high resDebra Tidball’s ‘When I see Grandma’ is a beautiful, poignant story of life, love, family and compassion. It will make you smile. It will make you teary. It will touch your heart in many ways. So thoughtfully and delicately illustrated by Leigh Hedstrom, the images evoke an array of emotions, and tie in magically with Debra’s gentle phrasing.

When the children visit their sick and elderly grandmother in the aged care home, it is their glowing presence that elicits grandma’s fond memories of her past.

”I’m sometimes sad to see her but I’m always glad that I can brighten her dreams.”

The little girl and her brother bring joy to the elderly through elements of music, ”for her dreams to dance on”, through their laughter and their youthful innocence. She nurtures her grandmother with a little pampering and cuddling, which strengthens the love in her heart. The story ends with a kiss for Daddy until he returns from work, and a kiss for Grandma, to say goodbye. The final image of the family sharing grandma’s old photos, which can be viewed in the endpapers, give the book the perfect uplifting conclusion.Wombat Books 2014.  

debra tidballDebra, congratulations on winning the CALEB Prize, and for being shortlisted in the Speech Pathology Book of the Year Awards for ‘When I see Grandma’! What wonderful achievements!  
Thanks Romi.  

How did you feel when you heard the exciting news of your nomination and win?  
To be short listed for the same award category as the legendary (and our family favourite, Bob Graham) blew me away – he won the Speech Pathology award, but I certainly get bragging rights! And winning the CALEB prize was more quietly and personally gratifying.  

All the royalties of ‘When I see Grandma’ will be donated to the Hazel Hawke Alzheimer’s Research and Care fund, which is amazing. What does this connection mean to you personally?  
My mum had dementia and the book is dedicated to her: it is based on visiting her with my two daughters when she was in an aged care home – so it seemed appropriate to donate my royalties to an organisation working in the dementia area. Hazel Hawke was a courageous and warmly regarded public personality and this fund seemed to be the right fit. The fund is administered via Alzheimer’s Australia who have been very supportive.  

Do you have any special childhood memories of your own Grandma?  
It’s interesting you ask that, Romi, because the only contact I had with my grandparents as a child was receiving birthday and Christmas presents from them (which my mother actually bought with money sent from overseas) and writing ‘thank you’ letters in return.  My mum was a ‘£10 pom’ and left her family in London in the 1950’s, so I didn’t meet my grandparents until, at a very elderly age, they came for a visit to Australia when I was a teenager, and it was actually very awkward. Having grown up without that grandparent connection, I was keen for my children to have an ongoing relationship with theirs, and for them them to know my parents as people with full and amazing lives.  

The illustrations in your book, by Leigh Hedstrom, are just beautiful, and instrumental in guiding the story. How involved did you need to be to create these specific images, and how much did you leave to Leigh?  
violin dream openingLeigh felt the story for the start and captured its essence with creativity and with some goose-bump  moments of serendipity. The first sketch she sent through was of grandma by the water hole in her swimmers – and I knew from that moment she would be perfect. The manuscript I sent to her had illustrative ideas which she took on board but the dream sequences were not an easy concept to illustrate. The idea I initially had didn’t work, and I loved the way Leigh wrestled with how to portray these pages – she sent a number of rough ideas, through the publisher, to me for comment – I appreciated the way I was consulted through the whole process and how Leigh valued feedback. I was thrilled with how it ended up – particularly the symbolic trail of flowers, laughter, hearts etc that link the bedroom scenes to the dreams. And I love the cartoon like characters and the vibrant colours which I wouldn’t have imagined but engage children so very well, adding fun and vibrancy to the narrative and giving the story it’s uplifting feel.  
I wrote the visual narrative of the young boy and his interactions with the residents into the story but Leigh was initially unsure that she could squeeze that onto the page – I’m so glad she managed it as it adds another layer to the story, about community, that I think is so important.  
As for serendipity, the little touches that had a huge emotional impact for me were Leigh having grandma dancing with grandpa in uniform – unbeknown to her, my father was in the Air Force and my parents started going out dancing when Mum started nursing; and the father in the story, both as a little boy and an adult, is a replica of my husband (glasses, hair colour, build, musical interest) whom Leigh had never met.  
It has Leigh’s personal touches too – the toys on the page where the grandmother is playing with her child are an expression of Leigh’s love of Disney, and she sneakily made the book that the mother reads with the class another of her collaborations (Marty’s Nut Free Party). The use of the endpapers to replicate an old photo album and to recognise some of these photos on pages throughout the book is an inspired way to weave a thread that wraps the whole together. I could go on….  

