‘Balm for the Soul’ – Summer holiday Reviews

Parachute Nintendo gameSummer school holidays for me are childhood memories of searing hot days in a sun-shrivelled backyard, homegrown apricots cold from the fridge after a swim in the above ground pool, and losing myself for hours on end in stories. What are your perfect summer holiday memories? Chances are your children’s summers are crystallising into something unforgettable as we speak and although game-playing is much more sophisticated and consuming than my days on the old Game and Watch Nintendos (Go Snoopy Tennis and Parachute!), here’s hoping story books still play a significant role in their holiday adventures. Here are some outstanding titles that are perfect for sharing these holidays. Picture books, yes, but hum dingers they are!Perfect

For the freedom seekers…

I am falling more in love with and in awe of Danny Parker’s work with each new release. Perfect, illustrated by Freya Blackwood wildly perpetuates this love affair. As revealed in a recent seminar, Parker uses song-like nine syllabic rhyming verse (akin to kuji mantras) to eloquently describe three children’s summer place and activities. It’s superbly simple and concise yet captures each moment of the children’s life with astounding alacrity. They lounge in the sunshine, mix and make, break and create. They meander and breathe, soar and believe until storm clouds pen them indoors. Their days are full of scheming, with nights of ‘beautiful dreaming’.

Perfect Illos spread # 2 Perfect, quite simply…is. Crisp, clean and wholesome smudged with daring that belies the adventure of the children’s days. Summer essence is beautifully bound together with Blackwood’s timeless pencil and acrylic painted illustrations; delicate and creamy, exuding a fullness of spirit that only children with no restraint of time or imagination possess. A perfect portrayal of freedom and joie de vivre. Better than Nintendo! Read more about these two creators and Perfect in Romi’s post, here.

Little Hare Books Hardie Grant Egmont October 2015

Australian Kids through the YearsFor reminiscing…

Another better than perfect picture book to place up front and foremost on your bookshelves this summer is Tania McCartney’s and Andrew Joyner’s, Australian Kids through the Years. This is blindingly brilliant. At first, I had a niggling concern that the target audience (5 – 8) might suffer some disconnection with the past, it being so far away from yesterday for them and their collected reference frames, but I was happily wrong on this account. My Miss 9 adored every page, every era, every word, and every image (yes, even the 80s) of this unreal expose of kids’ lives from the very first inhabitants to present day. What they ate, wore, played, and Australian Kids Years illo spreadeven read is faithfully recounted in kid-friendly pictures and bubble boxes. There’s a real personal intimacy with the kids from each time period created by McCartney’s short and sweet vignettes so joyfully illustrated by Joyner. (His illustrations smack of Little Golden Book, old-world charm – a perfect match for the text).

So much more than a catalogue of that-was-then facts, Australian Kids Through the Years brings hysterically accurate information right back into our lives (hysterical because I still own a Walkman) and is absolutely brilliant to share with today’s Z Generation. My Miss Z revelled in the revelations. (Yes, Mummy really did love her dragster bike). A must for homes and schools, and late-20th Century tragics like me. You’ll be digging out your Nintendo after reading this, too!

Australian Kids Year illo spread # 2Timelines and listings of illustrations are all faithfully included, as well. Read Joy Lawn’s Aussie round up on good reads, here.

National Library of Australia October 2015This & That

For the littlies…

It’s been a little while since the Mem Fox / Judy Horacek duo joined forces. Not since their Where is the Green Sheep? have I read a picture book so many times in one sitting. Happy to report some fresh material is now available to rest your sheep-weary sensibilities and, ironically, Horacek’s iconic sheep make a fleeting cameo in, This & That.

Essentially a tale for the under fours, This & That is robust and short enough to go a few (dozen) rounds at bedtime. Fox focuses her balanced prose with simple rhyme and rhythm mixing fantastical improbabilities with silly acceptability. They are stories, made up for your amusement after all. Horacek’s clean-lined illustrations embellish the possibilities even further. I love her use of pinging colour and light and shade.

This & That has a vaguely familiar feel to it but it’s a formula that works a wonder, if Green Sheep is anything to go by. Not all of Fox’s work works for me but this one has been worth the wait. Guaranteed to be the new go-to bedtime favourite these holidays.

