Different Ways of Learning: ‘Found in Melbourne’ & ‘Oi Cat!’

In ground-breaking publishing, two versions of a children’s picture book will be published simultaneously in English and Chinese by a mainstream Australian publisher. Found in Melbourne is written by Joanne O’Callaghan, illustrated by Kori Song, and the Chinese edition translated by Kevin Yang. It is published by Allen & Unwin.

The two hardcover books have identical illustrations, but one has a text in English and the other in ‘Simplified Chinese’.  It is set in Melbourne and further afield with locations such as Luna Park, the State Library of Victoria, the Great Ocean Road and Puffing Billy Railway. These places and further information about them is also given at the end of the books.

Beginning or ESL readers are assisted by the simple rhyming text. For example, ‘4 Four bicycles on the path by the bay. A trip to Tasmania sailing away… 10 Ten clocks at the station where we meet for the train. Bring an umbrella, it could start to rain!’

As well as exploring Melbourne, these are counting books. Young readers have the opportunity to learn or practise numerals from 1 to 12, then the big numbers 100, 1000 and 1,000,000.

There are many interesting details such as one of Sidney Nolan’s iconic Ned Kelly paintings which makes an incognito appearance in the scene set at the National Gallery of Victoria. The girl and boy protagonists have red and black hair respectively.

Part of the rationale behind the books is that Victoria recently had almost 600,000 Chinese people visit annually, the Chinese population of Melbourne is increasing and over 75,000 schoolchildren are learning Mandarin in Victoria.


I was excited to see a new picture book by Essex-based Kes Grey, funny man creator of laugh-out-loud Billy’s Bucket and many other books. Oi Cat! (Hachette) is another picture book where Grey collaborates with illustrator Jim Field. It follows Oi Frog! and Oi Dog! 

 Like Found in Melbourne, Oi Cat! uses a rhyming text that is perfect for young readers. The rhyme, humour and anticipation will keep children reading and their vocabulary and spelling will be extended along the way, particularly by some of the animals’ names such as ‘alpaca’ (which rhymes with ‘cream cracker’), ‘armadillo’ (which rhymes with ‘pillow’), ‘dingoes’ (which rhymes with ‘flamingos’) and ‘gnats’, which cats sit on here instead of on ‘mats’. The narrative follows the dilemma of what cats could alternatively sit on and this creates playful reinforcement of the ‘-at’ *rime. There is also sly discussion about what hogs and mogs sit on: generating many ‘-og’ words such as ‘clog … cog … jog’ and a surprise and somewhat painful-looking ending. 

*rime Separate phonemes in a syllable can normally be broken into two parts. The rime is a vowel and any subsequent consonants (for example, in the word ‘cat’ the rime is /at/). Word families can be constructed using common rimes such as /at/ in ‘cat’, ‘pat’. (from the Australian Curriculum)

Missing by Sue Whiting

Sue Whiting is a stalwart of Australian literature for young people. She writes across categories, including picture books, non-fiction and novels for children and young adults and has had a successful career in publishing for Walker Books Australia. Her most recent work is Missing, a novel for middle grade.

Thanks for speaking with Boomerang Books, Sue.

Where are you based and what is your background? 

I am based in a small coastal village about an hour south of Sydney. I started my working life as a primary school teacher, specialising in literacy education and Reading Recovery. In 2005, I left teaching to pursue a career in publishing and was Publishing Manager and Senior Commissioning Editor at Walker Books for ten years.

What led to your career in children’s books and what are some highlights? 

I developed a passion for children’s books as a young teacher and this eventually led me to want to write my own books. It took me about ten years before I was brave enough to give this writing caper a crack though. Editing, well, I fell into editing by extreme accident – through submitting a manuscript to a small start-up publisher and ending up with the job as editor of their children’s list – but once I started working in this field, I found that I loved this side of the process equally as much as writing. And I learnt a heck of a lot about writing along the way too!

Highlights! Wow, that’s really tricky, because there have been so many. Holding your book baby for the first time is always very special, but the unexpected letter or email or message from someone who has been touched by your work in some way is without doubt the best feeling ever. Just last week, I received a video message from a three-year-old boy telling me how much he loved one of my early novelty books. That was pretty awesome.

In terms of my publishing career, I think nurturing the early careers of wonderful writers such Meg McKinlay, Sandy Fussell and Anna Branford, to name but a few, stands out as a highlight and what I am most proud of.

Could you tell us about some of the books you’ve written? 

I write across many age groups and genres, from picture books through to YA. My bestseller is The Firefighters, illustrated by Donna Rawlins. It celebrates its tenth year in print this year, which is wonderful, as books don’t tend to stay in print for very long these days. My award winner is A Swim in the Sea, illustrated by Meredith Thomas and my last published book was the nonfiction picture book, Platypus, illustrated by Mark Jackson. It was such a joy to write because I was able to write lyrically about this unique Australian animal. The Firefighters, Platypus and my YA novel, Portraits of Celina have all been published in the US and Platypus has just recently been published in Korea. Missing is my first middle grade novel since Get a Grip, Cooper Jones, which was published eight years ago

What genre is your new book Missing and what is the significance of its title?

Missing is a contemporary mystery/suspense novel for readers 10+. The story revolves around the disappearance of the mother of my central character, Mackenzie. So the title refers directly to the fact that Mackenzie’s mother is missing. But the word “missing” has many connotations. I love that it also relates to Mackenzie missing her mother, her missing out on so many things because her mother is missing and also her quest to find the missing pieces in the puzzle of her disappearance.

Could you tell us about your protagonist Mackenzie and some other characters?

Mackenzie is a pretty typical twelve-year-old girl. She lives in southern Sydney and is caught up in the excitement of the last weeks of primary school when her mother goes missing. She loves art, particularly working in black and white.

Maggie da Luca is Mackenzie’s mother. She is a bat biologist and academic who works for a scientific magazine. She often travels to remote corners of the globe to study and photograph bats for the magazine.

Joe is Mackenzie’s father. He is an insurance salesman. He falls to pieces when Maggie goes missing. He is a man with many secrets.

Lois Simpson is Mackenzie’s gran. She is a scientist and academic and is the person who Mackenzie leans on as she tries to deal with this tragic situation. She too has secrets.

At high school, Mackenzie befriends Billie. Billie is lively and impetuous and a great foil to Mackenzie’s grief. In Panama, Mackenzie meets Carlo. Carlo is fourteen and helps his uncle at the hotel Mackenzie and her father is staying at. His indifference infuriates Mackenzie, but she eventually discovers that he is someone she can trust.

Why have you given Mackenzie a gift for art?

I wanted Mackenzie to have a passion that was in opposition to her mother and grandmother’s love of science. Art was the obvious place and very early on I saw Mackenzie, in my mind’s eye, sketching bats. A trip to the NSW Art Gallery where I happened upon a sculpture of fruit bats hanging from a washing line was the moment that sealed the deal.

Much of the story is set in the jungles of Panama. It’s hard to believe you’ve never been there. How did you create such an exciting and authentic-seeming setting? What was your most surprising discovery about Panama?

I have to admit to feeling a tad guilty that I didn’t jump on a plane and spend weeks in the country to ensure I got it right, but truthfully, I just didn’t have the funds to do that. So I resolved to do everything I could to bring Boquete and Panama to life on the page through diligent research from afar. I researched Panama for about a year – mostly through the Internet. Boquete is a tourist town, which also has a large expat community, mostly American retirees. This worked in my favour as there were many blogs and vlogs I could access depicting everyday life in the town.

I also had two really lucky breaks. One was making contact with Dianne Heidke (sister of Australian author Lisa Heidke) who has lived in Boquete for a decade or more. Dianne was able to answer those questions I couldn’t find answers to on the Internet, and was able to give me access to that all-important local knowledge. She also read the final manuscript and acted as my sensitivity reader.

My second lucky break was the discovery that the local council streamed 24-hour feed of Boquete’s main square live on the Internet. I was able to watch the comings and goings across the square day and night. It felt slightly creepy and very stalkerish, but it really helped me to understand the rhythms of the town.

My most surprising discovery was the lack of resources of the police force in Boquete – to the point that sometimes they don’t have enough petrol to run their police car!

Why have you structured the story as ‘then’ and ‘now’?

Initially, I chose to structure the story this way so that I could move the story on from those early days when the family had just learned of the disappearance and when their grief would be too raw and impossible to bear. But as the story idea progressed, I quickly realised that the ‘then’ and ‘now’ structure was allowing me to create suspense and tension in an intriguing way. It was challenging to maintain, but I loved slotting in key information at just the right places.

How have you used bats as a symbol?

I used bats more as a link between Mackenzie and her mother than as a symbol. It was Mackenzie’s way to stay connected with her mother and her mother’s passion. However, bats do symbolise our ability to see our way through even the darkest times. Mackenzie and her family have to navigate through some very dark days through much of the story, but by the end, I hope to show them stepping out into the light. This was a happy accident that gave extra meaning to the final pages in particular.

During the novel you tantalise characters and readers with mention of gelatos. What’s your favourite flavour?

The gelatos were a nod to my time at Walker Books. There was an excellent gelato bar at the bottom of the building and we often had Gelato Fridays. My favourite was definitely salted caramel Greek yoghurt.

You are known for promoting your books in interesting and skilled interactions with children. How will you be promoting Missing?

Thank you for that! I love sharing my books and stories with groups of kids – it’s my favourite part of my job.

I am about to embark on a schools tour of Brisbane and Sydney, so have been busy preparing my presentations. My reasons for writing the story and my research and how I have used it will be the centre of my talks, as well as some scene-setting with a bit drumming, a lot of drama, and concluding with a “breaking news” report. I will also be doing writing workshops in Sydney and Melbourne – exploring how to create suspense in stories.

What have you enjoyed reading recently? 

I have just reread (for the fifth time) A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness. It is one of my favourite books of all time – so beautifully crafted and emotive. I also recently enjoyed The Golden Age by Joan London and All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr.

What’s next workwise for you?

I am working on a new middle grade novel with the working title of Chance. It too has a core mystery and is about truth and lies and the grey area between the two.

I also have a new picture book Beware the Deep Dark Forest illustrated by Annie White, which is due for release in October.

Thanks for your generous and enlightening answers Sue, and all the best with Missing. It is a gripping and original work with great appeal for young readers.

Small Spaces by Sarah Epstein

Small Spaces is such a riveting, scary story, I was worried that I would still be reading when night fell. I was still reading … but had to keep going even though I knew I would be terrified. Congratulations on your stunning thriller, Sarah, and thanks for speaking with Boomerang Books blog.

Thanks so much! It’s a pleasure to be here.

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

I live in Melbourne, which has a thriving bookish community. There are always so many fantastic events, book launches and meet-ups happening, and I try to get along to as many as I can because I always come away feeling more connected and inspired. I’ve also been involved with the online YA community for the last decade, which is how I’ve met some wonderful critique partners and writing buddies, as well as participating in online conferences and pitching contests. Facebook groups and Twitter have been a fantastic way for me to connect with other kidlit writers and readers, not just in Australia but internationally.

What is the significance of the title, Small Spaces

For Tash, the protagonist of the story, it’s a very real phobia stemming from incidents that happened to her as a child. But from the opening lines of the novel it’s clear that it also refers to Tash’s psychological state and whether she can trust her own mind – the small space inside her head. In broader terms, it’s a reflection of how we all can sometimes feel isolated, lonely and vulnerable in our own small spaces, and forging connections and trusting others can often be challenging and scary.

You’ve used a distinctly Australian setting. Where is it set and why?

The story is set in two fictional locations – the small coastal town of Port Bellamy, and the rural area of Greenwillow and Willow Creek – which are about an hour’s drive apart on the NSW mid north coast. When I’m brainstorming a novel, I picture scenes very cinematically and start writing before I know exactly where the story is going to be set. Then I have to stop and start researching areas that tick all the boxes of my fictional setting and can feasibly accommodate all the major plot points and any secondary locations that are referenced in the story. I was born in NSW and wanted to set a story there, and having visited the mid north coast a number of times, it really helped me narrow things down, and became the perfect setting for the story.

Could you introduce your major characters to us …

Tash is seventeen and in her final year of school, craving independence and planning her future at an interstate university. But earning her parents’ trust is difficult because of childhood behavioural issues that seem to be cropping up again. Sadie is Tash’s best friend, the one who knows her best and her fiercest ally, trying to help Tash navigate through her phobias and unsettling memories. Two of those unsettling memories return in the form of Morgan and Mallory Fisher, a brother and sister who shared a disturbing day at the carnival with Tash nine years ago during a summer holiday at her Aunt Ally’s house. And then there’s Sparrow, Tash’s imaginary friend from childhood who looms heavily throughout all aspects of the plot, past and present.

Why have you given Tash an interest in photography and Morgan a gift in the visual arts?

This stems from my own creative background and the design degree I completed at university which included both visual arts and photography. I knew I wanted Tash and Morgan to collaborate on a project that played into the themes of the novel, and art was such a huge part of my life when I was a teen. It came very naturally to give Tash, Morgan and other characters in the story a creative outlet to express themselves.

Could you tell us about the ‘Now’ and ‘Then’ structure?

As soon as I started writing, I knew a large number of flashbacks would be required to properly explain what happened in Tash’s past. But I didn’t want to tell all of these in the passive past-tense voice of Tash recollecting them, because I felt this would dilute the tension and affect the pacing. Instead, I wrote these chapters in present tense using Tash’s childhood voice so the reader can see how things played out in real-time through her eyes. I also introduced therapy session transcripts and newspaper articles written in a clinical tone, so readers can form their own theories about what happened based on other evidence that isn’t skewed by Tash’s point of view.

As you wrote, how were you able to lay out the plot without giving too much away?

It wasn’t easy! I really had to think about the order I wanted snippets of information revealed because of how the past and present chapters feed into one another. There was a lot of shifting scenes and chapters around, and I had a large colour-coded plot outline which I’d lay out across my desk to give me a clear overview of what was happening and where. I had to pare back scenes and dialogue in revisions so as not to be too obvious, but at the same time reveal enough so that readers wouldn’t become frustrated about the storyline being too vague. It’s a real balancing act, and some days I cursed myself for choosing such a complicated narrative structure.

Without causing you to give away spoilers, which part of the plot, characterisation or symbolism was difficult to resolve?

I found the climax the most challenging part to write – I wanted it to do so many things while at the same time be fast-paced and absolutely gripping. I think endings are always tricky – they need to feel completely satisfying for the reader while tying up all the loose threads and illuminating the story’s themes. I never start writing a story until I know how the ending is going to play out. Then my challenge is figuring out how I’m going to get my characters there.

Carnivals and funfairs are some of my favourite locations in literature. They’re supposed to be fun but often are the opposite. What is so creepy about these places and what gives them (particularly derelict ones) such potential for horror?

I think for me the crowds and bustle of a busy carnival always poses the threat of a lost child, or the potential for someone to be swallowed up by it all before their companions even notice they’re missing. There are so many nooks and crannies to lurk and hide in! The noisy rides and all the squealing is so distracting and jarring, and there’s always exaggerated character art leering at you everywhere you turn. Carnivals are a bit too much of everything all at once, which makes us feel a bit queasy and disorientated. Derelict places add a whole other layer of creepiness because they conjure up ideas about ghosts and dead things. Plus, they’re deserted, so if anything bad happens, nobody’s coming to help!

What sort of movies do you watch?

I don’t read a huge amount of science fiction, but I absolutely love watching sci-fi movies! I also love anything with zombies, ghosts or aliens. I’m a big fan of bingeing a good Netflix series, and mostly enjoy intriguing supernatural shows like Stranger Things and The OA. I also love Nordic crime thrillers. I have a tendency to lean towards darker content.

Who have you written this book for?

It might be a cliché, but I definitely wrote this book for teenaged me. This is exactly the sort of story I was craving when I was a teen but had difficulty finding – something twisty and gripping, but with characters my age and themes I could relate to. I loved Christopher Pike’s books but struggled to find them in my school library and local bookshops (which was my whole world since the internet and online shopping didn’t yet exist), so I read a lot of adult crime and horror novels in my teens. But many of those stories were a hard slog with themes and situations that were very adult. I wrote this novel for teen readers who enjoy thrillers and creepy stories, but want characters and situations they can see themselves in.

What books are you reading at the moment (or recently)? 

I recently finished The Dry by Jane Harper and Wimmera by Mark Brandi, both of which I thoroughly enjoyed, especially since I am working on another suspenseful mystery set in a small Australian town. I’m currently reading two #LoveOzYA novels: The Fall by Tristan Bancks and Untidy Towns by Kate O’Donnell. My favourite genres to read are contemporaries, thrillers and domestic noir, and I have Sarah Bailey’s Dark Lake and A.J. Finn’s The Woman in the Window next up on my reading pile.

Thanks for your illuminating answers, Sarah and all the best with Small Spaces (Walker Books Australia) and your next book.

Thanks so much, Joy. Great questions! I’ve really enjoyed answering them.

School in Focus – Picture Book Reviews

We’re well and truly in to the school routine now, although some mornings seem to lack that ideal, perfect-world motivation and drive. But with these following picture books at the ready, your kids will be inspired to remember their purpose and excitement for the day ahead.

Time for School, Daddy is a gorgeously humorous role reversal-type situation, in the same as essence as the previous title by Dave Hackett, Time for Bed, Daddy. Most often than not it is in fact us parents struggling to get out of bed, greeted each morning with the bombardment of children eager to get the day started. And here, this is no different. The little girl wakes a dozy, grumbling Daddy so they can get ready for school. She gives him his favourite breakfast, which always ends in a mess. She washes and dresses him in his work clothes, not without a bit of chaos. She packs him a mighty fine lunch, a tad of grooming and then it’s time to walk out the door. But who’s going to school today?
Tonnes of energy emanate from both the text and the images, with an innocently grown-up voice from the girl’s perspective as she guides her father through the hectic routine. The bright and vibrant cartoon illustrations work beautifully in a simplistic, obvious focus on the actions, which are the perfect linchpin for the irony that makes this book so witty. Time for School, Daddy is adorable, motivating fun for children from age four.

University of Queensland Press, January 2018.