When I see Grandma’ is a lovely tribute to all Grandparents, but also fosters an appreciation for family connectedness. What message do you hope for readers, young and old, to gain from reading your story?  
I hope that readers get a sense that people are so much more than they seem at any one point in time, that everyone has a history and personal stories that are rich and vibrant and make up who they are – even when they are handicapped by age or illness. I hope, too that readers understand the importance for everyone to include children in an aged care community, and that a sense of connection can be made across generations despite apparent barriers.  

What does the festive season mean for you and your family?  
Christmas is a time for reflection and recharging after a busy year. We love to spend quiet family days and attend church. It’s also a nice time to catch up with extended family and friends who’ve been neglected during the year. Having spent last Christmas in the northern hemisphere, I realised I’m very much an Aussie girl – nothing says Christmas to me like summer – sleepy reading days relaxing outdoors with the smell of sunscreen and smoke (only from the BBQ hopefully!)  

Do you have any special traditions that you follow every year?  
As my children have grown up a lot these past few years (they are now adults) it is interesting to see what traditions have stood the test of time. We like to go to choral services at our local church together, beginning the with advent service of lessons and carols. We are excited to exchange presents on Christmas Day and Peter Combe’s Christmas album is still the album of choice to accompany this ritual. We may have a feast or famine of decorations – the gloss goes off glamming up the house or Christmas tree when the children realise that the pulling out the bling is always easier than packing it away. But remembering Christmas past is always part of the fun! I’m not a fruit cake fan, but I look forward to my Ice Cream Christmas Cake all year.    

What is your favourite Christmas children’s book?  
One with many happy memories from my younger years is a beautiful pop-up book of ‘The Night Before Christmas’ by Clement C Moore and Tom Patrick – it was marvellously interactive both physically and narratively. More recently, it would be a tie between The Nativity by Julie Vivas and Wombat Divine by Mem Fox.  

endpaper when i see grandma You’ve had great success with your writing in 2014. What do you aim to achieve in 2015?
I have a few other manuscripts out to publishers as well as some other writing projects, so next year it would be great to have something accepted for publication – fingers crossed! I will also continue to search avenues to promote ‘When I see Grandma’ because it is such a pertinent and topical story, and it has the potential to be enduring.  

Thank you so much for answering my questions, Debra! Wishing you a safe and joyous holiday season with your friends and family!  
Thanks Romi 🙂  

Connect with Debra Tidball:
http://www.debratidball.com/
https://www.facebook.com/debratidballpage  

Interview by Romi Sharp
www.romisharp.wordpress.com
www.facebook.com/mylittlestorycorner
www.twitter.com/mylilstorycrner

Count my Cutest Children’s Books for Christmas

What a wondrous time for the kidlets; so much sparkle, magic, excitement and curiosity in the air. Christmas time is about bringing families together, and what better way to get close to your ‘little’ loved ones than to snuggle up with some adorable books. Here we count through three delightful books that foster a love of reading, rhyming, numbers and of course, the celebration of the festive season.

count-my-christmas-kissesCute Book #1: Count my Christmas Kisses by Ruthie May and Tamsin Ainslie.
Another adorable book from the creators of ‘Count My Kisses, Little One’.

”One kiss for baby, under mistletoe. Two kisses for baby, catching falling snow.”  

