Guest Post with Robert Vescio – Connecting Friends Oceans Apart

robert-vescioToday, dedicated writer for children and father himself, Robert Vescio uncovers the story behind his latest picture book, Jack and Mia. In this special guest post, he reveals how his own family background influenced this story.

But first a little bit about Jack and Mia. I have to say I love the look and feel of this book. Claire Richards’ diversity aware illustrations make me want to reach out and stroke the cover and pages. They are vibrant, childlike and at the same time, visually satisfying, filling up the pages with joyful colour, kind of how I’d imagine kids would view their world. The pages themselves are thick and glossy, a delight to turn through. The generous finger feel somehow makes me want to start reading the story again immediately I get to the end which will put this book in good stead for those repeated read requests.

Vescio’s tale is reminiscent of other classic picture books addressing the friendship separation theme such as Amy and Louis by Libby Gleeson and Freya Blackwood but flips the concept ijackandmiamedn that Mia does not move away at first, but rather into Jack’s life. By doing so, suddenly ‘his days were full of rainbows’. He experiences a deep, rewarding friendship with Mia, unlike any other he’s ever had. They share everything together even a case of chicken pox and become King and Queen of their kingdom, until suddenly, Mia has to move ‘far, far away’. It’s not exactly clear where Mia’s family are transferred to however Richards’ illustrations suggest that it’s because of her father’s military postings.

Jack’s kingdom is in tatters, his world in ruin as he worries that Mia will no longer remember him being so far away. Little does he suspect that she shares the same despair as him until he happens upon one of Mia’s books, left behind in his toy box. It is this simple keepsake coupled with a bit of modern day technology that reunite the pair once again and allow their kingdom to flourish and grow…across the oceans.

Jack and Mia is an ideal book to share with young readers who may be experiencing their own emotional lows caused by separation of a loved one, either family member away for work or friend who’s had to move even just to a new school. A great class room and bedside book and possibly one of the most sensitive and well penned by Vescio to date. Now, here’s more from Robert:

‘I wrote Jack and Mia to show how friendships (rich in imagination) can survive distance by finding creative ways to stay connected.

Jack and Mia do everything together. They stick together like paper and glue. Then, one day, Mia’s family moves away – not to another suburb but to another country on the other side of the world.

This is a story that will resonate with children who are about to move or have moved and miss their friends. Unlike other picture books about this subject, Jack and Mia illustrates how today kids are finding it easier to keep in touch with friends and loved ones who live far away.

“Growing up, I had friends that moved half the world away – common for working parents and military families – and the only way to connect with them was to write or call,” said Robert. “Today, technology is changing the way we stay connected. Everything you need is in the palm of your hands.”

Skype hangouts have become a common occurrence in today’s society. It’s as easy as grabbing a coffee with your computer screen. In fact, Skype has become so popular that people use ‘Skyping’ as a verb to connect with people.

Of course, social media has also revolutionised how people talk. Facebook connects over 1 billion worldwide every day.

But, of course, not everyone embraces high tech gadgets. Some people prefer the human touch – a hug, for instance. Jack and Mia is all about how kids can use their imaginations to play together, even when they’re an ocean apart.

Jack and Mia (illustrated by Claire Richards and published by Wombat Books) is a warm and entertaining tale about the power of a child’s imagination and to keep a friendship long and strong, regardless of distance.’

Thanks Robert!

Barnaby and the Lost Treasure of BunnyvilleRobert Vescio  picture books include, Barnaby and the Lost Treasure of Bunnyville (Big Sky Publishing), Marlo Can Fly (Wombat Books) listed on the NSW Premier’s Reading Challenge for 2015, No Matter Who We’re With (IP Kidz). He has more picture books due out in 2016 and 2017.

Wombat Books October 2016

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Review – Noisy Nights – on tour with Fleur McDonald

Noisy NightsIf you like novels of the rolling outback variety with plenty of page-turning drama, a sprinkle of bucolic romance and a good dose of dust and hardship, then you are likely familiar with one of Australia’s leading rural writers, Fleur McDonald. Her litany of outback, female orientated sagas constitute engrossing adult reads. However, not content with being a bestselling author of adult fiction, McDonald has now set her sights on the fickle world of writing for children. Noisy Nights is the first picture book penned by McDonald and illustrated by Annie White depicting farmyard fun for pre-schoolers.

The premise is simple; Farmer Hayden is desperate for a good night’s sleep. Little wonder after working hard on his property all day long. Tucked under his cosy doona, beneath a darken sky and shining stars, everything appears ideal for sound slumber, except it is ‘so noisy outside his window.’