The school or public library may just be the best place to get inspired, excited and transported (figuratively) during a normally busy day. So for anyone who loves to read, a chance to dive into books would be plenty of motivation to leave the house in a hurry in the morning. But for one little girl, there is one book in particular that she can’t get enough of. Lucy’s Book, written by Natalie Jane Prior and illustrated by Cheryl Orsini, is one special story that follows one special story on many adventures as it is shared by Lucy to all her friends.
Lucy and her mum visit the library every Saturday. The enchanted red book, of which we speak, is recommended by Mrs Bruce and borrowed a multitude of times from the library. Lucy loves it so much, all her friends are dazzled by its charm and it makes its way into their hands too. The book is escorted on holidays to Honeycomb Bay and China, to the zoo, and even made into a banana sandwich. But what happens when the book is no longer available for borrowing? Do you believe in destiny?
Just like the premise of this story, the lively illustrations pronounce a real community feel; one of shared values, togetherness and spirit. With influences from real people (Mrs Bruce is a friend of the author and also the image of Megan the librarian at the local school), Lucy’s Book feels like a real-life fairytale where everyone gets to be involved in the swirl of magical bookishness and where fate is a reality. Dreamy for book lovers of any age.

Lothian Children’s Books, February 2017.

Ruby Lee is a highly enthusiastic student with a big imagination. But when it comes to being chosen as classroom helper, she’s not always the most efficient. Hark, it’s me, Ruby Lee! is a wild and animated tale of learning patience, working to your skillset and being yourself.
Award-winning author Lisa Shanahan, together with graphic illustrator Binny, provide a linguistic and visual treat with their eccentric blend of humour and design. Shanahan’s quirky names are just the beginning of the literary goodness, with dialogue that perks in all the right places, and a storyline that is so authentically realistic despite all the crazy and creative figments Ruby Lee imagines in her mind. And flawlessly, Binny’s fantastical, detailed illustrations with blocks of colour and line work add that extra depth and meaning to both Ruby Lee’s real and made-up worlds.
Preschool and early years children will adore being taken into Ruby Lee’s school life as messenger as she discovers not how to be like someone else, but where her own strengths lie. Hark, it’s me, Ruby Lee! plays out like a set of comical and whimsical scenes that will be requested to be delivered over and over again.

Lothian Children’s Books, July 2017.


Doodles and Drafts – Robyn Osborne on her canine obession

Today we invite Robyn Osborne to the draft table. Robyn has a penchant for pooches and writing for kids. Fortunately when she combines the two, magic happens.

Her latest picture book release, My Dog Socks is a winning combination of pure doggy delight. Robyn’s lyrical prose works in perfect harmony with  Sadami Konchi’s animated illustrations. Together they gambol and scarper through the book filling every page with barely suppressed  energy and exuberant colour. Pleasing alliteration, satisfying rhythm and an enticing parallel visual narrative invite readers into Sock’s secret world, where he is anything and everything in the eyes (and imagination) of his young owner.  Konchi’s representation of Socks  suggests an Australian Shepard type breed, however Sock’s irrepressible benevolent doggy nature could be any little person’s best four-legged friend. My Dog Socks is a winsome celebration of young people, dogs, the ineffable attachments they make and the incredible joie de vivre they both possess.

Grab yourself a copy, soon – here (paperback available next week). Now grab a cuppa and settle back with Robyn.

Continue reading Doodles and Drafts – Robyn Osborne on her canine obession

Secrets and Small Places – Sensational MG and YA reads

Being a Piscean, secrets and small spaces do not faze me much. I’m one of those little fishes who loves a bit of enigmatic seclusion and the stimulation of guesswork, which is why I absolutely, nuts and crackers enjoyed the following titles. Each possesses a fluidity of story and cast of characters so cleverly crafted, I felt like I was sharing their experience as if it were my own. These books take you in deep, which for me makes them terrifically satisfying and just a little be frightening – in a can’t-get-enough-of-way.

Middle Grade Fiction

The Secrets We Keep and The Secrets We Share by Nova Weetman

Fire – both compelling and repelling. Catastrophic and cleansing. This sums up the sweep of emotions and characters Weetman explores with Clem Timmins. Clem’s secret begins with a flicker but soon ignites into something she struggles to contain upon losing everything after her house burns down – her clothes, her treasures and her mum. Timmins and her pre-pubescent peers totter on the edge of change with remarkable poise and a raw, heart-wrenching genuineness that will bring the sting of tears to your eyes and a smile to your lips. They clutch at various emotional straws, each wanting happy outcomes but in Clem’s case, too frightened of losing even more, thus retreating into secrecy. This is good old honest storytelling, where enigmatic poignancy tempers robust reality.

Continue reading Secrets and Small Places – Sensational MG and YA reads

P is for Pearl by Eliza Henry Jones

P is for Pearl is the first YA novel by Eliza Henry Jones. She has been acclaimed for her debut novel for adults, In the Quiet. 

Thanks for speaking with Boomerang Books blog, Eliza.

Where are you based and what are your interests?

I’m based on a little farm in the Yarra Valley of Victoria. I love gardening – particularly growing and preserving our own food. I love knitting, yoga and have two horses that I compete a little bit in dressage. I also adore reading,

Could you describe your writing process?

I’m a very haphazard writer – I write fast in big chunks and then will take time away from the story to percolate ideas. Sometimes I’ll be really happy with the idea for a story, but the characters won’t fit. Or sometimes the characters will be really vivid, but it takes me a while to find a story for them.

How are you involved in the literary community?

I’ve never been asked this question before! I’ve taught creative writing at community centres, judged quite a few short story competitions, spoken a festivals, libraries and bookstores and do my best to support other writers by buying books and requesting them at libraries. I have also worked briefly as a bookseller and interned at a publishing house. I think the most important way I’m involved in the literary community is through being a reader – readers are the lifeblood.

What is your experience of being part of writers’ festivals?

I love it – writing and reading are generally quite solitary activities and there’s something so magical about being part of an event where everyone comes together to celebrate their love of stories.

I wrote In the Quiet quite quickly and without a lot of expectation. It’s the easiest story I’ve ever written – it just flowed. It’s narrated by a woman who’s recently died, watching her family on their rural horse property. It’s not sci-fi or fantasy or anything like that. She’s just watching and reflecting and hoping.

My other novel, Ache, is focused on the recovery of an unconventional family after a bushfire ravages their community.

I’ve also written quite a few short stories and articles – most of my writing deals (in various degrees) with trauma and grief.

How has this led to having your YA novel, P is for Pearl (HarperCollins) being published?

I’ve written a manuscript every year since I was fourteen – that’s a lot of novels! Pearl was the story I wrote as a sixteen year old and then tucked away in a drawer because I was convinced it wasn’t good enough. If I hadn’t had my adult fiction titles published, I’m not sure I would’ve had the confidence to go through my old stories.

What genre within YA fiction is it?

P is for Pearl is contemporary YA fiction.

What is the significance of the title?

The title has gone through some changes since I was sixteen (back then it was called Wade’s Point – bit boring, hey?!). P is for Pearl fits it perfectly – Pearl is Gwen’s middle name and it symbolises her grabbling with who she actually is versus who she thinks her mother wanted her to be.

Could you introduce your major characters to us …

Gwen is the main character in P is for Pearl. She doesn’t realise it, but she’s still recovering from the trauma that her family went through years ago. She’s obsessed with running and is often confused and feels conflicted about what she should be feeling.

Loretta is Gwen’s best friend. She’s fiercely intelligent, fiery and protective.

Gordon is Gwen’s other best friend. He’s quiet, funny, very artistic and often bickers with Loretta as thought they’re an old married couple.

Ben’s the new kid in town and Gwen’s crush – clever, kind and insightful, he’s intrigued by Gwen but also distracted by his own family secrets.

What is the importance of the setting?

Setting is very important in all my novels. P is for Pearl is set in a small (fictional) town on the west coast of Tasmania. The rugged coastal landscape is crucial to the plot.

Who have you written this book for?

Eliza Henry Jones

I wrote this book when I was sixteen and – if I’m honest – I wrote it for myself. It was a cathartic book for me to write. Reworking it into the novel it is now, I wrote it for young people who perhaps are grappling with what mental illness looks like and how to reconcile the reality of the people you love experiencing mental illness.

I know P is for Pearl is very new, but have you received any responses that have particularly resonated with you from early readers?

I’ve had people getting in touch to tell me that the family and representations of mental illness really resonated with them – which means a lot to me.

What are you writing at the moment?

I’m working on my next adult fiction novel.

What books are you reading at the moment (or recently)?
At the moment I’m reading Penelope Lively’s Life in the Garden and absolutely adoring it.

Thanks Eliza and all the best with P is for Pearl.

Eliza’s website

Tennis & The Harper Effect

The Harper Effect has caused even a non-tennis aficionado such as myself to develop an interest in tennis, particularly in the lives and commitment of tennis players. The Harper Effect (Pan Macmillan Australia) is Taryn Bashford’s debut YA novel. It has already had an ‘effect’, I can’t get it out of my head …

Thanks for speaking with Boomerang Books blog, Taryn.

Thank you very much for having me 😊

As a debut novelist, how were you able to acquire a publishing contract?

My book deal came about after I had a few fingers in pies, and a couple of them came up with plums 😉 I had entered the Varuna House Publishing Introduction Program which was run in conjunction with Pan Macmillan. I was one of the winners which meant I got to stay at Varuna House for a week and work on my manuscript with a mentor. However, at the same time, Curtis Brown, a literary agent in Sydney, took me on board. I had submitted my novel to them some months before, following a meeting at the CYA Conference in Brisbane. They sped up the process so that I didn’t have to wait for the residency before knowing if Pan Macmillan would publish my novel. I got to use that residency for the second book instead, as Pan Macmillan offered a two-book deal.

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

I’m based on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland. Although we’re far from Brisbane, I belong to the SCBWI and attend meetings down there whenever I can. I enjoy meeting people there, and particularly sharing what I’ve learnt on the road to publishing. I also attend meetings of the SCBWI sub-branch on the Sunshine Coast for similar reasons. It’s great to share experiences, stories and talk all things books. I also put together a writing group after meeting various writers at Varuna House or at conferences like Brisbane’s CYA Conference. We all live in the local area, so it was meant to be! We meet regularly to critique each other’s work and we also support each other in all aspects of the publishing and writing process.

Which well-known professional tennis player do you most admire and why?

I’d have to say Serena Williams because her recent media activity about sport being a way of empowering girls is very close to my heart. Research shows this to be true, and it also shows that girls in sport have much better self-esteem and better body images of themselves. This is so important now that our teens are exposed to photoshopped images of movie stars, actresses and singers – and can never hope to be that perfect.

What tip to playing better tennis can you give us?

You’re probably better off asking my brother that question. He’s the tennis star in our family. However, having been a part of his journey, I believe the key differentiator to being a great tennis player and being a brilliant champion tennis player is how you play the mind game. This is evident in The Harper Effect too when Harper falters, but put simply, if you don’t believe in yourself, and if you don’t have that instinct to win whatever it takes, or have mental tools to help you deal with losing a point, then you’ll often choke when the pressure turns up.

Why have you written a YA novel about tennis? Why tennis rather than another sport?

The Harper Effect was first written when I was 14 and my brother had recently won Nationals at Wimbledon and then won a scholarship to the Nick Bollettierri Academy in Florida. At the time, tennis was a big deal in our house. Obviously, I’ve re-drafted the novel several times since then, and my focus was on highlighting teens that go above and beyond the norm, and contrasting that with the fact that they’re still teens. This means they’re making mistakes, still wrangling with teen issues like boyfriends and sibling rivalry and school, but they’re on a world stage so the consequences of bad choices are often greater.

I’m really impressed with how you incorporated this into the novel, but could you also tell us here something readers should know about the lives of professional athletes, particularly tennis players. It sounds like such a struggle and sacrifice.

I’m glad you got that message. The world of any professional athlete is not glamorous, even if it seems that way on TV. If you read Andre Agassi’s biography, Open, this is again highlighted. The training, sacrifices, focus and hard work are all needed every day and that’s tough, but then the rewards if you make it big are massive. I’m talking specifically of tennis when I say that. Some sports are not as lucrative, but I believe the highs of winning, of travelling, of breaking records and proving yourself, are worth the hard work and having to sacrifice that beef burger 😊

What is the significance of the title, The Harper Effect?

The effect that Harper has on Colt is an important part of the plot. She draws him out of himself so that he’s less robotic in his tennis and he becomes more ‘human’ in his personal life. This in turn helps his game. The effect she has on him is also that his ‘mental game’ improves – he’s able to stay strong and face the pressure head on. Harper’s effect on Jacob and Aria are less admirable, but her actions do result in Aria spreading her wings and going on to bigger and better things in Rome, and to Jacob having a wake-up call about his drinking and the need to grow up and leave behind his childhood.

Could you introduce your major characters to us …

Harper Hunter is a 16-year-old tennis player who’s just turned professional and is struggling with the extra pressure that puts on her game. This results in her coach of 5 years dumping her, and telling her she doesn’t have what it takes. Harper has been on the junior circuit for five years by now. As a result, she’s missed a lot of her childhood and it’s meant her sister and best friend, Jacob, someone she’d fallen in love with, have become romantically involved. It’s this situation that shows Harper at her weakest, because she’s yet to learn how to deal with the situation in a mature way and so she makes some bad choices. It’s through her understanding of Colt and his life, and through helping him, that she grows up enough to eventually make the right choices in her life.

Aria Hunter is her sister. She’s another high achieving teen but in the music arena. Her dream is to go to the Sydney Conservatorium with her boyfriend, Jacob. I don’t want to give any spoilers, but ultimately, she gives up her dream after Harper betrays her. Luckily, she finds a bigger dream to chase.

Colt is the 17 year old tennis pro who becomes Harper’s mixed doubles partner and training partner. He appears to be a cold, closed-off person at first, but we learn that it’s because he’s hiding some family secrets in order to make it in the world of tennis. His personal issues affect his game, but it’s Harper who helps him to the other side of an ocean of choices.

Jacob is Harper and Aria’s next-door neighbour. They’ve been friends since kindergarten. With Harper on tour from a young age, their friendship trio was tested, and he becomes romantically involved with Aria. Then he realises he is with her in an attempt to get back a piece of Harper, the girl he’s truly in love with. He’s also somewhat spoilt by his neglectful parents who tend to buy his happiness with money and gifts. This impacts his personality as he’s used to getting what he wants. When he can’t have Harper, he truly goes off the rails.

How could Harper and Aria’s parents have predicted their passions when they named them?

The girl’s names are more an extension of the parent’s interests and loves before they were born. Their mum is a music buff, and so she got her choice for their first child. Their dad was a high achieving tennis player and was keen to name his child after his tennis idol. In my mind, he got his choice since he’d not got it for the first child.  In the end, the girls reflected their namesakes – I guess I could’ve swapped them over to confuse things!

What’s your favourite colour and what is the significance of purple in the novel?

My favourite colour is cerulean blue. It’s just so pretty and makes me feel relaxed when I see it. Purple is significant in the novel because it represents different things as the characters grow up. At first, it represents their childhood and that’s represented by the Purple Woods where they spent most of the childhood playing games and just being kids. The Purple Woods then become part of what helps Harper deal with her on-court pressure. She’s told by her coach, Milo, to go somewhere in her mind where she feels relaxed and happy and somewhere that has a calming effect on her. Purple Time is then born. It helps Harper to win. But when she loses Purple Time, after everything back home goes wrong and the woods no longer represent that happy and safe place, it shows that she’s grown as a player as she no longer needs Purple Time to win. She is able to find the resources within herself to deal with the pressure.  As we near the climax of the novel, we find Jacob is still lost in the Purple Woods, unable to leave them behind. He’s got a way to go before he grows up. Harper, on the other hand, no longer wishes to be there. She understands it’s time to leave them behind and face the world as an adult. Aria has spread her wings and flown to Rome, so she has also let go of her childhood.

What happened at the launch of The Harper Effect? 

Launch of The Harper Effect (Noosa News)

I had an amazing time at the official launch of The Harper Effect on the Sunshine Coast. One of my hopes for my book is that teens and in fact people of all ages are inspired to both chase their dreams (sporting or not), but to also stay in sport and even achieve professional levels in sport. So I put together a panel of young elite athletes as examples of real life Harpers. I wanted the audience to see that no matter their dream, these girls were living proof that with hard work and dedication, self-motivation and focus, you can achieve what you set out to. I’m also very keen to give our teens new role models in our literature. Instead of giving them images of beauty to live up to, let’s give them sporty, confident and successful heroines in books to look up to. The panel were living and breathing role models too.

For whom have you written this book?

The book was dedicated to my brother. He played the professional circuit before becoming a professional tennis coach. He coached young players like Amelie Mauresmo and Marcos Baghdatis, who were at the time in their teens. While The Harper Effect is not based on him or his experiences, as the story is completely fictional, the facts and details that I learnt from him are an important part of the authenticity of the setting of the novel.

I know it’s only just been published but have you received any responses that have particularly resonated with you from readers?

Yes, the main ones being that everyone loves Colt and Milo and that the tennis part of the book surprised them. Many readers found the setting of the world of professional tennis to be very interesting. They reported that they looked at the play at the recent Australian Open through new eyes. That was very gratifying. They also felt inspired to follow their dreams or meet their goals.

What books are you reading at the moment (or recently)? 

I’m currently re-reading Jandy Nelson’s I’ll Give You The Sun. She is one of my favourite American YA writers. The book before that was Margaret Atwood’s The Robber Bride. I’ve not come across a Margaret Atwood book I don’t love 😊 Looking at my list (I keep a list that highlights my thoughts on the books I’ve read, and I also make a note of the publisher), the book before that was Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief – also a re-read because his writing is so dense you need to re-read it so you don’t miss any of his gorgeous phrasing!

Thanks for your thoughtful responses, Taryn and all the best with The Harper Effect.

Thank you very much. And all the very best to you too.

Taryn’s YouTube channel

Between Us by Clare Atkins

Thanks very much for speaking to Boomerang Books blog, Clare. Your two YA novels Nona and Me and Between Us are memorable, thought-provoking and ‘uncomfortable’ in the best way. I learn and am changed by them.

Thank you! I don’t think I could ask for any better feedback than that as an author.

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

I’m based in Darwin. There are a few YA writers up here who I see at events and workshops. I also travel to Sydney fairly regularly, mostly for TV scriptwriting work. There’s a YA author meet-up there, which I attend when I can. I’ve also met lots of YA writers through speaking at writing festivals. I can’t speak highly enough of the supportive, fun and vibrant community – YA authors are the best!

How has your television scriptwriting enhanced your novel writing?

