Review – Sugar and Spice Collection

Sugar and SpiceFairies and ponies, ballerinas and bows; all things nice, may not be what all little girls are made of but this omnibus picture book collection, Sugar and Spice, fresh out of the uber productive creative forge  of EK Books is sure to delight even the fussiest of feminie tastes. Designed with little girls in mind, this three-volume picture book gift set features stories by three different authors, each illustrated by Gwynneth Jones. Enjoy them individually or as a boxed collectors’ set.

The firstPatch and Ruby we devoured was Patch and Ruby by Anouska Jones. My Miss 10 reviewed this one but I’m inclined to agree with her response. Sweet and impossibly alluring, Patch and Ruby is a story full of ponies and chooks and cuter than cute meeces. Jones’s narrative is warm and restrained enough to sustain short attention spans whilst the illustrations excite the tactile senses and illicit quite a bit of cheeky humour. Keep an eye out for the chook in rollers. So clever.

Patch and Ruby is a gentle tale about finding your perfect fit and making friends along the way. The notion of seeing things from another person’s point of view is secreted away in Patch’s longing to find that missing something in his life yet pre-schoolers will be satisfied enough, soaking up the gorgeous equine inspired atmosphere of this tale.

Dance with MeDance with Me is the second slice of sweetness in this set. Penny Harrison has penned another story ostensibly aimed at sweet young ladies under eight but adorable enough to be enjoyed by pre-schoolers, everywhere. Dance with Me is a timely tale of affections and life changes. I can’t help but hear Frank Mill’s, Music Box Dancer in my head when I read about the beautiful pink clad ballerina who ‘lived in a small, wooden box.’ She and her little girl enjoy many joyful dances together until one day the little girl grows up and the ballerina is free to enjoy her own dances far from her box. However, her adventures are cut short when she is relegated to the shelf for many years until one day, someone new calls her to ‘come, dance…’ once more.

Gwynneth Jones’s spectacular use of altering perspectives, subtle colours, and Decalage (the metaphoric visual interpretation of the text to show a different meaning) is spot on and once again cleverly pins readers to their seats.

The Great Sock SecretSusan Whelan is the author of the third spicy instalment, The Great Sock Secret. I love how the fairies rule supreme in this toe-levelled view about one of the first world’s most cryptic mysteries: where do all the odd socks go? Jones’s eye-popping illustrations are phenomenal, revealing to the reader what Sarah already knows about the missing socks in her home. Whelan takes the reader on a whimsical treasure hunt of subterfuge as Sarah tries to preserve the fairies’ secret from her mother.

Fast paced and fun, The Great Sock Secret will make you stop and think next time you are faced with mismatched laundry and reticent children.

All three Sugar and Spice picture books will bring a smile to your face and comfortable warmth to your heart. They are easy to read, diverse in flavour and delivery and beautifully presented; the rich paisley patterned spines are just glorious.

These beautiful tales also stirred up many fond childhood memories; of my own music box dancer, backyard ponies, and the inevitable transitions we all make from childhood to adulthood. Thankfully, stories like these ensure an infinite sense of innocent pleasure and pure magic for generations to come.

Highly recommended for ages 4 and above.

For those lucky enough to reside in NSW, head to the Wallsend District Library this Saturday, 8 October for the official Sugar and Spice Collection Launch.

EK Books October 2016

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

 

 

 

 

Review – Freedom Swimmer

Freedom SwimmerI often have great difficulty reviewing a book I feel a profound affection for. Freedom Swimmer by Wai Chim may be one of those books. There is an aura of Amy Tan about Chim’s depiction set in Communist China of two boys and their astounding quest to find a better life. If you think this sounds less than remarkable, read on.

Chim has fashioned a tale base on the true-life events of her father who made an incredible lunge for freedom when at the age of 19, he swam from the Dapeng Peninsula to Tung Ping Chau Island, Hong Kong in hope of finding a better life in the then British colony. I love books that reveal another of history’s amazing episodes, one that I may only have had peripheral knowledge about before, or in this case, no solid previous understanding. Stories like these, shared with today’s children, are priceless. The tales of the real life freedom swimmers are remarkable and chilling in their own right.

Freedom Swimmer chimes with Mao Tse-tung quotes and the fervour of Communist China, just pulling itself up from the so-called ‘Great Leap Forward’. Ming’s village is stricken by famine and poverty throughout this era, as are most in rural China.  He loses his parents but survives and along with dozens of other orphaned village children, he and his closest friend, pseudo brother Tian, scrape together an existence that is both grinding and bereft of any real affection.

One day, the village cadre makes an announcement. As part of the new re-education program initiated by Mao’s self-serving government, city youths are sent to Ming’s village to be ‘taught’ by the peasants. This is of course also an insidious way of injecting more Maoism’s into the population of China, an explicit agenda to control and monopolise thought.

Ming’s fellow villagers are not so easily swayed although few of them express their so-called ‘imperialist’ doubts aloud fearing terrible retribution. Tian is the first to laugh in the farcical face of Communism yet like Ming, begrudgingly accepts the new arrivals, as is the cadre’s directive. To his surprise, Ming quickly befriends one of the city boys named Li. Li is a staunch supporting member of the Red Guards but also warm and intelligent enough to approach his newfound village life with considered respect. He encourages Ming to express his dreams, Ming teaches him to swim. Although worlds of thinking separate them, they form a deep bond and respect for one another. As is often the case when great divides define relationships, those on one side slowly begin to yearn for the opposite.

Then the unthinkable happens; Li’s father is branded a Party traitor. Li immediately falls from favour, plunging into disgrace and unrelenting torment from his erstwhile comrades. Ming too is suffering from his untenable position as a village no-body, and is frequently frustrated at not being able to be with the girl he secretly admires.

Rather than continue their oppressive lives, the teenagers plan to risk the shark-infested waters between their peninsular and Hong Kong and swim to salvation. It is a great measure of the stoicism of humanity that so many, thousands in fact, of Chinese youths braved this desperate escape; spurned by nothing more than their hopes for ‘a better life and greater opportunity.’ Shark attack, illness, dog patrols and armed guards contributed to the immense risk these swimmers took in their bid for freedom.

Wai ChimChim recounts this period with confidence and true affection. Her writing is moving, poetic and substantial with strong character convictions and emotion to maintain a midgrade audience. This is a fascinating if not contemptible, chaotic time in Chinese history that captures the themes of taking chances, striving for a better life and perseverance with authenticity and feeling.