Scholastic Australia October 2015

For the thinkers…River Riddle

If you’re anxious about your kids’ minds slipping in a soporific summer stupor fear not, this fun picture book, River Riddle by first time team, Jim Dewar and Anil Tortop will keep them (and you) engrossed in many minutes of contemplative thought, or in my case many many many minutes. You see, this tale is based on the well-known kids’ logic puzzle and those two words (logic and puzzle) reside uncomfortably in my head. I just find this difficult! That is not to say, impossible. Dewar’s clever rhyming quatrains ably set the scene and pace for Jack whose aim is to make it to the market with his bag of hay…on the other side of a deep wide river.

River Riddle illosHis companions, a fox called Frank and a sheep called Dolly are not to be trusted on their own so in spite of a small boat being available for their river crossing, the dilemma of whom to row across first and whom to leave on shore till later arises. Turns out, Jack is smarter than I am and solves his river riddle but does he make it to the market in time?

Tortop’s kid-cute digi illustrations are boisterous, bright, and cheery. My primary schooler had loads of fun recreating this story and acting out ‘the crossing’ with her toys in a mathematical logical way; again, I had to leave the room so confused did I become. This is the kind of holiday pre-occupation you’d pay for, am I right. Great for small minds and big thinkers.

Scholastic Australia August 2015

If none of these holidays reads suit you, discover more here at the Kids Holiday Reading Guide 2015 – 2016.

To all who have read, wept and laughed at my words and those of so many others this past year, a heartfelt THANK YOU. Have a great Festive Season and a safe, story-filled New Year! I’m off to scoff a few fruit mince pies and of course, keep on reading!

 

 

 

 
 

 

Tania McCartney’s Passionate Spirit Shines

imageAs we grow up and experience a variety of things that life has to offer, we become attuned to our own identity and sense of self. We develop tastes, interests, abilities, likes and dislikes, individual quirks, and future aspirations. We are all unique and special in our own little ways. One such individual who is truly one of a kind is the multi-talented, all-round exceptional lady; author, illustrator, editor, presenter and Kids’ Book Review founder, Tania McCartney. It has been an absolute pleasure learning more about her writerly life, exciting upcoming events and inspiration behind her latest striking release, Peas in a Pod (see review).    

Congratulations on your most recent release ‘Peas in a Pod’! How did you celebrate its launch?  
I was actually in Singapore for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content, and well … when in Singapore, launch a book! We celebrated the launch during a morning tea break at the festival. I presented on the creation of the book, talked about Tina Snerling’s amazing illustrations, and then had a book signing. It was lots of fun.
See Tania’s write up of her launch experience in Singapore here: http://taniamccartney.blogspot.com.au/2015/06/peas-in-pod-book-launch-singapore.html?m=1

What was the inspiration behind this story? 
I tend to write my books intuitively, without overt inspiration. Characters pop onto my head and a story quickly follows; I just write it down! But if I think about it, the Peas story is perhaps a subconscious desire to promote diversity which is a hot topic in PBs worldwide at the moment. The movement was initiated in the United States, perhaps as a counterpoint to the myriad PBs that tell kids ‘we are all the same! everyone is equal! you’re all winners!’ The thing is, Real Life is not same-same and is certainly not equal. We need to teach kids they will sometimes win and sometimes lose and that being ourselves or standing out in any way as an individual is a fine thing indeed. I’m a strong advocate for teaching kids to never compromise their uniqueness … and to let no one dull their shine.  

‘Peas in a Pod’ is a wonderful celebration of individuality, accepting each others’ unique qualities, and realising one’s dreams. We’ve seen these themes in some of your other books, including ‘This is Captain Cook’, ‘Tottie and Dot’ and ‘An Aussie Year’. Was this your intention when writing these books?
Not consciously. I was at a talk recently where some famous author was quoted as saying that all books are in some way autobiographical, ie: there’s a little part of us in everything we write. I’ve never been a conformist or someone who needs to belong to a group. I’m all for quirks and points of difference and the stretching (or obliteration) of stereotypes. So my little Peas in a Pod, and many of my other characters just seem to morph into people with a solid sense of self. I believe one of the greatest gifts we can teach children is to honour their own sense of self—and to trust it.  