TV writing has taught me a lot about structure, flow, characterisation and weaving multiple story strands together. I wrote both my novels as a kind of hybrid, in which each segment or chapter is really a scene that needs to move the action forward. And I am very comfortable writing dialogue – my books probably have slightly more than average.

Your first novel, Nona & Me (Black Inc), achieved critical acclaim. I reviewed it for the Weekend Australian here.  How were you able to describe this Aboriginal experience in the Northern Territory with such authority?

I don’t know about authority but I definitely did thorough research and consultation over a couple of years. I was also living in Yirrkala, the community in the novel, at the time. I interviewed many community members, both in the mining town and Aboriginal community, and worked closed with a wonderful Yolngu cultural advisor and teacher called Merrkiyawuy Ganambarr-Stubbs. Without her advice and feedback I don’t think I could’ve written the novel.

To what does your title, Between Us (Black Inc), refer? Which came first, your title, the story or something else?

I am interested in the spaces between people and how, in the absence of knowledge, fear or love can fill the void. I liked that the title had a number of interpretations. Between who – Ana and Jono? Or Jono and Kenny? Or Kenny and Ana? And is what is ‘between us’ holding us together or pushing us apart? The characters came first – I wanted to explore characters representing different eras of immigration in Australia and was excited about having a character – Jono – with my own cultural background.

What is the significance of the cover? 

The cover is based on some photos I took in Darwin during the wet season. The moody skies up here during storms are breathtaking, both beautiful and ominous at the same time, as I hoped the novel would be too. I sent the photos to the publisher who forwarded them to the cover designer. I liked the phone lines as a visual reference to both connection and distance; one of the ways Jono and Ana are able to connect is on the phone. And birds are a repeated motif in the novel – a symbol of freedom, a point of connection and a link to memories for Jono, Kenny and Ana.

How does Between Us differ from Nona & Me? Are there any similarities?

I think I’ve experimented a lot more in Between Us. I wanted to push myself as a writer. Nona & Me was my first novel and whilst I played with structure it was still in prose from a single point of view. Between Us is from three different cultural perspectives and incorporates sections of verse. And whilst Nona & Me was a personal exploration of Indigenous politics, Between Us focuses more on immigration and multiculturalism.

Clare Atkins

How were you able to access information about life inside a detention centre and then form it into fiction?

Weaving real life stories into fiction is my favourite thing to do. It takes a lot of research – this time around three years worth. A lot of the interviews had to be ‘off the table’; people were happy to talk but didn’t want their name attached to the book in case it caused trouble for their jobs or visa applications. I have spent time inside Villawood as a volunteer helping to run activities for kids, and visited asylum seekers in Wickham Point. I also worked with an Iranian cultural advisor, Shokufeh Kavani.

You’ve written from several different viewpoints in Between Us, even from an adult character’s perspective. Could you introduce us to your major characters?

How have you differentiated between their voices?

Jono is a half-Vietnamese, half-Australian sixteen year old boy, who has had a rough time lately. His mum walked out, he got dumped by his first real girlfriend and his older sister has just moved away to Uni. He feels like he’s been left behind with his Vietnamese father Kenny; the two of them have a volatile relationship at best. Jono starts the novel in verse – he’s in a depressed state and can only take in the bare minimum. Then he meets Ana…

Ana is a fifteen year old Iranian asylum seeker who is only allowed out of detention to attend school. She desperately wants to be a ‘normal’ teenage girl, but her life inside is far from standard. Her mum is pregnant, her little brother is desperate to get out and run, and her mum’s boyfriend is stuck on Nauru. Ana’s voice is initially curious and passionate and determined.

Kenny is Jono’s father. He was sponsored out to Australia by his older sister, Minh, who arrived with the first boatloads of Vietnamese refugees. Kenny has just started work as a guard at the detention centre where Ana lives. Kenny is confused by the various thoughts and feelings swirling around the issue of asylum seekers. His voice is informed by his Vietnamese culture and his insider’s perspective as both a guard and as Jono’s father.

Which character would you like to write more about?

I’d like to write more about Kenny. He’s such a multifaceted character who has access to so many different worlds. He’s Vietnamese but has now spent almost half his life in Australia. He’s a father but is still working out life himself. He’s the brother of a boat person who now guards asylum seekers. I love that he is complex and confused and flawed but very real.

I was excited by your changing use of verse in the novel. Could you share what you’ve done?

I wanted to use verse to convey emotional state. When you’re depressed it is hard to communicate or connect to the outer world in more than short bursts or impressions. It was a bit of an experiment – I’m excited that you liked it.

You mention Australian hip-hop band The Hilltop Hoods. Why this band?

I spoke to some Iranian young people who talked about Iranian rap and hip-hop and how political and dangerous it can be. I looked for an Australian equivalent as a point of connection for Jono and Ana. Hilltop Hoods takes me back to my early twenties so I suppose I had an existing affection for them. I liked that they are sometimes political but can also be playful – they have a freedom that Iranian hip-hop artists don’t have.

In the novel you’ve referred to other literary texts such as The Outsiders, The Rabbits, The Simple Gift and Home in the Sky. Why these books?

They are all books and authors I love and admire. They also feed into the central themes of the novel about insiders and outsiders, culture and colonisation, connection and distance, freedom and belonging.

Why is the novel a powerful forum to alert people to the plight of refugees and those in detention centres? What would you encourage your readers to do next?

I think the best stories in any medium are the ones that start a conversation. I hope that the novel allows readers to gain a new perspective through vicariously experiencing life behind the barbed wire fence. Empathy and understanding are the foundation of social change. What readers do after that is of course up to them, but I’d be thrilled if they discussed it, attended a rally, wrote to a politician, visited someone in detention, volunteered, talked to someone they otherwise might not, or voted differently…every bit contributes to reframing an ‘issue’ as something human and personal and important…

What books are you reading at the moment (or recently)?

Books that I’ve enjoyed lately include Kirsty Eagar’s Summer Skin, a smart YA romance that looks at modern hook-up culture with a feminist slant, and The Good Girl of China Town, a bravely honest cross-cultural memoir about Jenevieve Chang’s experiences as a dancer in Shanghai’s first burlesque club.

Thanks for your insightful answers, Clare. I’ve learned even more! All the best with Between Us.

Thank you!

A Taste of Australia – Picture Book Reviews

Summer holidays in Australia is a time to explore, discover and engage in the recreation of all the wonderful features, landscapes, flora and fauna that this country has to offer. And with Australia Day just around the corner, it is also a time to reflect on the past and show appreciation and respect for the way our nation has been shaped. The following picture books include an ode to the sacred sites and traditions of the Indigenous people, as well as some humorous and unique nuances.

Beginning with the multi award-winning title that has the nation on its feet, A is for Australia (a factastic tour) by Frané Lessac is literally a national treasure, with this current edition printed in a beautiful paperback format.
Explore this geographical wealth of gems from A to Z as you travel and learn exciting facts about sights, people and animals around Australia. Each page gloriously illustrated in vibrant, scene-appropriate colours and a perfectly naive style that makes this pictorial encyclopaedia so accessible to all its readers. The text is congruously dispersed and proportioned around the spreads for easy readability.
Amazing and studiously researched facts that will entice international newcomers and excite local citizens to race towards a most pleasurable tour and cultural education of our fascinating land, Australia.

Walker Books, January 2018.

I love the ironically oblivious know-it-all in A Walk in the Bush; an interesting yet remarkably witty bushwalk through nature whilst appreciating the ones we love.
Gwyn Perkins writes this tale with an interactive dialogue spoken by Grandad to cat Iggy that so clearly imitates a typical grandparent (or parent) lovingly and knowingly sharing an experience with his little one. Her illustrations also expressively characterise these personalities and add plenty of humour with their facial expressions and body language and funny little surprises to look out for.
Who will spot the wildlife first? Can Grandad distinguish between the songs of magpies and kookaburras? What will he teach Iggy about trees, eucalyptus leaves and scribbly marks made by a caterpillar in the bark?
A Walk in the Bush is a fun, and funny, way to encourage togetherness and appreciate the enchanting facets of the Australian outdoors.

Affirm Press, July 2017.

Colour Me by Ezekiel Kwaymullina, illustrated by Moira Court, is a beautiful representation of the amazingly colourful world we live in and what makes us diversely human. Forging a love and respect for the differences in people, creatures and scenery around us is an important message emanating from this story.
Told in a playful manner readers can also be encouraged to imagine their own creatively colourful world by brainstorming what they would be if they were a particular colour. For example, “If I was orange I’d be as wild as the flickering fire. And I’d dash through the bush with daring dingos.” These lyrically whimsical phrases continue with each hue in the shape of a rainbow, illustrated with vibrant silkscreen prints from hand cut stencils.
Tolerance and diversity are at the heart of this tale, with a wonderful Aussie flavour including some of our unique fauna and landscapes. A beautiful read for preschool-aged children.

Fremantle Press, July 2017.

Here’s a gorgeous story of a little girl with a brimful of excuses as to why she can’t go to the park, and a Grandpa with a bucket load of creative problem solving solutions. Sally Morgan expresses The Perfect Thing in the most authentic and evocative language, whilst illustrator Ambelin Kwaymullina perfectly captures this lively spirit through her bold and dynamic varied layouts.
When the dog ate her sneakers, Grandpa finds the ‘perfect thing’ for Lily girl with his thongs that can act as whale flippers. When the cat shredded her raincoat, Grandpa suggests that Lily pretend to puff up a plastic bag like a balloon and float to the park. Finally at the park, Lily contributes her own innovative resourcefulness for a ‘perfect’ day out together.
Featuring Australian animals and characteristically artistic Indigenous traits, The Perfect Thing is a refreshing and wonderfully imaginative story for early childhood readers to share with their elders.

Scholastic Australia, July 2017.

This hilarious rhyming romp sets straight any misunderstandings about the official specification of our beloved national icon; the koala. Jackie French, legendary laureate behind the Diary of a Wombat series, together with talented illustrator Matt Shanks, present this clarifying tale of Koala Bare.
There’s no denying, this koala is unapologetically dead set against being called a bear. And he’s not afraid to express his view. He is not a picnic-loving teddy, nor a bamboo-eating panda, a fish-gnawing polar bear or a honey-sucking bear from a fairy tale. He certainly doesn’t wear clothes. He is BARE, and he is an individual, and that’s the way he likes it.
Koala Bare exposes the most energetically adorable watercolour illustrations and such a headstrong attitude. It is so loveable and persuasive that its young readers will be readily spreading the message to all of their friends.

Angus & Robertson, September 2017.


Common People by Tony Birch

‘Common’ in Tony Birch’s new collection of short stories, Common People (University of Queensland Press) could allude to the commonality – shared traits and unity – of people, or the working-class roots of many of his characters. Either way, these stories are unflinching accounts of Aboriginal, poor, vulnerable, victimised or depraved characters. Many have fine hearts despite their disadvantaged circumstances.

Birch employs recurring symbols and themes such as stars; drugs and drug dealing; unwell, collapsing men and positive girl figures throughout the tales. He tells stories through the eyes of young or child narrators here – and across much of his fiction.

The first story, ‘The Ghost Train’ is a memorable, seemingly despairing account of two women who work their first night shift at a meat packing factory. And yet the word “HOPE” is inscribed on Maria’s T-shirt, albeit on a picture of Barack Obama’s face.

‘Harmless’ is one of several stories featuring a positive, proactive, young girl. An old hermit-like man living alone in a hut helps the girl narrator – who has a certain freedom and agency from riding her bike – care for another young female, abused 14-year-old Rita. This tale evokes the roaming boys in Birch’s Ghost River and their encounters with a group of old men. (I have previously blogged about Ghost River.)

‘Death Star’ integrates two of Birch’s prevalent concerns in this collection – drugs and stars as a symbol. Young Dominic doesn’t go to his older brother’s funeral. His brother was a car thief and died in a car accident. He also loved stars.

‘Liam’ is a powerful recount about Liam who was locked up at the age of 16 for robbery. The young narrator’s religious Catholic family took him in and, as a charismatic storyteller, Liam became a loved family member. However, his pet dog, Sally Ann, became aggressive when something terrible happened.

‘Sissy’ also appears in The Best Australian Stories 2017, edited by Maxine Beneba Clarke. Sissy is chosen by the nuns to have a holiday with another family. She becomes uneasy after her friend Betty tells her of a girl she knows in a similar situation who didn’t return from her holiday.

Viola, a Madam, breaks her own rules to care for young Gabriel when he is brought to her brothel in the eviscerating ‘Frank Slim’.

A company tries to return cremated remains to their next of kin in ‘Raven & Sons’; a reformed (or not) alcoholic grandmother looks after her grandson for the first time in ‘Worship’; grown men are ailing in ‘Paper Moon’, ‘Joe Roberts’ and ‘Painted Glass’; and Aboriginal characters feature in ‘The White Girl’ and ‘Colours’.

Australia Day by Melanie Cheng

Australia Day (Text Publishing) by Melanie Cheng is worth highlighting as the 26th January draws near. The celebration of Australia Day is currently under fire and this work explores life in Australian society and on Australia Day itself from the viewpoints of characters from a range of backgrounds and beliefs. It is perhaps shaped more as a commentary than a criticism of Australia and Australia Day, although its smooth yet sharp edges niggle the reader to ponder about the diverse lives of those who live in Australia and what Australia Day may mean to those of non-Anglo (particularly Asian-Australian) heritage.

This book of short stories was the Winner of the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an Unpublished Manuscript. It was then shortlisted for the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards for Fiction in 2017 and is currently longlisted for the Indie Book Award for Debut Fiction. Australia Day is Chinese-Australian Melanie Cheng’s debut literary publication. She lives in Melbourne where she works as a general practitioner.

The first story is ‘Australia Day’, a sweltering account of Stanley Chu’s uncomfortable visit to fellow medical student Jess’s family home. Hong Kong-born Stanley is out of place amongst the family’s form of celebration, epitomised by Jess’s father’s ignorant racism.

Syrian au pair, Leila, visits the Northern Territory in ‘Big Problems’. South African woman, Ellen, repeats that there are “big problems” caused by non-White races, without seeming to notice or recognise Leila’s heritage.

Tania carries capsicum spray, expecting abuse as she works at the car registry in ‘Ticket-Holders Number 5’ and Deepak, a doctor, is victimised in ‘Fracture’, giving another side to this issue.

My favourite story is ‘Muse’, about old Evan whose wife Lola has died, and his bossy daughter Bea who keeps an eye on him. Evan’s life changes when Bea brings her partner, Edwina, to dinner. Edwina is an artist who was “highly commended in the Archibald” art awards. Edwina introduces Evan to life-drawing and he becomes obsessed with the model. As the narrative moves forward, the author also offers glimpses into Evan’s past, particularly his affair with Ana from the milk bar, who wasn’t beautiful like Lola, but “didn’t slip out of my hands like silk when I held her”. A grandson completes Evan’s transformation.

‘Mrs Chan’ encapsulates the book with a tender portrayal of an old woman from Hong Kong cooking for her grandson’s twentieth birthday on Australia Day. This completes a thought-provoking cycle.

Animals Behaving Badly – Playful Picture Books

Holiday time is playtime and what better way to indulge in the joy of life than with a playful picture book or two. I could wax lyrical about all of these titles all year long, so if you love animals behaving badly in picture books that crack you up, check out these recent releases before summer is through.

Stanley’s Playing the Trumpet by John Field and Tull Suwannakit

It’s not mandatory, but pop on the bonus CD of this cheerful tale about a determined musical maestro as you read this picture book, and you’ll soon be jazzing around the lounge room. Catchy verse by Field and the most sublime illustrations by Suwannakit bring Stanley, his sister, Fran and the entire crazy band alive with pulsing alliteration and an underlying message of when at first you don’t succeed, look for an alternative. Fulfilling your potential and finding your true talent are old themes drummed into exuberant new life with Stanley. Little musicians from four upwards will love jiggling to this.

Scholastic Press September 2017

What the Ladybird Heard on Holiday by Julia Donaldson and Lydia Monks

Keep your ears and eyes tuned on reliable rhyming verse as you escort ladybird on another action-packed holiday. Yes, she’s off again, full of glorious glitter (on every page, as promised), this time to the London Zoo. There’s the usual cacophony of interesting sounds to experience until she spies two old foes and overhears their dastardly wicked plan to kidnap a monkey and coerce him into stealing the Queen’s crown. In her quietly indomitable way, ladybird alerts the zoo’s menagerie and cleverly foils the crime. Who says being small and quiet would never amount to anything! This is a longish but lavishly illustrated and executed picture book to share with 3 – 5-year-olds.

Macmillan Children’s Books July 2017

Rodney Loses It! by Michael Gerard Bauer and Chrissie Krebs

Chaotic unfortunate, Rodney has but one overriding desire, to draw. He lives and breathes it, even does it in his sleep. There is only one thing Rodney loves more, Penny Pen, his penultimate writing companion and perhaps the most treasured thing in his universe. So imagine the immense, blood-draining, trauma he endures when Penny goes missing! We’ve all been there; that frantic, irrational, world’s-end place we find ourselves in when we can’t find … a pen, never mind a favourite pen. When Penny disappears, Rodney loses it – big time. Thankfully, as with most cases of gross- oversightednesstitis, Rodney and Penny are eventually reunited, enabling Rodney to carry on with his life’s vocation. Written with Bauer’s usual witty observation and playfully illustrated by Krebs this is a supremely silly and joyful story encapsulating a common creative crisis that pre-schoolers and anyone who ‘loves nothing more than drawing‘ will appreciate.

Omnibus Books September 2017

Pig the Star by Aaron Blabey

Most of us are well acquainted with the recalcitrant pug, Pig. He is nothing if not one to ever shy away from the lime light. In fact, he obstinately refuses to give it up in this instalment of pug-mania after he and Trevor are invited on a big photo shoot. Fame and adulation transform the repugnant pug to even greater (or lower) levels of nasty until a talent scout recognises the true star of the show. Thus begins Trevor, the sausage dog’s prima ballerina career. Will Pig allow Trevor his moment to shine? That is the question for future Pig tales and one I bet Pig fans can’t wait to find out.