Chook Chook seriesFans of Chim’s previous junior fiction series, Chook Chook will appreciate her relaxed, more grown-up storytelling style and shared family history. I know I did. Stories have the power to unite and enlighten. Freedom Swimmer is auspiciously, one of those stories.

Sydneysiders have the good fortune of being able to meet Wai Chim this Friday at Gleebooks where she will officially launch, Freedom Swimmer.

If you can’t wait, the book is available here, now.

Stick around for the fascinating and touching insight into Wai Chim’s father’s story which inspired this compelling story to be written in the first place.

Allen & Unwin August 2016

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

 

 

 

Review – Little Wing

Little WingAuthor illustrator, Katherine Battersby has flown many miles in recent times, a bit like her latest picture book character, Little Wing. Little Wing catapults the connotation of taking a leap of faith into glowing picture book form that is a pure delight to read.

Little Wing is the smartest animal in the world. He owes his genius to good old-fashioned book learning, that is to say, he reads – a lot. Nearly everything he knows is attributed to the days he spends between the pages of dozens of books bequeathed to his island home by providence.

Little Wing illos spreadIt appears a satisfying way to spend his days; I mean who hasn’t dreamed of reading under swaying palm trees on a sun soaked faraway island as a full time occupation! I’d call that heaven but for Little Wing whose aspirations and yearnings clearly outclass mine, ‘something was always missing.’ So, he sets out to find it.

Turns out, it’s Little Wing’s sense of self that is absent and no matter how many books or alter egos he assumes, none of them provide the right answer, the perfect fit. Until one radiant morning, realisation dawns and Little Wing’s life transforms forever. His social circles are greatly enhanced, as well.

Little Wing illoThe wait for Battersby’s next picture book has been well worth it. Little Wing exudes all the warmth, charm and wit of her debut picture book character, Squish Rabbit whilst introducing fans and new readers to a wonderfully new winsome critter. He is difficult not to love with his little wings and clacky big blue bit (aka his beak). However, what makes Little Wing universally appealing to young and old is his quiet and unquestioning fortitude. Even when faced with one of life’s most prominent and niggling questions: who am I and why am I here? Little Wing diligently pursues the answer until the answer literally flies right over him.

His tenacity tells young people that being one thing is fine but if you want to try other things, new things, then that’s okay too; you just need to be brave enough to pursue your dreams, to make that first leap into the unknown. Youngsters are no strangers to change. In fact the leaps in their young lives are almost always forced and without negotiation: going to school, moving home, surviving decaying family situations, growing up…So it won’t be hard for them to accept Little Wing as someone they can emulate and learn from.

Little Wing is likely to resonate with adults just as strongly. We all want to learn to fly. How many of us really have the courage to look deep within ourselves, take that first big breath, and then, move forward, though? It’s a daunting prospect but like Battersby herself, Little Wing does it with admirable aplomb.

Battersby’s accompanying artwork for this story is nothing short of fabulous. Bland bookish concepts are captured in bold watercolour and pencil illustrations intoxicatingly combined with fabrics, textiles and scanned vintage books. The resultant collage effect is a cocktail of fun and colour. I love it! So does my Miss 10 who spent many joyful moments with me feverishly examining the end pages in an effort to match feather to friend.

Katherine Battersby & Little WingLittle Wing is a picture book experience that sings on many levels but most importantly gives children license to extend themselves and follow their most ardent callings in order to reach true happiness.

Little Wing is available now, here. For those fortunate enough to live in SE Queensland, Katherine Battersby is touring a number of local schools, accompanying Little Wing as he explores his new home.

Little Wing # 2Little Wing is officially taking off this Saturday August 13th at Riverbend Books in Bulimba, Queensland. Join Katherine, Little Wing, and special guest, Peter Carnavas from 10.30 am for lots of fun and feathers.

UQP August 2016

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

 

 

The Art of Story – Festivals and anthologies in review

Rich and RareEditor, publisher, author, and all round busy guy, Paul Collins describes his latest anthology as ‘a sumptuous literary feast’ in which ‘no one will go away hungry, as the collection is a literary banquet with something for everyone.’ If that doesn’t whet your appetite for the collection of Australian stories, poetry and artwork that is, Rich and Rare, then spend a few moments ingesting Julie Fison’s interview with him as they dissect the intricacies of this collection.

His description, I feel also encapsulates the essence of our Australian literary landscape, so admirably showcased a couple of weeks ago at the 19th Story Arts Festival of Children’s Literature iPaul Collinsn Ipswich. This biennial Queensland festival is for adults and young adults be they teachers, librarians, or emerging writers and illustrators aiming to heighten awareness in the creative arts of writing and illustration and help build and maintain increased audiences for children’s literature. The school kids involved really loved it too.

I found the Story Arts Festival nothing short of inspirational and one of the most relaxed, enriching and informative conferences I have experienced. Like the anthology, Rich and Rare, it treated participating creators to a vast and delicious array of art, insight, and entertainment. Many of the contributors to this anthology participated at this year’s Story Arts. Many more are past presenting veterans of the festival. Here is but a sampler of some of the tantalising talent served up; the guest list is stupendously long and illustrious with the likes of Shaun Tan, Gary Crew, Justin D’Ath, Tania McCartney, Gabrielle Wang, and Tracey Hawkins to drop just a few.

I'm a Dirty Dinosaur Janeen Brian award winning multi-genre children’s author whose Rich and Rare story, The Art of Illusion inspires wonder and magic in young minds. With illustrators, Ann James, Matt Ottley, Terry Denton and fellow authors, Mark Greenwood and Tony Palmer, she revealed the fun and frustrations behind creations such as her phenomenally successful I’m a Dinosaur picture book series, whilst striving to increase literacy in children through entertaining literary content.

 Oliver Phommavanh is another such entertainer dishing up platefuls sensitive story lines liberally garnished with loads of laughs. What kid can resist temptations like those? Following his riotous expose of being an Aussie kid with Thai parents in suburban Australia with Thai-riffic! and Thai-no-mite, Phommavanh continues to slap out the humour with Stuff Happens: Ethan and Con-nerd. His short Rich and Rare tale, My Brother’s Keeper displays Phommavanh’s trademark observational wit in a devastatingly touching, contemporary way.

Veiled Secrets Archimede Fussillo is another first-generation Australian this time sporting an Italian heritage. His impressive range of mid-grade readers and YA novels further enriches the diverse reading fodder of Australian’s youth. He appeared at the festival with Josie Montano to launch their co-authored collaborative novel, Veiled Secrets, published by US Solstice. He penned the poignant and heart-tugging, The Bravest Person I Know for Rich and Rare.