Apparently, the animals of Farmer Hayden’s farm are very vocal night. Now anyone who has ever spent a night in the country or even just camped in his or her own back yard will agree nights are not so silent. The cold stillness of a night bereft of the noisy pollution of city living seems to magnify each and every sound made by unseen creatures, as is the case for poor old Farmer Hayden.

Night after night, dogs bark, cows moo, horses nicker, and crickets chirp. Frequent pleas for quiet fall on deaf ears until defeated and fatigued, Farmer Hayden submits to his insomnia and spends the next night sitting outside on the veranda. He’d rather watch the noisy choir rather than suffer the torture of listening to them.

As predicted, thFleur McDonalde dogs bark, the cows moo, the crickets chirp and so on but the sheep dance to a different song this night, or rather, they jump to it. Finally, mesmerised by them, something amazing happens. Could this be the beginning of no more noisy nights?

McDonald pulls off her first attempt at writing for children with uncomplicated honesty. Predictive, repetitive text creates many opportune moments for young readers to not only bolster their vocabulary base but for them to indulge in interactive story telling with whomever they are reading with, as well. The narrative is enjoyable and supports common barnyard and animal connections as well as the old familiar maxim that ‘counting sheep to get to sleep’ really does work.NoisyNightsBlog Tour[1]

In addition, White’s well-loved illustrations emphasise the farmyard fun making this common dilemma instantly recognisable for even the most citified child.

Noisy Nights is soft-hued and gentle in its appearance and content making it a beautiful picture book to curl up with when your little one is ready for a good night’s sleep.

For more reviews and information about Fleur McDonald, visit her other Blog Tour stops.

Noisy Nights is available for purchase now, here.

New Frontier Publishing August 2016

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Getting Serious about Series # 4 – Ripper Reads for Girls

Lola's Toybox Patchwork PicnicI don’t usually like to categorise reads into which gender they might appeal to better. I believe every child is individual and will find a story to fit their unique reading tastes no matter how pink the cover or how boyish the hero. To say that boys should be directed to sports orientated titles and little girls to books about bunnies is pre-historic thinking and infers we (little girls) don’t like puppy dogs’ tails and snails. Simply not true! However, there can be no denying that certain reads will attract certain readers more powerfully than others. This luscious collection of chapter books and mid-graders will undoubtedly appeal to the sweet-toothed predilections of little misses given they are choking with cuteness and gee gees and unicorns.

Lola’s Toy Box by Danny Parker Illustrated by Guy Shield

This is a perfectly placed first-time-chapter-book series for little readers just putting their A B Cs together. These books provide useful stepping-stones in Lola's Toybox On Story Seathe crossover from readers to more exciting chapter books, each with a softly delivered message and each peppered with adventure. Anyone with an animated imagination and insatiable love for their toys will adore Lola’s Toy Box series. Lola and her toy clown Buddy, chance upon a portal – an old toy box, which transports them time after time to the varied lands of The Kingdom where they experience toy-filled adventures beyond their wildest dreams.

The Patchwork Picnic is the first of this series so far. Other exciting toy-land destinations include The Plastic Palace, On the Story Sea, and The Treasure Trove. The Timberfield Talent Show is the very latest release. Wild and whimsical, just what five to seven-year-old emerging readers need.

Hardie Grant Egmont 2015 – February 2016

Pine Valley Ponies The Forbidden TrailPine Valley Ponies by Kate Welshman Illustrated by Heath McKenzie

Pint-sized people from six years of age who love ponies, have ponies, ride ponies or want to ride ponies will fall over themselves with this new pony series. McKenzie’s tummy tickling drawings  (his horse characters are darling!) ably romp alongside short, easy-to-read chapters about Maddy and her pony, Snowy and their induction into the Pine Valley Riding ranch.

It’s not all smooth cantering for Maddy however, as she attempts to fit in amongst the fancy-pantsed, equine experienced girls of her class. However, the call of adventure soon overrides difficulties and cements her love of Pine Valley Ponies The Pony Showhorse riding, as it will for those absorbed in her antics. Start with The Forbidden Trail and move onto The Runaway Foal then prepare yourself for The Pony Show.

There is much for horse-orientated kids to love here, from the bright pastel and foil covers, enticing page layouts, pony profiles, nifty horsey Q & A and loads more besides. Well recommended.