Baby is lucky to be kissed one time more each page, celebrating a joyous Christmas event or tradition, all the way from one up to ten. With pretty singing voices, toasty fires, busily making paper chains and rides on a reindeer. The children enjoy jingling bells and acting in a nativity play, lighting candles and snuggling tight in bed.  

Ruthie May has beautifully written a gentle rhyming lullaby to warm the heart and settle little ones to rest after a busy day. Including absolutely gorgeous illustrations to match the words, Tamsin Ainslie’s soft watercolour tones and pencil sketches create movement and fluidity, with lovely detailed textures and patterns for extra warmth.  

A counting book full of happiness, love and Christmas cheer, ‘Count my Christmas Kisses’ is perfect for sharing with babies and young children throughout the festive holidays.  

HarperCollinsPublishers Australia October 2014.  

w548932Cute Book  #2: This Little Piggy went Singing by Margaret Wild and Deborah Niland.
With a play on the traditional nursery rhyme about the little piggy who went to market, comes the fun Christmas tale, ‘This Little Piggy Went Singing’. It’s the perfect follow on from This Little Piggy Went Dancing’.

”This little piggy went singing
This little piggy stayed home
This little piggy had noodles
This little piggy had none
And this little piggy went toot, toot, toot all the way home.”  

The remainder of the book follows this cute rhyme about the five beloved piggies , incorporating funny, action-packed and tender Christmas moments each time.
Some piggies went shopping, delivering gifts, dining with friends, partying, riding and dancing.
Some piggies stayed home to create festive crafts, knit, play with toys, decorate the tree, read, bake and wrap presents.
Some piggies had delicious food, like meatballs, berries, candy canes, plum pudding, fruit and gingerbread cookies.
Some piggies had none.
And some piggies played on their instruments with a ratta-tat-tat, jingle, click, tra-la-la and ho-ho-ho all the way home.  

Margaret Wild so delightfully provides many variations of the song with all the fun, frivolity and excitement of the yuletide, including a universal connection with families celebrating Christmas anywhere in the world. With bold, colourful and oh-so-cute illustrations by Deborah Niland, ‘This Little Piggy went Singing’ is a classic that sure to appeal to the young, and young at heart, for many playful sing-a-long counting games.  

Allen & Unwin 2014  

the-twelve-days-of-christmasCute Book #3: The Twelve Days of Christmas, illustrated by Karen Erasmus.
If you’re after a traditional festive song in a book with gorgeous, modern Australian illustrations, here you have it!

”On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me a partidge in a pear tree.
On the second day of Christmas my true love gave to me two turtle doves and a partidge in a pear tree.”
 

Two children explore a nature park in the bright, sunny surrounds, discovering our beautiful wildlife and other kids playing as they progress from day one to twelve. What a ripper finding the four calling birds being laughing kookaburras, the five golden rings being cheese ring snacks and six geese laying in a native wetland scene. It’s bonzer watching eight little girls as maids milking the baby animals and ten school boys playing leap frog. With the final two days full of musical festivities, the crowd have an ace time celebrating a warm, Aussie summer Christmas together.  

Karen Erasmus’ soft watercolours, pencil lines and pastel tones perfectly suit the movement and activity of the park scenery, as well as the peace that this traditional song allows us to feel. ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’ is a lovely book to share with family members during the holiday season.  

Hachette Children’s Books 2013  

More great picture book recommendations still to come, perfect for gifts or just because we love children’s books!

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The Forgotten Works of Australian Poet C. J. Dennis

I recently stumbled across the works of Australian poet C. J. Dennis (1876 – 1938) and have been enjoying his poetry and writing from The C.J. Dennis Collection – from his forgotten writings edited by Garrie Hutchinson. You may have come across his most well known work, a humorous verse novel called The Songs of a Sentimental Bloke, first published in 1915. Selling an astonishing 65,000 copies in the first year of release, Dennis was the most prosperous poet in Australian history.The Songs of a Sentimental Bloke cover C. J. Dennis

In 1922, he began writing for the Herald in Melbourne, and wrote daily pieces until his death in 1938. He wrote about the bush, farming, small towns, cricket, horse racing, football, local crime and of course politics. Dennis wrote a prolific variety of poems and prose, many of them about ordinary Australians and which included slang and phrases of the day.