Just a Dog Michael Gerard Bauer is a Queensland author equally at home with humour. His series include the Ishmael trilogy, Eric Vale and Derek ‘Danger’ Dale stories running from the sublime to the snort-out-loud-ridiculous. Eric Vale Epic Fail was adapted into a stage play by THAT Production Company this year and played for the first time to Festival audiences with rousing success. His standout works include Just a Dog and The Running Man, which was CBCA Book of the Year in 2004. Both are stories of achingly plaintive prose embedded with incredible heart and soul. He returns to hilarity in Rich and Rare with the short story, The Knitting Needle Ninja.

Hunter's Moon Sophie Masson’s repertoire of fantasy, mystery, thriller, and even graphic novels stretches further than a giant’s smorgasbord. She is master of coping with change following a fluctuating home base as a child (her parents alternated between France and Australia to live) and now the necessity of author adaption in the digital age, the subject she addressed at Story Arts. Her dark and treacherous reimagined Snow White novel, Hunter’s Moon appeared earlier this year. She compares the Rich and Rare anthology to an intricately fashioned patchwork quilt, ‘a strikingly unusual and complex yet satisfying and simple thing’.

Amply satisfying it is too, and like the Story Arts festival, ably fulfils its objective to capture and preserve the attention of a wider reading audience. Anthologies may not be widely popular to publish but when they showcase talent such as that embodied in Rich and Rare and are able to sustain readers with stories of such exquisite delectableness, they really are too good to pass up. Stack your plate high and celebrate the art of story.

Rich & rare InviteSoutherners are invited to meet many of the contributors at Ford Street Publishing’s exciting launch of Rich and Rare next Friday, 23rd October, Abbotsford, Victoria.

Ford Street Publishing October 2015

 

Review – Spud and Charli

spud and CharliDoes your imagination ever run wild? I bet kids will have no difficulty answering this one and for me that answer is still an empathic, yes! Horse-obsessed Charli finds it difficult to rein in her run-away imagination too in Samantha Wheeler’s new novel for primary-aged readers, Spud and Charli.

This story gallops full speed from the first page to the last and reminds me of my intense desire to own a horse of my own at Charli’s age. Being short on grass, (our backyard was a dustbowl) and unable to persuade my parents to invest in anything equine, I rigged up the dog’s lead to my bicycle handlebars as reins and rode for hours around an imaginary gymkhana in our backyard. It was an engineering and imaginary success, which thankfully Charli does not have to resort to because she is allowed to attend horse-camp and realise a dream come true; ‘to learn to ride a real, live horse!’

Nevertheless, dreams rarely come true easily and when camp show-off, Mikaela, snaffles the palomino Charli has her heart set on, she is crestfallen. Charli is relegated to Spud, an over-sized, unattractive ex-racehorse. It’s not the start of the stellar riding career she’d hoped for however Spud’s soft nature soon insinuates itself in Charli.

Not only does Charli have to adapt to the rigours and routines of horse care and the chequered, challenging personalities of her riding mates, she also has to contend with a newfound fear – bats.

Fruit bats surround the property filling Charli’s nights with disquieting noise and her heart with fear. She’s heard they spread disease and can kill horses and with her imagination galloping straight out of the paddock, she is convinced that Spud is in grave danger because of them. Not only are lives threatened, but Mrs Bacton, the camp organiser wants to cancel the gymkhana.

Are bats as deadly as Charli believes and if not, how will she persuade Mrs Bacton that she really does deserve a place at the riding comp?

Sam Wheeler 2What I loved about Wheeler’s debut novel, Smooch and Rose, was the bright and breezy way Wheeler portrayed a story big on heart and moral understanding. Spud and Charli is similar in its delivery with a little less eye-prickling emotion but just as much raw reality and enthusiastic narrative fluttering with enough funny and shocking moments to rein young readers in.

Charli is a character many young girls in particular will catch glimpses of themselves in whether they are horse mad or not. Her journey of self-awareness and gradual understanding of the truth about bats is neither too predictable nor obtuse. I am confident young readers will get Charli and admire her overall spunk and drive. It would be fantastic if more members of our society were as well informed (about the fruit bat / Hendra Virus situation) as Charli eventually becomes.

Spud and Charli is as entertaining as it is significant and for this reader who grew up in FNQ (far north Queensland) amongst thousands of flying foxes feasting nightly on our backyard pawpaws, it is a positive, feel-good story about two of my favourite mammals.

FruitbatsExtra golden horseshoes awarded to Charli who revisits after the story’s end to take us through some excellent info pages on interesting bat facts with no nonsense advice and useful online links; beautifully dispelling ugly myths while at the same time carefully educating our next generation of nature lovers. A joy to read in its own right, this book will serve well as a valuable prompt for classroom projects and discussion.

For those residing in SE Queensland, be sure to trot into Riverbend Books and Teahouse this Friday the 12th September for the launch of Spud and Charli. Plenty of room to tie up dobbin at the door. 6 pm. Or you can secure your copy of Spud and Charli right now here.

UQP September 2014

Review – The Croc and the Platypus

The Croc and the Platypus I commented recently on the Further Adventures of the The Owl and the Pussy Cat by Julia Donaldson and Charlotte Voake. Donaldson’s ineffable lyrical style does indeed take Edward Lear’s nonsense tale one step further and is a jolly expedition for the reader to navigate through. As you’d expect, it’s a very good picture book. Then I found an even better one.

Jacki HoskingWith ute-fulls of respect to Donaldson and Voake, Jackie Hosking’s and Marjorie Crosby-Fairall’s debut creation of The Croc and The Platypus is a very, very good picture book.

Fans of Lear’s will relish the lilting musical quality of Hosking’s verse as she transports us as effortlessly as Julia Donaldson through the Australian outback with as an incongruous couple as the Owl and Pussycat; Croc and Platypus.

Hosking is spot on with this ingenious retelling of a childhood classic however, somehow makes it feel much more loose and flowing and bizarrely, even easier to read than the original. Her narrative sings with a down-to-earth gritty realism but is delivered with Lear’s same congenial, nonsensical joie de vive. Hub caps ring and didgeridoos blow as Platypus and Croc ‘play up a hullabaloo…baloo.’

I love Hosking’s incorporation of recognisable Aussie icons; Uluru, tea and damper and lamingtons to name a few as Croc and Platypus trundle across the plains eventually camping under the Southern Cross after cleverly procuring their tent. For those not so familiar with ‘click go the shears’ terminology, there’s even a neat little glossary.

Extra applause must go to Marjorie Crosby-Fairall for her truly epic acrylic and pencilled illustrations. The outback is vast and engulfing as are the illustrations of this picture book with gorgeously generous helpings of full colour, movement and sparkle on every single page.