What message do you hope for readers to gain from reading ‘Peas in a Pod’?
First and foremost, I want them to find the story entertaining. Entertain first. Educate second (preferably imperceptibly when it comes to fictional picture books). I want it to charm them mentally and then resonate with them emotionally, even if they don’t know why. Beyond that, I hope they come away from the story knowing that yes, while we all eat, drink, breathe (suck our thumbs, in the cased of the Peas!) and have the same coloured blood, we are, each and every one of us, different to the point of kooky.  

imageWhat is your favourite part of the story? Why? 
My favourite part is the page with the girls on the swings. It’s just so poignant. It’s at a point in the story where the ‘sameness’ has clearly broken their spirits, and the image is so emotional for me. Swings are meant to be swung on, with little legs high in the air, but here, they are stationary. It’s a perfect image in terms of visual literacy. My other favourite part is the last page, but I can’t say what happens there because it will spoil the story!  

What’s your most unique quality? 
I love your questions! Probably my ability to ‘see’ words when I write. It’s hard to explain but I’m a visual writer in a literal sense—I see colours and shapes and characters and tones and patterns and themes that help shape the words that emerge. I’ll often storyboard or layout books I’m writing so I can ‘see’ how things are unfolding. This has made it a lot easier to transition into illustrating, too, which I’m doing for the first time this year.  

‘Peas in a Pod’ is written in a simple, whimsical sense with that gorgeous repetition that keeps readers engaged. How do you decide which writing style best suits your stories? Does this decision come naturally or it is a conscious effort to strive for perfection? Do you have a preferred style of writing?
Again, I think it’s intuitive. I know my audience for each book, so I write with that audience in mind, using appropriate language and word usage. Having said that, I don’t believe in patronizing the reader, and will still use relatively sophisticated text whenever I can. Context and association is powerful, even at a very young age. That’s how kids learn delicious words!  

My favourite style of writing, you’ve already mentioned—whimsical. I adore magical realism. I love rhyme (but it has to be infallible) and although picture books are my obsession, the books I enjoy writing the most are junior fiction because they allow me so much more wordage (I have three WIP junior fiction novels).  

I think repetition should be used achingly sparingly, and should only be used for the very young. It has to be rhythmic and succinct and it has to stop soon after it starts. A book with endless repetition is my idea of hell. The only person in the world who’s ever done it right is Dr Seuss, and even then, enough is enough!  

I’m also a strong believer in minimal text picture books, as I feel the images should do most of the talking. That’s why they’re ‘picture’ books.  

imageYou’ve had tremendous success working with illustrator, Tina Snerling, including collaborations on the award-winning ‘An Aussie Year’, and ‘Tottie and Dot’. Her pictures in ‘Peas in a Pod’ perfectly compliment the sweet, colourful nature of the story. What do you like about her artistic style? How much illustrative detail do you normally provide, and how much is left to her imagination?
I love that she blends stylish modern with heartfelt whimsy so seamlessly. Her sense of colour is unparalleled, and beautiful colour is HUGE for me. I love that her artistic repertoire is vast—she can switch from fine art to cartoon in a nanosecond. And I love her penchant for detail. She never fails to astound me with the tiny little bits and pieces that make any picture book great.  

The more books we do together, the more creative license Tina has because she understands what I write. Along the way, I might make comment on something tiny that would better support text, but other than that, she comes up with all the characters on her own (I always love them) and also adds ‘extra’ ideas and elements that enhance my words.  

Tina and I are really lucky to work closely on our books—not something all creators enjoy. This brings the books that extra ‘something’ that can only come from open collaboration. The end result is more seamless, more cohesive, more plump with meaning.  

You are an inspirational literacy advocate and supporter of children’s book creators with your many roles; author, illustrator, editor, speaker, reviewer and founder of the reputable ‘Kids’ Book Review’ literature site and the 52-Week Illustration Challenge. How is your working life managed? Which of these roles do you feel most established? Is there a particular one you wish you had more time for? 
It’s interesting because as my career has developed, I’ve found a much greater need for focus, which means dropping a few of those roles, particularly in the last six months. I actually found I was no longer managing to ‘do it all’—at least not without compromising my health and sanity.  