Scholastic Press October 2015 – March 2016

Ruby Wishfingers illoRuby Wishfingers by Deborah Kelly Illustrated by Leigh Hedstrom

Ruby Wishfingers is an absolute crack up of a series. I loved the first instalment, Skydancer’s Escape and can’t wait to get into Toady-ally Magic. Suitable for slightly older primary aged readers, this tantalising new series still features terrific line drawings and easy to digest chapters but it’s the humour infused story line, flavoured with more than a hint of magic that truly makes Ruby irresistible.

Ruby Wishfingers Toadlly MagicShe’s your run of the mill ordinary girl with a peculiar name who one day awakens with a weird tingling sensation in her fingertips. She soon realises it’s a force to be reckoned with and that you should be careful what you wish for.

Loaded with lovable characters, talking pocket-sized unicorns, indignant felines, jellybean rain and magic, Ruby Wishfingers books will not disappoint those who love adventure and fast zany reads. My pick of the crop.

Wombat Books March 2016

Keeper of the Crystals Runaway UnicornKeeper of the Crystals by Jess Black Illustrated by Celeste Hulme

The things you’ll notice first about this adventure fantasy series are the brilliant covers and sparkly titles. Each of this four part series about Eve and her unlikely companion, Oscar lures young readers in like fish to wriggling worms. It begins when the pair unwittingly unleash the power of the crystals after they open a forbidden wooden box in Eve’s Nan’s attic.

The initial crystal is of a small unicorn, which is a portal into a mysterious fantastical far away land, Panthor. Suggestions of environmental instability and political oppression in each of the strange new worlds Eve and Oscar are transported to resonate throughout these tales albeit all disguised with action, myth, and fantasy for the young reader.

Keeper of the Crystal Eve and the Last DragonAn attractive series that would suit readers seven years and above and those with a penchant for the surreal.

New Frontier Publishing June 2015 – March 2016

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Meet Tristan Bancks, Australian children’s and YA writer

Meet Tristan Bancks, whose latest book is My Life and Other Exploding ChickensMac Slater

Thanks for speaking to Boomerang Books, Tristan.

It’s fantastic that one of my favourites of your works, Mac Slater Coolhunter is available again.

Your books have won awards and are also extremely popular. Which of your books or series is most popular and which do you consider your finest achievement? (What awards have you won?)

Two WolvesTwo Wolves and My Life & Other Stuff I Made Up are the biggest sellers, I think. As a complete novel, Two Wolves is the best book I’ve written. It’s the most layered and took me five years to write. In terms of awards it was a CBCA Honour book, won the KOALA and YABBA kids’ choice awards and was nominated for the PM’s Literary Awards, all of which were an extraordinary surprise.

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

I’m based near Byron Bay but I’m very involved in the community in terms of festivals, good relationships with other authors, publishing folk, librarians and illustrators. The web makes it possible, and kids’ authors have so many opportunities to connect at festivals and events throughout the year. It is a genuinely fine bunch of humans.

What correlation is there between having been an actor and now a children’s book author?

There are quite a few of us – Aaron Blabey, Felice Arena, Judy Nunn and many more. I think it’s useful when writing dialogue and also in terms of imagining yourself into the character’s situation as you write. You need to be able to see and hear and feel and taste and smell the predicament a character is in and render it authentically on the page. An actor’s imagination and improvisation can help with this. Actors learn to play against emotion, too, in order to avoid melodrama. I’m sure that acting helps when bringing the story to life in front of an audience, too.

Do you spend more time writing or in front of an audience?

I spend about four months of the year speaking, seven months writing and a month off (covert writing time when all the best ideas flow).

How have you developed your craft?My Life

A good editor is the best writing mentor. I have learnt so much from great editors. That and maintaining a daily freewriting practice alongside my work-in-progress. I’ve read lots of books on writing to understand structure and process. One of my favourites is John Steinbeck’s Journal of a Novel, a series of letters he wrote to his editor while working on The Grapes of Wrath. It’s such a comforting, intimate insight into the daily meanderings, aspirations and doubts that plague the mind of a writer.

As well as that, you’re a director. Could you tell us about something you’ve directed?

I made a bunch of short films in my mid-20s and then some TV. Learning to analyse scripts and find a personal ‘way in’ to a screen story taught me a lot. The most successful film was Soar about sitting next to the most annoying person in the world on a plane. It was screened at some great fests in the US and Europe and on the Sundance Channel.

Now, I make my video trailers for my books and videos for Room to Read, the literacy charity I’m an ambassador for.

Exploding ChickensTell us about your new book My Life and Other Exploding Chickens. (Do you know any exploding chicken jokes? Do you have any great props?)