Hosking’s appreciation of, commitment to and finesse with the rhyming word are self-evident. She works them all to perfection in this richly Aussie-flavoured celebration about embracing unlikely friendships and sharing stellar moments with those closest to you whilst enjoying a good old Aussie road trip.

The Croc and the Platypus has every reason to glow proudly alongside The Owl and the Pussycat, and dare I suggest outshine it. Croc and Platypus launch invite June 2014

Discover and rediscover all three books here. For those in Sydney around early July, make sure you don’t miss Jackie’s launch of The Croc and the Platypus.

Walker Books Australia June 2014

Review – My Nanna is a Ninja

With its incongruous title, brazen bright yellow cover and be-speckled bun-toting nanna leaping straight at you, this picture book is hard to ignore. I was suitably intrigued and barely aware of the smile creeping across my face as I picked it up. I don’t know many ninja nannas you understand. Actually, I don’t know any, but I am now busting to meet one.

My Nanna is a Ninja My Nanna is a Ninja introduces readers, young and old, to one of the most fearless, funkiest, formidable, and flexible nannas you’ve ever met. Author and illustrator team, Damon Young and Peter Carnavas are one of those combinations that work. Together, they have fashioned a laugh-out-loud picture book that captures the very essence of Nanna-Dom without once pigeon-holing our ideas of the beloved grandmother.

Damon YoungAlong with Peter Carnavas’s playfully contemporary illustrations, Damon Young delivers several colourful renditions of the modern day grandma. Some dress in blue. Some sing out-loud in their cars. Others are into high adrenaline pastimes. But our young narrator’s nanna demonstrates her love and affection for him in less conventional ways.

She dresses in stealthily black, eats with swords and prefers to juggle ninja stars to watching TV soaps. Yes, she is one nifty nanna, brought beautifully to life by Young’s cheeky rhyming text.

Young’s aim to find ‘just the right word for just the right image’ is commendably achieved. He sets the reader up comfortably by comparing three different nannas, each baking apple pies and reading books but then roundhouse kicks nanna-normality into oblivion with nanna-ninja’s extraordinary behaviour. However, we are never left feeling she is anything other than a worthy and loving grandparent, just like any other, only different. Here, black is different and different is cool and kids can’t help but admire that.

Peter CarnavasCarnavas’s gleeful illustrations match the spare text and provide plenty of extra colour and comedy. I love his interpretation of various nannas, at once unique and familiar. And I don’t think he will mind me comparing his own inimitable style with that of Bob Graham’s, which I found quite brilliant.

My Nanna is a Ninja is a breath of fresh air celebrating the difference and acceptance of nannas that will ring happy bells with primary school aged readers lucky enough to have grandparents. But I bet, Nanna’s everywhere will develop a case of the chuckles when they read this picture book as well.

Whether you are a nanna, nonna, grandma, nanny or gran, make My Nanna is a Ninja the next picture book you share with your grandchildren.

JonathanWant to see more of Peter Carnavas’s work? If you are in SE QLD, take the kids along to the Black Cat Café and Book shop for the launch of another of his inspired picture books, Jonathon, Sunday the 30th March.

UQP March 2014

 

Review – The Boy on the Page

A children’s book reviewer’s recent proclamation to ‘only review good books from now on’ got me wondering. What constitutes a good children’s book?

Is it something that causes your mouth to twitch into happy crescent-moon-shapes with each page turn? Is it a bubble bath for your heart, leaving you awash with warm joy? Or does it seize hold of your senses so tightly you forget to breathe? Perhaps it alters your understanding in some inexplicably magic way so that you feel you are living in a world infinitely more meaningful than the one you were in before you opened it?

The Boy on the PageEnter The Boy on the Page and discover a book that does all this and more.

This is an exceptionally good picture book. Employing flawless intent with exquisite subtlety, author illustrator, Peter Carnavas, ushers us along one small boy’s life journey as he attempts to fathom that most ponderous of human dilemmas: the meaning of life. It’s a rather weighty concept for young readers but Carnavas’ signature, sparse narrative style allows the reader to drift across the pages with minimal effort and maximum reward. I find the text as alluring and intense as the scent of summer jasmine. It is pure pleasure to inhale this boy’s story.

The boy, whom my seven year old declared to be Peter himself, lands one day on a page, previously unadorned and bereft of colour and life. Gradually, ‘things start to grow…’ and so does the boy. He experiences a myriad of miraculous life moments. He plants trees, rides horse, even plays the accordion. He climbs mountains, saves lives and puts out fires.

He finds love and repeatedly encounters the enormity of the world around him in the most unassuming of places. Yet one thought plagues him; why he landed on the page in the first place. In order to find the answer, he makes a dramatic decision; to try something he’s never tried before. How far he leaps, where he lands and what he discovers is all part of the spellbinding magic of this beautiful tale.

Peter Carnavas Peter Carnavas’ adroit use of white space and heart-melting water colour illustrations convey compassion and humility in a way young readers can easily comprehend and love and dare we hope, emulate. Gentle suggestions bubble to life through all that surrounds the boy; all those he ever loved and cared for. Is it pure whimsy or for higher purpose that we exist? What does happens next? Or are we simply here because, as assured to me by Miss 7, ‘we were made and that’s it.’

She may be right. Joyfully, like most young of mind and of heart, the Boy on the Page is dripping with sincerity without undue sentimentality and is utterly enchanting to experience. Share it with someone you love to read with or simply savour this ‘good read’ on your own.

Suitable for readers 5 – 10 years and those seeking transcendent meanings in life… Oh and we love little pig’s presence too!

View more of Peter Carnavas’ work here.

Queenslanders will have a first-hand opportunity to meet Peter Carnavas when he launches The Boy on the Page this weekend at the Avid Reader Book shop, Brisbane. Sunday 20th October at 10.00 am.The Boy on the Page launch Avid Reader

New Frontier Publishing September 2013

 

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

 

Doodles and Drafts – A Very Jumpy Tour with Tania McCartney

The most spectacular thing about a plain old butter cake is often its layers. Colour them, stack them and then you have a thing of unique beauty and depth. This is exactly what makes a stand out picture book for me: its multiple layers. And today I am honoured to share the latest delectable offering from a children’s author and reviewer who needs no introduction to the readers of Boomerang Blog, Tania McCartney.

Riley the Jumpy Kangaroo cover MEDIUM Riley and the Jumpy Kangaroo: A journey around Canberra, is the fifth in the adventure-laced Riley Aviator series by McCartney and illustrator Kieron Pratt. Its timely release coincides with the Centennial celebrations of our nation’s capital.