Reading his work now, it does take a little while to acclimatise to his phonetic spelling, particularly his work through the character Ben Bowyang, “rural filosofer and spelin reformer… from the bush.” (Page 5 of The C.J. Dennis Collection edited by Garrie Hutchinson). Having said that, once you adapt your reading to his writing style, you’ll no doubt find his rhyming verse addictive.

Dennis clearly had a love of words and language and was an impressive storyteller, capturing every day characters with humour and precision. His work around the ANZACs and ANZAC Day (such as A Song of Anzac and A Message) is touching and really captures a time gone by.

C. J. Dennis also wrote for kids, including A Book For Kids and A Bush Christmas, still funny today.

During his career, Dennis worked with Banjo Paterson and Henry Lawson, and despite being just as successful, his name isn’t as well known as his two contemporaries. If like me, you’d like to re-discover the works of this legendary Australian, you can begin with The Songs of a Sentimental Bloke (click here to purchase), or with his children’s books mentioned above (each in print and available for purchase).

For some of his more obscure writings though, you might need to do some digging. I managed to source The C.J. Dennis Collection – from his forgotten writings edited by Garrie Hutchinson (published in 1987) through my local library. Your efforts will be well rewarded, I guarantee.

Do you remember reading books by C.J. Dennis as a kid? Do you have any of his books on your bookshelf at home? Let me know if you have your own connection to this ‘lost’ Australian poet.

Interview with Jo Emery, author of My Dad is a FIFO Dad

jo emery photoMy Dad is a FIFO Dad, an uplifting story that has already touched the hearts of many families, has beautifully encapsulated the highs and lows of the life of a child with a father who ‘flies in and flies out’ for work. (See Review here). But let’s not forget the strength, courage, commitment and perseverance of the mother who wrote the book, who is raising three children on her own for three weeks in every month. Today we talk with author, Jo Emery, about her moments of heartbreak and joy, her achievements, family life and plans for the future.  

Congratulations on the success of your book, ‘My Dad is a FIFO Dad’, already sold out on the first print run!
THANK YOU, it’s been a very busy and exciting introduction to the world of children’s books J  

Can you please tell me a bit about your career background, writing history and family?
I have been employed by the Department of Education and Training Queensland for the past 17 years and most recently held the position of Principal at one of the Sunshine Coast’s Primary Schools. I have been on leave for some time (3years) however, to raise my family. I have 3 children, Sahskia who is almost 7, Ahnika 3 and Grayson 11 months. My husband Steve and I have been married for almost 10 years and have been living a FIFO lifestyle for almost 4 years. I’m not quite sure when I signed up for the FIFO commitment but for now; we are making it work as best we can, for our family.  

I have written in poem, song and story for as long as I can remember. It is something I have always enjoyed and felt the need to do. It has given me respite and relief, enthusiasm and enjoyment and in this case an opportunity to help others stay connected to the ones they love the most.  

jo emery family photoWhy you were inspired to write ‘My Dad is a FIFO Dad’?
The story, My Dad is a FIFO Dad was born out of the raw emotion of our last drop off of Daddy to the airport. We were late for the plane and had to leave Steve in the ‘drop off zone’, rather than park the car. The children were devastated that Daddy was heading back to work and it was the first time that Ahnika, two at the time, had realized that Daddy was going away for a long time. My eldest daughter Sahskia, was incredibly sad as she felt the angst of her sister also. (Needless to say this was our last drop off and my husband now catches the shuttle bus J) It was incredibly heartbreaking to see and to feel and so, as I have often done in many situations, that night I went home and put pen to paper to debrief. The initial draft of my story was penned some 18 months ago. The story is told through the eyes of Sahskia. I tried to capture what I knew she was feeling on that day and mix it with what I hoped she would be strong enough to feel in times to come.  