Scholastic September 2017

The Wolf The Duck & The Mouse by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen

I adore this picture book team. They collaborate without preamble and with pure comic purpose. This tale exemplifies the sublimely ridiculous situation of a mouse swallowed by a wolf only to discover he is not alone inside the wolf. Duck resides there with all the contentment of one whose life is now without woes and worries, like being eaten by wolves. Duck and Mouse enjoy an indulgent lifestyle within the wolf’s belly until one day a hunter threatens their existence. Together they work to restore calm although, for Wolf, his debt to them subjects him to nightly anguish, thus the howling wolf. Subtle, hilarious and as ever, ingenious, this tale of making the best of your situation and living with others is destined as another Barnett Klassen classic.

Walker Books 2017

Koalas eat gum leaves. by Laura and Philip Bunting

Another classic in the making is by the talented Bunting husband and wife team. Superbly sparse and blunt to the point of overwhelming shortness and sweetness, I absolutely adore this tale of one errant koala’s quest to find something more palatable to eat than boring old gum leaves. While it’s true koalas are notoriously hard to please, eating only a specific few species of gum leaves, this rebellious marsupial bunks that idea after a gluttonous episode of ice cream guzzling. And, like all young kids who have had too much of a good thing, soon lives to regret it. Delectable linear drawings and bold contemporary text make this one hard to resist. Highly recommended for pre-schoolers and nature lovers everywhere.

Omnibus Books October 2017

There’s a Big Green Frog in the Toilet by Anh Do and Heath McKenzie

Anh Do does silly with remarkable sincerity. Along with McKenzie’s action-crammed slapstick illustrations, this latest zany title epitomises the crushing need to pee and not being able to. A bonus CD lets you sing-a-long to little bear’s demise when a big green frog lands in his toilet making this a nutty take on the red-back-on-the-toilet-seat situation. Frivolous fun sure to win a seat for three-year-olds and above and people with frog fetishes.

Scholastic Press October 2017



Dim’s Christmas Crackers List # 6 – Just For Fun

It’s so exciting – being on the cusp of Christmas. If you are still anxious about the book-sized gaps left in your children’s Christmas stockings though, worry no more. Here is my final list of cracking good Chrissy reads for the year. We’ve covered meaningful and moving, so here are some just for fun titles, to fill you with all the merriment the season entails. If they don’t quite make it to you in time, save them for next year; there’s nothing like getting ahead with Santa! I hope you’ve enjoyed our Kids’ Book Bests this year and can’t wait to share even more fabulous titles from the world of children’s books with you in 2018.

Junior Novels

Sage Cookson’s Christmas Ghost by Sally Murphy and Celeste Hulme

We’ve met Sage and her sassy cooking-based series before but this one takes the cake, or rather Pavlova! Frolicsome fun ensues after Sage and her celeb chef parents arrive in Western Australia to record a world-record attempt by Chef Myra to make the world’s largest ever pavlova. In spite of the fiercely debated origins of this quintessentially Christmassy summertime dessert and some irksome ghostly going ons, Sage eventually wades through gallons of meringue to save the day – and the record attempt. Best bit, of course – the delicious pav recipe in the back. A jolly addition to any Christmas stocking.

New Frontier Publishing November 2017

PS Who Stole Santa’s Mail? by Dimity Powell

Well it wouldn’t be Christmas without mentioning this little ripper now, would it. Can Sam and Tobii save Santa’s reputation and Sam’s kidnapped little sister before the Delivery Book is closed for the year? This light-hearted Christmas mystery, chockers with elves, weird smells, stolen Christmas wishes, nasty rashes and disappearing mailboxes is a spirited stocking filler ideal for 7 – 10 year-olds that is guaranteed to sustain the magic of believing. Just ask the author if you don’t believe me!

Morris Publishing Australia October 2012

Fun Picture Books

I Went to See Santa by Paul Howard

This picture book is positively exploding with festive fun. Based on the popular memory game and akin to the Twelve Days of Christmas, this story begins with a young boy who, with his new glasses, spies an outlandish assortment of Christmassy things including penguins, reindeers and snowballs. With a faint acknowledgement of beloved Christmas pantomimes, this is a jolly crowd pleaser great for 4 – 7 year-olds.

Bloomsbury November 2017

Santa’s Gone Surfing by P. Crumble and Thomas Fitzpatrick

It’s gratifying see good old Santa in his boardies catching waves albeit a little unconventional. This is, after all, the way many Aussie kids picture Christmas. Crumble’s bonzer rhyming ditty starts with one hot grumpy Santa throwing a major wobbly. He abandons his red suit and boots for boardies and zinc cream leaving poor, barely qualified, emergency Santa, Trevor to recruit a new sleigh-pulling team (a flock of beady-eyed Emus if you don’t mind) and commission a new sleigh (obligatory rusty ute) with which to complete the Southern Hemisphere deliveries, which he does, brilliantly. It’s a jovial win win situation freeing up more surfing time for Santa every year. Littlies and surfers alike will warm to this chipper tale.

Koala Books imprint of Scholastic October 2017

The Naughtiest Reindeer Takes a Bow by Nicki Greenberg

Ruby is back in all her glorious glittery naughtiness. It’s not that she deliberately tries to derail Christmas; it’s just that Ruby’s intentions always end up a little askew. This year, she is determined to get a head start with the deliveries but inadvertently gets horribly, hilariously sidetracked. It’s not until she is centre stage in a school musical that she remembers there was something important left undone. Delightful mayhem for fans of this ruby red-nosed reindeer.

Allen & Unwin October 2017

Pig the Elf by Aaron Blabey

Pig the pugnacious Pug is back, this time competing with his little mate Trevor for Santa’s affections. Actually is not affection Pig is after at all, but rather sackfuls of presents. His greed and overt excessive selfishness is what makes Pig so utterly unlikeable and yet so fantastically addictive. I have used this book in early childcare centres and Kindergartens where it has huge crowd appeal. An excellent example of naughty and nice and how you may only end up with ‘just desserts’ if you are too greedy. Obnoxious hilarity in the highest degree, recommended for pre-schoolers and above.

Scholastic September 2017


A Christmas Menagerie Edited by Beattie Alvarez

This cheerful collection of predominantly animal inspired Christmas tales will make a gay addition under any Christmas tree. Popular children’s authors and illustrators have created stories that neighbour tales from not so well known writers yet are all redolent of that delicious Christmas spirit. From wombats to pudding making bears, turtles to curious sausage dogs, this anthology of short stories is lusciously illustrated and ideal to read aloud with younger readers or as a meaningful gift for more confident readers. Heartedly recommended reading.

Christmas Press November 2017

Activity Book

Create Your Own Christmas by Isabel Thomas and Katie Abey

This book declares that Christmas is far too important to leave in the hands of Santa and a bunch of elves. It urges you to ‘take control of your festive destiny’, and what better way to do so than to cut, colour and construct your OWN CHRISTMAS! I love the premise of this definitely-not-boring activity book. Every single colour-saturated page is packed with things to make and do. Advent calendars, decorations, Chrissy cards, Christmas crackers, party hats, gift tags, Santa launchers – it’s all here in with instructions to make mess and have FUN! Just what you need to keep them occupied for longer than it takes to baste a turkey. Have fun with it, this Christmas.

Bloomsbury November 2017



Review: Unearthed by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner


UNEARTHED by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner is a completely fun space adventure, featuring codes, puzzles, aliens, ancient tombs, and some epic gun fights! I’ve heard it pitched as “Indiana Jones in space” and you know what? That is not wrong. It could also be called a YA book version of the iPhone game Temple Run. So that’s exciting. It’s such a fun story, not super deep or scary but with plenty of twists and booby traps and the occasional burst of witty snark.

The story follows two dual narrators, Jules and Amelia, who end up stuck together on a wild adventure to find an alien temple even though they kind of hate each other. They have very very different goals. Amelia needs to steal some alien tech to sell so she can rescue her sister. And Jules is a studious genius scholar child who needs to prove his father wasn’t wrong about the aliens and get him out of prison. They’re such opposites, but after running for their lives from bloodthirsty raiders, they end up tangled in the complex puzzles of the alien temple. Are the puzzles here to save them or kill them?

I loved the raiders and scavengers in space story line! It was really different for me, ergo exciting. We totally have that moment where the geeks are like: “OH AN ANCIENT AMAZING TEMPLE.” And the raiders follow up with: “wow sorry ok but I just blew it up.” This is so true to the heart of Indiana Jones. See something precious and archeological? Ruin it. Such a human thing to do.

There was also that “learning how to survive” curve since Jules is a nerdy academic and tries to go on an action adventure and bring everything (including the kitchen stove) and also probably irons his pants. Amelia has a lot to sort out with him.

Both our narrators were super winning. It was really easy to root for them, even though their goals clashed so much. There’s a lot of lies and sneaking about as each tries to manipulate the other. I particularly loved Jules who was the kind of guy who knew how to spice up boring ration food because, yes, he brought spices with him. He kept his clothes neat and was forever scribbling in his notebook while trying to solve alien puzzles. He’s a super genius and super dork.

Amelia was hilarious and clever. She was kickass but also had emotion and wry humour and even though we never meet the little sister she’s trying to save in this volume, I really cared about both these sisters and the fact that Amelia will literally go to a strange planet with dubious amounts of air to breathe to get money to save her family?! Amelia is best.

The dialogue and banter were fantastic! I do wish there’d been more because there was quite a lot of monologuing and description, but it was still great to get into both characters’ thought processes.

The entire plot was pretty wild. We get everything from gun battles to running-for-your-life-through-an-uncharted-temple to booby trapped rooms where if you don’t think fast, you’ll end up dead. Not to mention add in spaceships and forgotten civilisations. I loved that old musty vibe of the tomb-like temple. The plot was forever pushed forward too by the enemy raiders who would almost definitely not hesitate to dump a couple of kids down a ravine. It’s a highstakes adrenaline race!

UNEARTHED is a really fantastic start to a new sci-fi series that’ll make you foam at the mouth a little in anticipation for the sequel. It’s from the same duo who gave us the These Broken Stars duology too!

Nostalgic about Aussie Summer – Picture Book Reviews

There’s nothing like an Aussie Christmas than the fresh scent of Summer mixed with a fragrance of fond memories and the savour of new ones. That’s how the following picture books will entice their readers, both young and old – with peace, unity and joy as we pleasure in the warmth of the festive and summery holiday season in Australia.

Corinne Fenton and Robin Cowcher return with another stunning ‘Little Dog’ story. From the iconic Melbourne in the previous, magical Christmas tale, Little Dog and the Summer Holiday takes Jonathan, Annie and their precious Westie, with caravan in tow, on holiday to the idyllic sites of Sydney. Immediately, Fenton paints a gloriously detailed adventure full of evocative language that is sure to bring about that nostalgic cue of wonderful family trips of yesteryear. Passing legendary landmarks such as the Dog on the Tuckerbox and Sydney Harbour Bridge, paddling at Bondi Beach and rattling “down the mountainside on the steepest scenic railway in the world” all make for an exciting, memorable holiday with family, friends, and of course, beloved pets.

Cowcher’s whimsical illustrations add a pleasurable sense of romanticism that capture the beauty and evocation of holidays like this. Parents and children will equally delight in Little Dog and the Summer Holiday, either reminding of the good old days, or enthusing a predilection for future family vacations. A beautiful book.

Black Dog Books, Walker Books, November 2017.

Summer – peaceful, tranquil, cheerful and contentment. Words that describe that special feeling of rest, fun and togetherness during the sunny season. And words that describe the special feeling emanating from this book by June Factor and sublime creator Alison Lester. Thirty years in print and Summer still feels as good as a homemade steamin’ puddin’ on a balmy Christmas Day.

Factor’s simple, silky and smooth Aussie voice shines through with robust rhyming character as we are swept up in a temperamental mix of family antics, Summer nuances and changing weather during the hot festive season. Lester’s legendary scenic art and winsome characters keep us occupied throughout with all the glorious combinations of farmyard outlooks and high-spirited busyness, respectively. From flies a gatherin’ to early morning rises, kin gatherin’ and present opening, pork a cracklin’ and raising glasses, clouds gatherin’ and making a bolt for cover, and finally napping and playing ‘til the stars are gatherin’ in the night sky.

Summer is a book of leisure, affection and ambience that will remain a classic to treasure and indulge in all the year round.

Viking Penguin Random House, November 2016. First edition 1987.


Dim’s Christmas Cracker List # 5 – Meaningful Christmas Tales

The tinsel is hung, the carols are sung. Tchaikovsky’s, The Nutcracker courses merrily in the background and hope hovers amidst every batch of gingerbread cookies. There’s no doubt, Christmas is well and truly upon us. However, if you are still in search of a meaningful Christmas tale to share with your young ones, consider these. They are all full of heart and soul and more than just a little good old-fashioned Christmas magic.

Dim’s Pick of the Season

The Girl Who Saved Christmas by Matt Haig and Chris Mould

If you are ever in need of a little magic, if you ever find yourself questioning reason, if your festive spirit is ever waning, hope is here, with Matt Haig. This is superb storytelling for midgrade readers all the way through to 99-year-olds. Following on from Haig and Mould’s first collaboration, A Boy Called Christmas, this tale works so well at suspending belief and infusing hope, you’d be forgiven for feeling you’ve already met Father Christmas. Maybe you have. Haig takes what we have already been led to believe and crystallizes it into one big fat tangible beautiful believable Christmas miracle. Mould’s illustrations enhance an already magical tale with strokes of Dickenson brilliance. A Christmas must read – every year. Sublime to read aloud to little people or to cherish alone as you would the last fruit mince pie. Read, A Boy Called Christmas first to truly fortify your Christmas spirit, then Father Christmas and Me.

A & U Canongate November 2016

Continue reading Dim’s Christmas Cracker List # 5 – Meaningful Christmas Tales

Dim’s Christmas Crackers List # 3 – Junior Novels

Do you have an emerging confident reader keen to fill their newly acquired ravenous literary appetite? Youngsters between 5 – 9 years are discovering at this age that stories can occur in the most wildly absurd wonderful places and that junior novels, like these, are their invitations to new words and new adventures. By feeding them regular healthy doses of junior fiction, you will nourish their love for reading and keep them satisfied well into the holidays. Here are some suggestions:

Younger Junior Novels 5 – 7 years

D-Bot Squad Series by Mac Park and James Hunt

Bold, bright and busting with high-action adventure, this series is brilliant for early readers. Controlled use of vocabulary, illustrations and diagrams all contribute to wicked reads with Books 1 – 6 released this year and more to follow in 2018. Kids will love following Hunter Marks on his dino hunting missions after he wins a computer game and becomes a member of D-Bot Squad. High-energy fun.

Allen & Unwin July 2107

Sally Rippin presents…Super Moopers Series by Fiona Harris and Scott Edgar

This whacky series is decidedly visual with full colour illustrations dominating each page. Text is minimal but enhanced with varying font sizes for emphasis and wow factor. Each book examines a particular Mooper character of Moopertown, the first being Dramatic Dom. The stories encourage kids to get to know each individual better and appreciate their strengths and weaknesses. The notion that everyone is special in his or her own special way is the theme that meanders throughout this collection.

Five Mile Bonnier Publishing 2017

Stinky Spike the Pirate Dog by Peter Meisel and Paul Meisel

This jolly attractive little hardcover book is part of the Read & Bloom Books series, which invite youngsters on wondrous adventures with lovable wily characters, like Stinky Spike, using mindfully sparse narrative and beguiling illustrations. Colourful and merry, these are the type of stories that really do plant the love of reading!

Bloomsbury Children’s Books March 2017

Junior Novels 6 – 9 years

Little Paws Series by Jess Black and Gabriel Evans

Who could resist a golden puffball of fluff with a tail? This heart-warming series is about puppies that train to become Guide Dogs. Each story is about a puppy, like Harley in the first book, and the families that train them. Lightly illustrated with Evan’s charming drawings and full of puppy pranks and incidents, this series is sure to sate your cuteness quota.  Buying these books also helps puppies like Harley become fully fledged Guide Dogs. Win win!

Penguin Random House 2017

Sage Cookson’s Series by Sally Murphy and Celeste Hulme

I love this quirky cooking orientated series about 10-year-old Sage, daughter of celebrity chef parents with an insatiable passion for…wait for it…food! Together they travel the globe encountering more than their fair share of not so nice-tasting situations and characters. Murphy cleverly combines every day normal with generous dollops of extraordinary. The latest titles include a sojourn to Singapore and a Literary Launch for this delectable character.  Delicious fun for girls and culinary creators alike. And the best bit? A recipe in each book. Winner winner, chicken dinner!

New Frontier Publishing 2016 – 2017

Squishy Taylor Series by Ailsa Wild and Ben Wood

Squishy is the instantly likeable, utterly loveable heroine of this spirited series about dysfunctional blended families and all the glorious ‘normal’ zany events that occur within their orbits. Fast paced, age-clinching narrative is interspersed with illustrations that induce drama and humour.  The first book, Bonus Sisters, introduces us to Squishy’s family members and her unquenchable need to question – everything! Creative, curious, charmingly optimistic and just a touch naive, Squishy is just the type of hero little girls will love to emulate.

HGE February 2016

Saurus Street Series by Nick Falk and Tony Flowers

I’m not sure what the scientific explanation is for the fascination kids of this age possess for all things dinosaurs but my little miss did, too. Palaeophiliacs (lovers of dinosaurs and pre-historic thingies) will revel in this series, a few years old now but young in comparison to a Diplodocus, when you think about it. Stomping-mad fun made all the more believable by Flowers’ hilarious illustrations. Pletosaurauses in the bathtub, Diplodocuses in the tepees – Jack and Toby have all these and heaps more dino dilemmas to cope with on Saurus Street. It’s like the age of the dinosaurs never ended.

Random House September 2013

Ella Diaries Series by Meredith Costain and Danielle McDonald

Definitely one for the girls, this series is Tom Gates meets Dork Diaries for young girls. Interwoven with themes of friendship, teamwork, ponies, dancing, fashion, bullies and a whole year of diaries’ worth more, these stories will appeal to girls and their BFFs. Ella is utterly addictive thanks McDonald’s fantastic illustrations, just the sort of wiggles and pics and notations young girls are wont to scribble alongside their deepest most inner thoughts.  Fun, airy and tots on the money. Highly recommended.

Scholastic Australia 2015

Jake in Space Series by Candice Lemon-Scott and Celeste Hulme

Stunning spacey foil covers give way to equally scintillating storylines centring on space probing, Jake and his whacky team of mates and robots.