There’s been some pretty dubious and extraordinary thumping and going ons in Parliament House of late. I’m not sure if Jumpy Roo is responsible for all of them but on the occasion Riley and his colourful collection of mates from previous sojourns visit Canberra, they discover that Jumpy Roo is crazy mad jumpy about something and spring smartly after her to find out exactly what.

Riley Little AviatorRiley’ little red plane is filling up as he and his faithful league pursue Jumpy Roo all around and in and out of some of Canberra’s most iconic attractions plus some less-well known ones. Until, after a near disastrous caffeine fix, Jumpy finally comes to rest in the resplendent gardens of Commonwealth Park to literally stop and ‘smell the flowers’ and thankfully find what she was so frantically looking for.

The previous Riley journeys whetted my appetite for travel and adventure. This one truly satisfies my hunger for that exquisite multi-layering; of ingenious artwork, clever concepts, humour and subtle sensitivity.

Young readers will hardly be aware that they are absorbing the unique heart of Australia’s Capital city as they are transported through McCartney’s economical yet colourful descriptions of place-names and locations. The pace is fast and furious and thanks to McCartney’s unique sense of style and design, the pages are a vivid three dimensional feast of movement and humour. Black and white images spiked with contrasting colour work seamlessly with Kieron Pratt’s charming, cartoonesque illustrations.

Whether you have ever set foot on the ‘grassy lawns of Parliament House’ before or not, this picture book is packed with enough reasons to entice (another) visit. And enough kid appeal to ensure that youngsters from 3 – 10 at least will not let the Canberra Centennial go unnoticed.

Tania McCartneyTo commemorate the imminent release of Riley and the Jumpy Kangaroo, we’re taking off right now with Tania herself. So grab your goggles and hop on board for a blog tour, that’s sure to be as zany as riding with Riley himself and guaranteed more fun than a Federal election.

Q Tania you have dedicated a great deal of your life to writing for children and practised it in several parts of the world. How long have you called Canberra home? How much do you feel the place you reside and write in influences what and how you write?

We’ve been in Canberra four-and-a-half years, which is one of the longest periods I’ve spent anywhere. Before that, my family and I were in Beijing for four years and before that, I’d moved over sixty times, living in various places from Hobart to Paris. When I met my husband, we moved every 18 months, so this time in Canberra is a record!

The place I call home enormously influences what and how I write. I think travel expands the mind, heart and soul in ways nothing else can, so I do hope my work has evolved and improved as I’ve moved around the globe. Travel is high on our family’s priority list and I love to write it into my books—the Riley the Little Aviator series a case in point!

Q This is the fifth book in the Riley Aviator series of adventures. Why did it take so long to get around to Canberra? Was it your intention to coincide Riley’s 5th adventure with the 100th Anniversary of our nation’s capital?

I had released a Riley book every year, and yes, this fifth book took two years—mainly because I’ve been so busy with other book contracts. The Riley books also take a lot of time and energy, as they comprise photos, illustrations and text, but I also design and layout the books.

I had intended to release the Canberra book at the end of last year, in time for the first Centenary celebrations, but I’m glad it was delayed … it’s nice to bring something new to this glorious year, and the best part is that I get to launch the book at Floriade. I’m very excited about that.

Q When did the original concept for Riley the Aviator take off? Tell us what are you trying to convey with this picture book series?

I was working in Beijing as an expat magazine editor and columnist for several English language magazines and had access to a large audience. I’d been writing children’s picture books for a very long time but had never subbed them; I thought it might be fun to publish my own picture book, as printing is so cheap in China and I’ve always adored book design.

So, I set out on a self-publishing journey—because I could—and it worked out very well for me. The first book was Riley and the Sleeping Dragon: A journey around Beijing, which followed the series’ photographic format, with and a little boy flying around in a little red plane, in this case looking for a sleeping dragon.

It was very much a home-made production. I took photos of a little tin plane I found at Panjiayuan antiques market, sourced an illustrator online and set about creating this book, which was hugely successful in the capital. I was in my third print run by the time we came home in 2009.

Essentially my goal was to take kids on a journey around that amazing city, but also give them subtle clues and reminders about the cultural aspects that comprise the city. The dragon, for example, ends up morphing from the Great Wall, ‘waking up to the world’, and so he was a metaphor for this strong, powerful, ancient country, opening its doors to the world during a momentous time in history (the 2008 Olympic Games).

In my mind, this first book was a personal memento for my own kids—and other expat kids—but it became much more than that, and you can imagine my surprise and delight when the book did well back home. The way this book was embraced was the kick-starter for a series of Riley books.

IMG_6554Q Riley’s journeys allow us to explore a number of fascinating locations with some suitably exotic characters including a splendid dragon and dazzling lion. Was it difficult deciding on the star of your latest book?

It was the easiest yet! Canberra residents enjoy the surreal reality of kangaroos hopping around their urban neighbourhoods—a reality we spend so much time trying to quash in the eyes of the rest of the world! So a kangaroo was, without question, the perfect animal for Riley to trail.

I had SO much fun with this character. She really is a hoot and I love how frantic she becomes while searching for something she’s lost. I also love the poignancy of the story’s ending. In this way, it’s the most emotional Riley book I’ve done.

Kieron PrattQ Did the character choices in Jumpy Kangaroo come first in this instance or the location where Riley’s adventure takes place?

The locations always come first. I do this because I want to choose locations that are famous but also interest children. I then take the character and place them in those locations, and—essentially—the characters are the ones who *show me/tell me what they’ll get up to at each stop. Roo’s reactions were brilliant, and I think kids will really relate to her high energy and kooky nature. (*via Kieron, the illustrator)

Q How important was it (for you) to include as much of Canberra’s sights, attractions and significant monuments in this book? Did you have to leave much out? I noticed there are no petrol stations featured in this tour. I never seem to notice any petrol stations in Canberra! Why is that? (Not a compulsory question)

Oh petrol stations—don’t start me. I only know of two. Thankfully, one is close-by but we’ve had to take diversions to Kingston on many an occasion. I’m guessing that’s because the capital is so teensy (anywhere in 25 minutes or less) so we don’t need to refill our tanks often??

The thing about Canberra, other than its petrol stations, is that it has so very, very much to see and do. I adore the city for that reason. So yes, much was left out of the book. I tried to include the Big Guns—Parliament, War Memorial, Lake Burley Griffin—but also sites that attract kids, like Questacon and the Zoo. I love the aerial shot in the book because that encompasses much that had to be left out!