How has the change in lifestyle affected you and your family?
Firstly, we are separated physically … Steve and I had never been apart longer than 48 hours so weeks on end has been a very big change for us. Our family is apart 3 weeks of every month and together for one. But what we have learned is that our life style is not about the amount of time spent apart, rather the quality of time we have together. Our mantra is ‘To Make Everything Count’. We are a very open family, when we are sad we cry, when we are angry we get angry, when we are happy we laugh loudly and so the openness and respect we have for each other’s feelings helps us to deal with issues and move on. Our kids are very connected with both Steve and me but that is because we work on it. The difficult times we experience because of FIFO,  is on those special occasions that arise when we are apart… birthdays, weddings, funerals, Easter, holidays and so on.  

my dad is a fifo dad page3On the opening page of ‘My Dad is a FIFO Dad’ there is a child’s beautiful drawing and statement about her dad being the greatest. Can you tell us about that? Who drew the picture?
This picture was drawn by my eldest daughter Sahskia. This is her view of what it means to be a FIFO Dad. Clearly the ‘flying in and out’ component of his job plays on her mind. I love that her Daddy is still smiling while he departs and the family who remain are smiling too; even the man in the ticket box is having a happy day. My kids adore their dad and he knows more than anyone that they consider him to be the greatest dad ever, and that’s because he really is!  

We are then drawn in with fun scenes of an animated dad role playing, riding and reading stories with his kids. What are your partner’s favourite things to do with your three children?
Steve just loves being with them! We live in what we consider one of the most beautiful places on the Sunshine Coast and so visits to the beach, parks and in the pool are all of our favourites. Our kids are heavily into dancing and so having the opportunity to watch them do what they love to do most is wonderful when he is home from work.  

You capture the narrator’s thoughts, feelings and actions of sadness and resilience so well. Are these based on your own child’s words and behaviour, or your experience with dealing with these issues?
I would say that these thoughts are shared from experience, practice and hope. I guess I tried to capture what my child was feeling and mix it with my hopes for what she would be able to feel in the future. My children are very resilient and with age and maturity this is developing more and more. We discuss how to deal with issues of different kinds, very often and I hope that one day it will become second nature. In saying this, the children and I are all sensitive souls and so acknowledging our feelings and working through them is something we will always do.  

What do you hope this book achieves for its readers and the general public?
I hope that our story resonates with others in a FIFO/DIDO situation and that kids that are able to feel ‘OK when Dad’s Away’. I hope the story reassures children that despite distance, fathers can be present in heart, mind and spirit in many situations and those families can work towards building and maintaining strength, resilience and unity. While the platform for this story is FIFO I really think that anyone who believes in the unity of family will enjoy it and take some important messages from it.    

my_dad_is_a_fifo_dad_cover How have you found people’s responses to the book so far?
I have been completely overwhelmed and relieved that all of my readers have loved the story as much as we do. Hearing that there have been tears, laughter and reassurance is the vein in which it was written and I couldn’t be more proud! I have received some beautiful photos of kids reading the book together with sibings, together with mum and together with Dad. In some of the orders I have received, there is a sense of urgency for families to have the book ‘in time for when Dad gets home’, it’s wonderful that the messages within the book are being shared as valuable in advance of them being read.  

As a first time author, how did you find the publishing process, and working with illustrator, Ann-Marie Finn?
I am a true believer that things happen for a reason and firstly I found Ann-Marie and then was lead to Dragon Tales. I have been more than happy with this process and feel that in both, I have made the very best choice! I began my search for someone who could take my words and bring colour and life to them and give the beat of my heart to each and every one. You know you have made the right decision in your choice of illustrator when you open a PDF and your heart swells with emotion. Ann-Marie Finn, gave coloured life to my words and where there were no words her drawings carried the true intent of our family story, like she had known us for a lifetime. I am so very grateful! It is wonderful working with Kaylene at Dragon Tales as I have felt in total control over my work. She has offered constructive feedback and given me the necessary guidance of a true professional in this process, I couldn’t be happier!  