Exploding Chickens tells some chilling true short stories from my childhood about an evil dentist, a killer clown and a ninja librarian (who wrought revenge on me for having had Fungus the Bogeyman five years overdue from the public library. [It was a very good book.]). The stories star my alter ego, Tom Weekly, and a regular cast of characters, illustrated by the brilliant Gus Gordon (Herman & Rosie).

I don’t have an exploding chicken joke handy but a kid told me a joke in a school visit yesterday and wrote it on the back of a paper aeroplane for me to put in my next book:

‘Have you seen the movie ‘Constipation’?’

‘No. It hasn’t come out yet.’image5[1]

Could you share your latest book trailer with us? (I was smiling all the way through when I watched it and then laughed out loud at the end.)

Yup. Here it is

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WnA1nWCpgps

And tell us about the Exploding Chickens competition.

Kids can make their own book video about My Life & Other Exploding Chickens. Top prize for the best video is $500 cash for the filmmaker and $500 worth of books for their school. Click the link in the sidebar at www.tristanbancks.com

What else are you enjoying reading?

ProtectedI recently finished Claire Zorn’s YA novel The Protected which was very good. I’m super-keen to read Robert Hoge’s Ugly and I recently picked up a YA novel called Wolf by Wolf which looks great. I’ve also been re-reading Wonder and listening to David Walliams’ Ratburger as an audio book. 😉 In my writing and reading I drift between serious and funny stuff.

What are some books that are really important to you?

In terms of serious stuff, Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet and Markus Zusak’s Fighting Ruben Wolfe taught me a lot about writing. The Catcher in the Rye and The Road are the two books that have had the greatest emotional impact on me. They knocked me sideways, unable to move after putting the book down. Stephen King’s The Body made a real impression on me as a teenager – a book with a strong spine and high stakes with well-drawn characters and big ideas.

In terms of kid comedy, Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr Fox, Paul Jennings’ Unreal, Rene Goscinny’s Nicholas and Tim Winton’s The Bugalugs Bum Thief.

What do you dream of achieving or doing in the future?

I just want to write great stories. Stories as powerful and humorous as those above. I want each book to be better than the last – each My Life book to be funnier and more true, each book for older kids to be more honest and brave. Someone once said to me when talking about the many facets of a modern author’s life, from writing to touring to social media, ‘The best thing you can do is write a stunning manuscript.’ I place this quote on the title page of every manuscript now. Ultimately, that’s all that matters. Write a better story than the last. That’s my goal.

Tristan with some other popular authors
Tristan with some other popular authors

Where can people find you on social media?

www.twitter.com/tristanbancks

www.instagram.com/tristanbancksbooks

www.youtube.com/tristanbancks

Thanks very much, Tristan. 

Recently Released 2016 Aussie Books You Need To Read

So far, 2016 has already been an incredible year for new releases! And huzzah for Australian authors adding some fabulous titles for us to devour. I basically can’t read fast enough to keep up with all this genius, oh gosh.

Don’t know where to start? LUCKY FOR YOU — I AM HERE. I’m listing some recently published 2016 Australian home-grown YA novels that you need to get your clammy paws on. Like right now.

 

2 0 1 6     Y A   A U S S I E    R E L E A S E S   


 

my sister rosaMy Sister Rosa by Justine Larbelestier ~ purchase

This is a psychological thriller about Che who believes his 10-year-old sister, Rosa, is a psychopath. It’s absolutely brilliant. Like I-can’t-stop-reading-this-book-everyone-go-away-and-leave-me-to-shriek sort of brilliant.

It’s mostly set in New York, but Che and his family ARE Australian. Che is also a boxer, although he spends like 90% of his time freaking out over what evil Rosa is going to commit next. And the ending? OH YOU WON’T SEE IT COMING. But it will hurt.

 

9781743315897The Stars At Oktober Bend by Glenda Millard ~ purchase

Although this book wasn’t my favourite, I am definitely going to sit here and shriek “THIS BOOK IS BEAUTIFUL.” It’s partially written in verse, so if you’re a poetry lover? This book calls to you.

It’s basically about Alice, who’s suffered a brain injury and is trying to express herself through writing/poetry because her words don’t come out so well. It’s a very different book because we are seeing the world through an entirely new perspective. I can imagine it’d be absolutely gorgeous read out loud, too, by the way.

 

28798707The Family With Two Front Doors by Anna Ciddor ~ purchase

Okay so this isn’t set in Australia, but it’s by an Aussie author who’s recounting stories inspired by her Jewish grandmother in the 1940s! It’s all about this huge Jewish family and their culture and lives and it’s absolutely endearing and adorable.

It’s best for a middle-grade audience, by the way. And it’s also best on a full stomach because you’re basically guaranteed to be hungry after reading pages of food-prep for the Sabbath.