 Q Amongst a myriad of other scintillating past times, you have a particular talent and penchant for photography. How many of the photographs used in the Riley series are yours? Was satisfying two loves at once, writing and shutter-bugging, a tricky thing to pull off?

I do love photography, and most photos in the Riley series are mine, though I had to source a few for Riley and the Grumpy Wombat because I couldn’t get to Melbourne to flesh out my catalogue of images. The Victorian Tourism Board helped in that regard.

My Handmade Living book was filled with my photography and my next book with the National Library features my photographs of children. I’m also working on some new picture book concepts which include photos. I love it and it’s never a chore!

RQ I love the occasional quirky references you include in the Jumpy Kangaroo along with the imaginative use of language. Confuddled had me chuckling from page one. Is your reference to R U OK ? a deliberate inclusion, subtly reminding us of the importance of checking in with friends and being mindful of their problems or just a lovely play on the vernacular for kids?

The R U OK? part in the book was a conscious addition … Riley is a rampant adventurer but hisunderlying modus operandi is that he really genuinely cares about each animal he seeks. Roo is indeed frantic in this book, and it’s his concern that forces him to trail her and attempt to help her out.

This caring nature is also reflected in the animal characters that come along for the ride (along with lots of quirk and humour). I think modern kids are so gorgeous and so talented but as the world gets smaller and smaller, they become more and more desensitised. I hope my books help them understand how important it is to care.

 T MC with friends Q Finally, if you could jump into Riley’s little red biplane and fly anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?

This changes all the time but right now it would be Boston or Ireland. Hmm … must be experiencing an Irish fetish. Not sure why. Maybe I’ve just spent too much time indoors at this computer and am desperate for a slice of green. I’ve also never visited either place, and I do love experiencing the new.

Q Additional bonus question: Is the blonde lady touting too many shopping bags along City Walk who I think it is?!

Yes! And the kids on the bench are my kids—the Real Riley and my ever-patient daughter Ella. My next series will feature her!

Thank you for sharing Riley, Roo and best of all Canberra with us Tania! Hope your blog tour is as thrilling a journey as the one you’ve given us with Riley and the Jumpy Kangaroo.

But wait, there’s even more!

Jumpy Roo Blog Tour The Jumpy Roo book launch is being held at Floriade this year! Anyone living in or visiting Canberra on 15 September is invited along, but RSVPs are essential if you want a goodie bag and balloon! You can find out more here. Can’t make the launch and want to read more? Then check out all of Tania’s great books available for purchase here.

You can also visit the Riley the Little Aviator website to see updates, learn more about the places Riley visits, and see behind-the-scenes work. There’s also some Fun Activities for kids.

Learn more about Tania at her website.

And don’t forget check out the Blog Tour Schedule for the rest of Riley’s exciting touch downs.

For full Blog Tour Schedule, head here.

Ford Street Publishing, an imprint of Hybrid Publishing August 2013

 

 

Review – Where Are You, Banana?

Where are you BananaEver had a little buddy you just can’t live without? A certain something or someone that insinuates itself so deeply into your heart that to be without it would be like losing part of yourself? Pets especially imbue a certain sticky charm and no pet wheedles our affection better than the humble dog. This is exactly what, Roddy, the young star of Allen & Unwin’s latest picture book release, Where Are You, Banana? encounters when a pooch named Banana joins his family.

Banana and Roddy share an intimate history together. Banana was Roddy’s first word. He is Roddy’s constant companion, a devoted playmate and supreme guardian. But Banana is not without his shortcomings. One of the slight disadvantages of being so close to something is that it makes letting it go all the more difficult. Banana’s obsessive dependency results in a trail of chewed possessions, one very irate neighbour and the banning of visits to Aunt Celia, whose chooks Banana has an unhealthy predilection for.

The tale tangles when Roddy leaves Banana alone with nothing more than a bone and his own devices one day when they are at Aunt Celia’s. Her new chicks are a short-lived novelty and can’t quite stop Roddy from making mental promises to the dog he feels he has abandoned. He can’t wait to return home and make amends but when the family return, Banana is nowhere to be found.

In spite of everyone’s constant reassurances, Roddy begins to worry, a lot. The house bereft of Banana’s presence, is eerily empty. Roddy is disconsolate. Unable to sleep, he sets out to look for his dog by himself. What follows is a marvellous example of simple ingenuity and heart-warming humanity.

Sofie LagunaWhere Are You, Banana? Is an absorbing little adventure by highly acclaimed, award winning author Sofie Laguna. Laguna’s frank first person narrative weaves a story that is easy to read, easy to like and perfect to share with the whole family.

Craig Smith Craig Smith’s animated watercolour illustrations leave us in no doubt as to how excruciating it can be searching for something you’ve loved and lost. They are just the right mix of whimsy and pull-at-your-heart cute.

If you’ve ever lost a pet, even for a short time, or misplaced a beloved object, then this picture book will strike an emotive chord. Children often feel these kinds of losses in the most dramatic of ways. And indeed, this tale resonates with ‘child-trapped-down-a-well’ drama and appeal. Thankfully, Where Are You, Banana? ends happily, reinforcing the feel-good notion that tenacity and love really do triumph over adversity.

Just right for 3 – 6 year olds.

A lovely addition to this hardcover edition is the QR code inside the book’s cover. Readers can scan the code for a free audio reading, ideal for playtime and bedtime. Or they can click on the Allen & Unwin website.

Craig IllustratingMeet Sofie and watch Craig draw images from this book at the launch for Where Are You, Banana? this Saturday 6th July at Readings St Kilda, Victoria 10.30 am. Check here for details.

 

 

 

Review – Seadog

SeaDogIn his youth, my shaggy-coated border collie had a fondness for rolling in guano, preferably just after bath time. The maturity and inability age brings to pursue such endearing past-times means I have not had to deal with that glorious dead-fish-wet-dog-poo smell for some years – until now.

Thanks to the jolly new picture book Seadog, by Claire Saxby and Tom Jellet, there’s a new canine character in my life. And I love him.

Who couldn’t adore the larger than life, guiltless, messy charm of this floppy-eared mutt? There are many things Seadog is not. He is not a clean, shiny dog. He is not a trick dog or a fetch dog. But his devotion to his young family and all things maritime knows no bounds. Even if he is permanently on the nose, wilfully disobedient and partial to rolling in piles of rotten fish, Seadog embodies the immense spirit of the sea with an unparalleled verve for life, and terrifying seagulls.

His devil-may-care personality races across each page and through the briny waves until he develops some serious grooming issues. But Seadogs ‘don’t like baths’ either.