This series features galaxies of intergalactic fun sporting space-aged adventures mid-primary school kids can really get carried away with – providing they have their space suits on. There are six in the series, which gives young readers plenty of time and incentive to explore the entire universe! Did I mention the covers are truly out of this world!

New Frontier Publishing September 2014

Junior Novels Advanced Readers 8 years +

Countdown to Danger You Choose the Path To Survive! Series by Jack Heath

I LOVE an exciting pick-a-path-you-choose-the-path story! Having written one myself, I know how tricky it can be producing a convincing multi-ending story. It can also be colossal fun! Heath’s series adds a new dimension to 30 possible adventure storylines – a countdown. YOU the reader only have 30 minutes to choose the right path to survive. These stories are humming with danger, ethical decisions, survival dilemmas and plenty of problem solving, ideal for the inquisitive, questing mind.  Written in second person, as most choose your own adventure stories are, this series plants you smack bang in the middle of the action and you only have yourself to blame if things go horribly wrong. What’s not to love! Highly recommended for grip-the-edge-of-your-seat reading.

Scholastic Australia February 2016

You Choose… Series by George Ivanoff and James Hart

This expansive series is another choose your own adventure styled collection, which I just can’t get enough of. Ivanoff has created an amazing array of stories, each pulsing with high levels of interactivity. Again, YOU the reader must decide which options to take when faced with a dizzying selection of alternatives. Despite the choice, each chapter is concise enough to follow and complete within a relatively short timeframe, or even, to read aloud without confusion. Coupled with Hart’s explosive illustrations, it’s all very brilliant and, at times, just a little on the dark scary side. Pack some in your Christmas stockings this season – there’s a new release nearly every month!

Random House May 2014 – 2017








Aussie YA Lit For Your Christmas Wishlist

Christmas is a great time for plum pudding and tinsel and muted panic about trying to find the right gift for everyone. So the best and most logical option is obviously to just buy everyone you know a book. And what could be better than an Aussie book!? It goes really well with plum pudding. Total guarantee.

Today I want to list some really great Aussie Young Adult books that have been published in 2017 and might suit someone in your family’s fancy. Or just, you know, gift it to yourself. Christmas is a time for giving after all. (Even to yourself, shh, this is fine.)



This is definitely one of my new all time favourite books and it’s about two teens struggling with depression. It involves slam-poetry and a kebab shop and healing and learning to accept you’re not broken, but rather love yourself and let other people help you on your journey. Gideon is an absolute sweetheart and you’ll adore Ava’s determination not to collapse under her grief.




This is a brand new book that’s just hit the shelves and it’ll hit all your sci-fi cravings SO well. It’s about a dystopian world where a virus is wiping everyone out, and a genius scientist’s daughter is suddenly left alone after her dad is kidnapped by a dark organisation. Catarina has to crack the code to release the antidote to the world, with the help of a super-soldier named Cole and her own intelligence in science and technology. Definitely features lots of guns and running and small explosions.




This book is just downright hilarious, so if you’re looking for something that captures Australian wit and humour — like just drop everything and buy this book. Probably buy it for yourself too. It’s just so so funny. It’s about Anton who’s family is a long-line of ghost hunters. They help them move onto the afterlife as quietly and calmly as possible…until a girl from the “elite” British branch comes over and tries to shake things up with her sword and more violent but effective way of controlling ghosts. Mysteries unravel about the different ghost-hunting groups and there’s an extra spiteful rise in malevolent spirits. Except swords and bucket loads of coffee and quips in the face of death and a lot of ghosts.




This is such a sweet and lovely contemporary set in a small outback Australian town where Kirby is set for a boring existence until the most beautiful new girl moves into town. Kirby’s best friend, Clancy, immediately is ALL eyes for this new girl (options are limited okay) and Kirby promises to help play matchmaker…but the problem is she’s falling for Iris too. The book is the actual cutest thing and features quirky writing and goat soap and delicious Indian food and a protagonist who adores books which is, quite frankly, relatable.




Now this book is set in the USA, but it features 3 Australian teens who travel to a supercon to embrace all their nerdy glory. It swaps points-of-view between Taylor, who is an anxious booknerd with autism, and Charlie, who is a bisexual indie movie star trying to ditch a horrible ex-boyfriend (also, unfortunately, a costar) while she crushes hard on a local youtuber. The book takes place over 3 days and it’s full of action and amazing character devleopment and tons of pop-culture references. It’s super fun and you’ll root for Taylor and Charlie to get their dreams and speak up to their crushes. Definite must-read for all nerds and geeks!


Books for Boys with Felice Arena & Tristan Bancks

Felice Arena and Tristan Bancks have both written extremely exciting, atmospheric books for boys this year (and girls like them too).

I’ve interviewed them both for the blog and here are Felice’s replies. (Tristan features in the next post)

You both have distinctive first names. Where are they from?

I was named after my grandfather – a longstanding tradition for many first-born sons in Italian families. Felice is pronounced Feh-LEE-che. Imagine growing up with that name in Country Victoria! Felice actually means ‘happy’ in Italian. And it pretty much reflects who I am – happy by name, happy by nature. My family and friends these days just call me ‘Fleech’ for short. Occasionally I get Felix, which is the English version of Felice (but that just makes me think of the cartoon cat).

Where are you based at the moment?


You have both written an enviable backlist of books for boys. Could you mention some of these titles? 

The Specky Magee series, Sporty Kids, the Andy Roid series, Whippersnapper, and The Boy and the Spy.

I really enjoyed your gripping books published this year. Could you tell us about them – Felice about The Boy and the Spy and Tristan about The Fall (in the next post)?

The Boy and the Spy is a fast-paced WW2 adventure set in Sicily. A twelve year-old Antonio, an orphaned boy, has a chance meeting with an injured American spy hiding out in a grotto, the story launches into a heart-stopping story with action aplenty. Readers are kept in suspense as Antonio helps the spy evade German soldiers and gangsters, make contact with the Allies, and try to find a way to escape the island alive. An important theme carried throughout the story is the notion of family and how we define it.

What genre are they?

Historical-action novel.

Where are they set and how did you create the sense of place?

Wartime Sicily. My mother comes from that Italian isle and I still have relatives there. I’ve been to Sicily several times so I have a real sense of the terrain, which helped when writing the story. As far as the specific time period goes, that took a little more research, but I was able to consult with some family members to help authenticate the tone and settings in the book, and to capture 1943 in the dialogue, details from everyday life, and conditions related to the war.

How do you hook readers quickly into your story?

I love writing movement and action in my stories. A fast pace from the outset can engage some young reader who might not have the patience or attention span to read a slower unfolding plotline weighted down in meandering development. Adding a little movement with a sense of jeopardy or obstacles to overcome early on in the story is a good way to hook young readers quickly. Once they’ve connected with the characters in this way they’re more willing to pay attention to the deeper undercurrents of the story as they emerge farther along in the narrative.

Who are the major characters and why are they in this predicament?

There’s Antonio, an orphaned boy who is frowned upon and pretty much invisible in his seaside town. WW2 is the backdrop to his story, but for Antonio his daily battle is with prejudice. So when he meets a man who has literally dropped from the sky and talks to him as an equal and is desperate for his help, Antonio’s sees a chance to prove himself and deepen his own sense of self-worth. But with this unlikely alliance comes danger – the man is technically the enemy and Antonio is putting his life at risk to help him.

How is the writing style different from some of your other work?

This book heralds a new writing path for me. I’m known for writing contemporary sports-themed stories, and usually in third person. This book and my next book are written in first person and play out in a specific historical time and setting. I’ve wanted to write in this style for a long time, and I’m happy that it’s resonating with readers.

What do you think about each other’s book?

 I loved it. And I’m not just saying that because I know Tristan. What I admire about Tristan’s writing in this story, The Fall, (and Two Wolves) is that he never talks down to his reader. He doesn’t dumb it down. It’s smart and sharp writing, and it’s visual. I think Tristan and I share a love of cinematic storytelling. We both come from TV/film backgrounds, and I think this definitely comes through in our writing.

These books are both published by Penguin Random House. Do you cross paths because of that? Share editors? Go to meetings together?

We don’t share editors or go to the same meetings but we’ve attended the same events and festivals  – and have also shared the stage. Last year for PRH we gave a reading performance of Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr Fox at Federation Square in Melbourne. We’ve talked about doing more events together. 

What other books for boys would you recommend – recent and older?

Anything written by Michael Morpurgo, Neil Gaiman, Frank Cottrell Boyce, John Flanagan, David Almond, Gary Paulsen, Brian Selznick, Morris Gleitzman, Robert Newton, Adrian Beck, and… Tristan Bancks.

What are you writing about now or next?

I’m putting the final touches to another historical action story set in Paris in 1910 called Fearless Frederic. It’s about friendship, adventure, and what it means to have courage. It’s due to be published by Penguin Random House Australia April 2nd 2018.

What is significant to you about meeting your readers – as individuals or in a large group setting?

It’s incredibly significant. There’s no other joy like watching young readers hang onto every word you say as you read aloud to them. I would never pass up the opportunity to help jumpstart a love of reading in our next generation of book lovers. It’s also a chance for me to garner feedback and test out ideas – kids are brutally honest and will let you know if they like something or not.

Anything else you’d like to add?

I’d like to say thanks to those who have read any of my books and have reached out to me to say how much they’ve enjoyed them. This means a great deal to me. And if you’re just discovering my books for the first time, I hope you’ll also enjoy them.  Oh, and feel free to let me know over at instagram.com/fleech or www.felicearena.com

Thanks Felice, and all the best with The Boy and the Spy and your other books.

Books for Boys with Tristan Bancks & Felice Arena

Tristan Bancks and Felice Arena have both written extremely exciting, atmospheric books for boys this year (girls like them too).

I’ve interviewed them both for the blog and here are Tristan’s replies. (Felice features in the next post)

You both have distinctive first names. Where are they from?

Tristan was one of the knights of the round table. It can mean ‘noise’ or ‘boldness’ or ‘sorrow’. Certainly, there are notes of boldness and sorrow in my novels and my teachers always told me I was unnecessarily noisy.

 Where are you based at the moment?

Northern NSW.

You have both written an enviable backlist of books for boys. Could you mention some of these titles? 

My first book in stores was MAC SLATER, COOLHUNTER in 2008. The MY LIFE / TOM WEEKLY series of funny semi-autobiographical short stories has been released from 2012 till now. And I have two crime-mystery novels for late primary / early high-schoolers TWO WOLVES and THE FALL

I really enjoyed your gripping books published this year. Could you tell us about them – Tristan about The Fall and Felice (in the next post) about The Boy and the Spy

THE FALL is inspired by a crime scene I visited doing work experience with a news crew when I was in high school. A man had stolen a woman’s handbag, run through a park, jumped over a fence at the back of the park and didn’t realise that the park was built on top of a multi-storey carpark which was built into the hillside. This and my love of the Hitchcock thriller REAR WINDOW collided to inspire the story.

What genre are they?

THE FALL is a kind of crime, mystery, suspense, thriller. But it’s not just characters servicing plot. I try to write characters that you care about and I want to explore big ideas that are relevant to middle-grade readers. THE FALL touches on mortality, rites of passage for kids and what it means to be a good human and family member, to make good choices.

Where are they set and how did you create the sense of place?

Most of the book is set in a single apartment building over the space of twenty-four hours. I set myself that challenge and it makes the book quite intense. The building is in Sydney, very much like a building a friend of mine lives in, which is only about 100 metres from the crime scene that I visited back when I was sixteen years-old. It’s also influenced by the apartments I stayed in while travelling in England and Europe for four months during the writing of the second draft.

How do you hook readers quickly into your story?

THE FALL begins at 2.08am in a fifth-floor apartment with Sam waking to hear two men arguing in the apartment overhead. Moments later he witnesses a crime. The perpetrator of that crime realises that Sam is the sole witness and comes after him. This sets the drama in motion, with Sam becoming increasingly entwined in the crime as the story progresses.

Books need to start with a bang but, when they do, as an author you need to ensure that the rest of the story lives up to the opening and that the end is even better.

Who are the major characters and why are they in this predicament?

Sam Garner is twelve-going-on-thirteen. He has never met his father before this week. He grew up in the Blue Mountains (not unlike myself) and his father left before he was born. His mother has never wanted him to see his father and his dad hasn’t exactly been breaking his neck to get in touch either. But, after having an operation on his knee (as I did when I was thirteen), Sam’s Mum has to work and she finally allows Sam to go and stay with his father, Harry, a newspaper crime reporter, for a week while he recuperates. On his second-last night, he witnesses the crime.

How is the writing style different from some of your other work?

It’s very different to my younger, funnier illustrated short stories in the Tom Weekly books. There is humour in THE FALL but it’s darker, more thrilling and it explores bigger ideas. It’s more in the vein of TWO WOLVES.

What do you think about each other’s book?

I hate Fleech’s book. Kidding. It’s actually my favourite book he’s written. I really like SPECKY MAGEE but I think ‘THE BOY AND THE SPY’ is another step up. It has a thrilling opening scene but the book isn’t just about action. The characters are rich and believable and it’s told against the backdrop of an important and exciting historical moment. My fourteen year-old son just devoured it a few days ago, too.

These books are both published by Penguin Random House. Do you cross paths because of that? Share editors? Go to meetings together?

We see each other a few times a year at dinners and festivals and when I’m in Melbourne I’ll see if Fleech is around for a catch-up. We have a shared history in that we both started out as TV actors, both lived in the U.K. for a few years. In fact I interviewed Felice when I was presenting a TV series in the U.K. and he was performing in a musical. He is a super-energetic entertainer and we both like the idea of using video and performance to bring books to life for kids.

What other books for boys would you recommend – recent and older?

Hatchet – Gary Paulsen

Runner – Robert Newton

Okay For Now – Gary D Schmidt

Joey Pigza Loses Control – Jack Gantos

Once series – Morris Gleitzman

What are you writing about now or next?

I’ve just finished the next book of short stories in the TOM WEEKLY series and Gus Gordon is illustrating it now. It’s out in 2018 and features stories in which Tom tries to eat a car, his guinea pig is taken hostage, his grandmother involves him in a plot to steal a prize fruitcake, he is attacked by a gang of killer possums and he believes that he and his bum have the potential to save the world.

I’m also writing a new crime-thriller called DETENTION about a kid involved in a school lockdown who comes face-to-face with the threat. I imagine it’ll be out either 2019 or 2020. I like to let the novels breathe so they take a few years to evolve.

What is significant to you about meeting your readers – as individuals or in a large group setting?

It’s a great complement to the writing work. Writing is intensely personal and sometimes lonely. I love going out and trying new stories and ideas on readers. I love visualising the stories and bringing them to life with anecdotes and images and video and music. It’s fun mucking around with ideas, hearing what readers respond to and hopefully inspiring kids to pick up a book or create their own stories.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Thanks Joy. Hi Fleech. Fun chatting to you. And don’t forget to put a book into your child / grandchild / niece or nephew / brother / sister / friend / random kid in the street’s Santa sack this Crimbo. 😉

Thanks Tristan and all the best with The Fall and your other books.

Dim’s Christmas Crackers List # 2 – Sports Books

I confess, I am not impressive with a bat or ball. Playing sports has never really been my thing. What I have discovered however, is that reading about sports is far more satisfying for me and if even if you don’t have a footy-mad under nine-year-old or even a book-crazy child, the following sports books may be just the ticket to igniting an appreciation for both, this Christmas.

3 – 7 years

Great Goal! Marvellous Mark! by Katrina Germein and Janine Dawson

This is an alphabet picture book with a lovely difference – it appeals to footy fanatical boys and girls who love AFL but also enjoy the thrill and anticipation of team play. Superb alliteration and spirited illustrations take readers from A to Z, through a wet and wonderful day on the field. I love the exaggerated use of letter repetition used to reinforce and introduce new word sounds. Sensational squelchy fun.

Ford Street Publishing 2017

6 – 9 years Junior novels for younger readers

Ballerina Dreams: A True Story by Michaela & Elaine DePrince and Ella Okstad

This is a gorgeous pretty in pink story about prima ballerina, Michaela DePrince. Abandoned in a Sierra Leone orphanage, then adopted by the DePrinces, it tells of Michaela’s rise from poverty and despair to attaining her dream of dancing on her toes and flying through the air after seeing a picture of a woman with pink shoes on her feet on a magazine cover. Poignant and gently inspirational. Highly recommended for those with a dancing dream of their own.

Random House for Children first published, Faber & Faber UK May 2017

Double Trouble Skateboard Stars by Felicity Carter and Louis Shea

Uncomplicated text and a sizzling storyline make these tales of friendship perfect for early primary readers. There are a few titles in this series about twin brothers, Thomas and Cooper, which will claim the attention of little lads but the premise of these identical troublemakers pulling pranks wherever and whenever they can has universal appeal.

Scholastic Australia February 2014

Continue reading Dim’s Christmas Crackers List # 2 – Sports Books

Exchange of Heart by Darren Groth

Darren Groth‘s new novel is Exchange of Heart (Penguin Random House Australia). This is the second of Darren’s wonderful YA novels I’ve read.

Where are you based and what is your current role, Darren?

I live in Vancouver. My current role is husband, father, provider and fiction scribbler.

How involved are you in the YA community?

Not as much as I used to be when I was a teacher. My 16 year old twins keep me connected to today’s kids, though.

Could you tell us a little about your early books?

Well, they’ve all disappeared, sad to say. However, I’m proud of them and each one was notable in its own way. My first novel, The Procrastinator, got my first personal, positive rejection (still one of the very best feelings I’ve ever had in my career); my second novel, Most Valuable Potential, was shortlisted in the Queensland Premier’s Literary Awards; my third novel, The Umbilical Word, secured my wonderful literary agent; and my fourth novel, Kindling, picked up my first contract with a major trade publishing house (Hachette).   

I reviewed your excellent previous novel, Are You Seeing Me? for the Weekend Australian http://www.theaustralian.com.au/arts/review/misfits-and-misadventures-abound-in-latest-young-adult-fiction-books/news-story/12de0e5706bdc33fc03255e5660b2231. Could you briefly describe the two major characters and reveal who appears in your new novel?

Thank you for your kind words, Joy. The protagonists of AYSM are twins, Justine and Perry Richter. Justine is smart, well read, neurotypical and the sole carer of her brother. Perry is smart, sensitive, neurodiverse and hopeful of “freeing” his sister. Perry makes three appearances in the new novel, Exchange of Heart. It was a real treat to connect with him again.  