Do you have any plans to write more stories along this line, or on other topics? Will you continue to write picture books?
ABSOLUTELY! I have plans to continue working to provide materials that will support families living a FIFO lifestyle but as well as this I cannot wait to share many other picture books with children and their families.

Thank you for your insights on your journey and for letting us take a little peek into your life, Jo! All the best with your future plans!

For more information about Jo Emery and My Dad is a FIFO Dad, please visit:
http://www.mydadisafifodad.com
http://www.facebook.com/mydadisafifodad

Interview by Romi Sharp
www.romisharp.wordpress.com
www.facebook.com/mylittlestorycorner

Review – My Dad is a FIFO Dad by Jo Emery

my_dad_is_a_fifo_dad_coverMy Dad is a FIFO Dad
Written by Jo Emery
Illustrated by Ann-Marie Finn
Published by Dragon Tales Publishing

Brand new and hot off the press, and already sold out on the first print-run is the popular, My Dad is a FIFO Dad!

My Dad is a FIFO Dad was written by Queenslander, Jo Emery, mother of three and wife to Steve who works in Australia’s Resource Industry interstate. She wrote the book as both an emotional outlet and as a means of supporting other families experiencing the hardships associated with a lifestyle where fathers work away from home. This touching tale highlights tender and heartwarming moments; times of sadness, strength and pure joy.  

Dads can still be the greatest, most involved and loving dads, despite working interstate for three weeks in every month. The book begins with a gorgeous sentiment and drawing of an aeroplane by the child narrating the story. We are then captivated by scenes of a fun, animated father role playing with his three children, riding bikes and scooters in the outdoors, and snuggling together for a night time story.  

my dad is a fifo dad pageBut when Dad’s away, the little girl asks her Mum why he has to go away so often. To highlight his job’s importance she explains how Australia utilises its resources, which is nicely weaved into the story; here and again at the end.

”I think that’s pretty important!”  

Also beautifully integrated is the girl’s sense of longing, but also of resilience and warmth as she continues her daily life as a ballet dancer, swimmer, bike rider and at school, and she knows she’s making him proud. Thinking responsibly and positively helps the little girl to solve problems involving having accidents, friendship issues and boredom.  

Dad is always in the girl’s heart and mind; whether they are interacting over the internet, when she expresses her thoughts in her diary, and she especially relishes when they are finally reunited and hold each other in their arms once more.

my dad is a fifo dad page2Funny
Intelligent
Fantastic and
One of a kind.

He’s MY Dad
And I think that’s pretty important!  

Jo Emery’s My Dad is a FIFO Dad has a clear purpose in connecting with other families with FIFO/DIDO work arrangements. A clever inclusion is an activity sheet for children to write about their Dads. The emotions in the story are perfectly depicted in the pictures by the talented author / illustrator, Ann-Marie Finn. The use of mixed media incorporates a wonderful balance of detail and movement in those active moments, and simplicity and calmness of the scene when the little girl reflects.  

My Dad is a FIFO Dad is a touching book about family unity and resilience, with a dash of humour, that young children will both enjoy and gain strength from. It is a relevant and valuable support resource for many families around Australia and the world.  

Look out for a fascinating interview with the author, Jo Emery, coming soon!

You can find more information about Jo Emery and My Dad is a FIFO Dad at the following websites:
http://www.mydadisafifodad.com/
www.facebook.com/mydadisafifodad

Review by Romi Sharp
www.romisharp.wordpress.com
www.facebook.com/mylittlestorycorner

Feathers, Scales, Fur or Skin: Tales of Friendship and Being Yourself

The Lucky Country. That’s Australia. We embrace difference. Celebrate diversity. Stand up for what we believe in. Be ourselves. Show compassion for those in need.  