Tom JelletTom Jellet’s super-groovy illustrations depict our scruffy hero in rough and ready style. Jellet’s line drawings boldly ignore the sticking-within-the-line rule giving Seadog the perfect unkempt, woofy appearance. Until he concedes to ‘a few short minutes’ of pampering and preening so that every hair lies neatly in place, within the lines of conformity, ‘until someone opens the door…’

From the navel flag bedecked end pages (which I took some minutes to try to translate hoping for a secret message there in – a la SEADOG!) to Claire Saxby’s easy verse-style text that reads like a rousing sea shanty, Seadog is a boisterous, enchanting read about a dog with more heart than the largest ocean and infinitely more appeal than a pile of rotten fish.Claire Saxby

In your face fun for pre-schoolers and beginner readers.

Andy Griffiths will officially launch Seadog at the Williamstown Literary Festival on June 2nd at 2.00pm. All are welcome to join Claire Saxby, however energetic canines unfortunately cannot attend!

Random House Australia Released May 2013

 

Review – Somebody’s House

Somebody's House PBHave you ever wandered down your street and wondered who shares it with you? Do you like to let your curiosity conjure up interesting occupants based entirely on the external appearance of a dwelling? I do. I’m not sure if young children do this as consciously as us more questioning grown up types but Katrina Germein’s newly released picture book, Somebody’s House, allows them to do just that, and absolutely guilt-free.

At the bottom of a little girl’s town by the sea is ‘a long, looping street’. I immediately want to visit this street and find out who we’ll meet. As the little girl drifts along it, she passes houses of every size and description and colour. She catches glimpses of the occupants’ lives from the objects she spies in their gardens or poking out of windows or perched up in trees. Each page poses the enigmatic question, ‘who do you think is inside?’

The speculative answers are the result of her assumptions and vivid imagination and, quite possibly true, although I’m not sure if scarf-knitting ewes and high-heel wearing peacocks are your run-of-the-mill suburban types.

Katrina GermeinIt doesn’t matter a pip because this is a joyful exploration of colours and rhythms, and shapes and forms that will entertain readers from 0 – 5 years and give beginner readers hours of fun as they navigate their way through the musical text.

It’s easy to wax lyrical about picture books when the words sing and the illustrations bombard the senses with tons of movement and bouncing detail. Somebody’s House does precisely that. A comfortable familiarity grew each time I revisited ‘somebody’s’ street yet I was delighted to continually find something new and quirky to smile at.

Anthea Stead’s exuberant use of acrylics, oil pastels and sgraffito* saturate the pages with a festival of colour and patterns. There is enough going on to attract young readers back for a second look again and again and the use of subtle visual clues not only adds to the whimsicality of the story but allows them to deduce who lives inside each house.

Known for her straightforward and honest way of sharing life’s truths with children, Germein has created a beautiful picture book that reinforces one’s sense of belonging and sense of place, while lightly alluding to the marvellous diversity of society and family types that exist all just metres away from one’s own front door.

Recommended for 3 – 6 year olds and anyone curious about their neighbours.

For those lucky enough to be living in Adelaide, pop along to the Lobethal Markets nestled in the Adelaide foothills on Sunday the 19th of May for the official launching of Somebody’s House.

Somebody's House Launch

• Sgraffito is a painting style that uses painted layers and ‘scratching’ techniques to create an image. This technique can be used on walls, ceramics and paper or canvas.

 Walker Books Australia May 2013

 

Review – DON’T let a Spoonbill in the kitchen!

Don't let a spoonbill in the kitchenFun, Fun, Fun! Delicious, unrestrained, dive-head-first into it FUN, was my first impression of Narelle Oliver’s scrumptious new picture book, DON’T let a Spoonbill in the kitchen! Well OK, but why, I bet you’re wondering. I was and couldn’t wait to devour this book to find out.

My indulgence was delayed though first by the cherry-topped, pink-iced cupcakes dripping delectably across the cover and then by the brilliantly detailed end pages. (Actually it was Miss 7 who found it hard to move on from this girly treasure trove of items) When we finally did, we were rewarded with a veritable fest of musical narrative and divine illustrations.

Narelle OliverNarelle Oliver is one of those unassuming, home grown Aussie talents who quietly gets on with creating perfectly balanced masterpieces for children to savour with seemingly little effort and fanfare. Immerse yourself into the pages of this picture book though and you’ll soon be marvelling at the many exquisite elements, the lyrical storyline and informative descriptions of some of our most curious native Australian birds, and wondering just how she does it so well.

Oliver is well-known for her predilection for Australian native fauna and feathered creatures. Fox and Fine Feathers and Home are just two examples of her acute appreciation and sensitivity for them and the way she is able to preserve them in the picture book art format, allowing children to cultivate a keener sense of value for the world around them.

Narelle's art

DON’T let a Spoonbill in the kitchen! takes this one level higher for me. Each rhyming quatrain rolls sweetly off one’s tongue whether read silently or out loud; something littlies will repeatedly adore. The format is simple and reoccurring, ideal for building expectation and reinforcing fact with humour. We are introduced to a selection of birds and their chief characteristics before receiving a cautionary warning about them on the succeeding page. The ‘advice’ pages burst with exuberant colour, mayhem, mess and FUN and allow readers to make their own assumptions as to why it’s best not to take a pelican to the airport, for instance.

I struggled to find a favourite amongst these images. They are all marvellous and Oliver’s use of handmade collages, linocuts and real photo imagery make it feel as though the birds really are causing chaos in the kitchen. The overall result is a riotous, educational and hilarious picture book which is seriously good FUN!Narelle Oliver's Spoonbill launch Bris Square Library April 2013 (19)

I had the immense pleasure of attending Narelle Oliver’s launch of DON’T let a Spoonbill in the kitchen! today amongst a crowd of esteemed children’s authors, illustrators and dedicated professionals of the children’s literary industry. Supported by Book Links QLD Inc. and launched by Her Excellency Ms Quentin Bryce AC CVO Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia, the occasion was a celebration of fine art and joie de vivre and thankfully, was unhindered by the antics of any mischievous winged individuals. Happy to report, all cupcakes remained intact until the littlies set forth upon them!

Narelle Oliver's Spoonbill launch Bris Square Library April 2013 (2)

This is a picture book to treasure and to laugh at over and over again.

Recommended for pre-schoolers and those who crave to be a pelican (like me).

Omnibus Books by Scholastic Group Australia April 2013

 

 

Review – Grandpa’s Gold

GGoldOnce upon a time, not long ago, unearthing quality crafted, self-published children’s books was like fossicking for gold. They were out there, but often buried under layers of fools’ gold. Grandpa’s Gold is one of the genuine gems.