What is the significance of the clever title of your powerful new novel Exchange of Heart?

Exchange of Heart captures what this novel is all about, both literally and thematically. There’s a lot to unpack; it makes sense at a surface level then becomes deeper and richer the further you delve into the story.

Why is this book important?

Like all good fiction, I need to have told a good tale in order for the work to be assigned any importance. If readers feel I’ve told a good tale then there is some food-for-thought that can be discussed. PTSD in young adults, treatment of the intellectually disabled, use of the R-word, mental health of refugees, among others. In some ways, Exchange of Heart is a political YA novel. I embrace that label.   

Could you tell us about your complex major character, Munro Maddux?

I love Munro. I think he’s the best character I’ve ever put down on the page. So many qualities about him that I admire – his honour, his tenacity, his nuance, his care. I love his wounded heart. Unlike many other characters I’ve written, he’s not an open book. He’s not ‘all the feels’. That’s very commendable in this day and age.

Who is the Coyote?

The Coyote is less a ‘who’ and more a ‘what’. It’s a voice in Munro’s head that’s constantly at him and it’s the most debilitating symptom of his PTSD-infused grief over the loss of his younger sister, Evie. Why Coyote? In North American First Nations/Aboriginal lore, Coyote represents ‘trickster’ medicine; it is a deceiver, not to be trusted. It was the perfect motif for Munro’s nemesis.     

What is the significance of the “-er” words?

I was actually looking to create something self help-ish that was a bit cheesy. And the students of Sussex High, Rowan in particular, see it that way. In Munro’s case, though, his ‘er’ word – ‘better’ – was right on the money.   

You have a cast of minor characters who help create the assisted-living community setting. Who most pulls at your heart and why?

It changes every day! Today, I’ll say Bernie because she seeks to protect her fellow Fair Go residents from discrimination and oppression. We need more Bernies in the world!    

What would you like to see change or improve for those in assisted-living communities in the near future?

The programs that served as inspiration for my fictional Fair Go – Youngcare in Australia and Bittersweet Farms in the US – are wonderful examples of what is possible with assisted living. If there is one thing I would like to see in all situations of supported care, it is residents having a say in their work, their play, their passion, their collaboration. Generally, having agency in their lives. 

Having lived and been flooded in Brisbane myself, your descriptions of place such as Walter Taylor Bridge and South Bank resonated strongly. Where is a significant place in Brisbane for you?

There’s a few. Mum and Dad’s house in Mitchelton. Milpera State High, where I taught for almost ten years. Lang Park (I still can’t call it Suncorp Stadium). My grandmother’s house in Hawthorne which, sadly, no longer exists.

Why the quote from Leo Tolstoy and why did you incorporate the novel Picnic at Hanging Rock into the novel?

The Tolstoy quote, I felt, summed up Exchange of Heart perfectly. The love of others is the catalyst for Munro to forgive himself and heal. Picnic at Hanging Rock is a fascinating story for me, not the least of which for its commentary about the treatment of the intellectually disabled. 

What have you been reading recently?

I’ve got a number of books on the slow-go. Will Kostakis’ The Sidekicks (great guy, marvellous book), Strange Magic by Syd Moore, who just happens to be my quite brilliant sister-in-law; George Saunders’ Lincoln in the Bardo; Justin Cronin’s City of Mirrors; and, as a nod to my recent trip back to Bris-Vegas after seven years, I just finished Three Crooked Kings by the mighty Matt Condon.

Thanks very much, Darren, and all the best with Exchange of Heart and your next book.

Thank you, Joy! 

Mighty Magabala Books

Magabala is a Broome-based Indigenous publisher. It publishes Bruce Pascoe, the award-winning author of Black Emu (for adults) and Fog a Dox, Seahorse and Mrs Whitlam for children. Magabala’s Greg Dreise’s Mad Magpie has just won the Indigenous category of the national Speech Pathology awards. Deadly D and Justice Jones by David Hartley and Scott Prince is an appealing series which I’ve reviewed for the blog previously and Brenton McKenna’s graphic novels, Ubby’s Underdogs are full of appeal.

And one of the most beautiful picture books I’ve ever seen is published by Magabala – Once There Was a Boy by Dub Leffler.

Big Fella Rain 

A suburb new picture book is Big Fella Rain by Beryl Webber. It traces the natural world’s wait for rain in northern Australia. The illustrations by Fern Martins are impressive and one appears above as the feature image for this post. They are lovely, evocative works of art.

Mrs White and the Red Desert 

The red cover of Mrs White and the Red Desert by Josie Boyle, illustrated by Maggie Prewett, represents the overshadowing power of the desert sand to explain in an amusing way why the children’s homework is always smudged with red. This is a highlight in Magabala’s list.

On the Way to Nana’s

Red ochre colour also sets the scene of On the Way to Nana’s by Frances and Lindsay Haji-Ali, illustrated by animator David Hardy. This is an accomplished, extremely appealing, tale of travelling to Nana’s house. Things the family see on the way, from flowers to anthills, goannas, brumbies and boabs, are counted backwards from 15 to 1, which is very useful for children who are learning to count. The numbers are shown as numerals and in words. Some of the text is repetitive, “I’m on the way to Nana’s house. What will I see?”

Molly the Pirate 

The first picture book from Magabala’s Indigenous Creator Scholarship is Molly the Pirate by Lorraine Teece, illustrated by Paul Seden. Molly lives far from the sea but imagines she is a pirate. Paul Seden takes the challenge modelled by the lively text to create vibrant, gloriously-coloured illustrations. He also does a great job with camera angles, particularly from above and below the hills hoist clothes lines.

Free Diving

Based on the song by Lorrae Coffin, Free Diving looks at the role of Indigenous free divers. It is a poignant insight into history, illustrated by Bronwyn Houston.

At the Zoo I See 

At the Beach I See

 Two board books for the very young from the new “Young Art” series are At the Zoo I See by Joshua Button and Robyn Wells (the team behind Steve Goes to Carnival) and At the Beach I See by Kamsani Bin Salleh, who uses black linework with wash backgrounds. 

Art and Music in Picture Books

Art and music feature in some recommended picture books and Christmas gifts.

Wonderlands: The Illustration Art of Robert Ingpen published by the National Library of Australia

Robert Ingpen was born in 1936 and is the only Australian illustrator to have won the prestigious international Hans Christian Andersen award. He is a virtuoso of painterly artwork and has illustrated Australian stories such as Storm Boy by Colin Thiele, Mustara by Rosanne Hawke, Ziba Came on a Boat written by Liz Lofthouse, The Poppykettle series and The Afternoon Treehouse and a long list of children’s classics such as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (hence the title of this tribute to his work), Peter Pan and Wendy, The Wind in the Willows and The Secret Garden. The Nutcracker, The Night Before Christmas and A Christmas Carol will be perfect books for Christmas. Ingpen has also designed Australian postage stamps.

His most recent books include the awarded outback-based Tea and Sugar Christmas and Radio Rescue! (both written by Jane Jolly). Wonderlands gives a generous insight into these books and others. It is a must-have celebration of children’s literature through the lens of our maestro, Robert Ingpen.

The School of Music by Meurig and Rachel Bowen, illustrated by Daniel Frost (Wide Eyed Editions, Allen & Unwin)

Music is important for the pleasure it gives and because it’s good for the brain and can lead to unexpected friendships and opportunities. Enjoyable and useful to use in homes, schools and music schools, The School of Music is a lavish compendium of music, musicians and instruments in picture book form.

Musician characters (such as Diva Venus, a star singer, Ronny ‘Beethoven’ O’Reilly, a composer and Roxy Mojo, a percussion specialist) are introduced at the beginning of the book and feature strategically throughout to explain concepts. Section 1 looks at different types of music and instruments and how music connects with film, maths, architecture and other disciplines. Section 2 offers a musical toolbox, which enables children to write music, beginning with fun graphic scores using pictures and symbols. Section 3 is about children making music themselves. The book suggests diverse ways such as making a kitchen orchestra as well as playing a conventional instrument or singing. It concludes with tips on performing and composing.

There are bonus music samples accessed by the QR code at the end of the book and children could dip in and out of this book or use it as a Christmas holiday music appreciation and education course, ideally even alongside learning a musical instrument. 

Dance to Dream in Picture books

Four picture books I’ve enjoyed and admired this year range in subject from dance to dreams. Interestingly, they all feature a limited colour palette.

Swan Lake by Anne Spudvilas

Illustrator-icon Anne Spudvilas is known for The Peasant Prince by Li Cunxin (my teacher notes are on the Reading Australia site), Woolvs in the Sitee (written by Margaret Wild) and her first book The Race by Christobel Mattingley which won the Crichton Award for Illustration and was a CBCA Honour Book. Her new interpretation of Swan Lake (Allen & Unwin) is a sumptuous gift book. It is a retelling of Tchaikovsky’s ballet set on the Murray-Darling. The lavish illustrations are textured and allusive. Spudvilas features black and white with occasional  limited shades of yellow, and red for a few sparse dramatic and accentuated moments.

Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family’s Journey by Margriet Ruurs, artwork by Nizar Ali Badr

Stepping Stones (UQP) was published earlier in the year but remains timely with the ongoing issues in caring for and resettling refugees. Margriet Ruurs saw Syrian, Nizar Ali Badr’s stone and pebble artwork online and worked hard and inventively to contact him and gain permission to use his art to highlight the plight of those escaping the horrors of war. The text is written in Arabic and English.

Drawn Onward by Meg McKinlay, illustrated by Andrew Frazer

Another unusual and fascinating picture book is Drawn Onward (Fremantle Press), a palindromic text which can be read forwards and backwards . Meg McKinlay, who is most well-known for her multiple awarded dystopian novel, A Single Stone, uses the palindrome form to rephrase negative phrases and thoughts into positive. She calls it “optimism training for our kids”. The design is appropriately subtle and enigmatic.

Danny Blue’s Really Excellent Dream by Max Landra

Like the other books reviewed here, colour is used efficaciously in Danny Blue’s Really Excellent Dream (Lothian Children’s Books, Hachette). The story begins “Once in a blue moon, everyone has a really, really excellent dream.” Danny’s world is coloured blue and his father’s factory makes every hue of blue paint. After Danny’s dessert of blueberries one night, he dreams, not in blue, but of a red whale. Blue continues to dominate his life until he decides to create his dream colour in paint. It takes until Day 99 when “Not – Blue” appears and, even though people are suspicious, Not-Blue starts showing up where it’s not expected. This is a wonderful book about being different, dreaming and persistence in creativity.

The Grand, Genius Summer of Henry Hoobler & Lisa Shanahan

Thank you for speaking to Boomerang Blog, Lisa and congratulations on your recent win for The Grand, Genius Summer of Henry Hoobler at the Queensland Literary Awards. We’ll talk more about that soon.

Thank you, Joy! And many thanks for having me on the blog.

But first, where are you based and what is your background?

I live in Sydney, with my husband and our three sons, not far from where I grew up as a kid. I initially studied Communications straight out of high school at UTS, where I majored in writing and media theory, before then going on to train as an actor at Theatre Nepean, UWS. Towards the end of my acting training, I taught drama to a group of kids out at Mount Pleasant and I wrote them a play. It was then that it finally dawned on me that I didn’t want to be an actor after all, that in fact I wanted to be a writer but for young people, rather than adults. So not long after, I enrolled in a writing course with the acclaimed children’s author Libby Gleeson. That course felt both like a complete revelation and a homecoming. It was there that I workshopped a picture text I had written on my honeymoon of all places, about a little boy and his ice cream van driving dad. Libby Gleeson was a wonderful teacher and she instinctively knew how to draw out the possibilities of both a writer and a text and because of that early encouragement, here I am sixteen books later.

Do you give many presentations to children? How do you make them interesting?  Have there been any particularly memorable responses?

I’ve spoken to thousands of kids over the years, presenting talks and writing workshops. In my general talks, I’ll often share funny stories about my life, what kind of kid I was growing up and especially some of the funny stories about bringing up my boys. There’s lots of acting and hilarity, especially when I share the inspiration behind stories like Sleep Tight, My Honey or My Mum Tarzan. I always bring along some of my writing journals and I usually explore the growth of at least one book in detail, from first seed to final story. I’m keen for kids to hear about the writing process but I’m also especially passionate for them to grasp how curiosity about ordinary moments can lead to the creation of juicy stories.

Funnily enough, some of the loveliest moments happen when I’m not speaking at all, when little clusters of kids sidle up at the end of a session to confide about a book they’ve been writing, or how they’re going to go out and buy their own writing journal that very afternoon, so they can write about the idea they have for a funny story about their own crazy mum, grandpa or dog. Because just as much as I want kids to love my books, at the end of the day, I want to inspire them even more so to discover the beauty and worth of their own stories.

I adore your laugh-out-loud YA novel My Big Birkett (it’s one of my all-time favourites) and love reciting parts about the animals that mate for life, The Tempest and gorgeous Raven and the meals he makes using mince; as well as your wonderful picture books. Could you tell us about some of these books?

Thanks Joy! It makes me especially happy to know that you are a Raven fan!

I’m often asked what I prefer to write most and I always say I love writing both picture books and novels and that I couldn’t choose between them. The best part of writing picture books for me is the absolute thrill of collaboration. I’ve been fortunate enough to work with so many brilliant illustrators over the years and each one has taught me so much about the power of the visual text. Some of my picture books that have been especially well-received include the Bear and Chook books, illustrated by Emma Quay, Gordon’s got a Snookie, illustrated by Wayne Harris and Big Pet Day, illustrated by Gus Gordon, who was also on the QLA shortlist too, for his gorgeous picture book, Somewhere Else. My most recent picture book is  Hark, It’s Me, Ruby Lee! illustrated by Binny Talib. This was such a tough text to illustrate, mainly because of the fairly swift juxtaposition of the scenes of school life, with Ruby Lee’s fervent imagination. I’m just so delighted at what a marvellously beautiful job Binny has done.

I will say that one of the unforeseen joys of my writing life has been the steady, heartfelt emails I have received over the years from teen readers regarding My Big Birkett. These emails about Gemma and Raven and the De Head family have been incredibly sincere and poignant and they have often left me with a huge lump in my throat.

I know this is a tricky question but how do you incorporate humour into your writing?

This is a tricky question! As a kid, I looked into books like they were real windows. The books that spoke to me most were always the ones that captured acutely the laugh-out-loud jumbly nature of life, alongside the bittersweet ache. In terms of writing humour, I always keep an ear out for those little things that will make kids laugh. Not so long ago, my sister told me a story about how her four-year old son crept into her bed in the middle of the night and snuggled up tight to her, saying, ‘I love you so much Mummy, I want to shoot you out of a cannon!’ When I tell that story to kids, they roll around on the floor, laughing their heads off. But at the same time I know they recognise the vehemence of that kind of love, because they’ve felt it rocketing around in their own chests. I think humour has this remarkable capacity to encourage true connection and I’m always keen to incorporate it in my work, because it radically paves the way for readers to engage more fully and tenderly not only with a character’s dreams, fears, hopes and sorrows but also perhaps, with their own.

The Grand, Genius Summer of Henry Hoobler (A&U) has just won the QLA Griffith University Children’s Book award. The judge report says:

“The Grand Genius Summer of Henry Hoobler is structured as a quintessential Australian beach camping holiday but the exceptional storytelling soars to welcome the reader into both the setting and young Henry Hoobler’s rites of passage. We are given a heart-warming insight into introspective Henry. He is a genius at noticing things, surprising his fellow campers with his success in board and card games. He is also ‘Mr Worst-Case Scenario’, dreading the bugs, stingers and sharks of the beach but, most of all, dreading learning to ride his new silver bike. The bike is a symbol of fear, but its significance changes as Henry discovers courage and freedom. Courage can be found when friends are ‘straight-up and true’, embodied by free-spirit Cassie. This tale reminds us that everyone is different and everyone has gifts. Some, like Henry, prefer to learn quietly but even extroverts can be fearful.

The writing is literary and metaphorical, encompassing a vast emotional range whilst being utterly engaging for children. It is rare to encounter a novel for mid-primary children characterised by such perception and cadence.”

What was your reaction when you realised you had won? 

Lisa Shanahan, second from right, with judges

I was astonished and delighted. It took quite a few days for it to truly sink in. Then I was just overcome with immense gratitude that the judges had seen something special in Henry.

It was wonderful to meet your young son, Rohan, at the awards presentation in Brisbane (and others there loved seeing him reading The Hobbit as the night wore on). Why was he there and what was your dual experience of the awards evening?

One of the initial nudges for writing Henry Hoobler was watching Rohie develop as a reader. After a slow start, he had a very sudden and rapid acceleration over a single year and I knew he was in this slippery in-between stage, where the books he was capable of reading were still quite a huge stretch for him emotionally. I began to wonder if I could write something that would speak directly to his life. As I wrote Henry, I read chapter after chapter out loud to Rohie. When I had finished the book and before it had been published, he persuaded his class teacher that I should come to school and read some chapters to his whole class as well. I dedicated the novel to Rohan because I wanted to acknowledge just what an incredible gift it was to have his enthusiastic encouragement along the way.

Rohie is an avid bookworm and so hanging out at the QLA awards ceremony for him was suddenly like meeting all of his people, all at once. He was especially touched that I mentioned him in my speech and I was especially touched when Rebe Taylor, the winner of the QLA History Book Award asked him to sign her copy of Henry. I can safely say that if Rohie’s class teacher had seen that handwriting, he would have been granted his official pen licence on the spot!

What is the significance of the title The Grand, Genius Summer of Henry Hoobler?

Early in the novel, Henry discovers that his rather unique talent for noticing things, makes him almost unbeatable when it comes to playing cards and board games. After Henry convincingly and unexpectedly smashes all the men and the older boys at games, Patch, his rather begrudging older brother finally acknowledges that Henry might be bit of a grand genius. It’s the beginning of a radical shift in the way Henry sees himself. Although Henry has replayed every worst case scenario in vivid detail regarding his camping holiday, what he has never considered is all the ways this summer might turn out to be the best one yet, the grand, genius summer of all summers.

Could you tell us about your protagonist Henry and some other characters?