I genuinely love helping others, promoting other works and sharing all I’ve learned—and of course, I’ll never stop beating children over the head with books books books! But I’ve had to take a big step back of late, to focus on my own journey, which is undergoing a lot of change. After a 25+ year hiatus, I’m re-entering the world of illustration with my first author/illustrator contract, so it’s been interesting watching that side of myself develop.  

I‘ve been writing professionally for 27 years now, in varying genres, so that side of my career is well-established, as is my speaking and presenting. Illustration, while it’s always been a part of my life, is brand new in a professional/career sense. So that’s what I’ll be dedicating more time to these coming years. Notice I said ‘dedicating’ and not ‘wishing’. We all need to stop wishing and just dedicate. It’s so important.  

What do you love about writing children’s books? 
Everything. The initial concept, the research and development, the illustration process, the editing, design, layout—everything. Then there’s the reaction from kids. That’s just the best. To see kids resonate with or learn from you work … to see them scurry into a corner and sit with my books and devour every page. It’s insanely rewarding.  

Which books did you enjoy reading as a child? Have any of these influenced your writing style?
Like anyone born from the ‘50s to the ‘70s, I adored Enid Blyton, Roald Dahl, Eric Carle and Dr Seuss. Yes, I think they have influenced both my style and content—magical realism and wonder. I remember being particularly struck by James and the Giant Peach. It blew my mind. CS Lewis and the Chronicles of Narnia similarly reconfigured my internal world, and I do think this has affected the way I write as an adult.  

imageWith all your knowledge and experience gained over the past 25+ years in mind, what piece of advice could you share with aspiring writers in the children’s literature industry?
Never stop learning and growing your skillset. Watch The Gap by Ira Glass (search for it on YouTube) and be really self-effacing with what you’re producing. I’ve lost count of the people who’ve said to me ‘I’ve decided I want to write children’s books. How do I get published?’ My response? ‘Dedicate the next ten years to daily writing. Then ask me that same question.’  

The best writers and illustrators know they can always improve, and do not take offence when critiqued or rejected. They just keep honing their craft, and keep themselves current.  

Also, write from the heart and write what you love. I don’t agree that we should write for kids or publishers. I think we should write what WE want, what WE love, and do it in a voice that will appeal to our target market. Or better yet, just write it and then assess the target market at the end! We need to love what we write. We need to be overcome with passion and adoration for the stories tumbling onto our blank pages. THAT is how we end up with contracts.  

imageWhat’s next for Tania McCartney? What can we look forward to seeing from you in the near future?
September 2015 sees the release of a new book for the National Library, illustrated by the superlative Andrew Joyner—Australian Kids Through the Years. At the same time, two follow-up books to An Aussie Year will be released in the UK (with a small print run here)—An English Year and A Scottish Year. These will be followed in 2016 by two more international titles in the series. So excited about these, but you’ll have to wait and see where they’ll be set!  
In 2016, I have a picture book—Smile Cry—coming out, illustrated by Jess Racklyeft who I met through my 52-Week Illustration Challenge. It’s really different and I can’t wait to see the response to it. Jess’s illustrations are so gorgeous.  

imageIn either 2016 or 2017, my next National Library book will be out—a follow-on to This is Captain Cook, with my dear friend Christina Booth. It’s about one of my favourite historical figures of all time—and book three is on another favourite (this time a woman).  
But the most exciting news of all is my first author/illustrator contract. It’s going to be a high-page-count book and will take me nearly a year to complete. It’s a little overwhelming making this career transition, and a little scary, but our industry is so inclusive and warm—I know I’ll have some supportive hands holding me up!

Thank you so much for answering my questions, Tania!
I LOVE THEM! Thank you SO much, Romi. xxx  

Find more information about Tania, her books, and initiatives at the following links:
www.taniamccartney.com
www.kids-bookreview.com
52-Week Illustration Challenge:
https://www.facebook.com/groups/418616991575037/ 

To purchase her invaluable ebook resource for writers and illustrators; The Fantastical Flying Creator, please follow this link:
http://taniamccartney.blogspot.com.au/2014/11/the-fantastic-flying-creator-e-workshop.html?m=1