 

25535What I Saw by Beck Nicholas ~ purchase

This is a slightly thriller-y contemporary about a girl who witnesses a Fatal Punch and has to decide whether she’s going to confess who did it.

It features an unlikely romance between straight-A-in-school-perfect-girl, Callie, and the bad-boy Rhett (who is actually just a big ol’ burnt marshmallow who loves puppies and his family and only acts like a tough dude).

 

 

9781925240795Iris And the Tiger by Leanne Hall ~ purchase

This is, again, more of a middle-grade story, but so adorable and full of magical whimsy that totally reminded me of Alice in Wonderland! It was fantastic! It’s also all about paintings and art and magical feet-shoes…oh and it’s set in Spain. Did I mention that? Add in a zany great-aunt and a very serious 12-year-old girl (Iris, obviously) who’s determined to solve mysteries and figure out WHAT IS GOING ON in this crazy house.

 

 

R E L E A S E S   O N   M Y   T O – B E – R E A D   P I L E


 

9781925266924 8d6c45bd0241cbcd9b73da8cc3d7e790

  • Summer Skin by Kirsty Eagar ~ purchase ~ I haven’t read this one yet, but I super luckily won a copy and all I hear is good things! I AM EXCITED. Apparently this is on the upper side of YA, heading into New Adult territory.
  • Yellow by Megan Jacobson ~ purchase ~ This is about a 14-year-old girl who gets a ghost to promise to make her popular if she finds his killer. IT SOUNDS AMAZING AND I NEED IT IMMEDIATELY.

 

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Freya Blackwood Blitzes the CBCA Awards

My Two BlankeysIn an unprecedented achievement, illustrator Freya Blackwood has won three of the five categories in the 2015 Children’s Book Council of Australia awards. In the past few years Freya has generally been shortlisted two or three times but this year all of her shortlisted books are winners.

Her partnership with incomparable children’s writer, Libby Gleeson resulted in two winners: The Cleo Stories: The Necklace and The Present (Allen & Unwin) for Younger Readers and Go to Sleep, Jessie! (Little Hare, Hardie Grant Egmont) for Early Childhood. Freya won best Picture Book with Irene Kobald for My Two Blankets (Little Hare, Hardie Grant Egmont). This is a powerful refugee story with symbolic touches. Gleeson and Blackwood have had award success with their other books, including Banjo and Ruby Red, which was a 2014 Honour Book.Go to Sleep

Freya Blackwood previously won the prestigious international Kate Greenaway Award, with Margaret Wild, for Harry and Hopper and has another gem coming later this year, Perfect, which I wrote about here.

Other 2015 winners are the amazing Claire Zorn for The Protected (UQP) in the Older Readers category, which I reviewed in the Weekend Australian here. Claire’s debut novel, The Sky So Heavy, was an Honour Book last year, so she is a rising talent, and a lovely person.

Protected

The YA Honour Books are Nona and Me by Clare Atkins (Black Inc) (my Weekend Australian review here) and The Minnow by Diana Sweeney (Text Publishing) (reviewed here).

The other category that Freya Blackwood didn’t win – I haven’t ever seen a non-fiction book illustrated by her – is the Eve Pownall Award for Information Books. Text Publishing had another scoop here, winning with the impressive coffee table book, A – Z of Convicts in Van Diemen’s Land by Simon Barnard. Honour Books are the exquisite Tea and Sugar Christmas by Jane Jolley and the superlative Robert Ingpen (National Library of Australia) and Audacity: Stories of Heroic Australians in Wartime by Carlie Walker (Department of Veteran Affairs). A-Z

Honour Books in Early Childhood are Scary Night by Lesley Gibbes and Stephen Michael King (Working Title Press) and Noni the Pony Goes to the Beach by Alison Lester (Allen & Unwin). Honour Books for Younger Readers are Two Wolves by Tristan Bancks (Random House Australia) (which I’ve reviewed for Boomerang here) and Withering-by-Sea by Judith Rossell (ABC Books, HarperCollins Publishers). Honour Books in the Picture Book category are The Stone Lion by Ritva Voutila and Margaret Wild (Little Hare, Hardie Grant Egmont) and One Minute’s Silence by David Metzenthen and David Camilleri (Allen & Unwin). Camilleri also won the Crichton Award for debut illustrators.

Congratulations to the winners, as well as all the shortlisted authors and illustrators, and their publishers. It is great to see so many small publishers recognised in these awards.

I’ve also written about the 2015 CBCA shortlisted books for Boomerang Books here.