Henry is a sensitive, imaginative and thoughtful nine-year old boy. He is the middle child, slotted right in between his athletically gifted, funny, know-it-all fifteen-year old brother Patch and his rambunctious, My Little Pony obsessed younger sister Lulu. Both Henry and his mum share some anxious traits and tend towards self-reflection and to feeling things deeply. Henry is very keen to please his exuberant dad, who is a real enthusiast for life. But Henry is filled with dread at the idea of learning how to ride his new bike without training wheels, especially in front of prickly Reed Barone, another boy who is close to Henry’s age and who is prone to sneering. Eventually, Henry meets ten-year old Cassie, who lives onsite in a caravan with her Pop. Cassie is a free spirit and alive to the world in ways that astonish Henry. Finally, Cassie’s straight up and true courage rubs off and with an unexpected Lulu intervention, Henry learns how to summon up his own courage and to do a whole series of adventurous things that he never imagined.

For what age-group is this novel intended?

Henry is intended for 7-11 year olds. I’ve been really pleased though by the numbers of reviewers that have also recommended it as a read-aloud for the whole family or the school classroom too.

How did you balance fine literary writing with the other elements of the narrative?

I was keen to write in a way that was hospitable to all kinds of middle grade readers, those that were confidently independent and those newly finding their feet. As a result, the story contains lots of snappy dialogue, which helps to give the text an easy, engaging flow. In terms of metaphoric imagery, I kept in mind some feedback given to me around another novel, regarding the importance of restraint. I was conscious that any poetic moment really had to serve the story and forward the action. At the same time, I wanted the novel to contain a certain richness of vocabulary because something the American writer Madeleine L’Engle once said has stayed with me for years, ‘We think because we have words, not the other way around. The more words we have, the better able we are to think conceptually.’ So balancing all of these elements was challenging, a little like prancing across a highwire tightrope.

As well as being good fun to read, Henry Hoobler has some important underpinning themes. Could you share some of these?

I’m always a little cautious when discussing themes because I know the writer is sometimes the least insightful person on that subject! With Henry though, I was keen to explore the nature of courage, the way one young boy discovers how to be brave over the summer, by learning how to make a tiny bit of room for the worry in his life, without giving it the whole house. The novel examines the transformative nature of unexpected friendship, the contagiousness of courage, the way we need one another in order to learn how to become brave and the way courage always arrives through the actual taking of considered risks. The novel celebrates the importance of family and community and the value of perseverance, forgiveness and kindness. I was keen to write about the beauty of the natural world and how to recognise and treasure the true significance of small ordinary moments.

Which awards have had particular significance for you? 

Whenever a book of mine is either shortlisted or receives an award, I’m always extraordinarily surprised and grateful. I know it’s such a hard job to make those kinds of choices, especially when there are so many equally deserving and beautiful books out in the world. Writing a book does take a significant investment of energy and time and winning an award always means that a book will have a much greater chance of being widely read. I was particularly thrilled in 2010 when Bear and Chook by the Sea won the CBCA’s Book of the Year for Early Childhood, not just because it was a moment I got to share with my good friend the illustrator Emma Quay but also because as a kid, I drew a poster every single year for Oatley Library’s celebrations of the Children’s Book Council’s Book of the Year Awards. I was desperate to win a book prize in that poster competition, never dreaming that I would one day write a book that would win an award from such a long-established and hallowed institution.

What are you writing next?

I’ve been writing a series of picture book texts and I’m just returning now to a novel for teenagers that has been patiently waiting it’s turn.

What have you enjoyed reading recently?

I’ve loved Elizabeth Strout’s Anything is Possible, Karen Foxlee’s A Most Magical Girl, James Rebanks The Shepherd’s Life, Brian Doyle’s collection of essays Leaping: Revelations and Epiphanies and the picture books Oi, Frog by Kez Gray and Jim Field and Once Upon a Small Rhinoceros by Meg McKinlay and Leila Rudge.

Do you have a website?


Anything else you’d like to add?

Thanks so much for having me on the blog and for asking such astonishingly good, stretching questions. It was lovely to take the time to reflect and ponder.

Thanks for your very thoughtful and insightful responses, Lisa and all the very best with your excellent novel, The Grand, Genius Summer of Henry Hoobler, and your other works. We greatly look forward to what your imaginative mind will bring us next.

Mind Provoking Prose – MG and YA Reads for the Venturesome

If the prospect of bored minds and restless spirits daunts you, consider these literary excursions for your middle grade and YA readers. Not only are they mind provoking and incisive, they offer experiences for the venturesome reader to revere and ruminate over long after they’ve read the last page.

How to Bee by Bren MacDibble

This is a brave story set in Australia in the not-too-distant future with global implications. Peony lives with her sister and aging grandfather on a fruit farm. Her chief aspiration is to be a Bee – the bravest, most nimble of farm workers who flit from tree to tree pollinating flowers by hand. If this concept sounds slightly askew, it’ll be one you are thoroughly comfortable with by the time you’ve experienced MacDibble’s palpably natural, narrative. Could this be the end of the world as we know it or, as I’d rather believe, just another notable chapter in the history of humans being humans – badly.

Whatever your take on climate change and the way we treat the planet, How to Bee, never wallows in despair or hindsight and neither does Peony who positively radiates tenacity, kindness and sass so loudly, her voice really will be resounding long after you read the last page. When  Peony is taken from her home by a mother who aspires for more than just the meagre country existence the rest of her family and friends endure, her brassy drive and cast-iron determination draw her right back to the home she loves, like a bee to its hive. But not before she spreads a little hope and good sense in the big scary city.

This story will make you grin, cheer, cry just a bit and want to fly with Peony as she Bees. It’s about being true to yourself, to those who love you, about living your dreams wildly and the profound power of friendship. It could also quite possibly change your whole outlook of and appreciation for fruit. More highly recommended than an apple a day for middle grade readers from eight upwards.

Allen and Unwin April 2017

Continue reading Mind Provoking Prose – MG and YA Reads for the Venturesome

Interview with Cameron Macintosh – Max Booth Future Sleuth

Cameron Macintosh’s debut children’s fantasy sci-fi series for middle graders, Max Booth Future Sleuth, is a mind-bending, time-warping fun adventure about a boy and his robo-dog sidekick on a mission to uncover the truths about ‘ancient’ artefacts (Are the ‘80s really that ancient?!). The first book to send us looping back and forth between time zones is Tape Escape. Set in 2424, it is a comically suspenseful story that sees Max and Oscar in all sorts of strife, following the theft of the valuable, all-encompassing, legendary David Snowie-archived cassette tape from the hands of a maniacal musicology nutter. Certainly one to goggle over (or google if you’re under 20), for its fascinating reflections into technological history and advancements.

Big Sky Publishing

With a background in editing and writing educational texts, Cameron coolly strode his way into the world of children’s fiction. Thanks for sharing your writing journey and Max Booth insights with us, Cameron!

Firstly, please tell us a bit about your writing journey and how you came to write for children. What’s the best part of this career choice?

My writing journey has been very long and slow, but worth every twist and detour. Like a lot of writers, my journey started as a primary school kid. In my case it was writing rambling rhyming stories that weren’t nearly as clever as I thought they were at the time! I didn’t seriously think writing could be a career option until I enrolled in the RMIT Professional Writing and Editing course and found work as an editor out of that – in educational publishing. It took a few years, but I eventually used my contacts as an editor to leapfrog into writing educational texts. I’ve been happily doing that since 2008, but it wasn’t until 2016 that I made the much longed-for leap into mainstream trade publishing when Big Sky Publishing offered to take on the first Max Booth book.

For me, the best part of writing for kids is that it’s a licence to let your imagination run wild, and to revisit ideas that added extra levels of magic to your own childhood. I also get a lot of satisfaction from knowing that, in a small way, I’m part of an incredible community of writers, teachers, librarians and parents who are passionate about encouraging kids to develop a love for reading.

Congratulations on the releases of your latest books in the exciting Max Booth Future Sleuth series, Tape Escape and Selfie Search! What was the experience of writing this series like for you? What themes are at the heart of these stories?

Thank you! It was a very different experience writing each of them. I started the first book, Tape Escape, about four years ago as an attempt to branch out from educational writing. It was three years before the wonderful people at Big Sky offered to take it on, so I’d been living with it for quite a while. That was probably a good thing, because the story had time to find its feet and go through several drafts and workshops with my wonderful writing group.

The second book, Selfie Search, was a very different experience – I’d pitched Max Booth as a potential series, and Big Sky wanted another book to follow it up fairly quickly. I’d already written four or five mini-synopses for future titles, so much of the plot was already in place. And obviously, the characters and world of the story had already been set up in Tape Escape, so it wasn’t too hard to put it together in the space of a few months.

The themes of the books include technology, family, friendship and historical discovery – a strange mix but somehow they seem to work together!

I loved the whirlwind time warp of recollecting the past and imagining the future. Where did the inspiration for these books come from? Were you a hard core sci-fi / fantasy fan as a child? Is there something about time travel that steered you towards this angle? How much research went into plotting accurate facts in technological history?

The initial inspiration came from a visit to Naples and Pompeii, where I encountered all sorts of objects that had survived the devastating eruption nearly 2000 years ago – mostly everyday, domestic items like crockery and hair combs. My fascination for these objects started me wondering whether similarly mundane objects from our own lives would be so interesting to future generations. All I needed was a character with that very fascination (hello Max!) and I was off and running.

Oddly enough, I wasn’t a huge sci-fi or fantasy fan as a kid, apart from Star Wars and Monkey Magic (if they count!), and a few one-off books. But over the last few years I’ve found that speculating about the shape of the world over the coming centuries seems to unleash lots of sparks for story ideas.

In terms of research, the main thing I need to be sure of is that the dates line up correctly for the 20th and 21st century objects Max investigates in each book. I also need to scratch a little deeper for some of the objects because each book ends with a factual spread about the main item Max investigates, giving basic information about its history and how it works.

How have you found the feedback from your readers so far? What have they loved the most about Max Booth? Is this what you had hoped to achieve?

It’s been very encouraging so far. Most importantly for me, they’ve enjoyed the humour, and have liked Max’s robo-dog, Oscar. I’ve also had feedback that readers have liked the future gadgetry, and that parents have found the stories a useful springboard for conversations with their kids about the technologies they grew up with. That’s really pleasing too.

Dave Atze’s illustrations are humorous, energetic and befittingly shrewd. What was it like collaborating with him? Were there any surprises along the way?

You’ve really summed up Dave’s work perfectly. It’s such a treat to work with an artist who has such an intuitive feel for characters and sci-fi settings. His illustrations are really funny too. In terms of the collaboration, I’d included lots of suggestions in the manuscripts. Between Dave, the publisher and myself, we whittled them down to the most important ones, and Dave pretty much took the reigns from there. He nailed the ideas really quickly and we really didn’t need to do a lot of to-and-fro.

The biggest surprise for me was seeing these characters come to life so closely to how I’d imagined them. There was definitely some kind of telepathy going on!

What is your favourite technological device from the past, and what do you think it might be in the future?

My favourite device from the past would have to be my Nintendo Game and Watch game (Popeye!) from the 80s. For the uninitiated, Game and Watch was a series of simple hand-held LED games that were seriously addictive, and are now quite collectible.

My favourite future device will be a scalp-massaging bike helmet – can someone please invent one soon?

What would be your dream time zone for writing be?

It’s not very romantic, but I sometimes wish it was the early 90s again – where we had the benefit of decent word processors without the distraction of the internet! Failing that, an attic in a French castle in the 1880s would be okay too – as long as I can bring a heater and a massage chair.

What projects are you currently working on? What can your fans expect to see from you in the ‘not-too-distant’ future?

I’m currently working hard on the third Max Booth book, and having a lot of fun with it. I won’t say too much about the plot, except that in this one, it’s a very low-tech item that Max is investigating.

There’s also an almost-finished YA novel that I’ll get back to when Max is off the desk, and I’ve recently started plotting a book for adults – I think it’s a crime story, but who knows, it’ll probably end up morphing into sci-fi!

Where can we learn more about you and your books?

Until Andrew Morton writes the biography, the best place to start is probably my website: www.cameronemacintosh.com.au. I’m also on Facebook as ‘Cameron Macintosh, author’ and Twitter @CamMaci99. The Max Booth books are available at www.bigskypublising.com.au.

Thanks so much, Cameron, for discussing your writing journey, past, present and future! 👦🏼 🐶 📼

It’s been a lot of fun, Romi. Thanks a billion for having me!


Dr Boogaloo and the Girl Who Lost Her Laughter

Lisa Nicol’s debut children’s novel is Dr Boogaloo and the Girl Who Lost Her Laughter, a charming, unpredictable story about Blue, a girl who can’t laugh and is trying to remedy this.

Thank you for speaking with Boomerang Blog, Lisa.

And thank you for blogging me. It’s blogging exciting to be here.

Where are you based and what is your background?

I’m in Sydney and have a background in documentary and TV. I also do copywriting and write for an educational publisher.

What sort of music do you like and do you play any instruments?

What sort of music don’t I like might be an easier question to answer. There’s not really any types of music I don’t get into. Well except Opera and music that involves men dancing in long socks with bells attached. Struggle with that a little.

Basically I like good music. And a lot of bad music too come to think of it! I just like music.

A lot.

But I don’t play myself.

I think Dr Boogaloo & The Girl Who Lost Her Laughter is my love letter to music. It expresses all my pent up love which I can’t express by playing an instrument. Kitchen dancing keeps it in check most of the time but sometimes it just needs to come out.

What have you learned about the importance of music?

I believe humans are musical beings. It’s an intrinsic part of who we are. We need music.

What led to you writing a children’s novel?

I started writing for children when I had my own. I kept getting ideas for books and when they slept I would rush upstairs to the attic and try to write. Unfortunately all my children were terrible sleepers so my output is hardly prodigious. Hard to write a book in 45 minutes. But I’m on a roll now!

Could you tell us about ten-year-old Blue, her horrible mother and some other characters?

 Ah the lovely Blue. I’m very fond of Blue. She has a quiet strength and she tries to keep her chin up no matter how hard things get. She’s not one to complain – unlike her awful mother. Blue’s mother is somewhat self-obsessed. She thinks having a daughter who can’t laugh is an absolute bummer! It’s ruining her life and simply must be fixed. If not she plans on shipping her off to a boarding school in Switzerland somewhere. One of those ones where they don’t come home in the holidays. Costs a bit more but well worth it obviously, under the circumstances.

Now, let me introduce you to the wonderful Dr Boogaloo and his glorious wife Bessie. They run The Boogaloo Family Clinic of Musical Cures. You may not have ever thought of music as medicine but according to the Boogaloos, music can cure anything!

Of course, you need the right dose of the right music. No point listening to a jive if you’re in need of some boogie-woogie, and you can’t just substitute a hum for a chant, or an opera for a ballad, or a toot for a blow. Absolutely not! Musical medicine is an exact art. And it’s extraordinarily complicated. The way Dr Boogaloo explains it is this – everyone has their own tune but sometimes, for one reason or other, we get all out of tune. We lose the beat, you might say. Unfortunately, your tune is just like your fingerprint. No two are the same. Which is why fixing tunes is SUCH a tricky business!

Dr Boogaloo describes Bessie as the magic in his wand and it’s true they are a great team. Dr Boogaloo reminds me a bit of a brand new pencil – he’s very straight ahead – which is perhaps not what you would expect for a musical doctor. Bessie on the other hand is a little more eccentric. She reminds me of a rainbow caught up inside a tornado. Bessie looks after the Doctor’s instrument collection which is so enormous they keep it in a shed about as big as an A380 aircraft hanger.

I particularly enjoyed Blue’s introduction to the Snorkel Porkel Crumpety Worpel Laughter Clinic. Could you tell us about how people enter it and about some of the Laughter Detection Tests?

Well entry is via a giant slide with a vertical drop that would make your nose bleed – hence the need for padded pants to avoid a really good buttock burn –followed by the the tickle machine which helps sort out the wheat from the chaff in terms of laughter issues. Then, once you get past the lobby guy who has a seriously good aim when it comes to snot olives, you’re off to the testing rooms. They are very thorough at the Snorkel Porkel. There are not many places they won’t venture to ensure an accurate diagnosis. Can we just say, strange animal farts, blooper reels, hula-hooping cats in bikinis, Youtube videos of epic fails and a gentleman called Gassy Gus who can blow up balloons with his bottom! You did ask!

Music is important in your novel but what about colour?

Well Blue’s mother has a thing for colour. She goes through colour ‘phases’. You can probably guess what ‘phase’ she was in when she named Blue ‘Blue’. At this point in time, she’s in a white phase. Phases generally involve a lot of shopping, redecorating and pouring over paint charts. Blue is finding her mother’s white phase particularly challenging. Absolutely everything in the house is white so even finding the fridge can be quite tricky. There’s a lot of falling over the couch, that sort of thing.

Could you tell us about the role of musical imperfection?

Well I can only tell you what I’ve learnt from my time at The Boogaloo Family Clinic of Musical Cures but according to Dr Boogaloo, imperfection is an essential ingredient in any musical cure. One of the many musicians who work’s regularly at the clinic is a Canadian called Neil. He’s famous for the perfect bum note or loose string and exactly when to drop one in. Quite a skill.

Have you paid homage to any other authors in your plot, setting or characters?

Not authors so much but songwriters and songs seem to be scattered about the place. That’s my silly love thing again. You don’t need to get the musical references to enjoy the story – I’m sure most of the kids won’t – but if you’re a music fan reading to your kids, hopefully they might amuse you. Some are obvious, others not. For example, Blue’s globetrotting, game-hunting father sends her a pair of high heels covered in diamonds. There’s even diamonds on the soles! And of course Bessie would name her pet pygmy pocket possums after some of her favourite singers – Dolly & Makeba. Tupelo trees, weeping songs, I’m wearing my musical heart on my sleeve I’m afraid….

Are you planning anything special for the book launch?

Of course. Blue’s mother’s favourite – bubbles. And my favourite – music. We have Gramophone Man coming along to play some very old tunes on his steam-powered turntables. That should give most people’s musical immune systems a jolly good boost before the silly season begins.

What are you writing about now or next?

My next book is called The Crumples of Shambolstown. It’s about some very crumpled folks who live next to some very Crisp folks. A gang of Crumple kids venture into Cripsville and things go very, very wrong. It’s a crumply thriller!

What have you enjoyed reading recently?

The Midnight Gang by David Walliams.

Wonder by R. J. Palacio.

A lot of Peanuts by Charles M. Schulz.

Anything else you’d like to add?

No, I’m pooped.

Thanks Lisa, and all the best with Dr Boogaloo and the Girl Who Lost Her Laughter.