The following picture books, as chosen for the 2014 Speech Pathology Australia Books of the Year shortlist, all share common themes; diversity, friendship and uniqueness.  

the+short+giraffe The Short Giraffe by Neil Flory, illustrations by Mark Cleary, is a fun, humorous story that highlights the importance of inclusion, especially when one feels like an outcast. Boba the baboon is photographing the tallest animals in the world; the giraffes. But there is a tiny problem, Geri the giraffe is the shortest giraffe ever and is not visible in the camera shot. Instead of excluding Geri, the compassionate, accepting giraffes attempt various creative ways to bring him up to their height, all however leading to disastrous, yet comical circumstances. Finally, it is a tiny caterpillar that points out the most obvious solution; to bend down to Geri’s level, and they capture the perfect photo.  

bea_cover Now, here’s a character who is not embarrassed to be different; it’s Bea, written and illustrated by Christine Sharp. This whimsical story explores diversity of the mind, rather than physical appearance. Whilst the other birds peck at the ground, flock together, build nests, chirrup and hippity hop, Bea is most unusually baking biscuits, disco dancing, travelling the world in a hot air balloon, and bussing through the country. It is until Bea meets her friend, Bernie, then we realise that having ‘unusual’ tastes are not so unusual when they are enjoyed and shared with others. ”A joyful story about being true to yourself and daring to be different.”  

Jonathan Speaking of being ‘daring’, it’s Jonathan!, written by Peter Carnavas and illustrated by Amanda Francey. Engaging rhythm and action in the text, and pictures to reflect the same. Jonathan! is a cute story of a boy who certainly isn’t ‘afraid’ to be his cheeky self, but in a way that he has fun changing his persona with different costumes. As he consistently attempts to scare his family members with frightening voices and ingenious outfits, his efforts prove superfluous. Jonathan unexpectedly meets and befriends a large, teeth-gnashing dinosaur who helps him triumph with his pursuit. That is, until, in a twist of fate, we are surprised by both the dinosaur’s identity and Jonathan’s reaction.  

9780670076765In Starting School by Jane Godwin and illustrations by Anna Walker, we meet more excited children who are keen to have fun and discover new things. Tim, Hannah, Sunita, Joe and Polly are starting their first day of school. In a gentle, informative story we learn about each child and their perspectives on the routines and events that occur as they embark on a huge adventure that is primary school. Throughout the day we observe them organise their belongings, familiarising themselves with their classmates, forming bonds, exploring the school grounds, establishing rules and routines, learning new subjects, and reflecting on the busy day. Godwin makes learning fun with some funny mishaps like spilling juice, fiddling with a girl’s hair and losing a pencil case. Whilst Walker so beautifully ties in all the minute details with her watercolour and collage characters, school related belongings, food, furniture, real life pieces of work, toys and buildings. Starting School is a perfect representation of the importance of accepting others, getting along, individuality, responsibility and resilience.

davy-and-the-ducklingAnother tale of best friends is Margaret Wild‘s Davy & the Duckling, with beautiful illustrations by Julie Vivas. When Davy meets the duckling, they look deep into each other’s eyes. Already smitten, the duckling follows Davy around the farmyard and all the way back home. Davy shows true adoration and cares for the duckling like a baby. We watch as they both grow, and we see not only companionship, but empathy, support, pride and encouragement as Davy achieves special milestones. In a touching moment, an old, achy duck seems to regain some youth when it hears that Davy is to become a father. And it is so sweet to observe a role reversal to complete the story, as the duck now leads baby Molly around the farmyard and all the way back home.  

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www.romisharp.wordpress.com

On the warpath with Tania McCartney and her Eco Warriors – Blog Tour Review

eco warriors coverStep outside into your garden or even local parkland. What do you see? Is it a verdant, vibrant paradise or neglected virtual wasteland? Today I am ecstatic to be on the war path with fellow lover of nature, kids and books, the luminous Tania McCartney. With more books blooming to life this year than a golden wattle in spring time, Eco Warriors to the Rescue!, stands tall and proud amongst them encapsulating the best of backyard adventure, magic and the preservation of our astonishing native flora.