For me, one of the greatest rewards of being a parent is being able to share the world’s wonders and its treasures with your offspring. Heading off on adventurous travel, although beset with obvious challenges, creates unimaginable, lasting memories for young and old alike. Seasoned children’s author, Robin Adolphs, has struck gold with this slick, memorable story about a young boy and his grandfather sharing such an adventure.

Jake has a Grandpa who possesses a 4WD and the ancient ability to read maps. Best of all, he knows how to find gold. He and Jake set off one day in search of it. Along the way, Grandpa reveals just how elusive the precious metal is and how tricky it is to find. Jake is fascinated to learn that if he listens hard enough for a ‘kind of WHOOP-WHOOP noise’, gold won’t be far away.

They set up camp in the goldfields. Jake hears many noises that first night but none of them the WHOOP-WHOOP of gold. That is until Grandpa introduces Jake to the mysteries of a metal detector. Jake is spell-bound by it, having had ‘no idea the earth was so noisy’.

Each buzz, crackle and whirr prompts them to stop and dig. Soon Jake’s pockets are bulging with treasures: a rust billy can, an old hob-nail, a broken horseshoe, even the head of a pick-axe; relics of a yesteryear all too wonderful for a small boy to leave behind. Grandpa’s efforts are less fruitful until he relinquishes the detector to Jake. WHOOP-WHOOP! ‘And there is was. Gold!’

This appealing tale transported me back to the time I spent fossicking the gem fields of west Queensland. Miles and miles of Brigalow scrub, rocky outcrops and the promise of stumbling across the next pink sapphire kept me there for a spell. Fossicking for one’s fortune is an addictive occupation only the human race has bothered to adapt for; only we can devote countless hours to sifting through barrows of scree, tediously sluicing gallons of mud or blowing up mountains in search of something so ridiculously small and shiny in comparison to the huge, dirty effort expended looking for it.

Robin AdolphsRobin Adolph’s story suggests there is more to be gained from the quest itself than the find. (She’s right. There is something almost therapeutic about time spent this way.) Grandpa and Jake share much more together than plain old greed. They experience the thrill of adventure, a shared camaraderie and those marvellously unquantifiable feelings of anticipation and inflated expectation.

A winning picture book embraces many levels. Grandpa’s Gold does this in spades. This is cheekily represented in the last page spread with an alluvial multi-layering of treasures that Jake is determined to find one day.

Perhaps the best discoveries in Grandpa’s Gold for me are the illustrations of Arthur Filloy. Big, bold, cartoon-style drawings flood each page with sound and motion. Jake and Grandpa are depicted in beguiling caricature fashion. I particularly like the way the illustrations involve both pages with shales of rock, drifting clouds and nocturnal eyes appearing on pages of text– something not often found in self-published picture book offerings. The simple line drawings of an old timer from a by-gone era ‘using’ the treasures Jake mines on each opposite page are genius and help span a young reader’s understanding of the passing of generations.

But that’s not all. Ex-teacher Adolphs gives us one last reason to linger a little longer in search of hidden treasure – A did you find…Quiz at the back of the book. This was the clincher for my Miss 7, who declared Grandpa’s Gold as ‘a very cool book’. Eureka!

Recommended for 3 – 8 year olds as enthusiastically as heading off into the sunset in search of adventure with them.

Butternut Books April 2013

Adolphs’ other titles under Butternut Books include Yesterday I Played in the Rain and The Pile Up.

Lucky SE Queenslanders have a chance to experience all the fun of finding gold this weekend at the official launch of Grandpa’s Gold 13th April at Logan North Library 10.00am, Underwood, QLD

 

 

 

Dancing Up a Storm

Hello again! This is my first blog post in a bit as I have been busier than George R R Martin avoiding questions on when he’s finally going to finish the Game of Thrones series.

I spent most of last month working on a conference, getting married in Fiji and taking a short honeymoon on a boat in the Whitsundays, all of which were blessed with stunning weather and incredibly slow internet connections. (You try getting your email while anchored off the glorious blue and white of Whitehaven Beach. Or caring about getting your email when you have urgent swimming, snorkeling and reading in the boom-net to do.)

In the interest of my (and my new husband’s) sanity, I decided to take a month off blogging about books. But taking a month off blogging is not the same thing as taking a month off reading. I was well prepared and equipped. I loaded my e-reader with endless awesome texts, packed a few hard-copies into my luggage in case of power failure, and then came back from vacation to discover that Australia Post had been holding on to enough posted book parcels to necessitate thinking about purchasing (yet another) bookshelf. My to-read list doth runneth over, frankly, as does my “books I must post about” list.

Also running over is my poor credit card bill which, in addition to the cost of the honeymoon and reading material for it, has also just soaked up a bill for a book launch. And not just any booklaunch. Melbourne’s tallest man*, Jay Kristoff, will release his debut novel, Stormdancer, on Friday September 7. It’s a Japanese-inspired steampunk fantasy (Jay once described as “‘Free Willy’ meets ‘How to Train Your Dragon’ in Steampunk feudal Japan with a Rage Against the Machine soundtrack), the first installment of what will be the Lotus War trilogy and, as I was one of the lucky advance reviewers I can tell you, it’s very very good.

It’s got a glowing review from Patrick Rothfuss (who wrote the excellent Wise Man’s Fear). It’s garnered a hard-to-earn Kirkus Star and got a starred review in Publisher’s Weekly, and was also their PW Pick of the Week. Most importantly, it kept me sane and happily entertained over a period of three days before getting married when fretting over details and guest-mishaps was causing most of my brain run “what-if” disaster videos on a loop and for that, I can not recommend it enough.**

According to Jay, everyone is welcome to come on the launch night but don’t expect much standing on ceremony.

“I’ll mumble my way through a half-assed speech and then will be totally happy to sign your books. We’ll have books on sale there on the night, but if you want to bring copies bought elsewhere, all good too.”

If you’d like to get your mitts on a signed copy, Jay will be signing books on Friday September 7th from 7.00 – 8.30pm at the Dymocks City Store on 234 Collins St in Melbourne. Everyone is welcome but I have it on good authority that people who feel like coming to the Afterparty following the launch will be particularly welcomed and even more so if they buy Jay a drink.

 

* I may be making this up.

**Also he’s absurdly tall and if you don’t buy his book he will come in the night, drink any decent bourbon you have in your drinks cabinet and then move all your most-used items to the top kitchen shelf where you can’t get at them.***

*** I am almost definitely making this up.