Quintessentially named school-kids, Banjo, Matilda and Ned, are on a bit of a botanical mission. As self-appointed eco warriors with a goal to keep our native plants thriving for generations to come, they wisely consult their big book of Aussie flora and fauna. They become magically entwined within its pages smothered with splendiferous botanical paintings.

Eco Flame treesTheirs is a journey of enlightenment, discovery and wonder as they interact with such native gems as the kangaroo paw, blue quandong and my favourite, the flame tree. Each encounter reveals a basic fact, crucial to the long term survival of not only that species but our native environment as a whole. Young readers are introduced to the holistic ideology that plants, like animals, need much more than just clean water to flourish. Things like polluted bushland, introduced animal species, unregulated development and even unthoughtful behaviour like picking native flowers can dramatically affect the existence of our wild-flora.

This might seem like a heavy message to impart on young children but it is carefully implied with the clever use of real life images; our little warriors are visually shown as real people with beating hearts and souls and thus are completely believable as the executers and educators of the tips and tricks offered to us (and thoughtfully numbered throughout). Most resplendent in this joyful showering of information is the final notion that the ultimate thing we can do for our native plants is to ‘enjoy!’ them. So we should and so we can with Eco Warriors.

Tania McC McCartney considerately includes plenty of ways to think about and embrace our native plants with the inclusion of maps, links, explanations and even a list of native birth flowers. Her fertile, design-bejewelled mind  beautifully harmonises crisp, clear dialogue with the multi-media used throughout this picture book. I’m no expert in this field but recognise a good spread when I see one. (You can learn more about the design and layout behind this beautiful book at Angela Sunde’s blog).

Eco Warriors to the Rescue! packs a punch for all the right reasons. This book has a lovely ‘dirt girl’ feel and robust design with thick glossy pages (notably printed on paper from sustainable forest resources) and is more than suitable for repeated discussion, field trips and reads; outdoors perhaps, sprawled on the grass, gazing up through the branches of a flame tree aglow with carmine, campanula blooms. Botanical metaphors aside, McCartney has cultivated yet another work of art, which kids all over Australia and beyond will have fun reaping.

National Library of Australia August 2013

Join Tania McCartney and her three real-life eco warriors—Banjo (Riley), Ned (Andrew) and Matilda (Claire)—as they launch Eco Warriors to the Rescue! at Canberra’s National Arboretum Gift Shop, Saturday 5 October 2013, at 11am.

Can’t wait till then? Then stick around and visit some more of her exciting blog tour stops where you can learn more about the book and how to become an Eco Warrior.

Eco Warriors Blog Tour FINAL

View this book and purchase on line here.

Blog Tour Dates and Places

Sunday 1 September

Sneak Peek

Tania McCartney’s Blog

taniamccartney.blogspot.com

 

Review

Boomerang Books Blog

blog.boomerangbooks.com.au

 

Giveaway

Pass It On

jackiehoskingpio.wordpress.com/school-magazine

 

Mixed Media Illustrations for Picture Books

Angela Sunde

Under the Apple Tree

 

Monday 2 September

 

Book Review

Book Giveaway

Kids Book Review

kids-bookreview.com

 

Eco Tips for Little Readers

Sheryl Gwyther’s Blog

sherylgwyther.wordpress.com

 

Bringing Up Eco Warriors

The Book Chook

www.thebookchook.com

 

Review

Books for Little Hands

booksforlittlehands.blogspot.com.au

 

Literature Supporting Sustainability

Children’s Books Daily

www.childrensbooksdaily.com

 

Author Interview

Alison Reynolds

www.alisonreynolds.com.au

 

Tuesday 3 September

 

Giveaway

My Little Bookcase

www.mylittlebookcase.com.au

 

Review

5 Multi-Media Writing Tips

DeeScribe

deescribewriting.wordpress.com

 

Review

Writing for the National Library of Australia

BuzzWords

buzzwordsmagazine.com

 

Review

Elaine Ouston Blog

elaineoustonauthor.com

 

Review

Giveaway

Soup Blog

soupblog.wordpress.com