Our Mob: Aboriginal Art

Aboriginal literature and other art forms are transforming Australian culture at the moment. The recent Melbourne and Brisbane Writers’ Festivals were both opened by Aboriginal speakers, including dual Miles Franklin winning author, Kim Scott. Leah Purcell’s play script, The Drover’s Wife, won overall Book of the Year in both the NSW and Victorian Premier’s Literary awards. Other Aboriginal authors are also winning major awards with Bruce Pascoe and Ellen Van Neerven recent stand-outs. The ten-year anniversary of Alexis Wright’s Miles Franklin award win for Carpentaria was celebrated at the Brisbane Writers’ Festival this month.

The new sumptuous coffee table book art book, Our Mob, God’s Story also showcases Indigenous Australians through portrayal of their religious beliefs using their traditional form of story-telling through pictures. It is edited by award-winning Christobel Mattingley, known for championing and sharing Aboriginal stories in Maralinga, the Anangu Story and Maralinga’s Long Shadow: Yvonne’s Story and other books and by Louise Sherman. It is endorsed by Noel Pearson and Boori Monty Pryor, who was the inaugural Children’s Laureate and winner of the Prime Minister’s Literary award (children’s fiction) for Shake a Leg.

The editors spent over four years collecting the artwork, striving to include works from as many language groups as possible. 115 paintings were eventually selected, including two by Yvonne Edwards whose story is told in Maralinga’s Long Shadow.

A glowing range of colours and styles create dynamism throughout the book. The genesis of each artwork is explained and often a brief description of the form and media is included. Some of the Biblical text is also written in language and there is a glossary of symbols.

Creation by Glendora Naden

Creation stories proliferate. They range from Glendora Naden’s earthy, symbolic Creation to Bronwyn Coleman-Sleep’s vibrant Sunflowers (Garden of Eden). Traditional stories from the Old Testament include Kristy Naden’s patterned Noah’s Flood, Rupert Jack’s stunning dot-painting, Abraham (featured image at top), and Gail Naden’s sand and ochre Weilwan Waters II.

Born for You by Julie Dowling

Julie Dowling magnificently uses both Aboriginal iconography and European Renaissance-style portraiture in Born for You and Grace Kumbi employs flowing lines and dot work in Three Hunters.

The aerial perspective of Central Australian artwork is demonstrated in Imiyari Adamson’s Tjulpun Tjulpunpa (Desert Wildflowers)

Tjulpun Tjulpunya (Desert Wildflowers) by Imiyari Adamson

and sinuous symbols show The Greatest Love of All (Bronwyn Coleman-Sleep).

Tree of Life by Amata women

A group of Amata women created the rich, well composed Tree of Life.

As the introduction to the book outlines: “Some narrow-minded missionaries did not seek to understand the culture… Others with a wider vision, sought to learn the heart languages of the people among whom they lived…In this book 66 artists from over 40 First Nations of Australia share their vision of Christ, human and divine.”

Our Mob, God’s Story is a beautiful and significant art book. It is an affirmation and celebration of Australia’s first peoples and those who hold Christian beliefs.

Three Hunters by Grace Kumbi

Hopefully it will also help to achieve its aim of reconciliation between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians.

From ‘Pilawuk’ to ‘I’m a Dirty Dinosaur’, the works of Janeen Brian

In an illustrious and diverse career in children’s books Australian author Janeen Brian has written across genres and forms. Her books span novels, series, picture books and non-fiction.

Thank you for speaking with Boomerang Blog, Janeen. 

Thank you very much for inviting me.

Where are you based, what is your background and how are you involved in Australia’s children’s literature community?

Home for me is in a seaside town called Glenelg in South Australia, about twenty minutes from Adelaide. Originally a primary and junior primary teacher, who worked for some years in a small school library, I began writing for pleasure some time in my thirties, having not ever considered writing before. My career, although I didn’t know it at the time, began when I was lucky enough to start writing for an educational publisher. Since then, I have written over a hundred books, which include educational titles.

Writing communities and Writers’ Centres were thin on the ground when I began, so when a group of children’s writers, calling themselves Ekidnas, and a Writers’ Centre was formed in Adelaide, I felt lucky to suddenly find myself among like-minded people. It was probably a turning point for me. I am still involved in Ekidnas, and am a member of SA Writers’ Centre, ASA, IBBY, SCWBI, SBCASA Branch and was, up until recently, on the selection panel for The May Gibbs’ Children’s Literature Trust Fellowships in South Australia. I’m also an Ambassador for the Little Big Book Club (Raising Literacy Australia) and the Premier’s Reading Challenge.

How have you been mentored by the Australian book industry? Are you able to mentor others in the industry?

There is no doubt in my mind that any workshop, festival, reading or other type of literature event I’ve ever attended has had an impact on me. And nourished me. So that would be my experience of industry mentoring. Plus I was fortunate to win a Carclew Fellowship (Adelaide Festival Awards for Literature) in 2012, which was a type of financial mentoring!

My own mentoring would be in the form of workshops and author visits to schools or libraries. However, I once mentored a lady who was interested in picture books, in a one-on-one situation.

Who publishes your books and which illustrators have you enjoyed collaborating with?

I am published with a wide variety of publishers, and one reason for that might be that I write across a broad range of genres. My publishers include Penguin Random House Australia, Allen & Unwin, Walker Books, Scholastic, Omnibus Books, National Library of Australia, Little Hare/Hardie Grant Publishing, Five Mile Press/Bonnier Publishing Australia and most recently, Little Book Press (Raising Literacy Australia).

I’ve had the most collaboration with illustrators Ann James (I’m a dirty dinosaur and I’m a hungry dinosaur) and Anne Spudvilas ( Our Village in the Sky and Where’s Jessie?) and enjoyed enormously working with both of them.

Could you give us a retrospective of some of your most important or popular books? (please include novels, series, picture books and non-fiction)

I think PilawukWhen I was Young (published by ERA Publications) is an enduring information books for teachers and in classrooms because at the time of writing it was one of the earliest titles about The Stolen Generation. It also was an Honour Award winner with CBCA.

Another Honour book, published in 2001, was the very popular picture book, Where does Thursday go? (illustrated by Stephen Michael King and published by Margaret Hamilton Books/Scholastic Australia). It’s since been published in UK, translated into 11 other countries and recently enjoyed yet another reprint.

Although now out of print (although I have since had it reprinted and handle distribution), the Honour award winning information book, Hoosh! Camels in Australia was an important book to research and was widely acclaimed. (Since translated into Arabian)

I’m also an award-winning poet. I also enjoy writing verse at times and Silly Galah! (illustrated by Cheryll Johns and published by Omnibus/Scholastic) is still a popular book, featuring humorous, informative verses about Australian animals and birds. Its recent follow-up is Silly Squid! by the same illustrator and publisher, which highlights Australia’s sea life.

My two historic novels, That Boy, Jack  and Yong; the journey of an unworthy son,  have both proved very popular and are also read as class sets in schools.

My two dinosaur picture books, I’m a dirty dinosaur  and  I’m a hungry dinosaur (illustrated by Ann James and published by Penguin Random Australia) have been runaway successes. The former won an Honour Award, was Winner of 2014 Speech Pathology Awards of Australia and is the book selected for many Early Childhood Reading programs, targeting families, nationwide. (eg. First 5 Forever in Queensland) It’s also been published in China. The latter was a Notable Award.

What awards have they been shortlisted for or won?

 I have been shortlisted or won Notable awards for other titles including, Eddie Pipper, Where’s Jessie?  and Little Chicken, chickabee.

How do you keep your non-fiction so interesting?

Thank you for that kind comment.

Because I read less non-fiction than fiction, I’m aware that in order to interest certain readers, I first have to interest myself. Over the years I’ve come to believe, that factual information which is written in a more narrative or story-like style is more accessible and interesting for readers such as me. I also try to include fascinating details, using the child-in-me to help decide which to choose.

I know that good books often inexplicably go out of print. Which of your books have stayed in print for a long time? Which haven’t? How have you tried to keep any of your books in print? Is there anything we can do to keep good books in print (apart from buying them)?

That’s an interesting question and one which is out of the author’s control. A publisher determines the when and why a title will not be reprinted. The bottom line is usually sales figures. Many of my educational titles are out of print, but many also remain in print. Often educational and trade publishers change focus or decide to drop a series. Apart from Hoosh! Camels in Australia, which I now reprint and distribute, all other titles mentioned above are still in print. Constant promotion, seeking out niche markets, looking to digital printing and reprinting through Print on Demand are a few ways to potentially keep good books out in reader-land. The creator must work in collaboration with the publisher or look at alternative publishing ideas to keep their book afloat.

Do you give many presentations to children? How do you make them interesting?  Have there been any particularly memorable responses?

Like many children’s writers who’ve been publishing over a number of years (for me, approximately thirty-five years) I’ve given thousands of presentations. I like to be super-prepared, have lots of artefacts, objects, interactive ideas to get the children involved, puppets, songs, creating rhymes, music or rhythm making, choral chanting, dress-ups, role-play, visual material, and nowadays, powerpoints. It all depends on the age-group of the children I’m presenting to. I ALWAYS read to the children. That is a given. And I include poetry reading too. Often we’ll act out one of my poems as I read it. I believe strongly that when an author reads their own work to an audience, a little bit of magic comes out in the words.

One memorable situation wasn’t a presentation as such, but it has always stayed with me. A Year 7 boy in a co-ed college in Adelaide won a competition for a piece of his writing.

He decided to spend part of his prize-winnings purchasing an extra copy of my book, Where does Thursday go?  for the school library, because it had been his favourite book when he was young.

If that was not enough, the teacher-librarian invited the boy, his family, all the library monitors and me to a beautiful morning tea. And I read the book aloud to the boy, and all who were seated at the table. How I got through the reading without crying, I’ll never know. But there were tears in the librarian’s eyes.

Are you aware of any progression in your books – writing style, intended reader, subjects addressed …

I think the one of the biggest lessons I learned was that if you have the desire, the passion and the tough skin to write, that it is a craft – and therefore can be improved.

The strange thing was that I had never in my wildest dreams set out to be a writer. I loved reading. And I loved reading other people’s books. I enjoyed English at school, but there was never any huge encouragement or spark in me that urged me to become an author. So learning was and still is, a big factor in my writing life.

At first I enjoyed writing picture books, poetry and short fiction. And I’ve written over 200 poems, stories, plays and articles for The School Magazine, but of late, I’ve extended my writing loves to include novels. I have also written several teenage short stories for specific anthologies, and although I enjoy writing short stories, my preferred age group is younger, babies to upper primary.

What are you writing about now or next?

I was overseas for four months of this year, returning in July, and while I was away I wrote several poems. The School Magazine has already accepted one. I have also finished a picture book and the first draft of a children’s novel. I’ve sent the picture book to my agent but the novel is safely under lock and key so I don’t look at it for a month. I have a tendency, or bad habit, to send out texts too early!

What have you enjoyed reading recently?

Lots of lovely books including:

A re-reading of Because of Winn-Dixie  (Kate diCamillo)

A Cardboard Palace ( Allayne Webster)

Fabish: The Horse that Braved a Bushfire (Neridah McMullin)

Running Wild (Michael Morpurgo)

Girl with a Pearl Earring (Tracy Chevalier)

The War that Saved my Life ( Kimberly Brubaker Bradley)

Coraline (Neil Gaiman)

Anything else you’d like to add?

Two things I’ve learned along the way:

Finding your own voice and style takes time, a lot of writing and a lot of rejections.

Everybody has different writing interests.

Everybody writes differently.

Everybody chooses whether to plot OR to free-wheel-write as a ‘pantser’ OR use a combination of both.

Writers often go about writing each book differently.

Thanks Janeen, and all the best with your wonderful books.

Thank you very much!

Reviews: Three More Titles in the Sage Cookson Series

I previously reviewed Sage Cookson’s Ring of Truth as ‘zesty and refreshing’ (here), and the next three titles in this lively series are no different. Sally Murphy pours heart and spirit into her chapter books for emerging readers as she takes her ten-year-old protagonist on more cultural, and culinary, adventures.

In Fishy Surprise, Sage is excited to be able to take her best friend, Lucy on their next trip, where her famous chef parents, the Cooksons, will be filming in Crystal Bay. White sandy beaches, turquoise seas, and lapping up the goodness of the best fish and chips in Australia sounds like the ultimate in travel adventures. But despite Sage’s media-shy character, she seems to uncannily draw plenty of attention when she gets herself into ‘fishy’ situations. Sabotage and jealousy of someone from the past cause clashing waves, but her calm, rational thinking sees Sage thankfully escape the unsavoury ordeal.
Friendship, rivalry and personal safety lead as the prominent themes in Fishy Surprise. It is told with energy and a propriety that children from age seven can understand. I’m sure it’ll hook them from the beginning!

Singapore Sensation delves into the mystery of the pink haired woman who seems to be following the Cooksons from their home town to Singapore. Sage’s suspicion of the shady Nancy from the previous stories is aroused, especially when TV chef Mum, Ginger’s cook book manuscript goes missing. In between the chaotic worries of cook book theft and plagiarism, we are delighted to some sensational Singaporian delights of satay skewers, curry and prata breads, tranquil rivers, old colonial buildings and Sentosa Island theme parks. Finally, Sage’s answers are uncovered – perhaps next time she won’t jump to premature conclusions.
Singapore Sensation explores all things ‘sensations’, including a myriad of fascinating sights, the tastiest treats, and an emotional rollercoaster of highs and lows. It is engaging, whimsical, and straightforward to read for those youngsters hungry for a cultural, and suspenseful, experience.

Sage’s confidence in the spotlight is tested in Literary Launch as she faces the terrifying prospect of public speaking. Highly relatable, I’m sure, to many readers, the nine short chapters capture a glance at the thought processes and preparations necessary to overcome this apprehension. With a school presentation and her Mum’s cook book launch fast approaching, the household is buzzing with nervous excitement. The sensitive girl wants everything to run smoothly, and when cracks, and crumbs, begin to appear, Sage is unsure if she can cope. Disaster with cupcakes and congestion of traffic might just ruin Mum’s big day. But what better way to deliver a great outcome than by volunteering to speak at the launch… with practise under her belt, she’ll nail that school assignment.
This story is about learning to deal with stressful situations and challenging oneself in managing personal hurdles. Literary Launch is a light-hearted, enlightening and encouraging story that middle graders will speak of highly.

The Sage Cookson series showcases a delightful character in Sage; a real kid who makes mistakes but also makes the best of every situation. They are best read in succession to follow Sage’s journey and to reflect on the connections from one book to the next. Celeste Hulme‘s black and white sketched illustrations delightfully pronounce the mood of each chapter, and the handy recipes at the conclusions, and on the website, brilliantly engage the audience with this series. Recommended for budding chefs and travel adventure lovers.

New Frontier Publishing, 2017.


Meaningful Moments in Picture Books

Nearly every single picture book I read holds meaningful moments for me, some sliver of specialness or hug-full of hope that can empower and illuminate. These next few examples exhibit strong messages using memorable characters in ways young children can easily interpret and appreciate. A few words about each hardly do them justice, so please look these ones up to enjoy them for yourself.

Reena’s Rainbow by Dee White and Tracie Grimwood

Subtle, sweet and oozing with that sort of sophisticated simplicity that makes you love a story when you are not even sure why. Reena and Brown Dog feel a little outside of normal, not quite the same as everyone else. Reena is deaf but not oblivious to the world around her. Brown Dog is homeless but not without a need to love and protect. Together they find their true worth and meaning and along the way, lasting friendship. Gracefully told and delicately illustrated, Reena’s Rainbow will fill your heart with colour. Highly recommended.

EK Books September 2017

La La La A Story of Hope by Kate DiCamillo and Jamie Kim

An eloquently told, almost wordless symphony of colour, light and sound reverberating the liberating quality of hope. It’s about making a call, daring to speak out, and enduring the quiet moments in between waiting for a response with grace and patience. As Kate proclaims, ‘it is a story about singing your song and the world answering you back…a story that needs intimate reflection’. I encourage you to do so.

Walker Books Australia October 2017

Continue reading Meaningful Moments in Picture Books

Qld Literary Awards 2017

The 2017 Queensland Literary awards shortlists have recently been announced. They are a good reflection of the quality of current Australian writing.

The Qld Premier’s Award for a work of State Significance and The Courier-Mail 2017 People’s Choice Queensland Book of the Year show an exciting cross-section of Qld authors. The University of Queensland Fiction Book award category is also notable this year for its Qld authors such as Nick Earls with Vancouver, Ashley Hay with A Hundred Small Lessons and Melissa Ashley with The Birdman’s Wife.

My particular interests are literary fiction, children’s and YA so I’ve read all but 1 of the 15 books in these 3 categories. In the Fiction category, authors Heather Rose and Nick Earls have already been scooping awards in this year’s NSW Premier’s Literary awards. I’ve previously reviewed Hannah Kent’s The Good People for the blog.

Wendy Orr is shortlisted for the Griffith University Children’s Book Award and I learned at the Brisbane Writers Festival this weekend that she also lives in Qld. Dragonfly Song has already been awarded a CBCA Honour prize this year. And I believe that Richard Yaxley, whose YA novel This is My Song is shortlisted, is based in Qld.

In the Griffith University Young Adult Book category, two books in particular have been generating attention in other awards. The Bone Sparrow by Zana Fraillon was shortlisted for two international awards: the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize; and then it went even higher to win an Honour Book award in the CILIP Carnegie Medal. It has received Australian commendations as well, including an Honour prize in the CBCA awards. I reviewed it for the Weekend Australian.  Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley won the Indies award and was also an Honour book for the CBCA. I also reviewed it for the Weekend Australian.

Australian literature for young readers in the past few years has been particularly strong in the YA novel and children’s picture book categories. The QLA Children’s shortlist shows a turnaround towards novels for younger readers. Hopefully this is the beginning of a renaissance in Australian children’s novels.

The 4 Children’s titles nominated are: A Different Dog by Paul Jennings, How to Bee by Bren MacDibble, Dragonfly Song by Wendy Orr and The Grand, Genius Summer of Henry Hoobler by Lisa Shanahan. The fifth book is a picture book, Somewhere Else by Gus Gordon.

There is a ‘sense of silence’ across these children’s titles, with a number featuring introspective and even mute protagonists. These shortlisted books could perhaps be summarised by quotes from two:

  • hold moments ‘like a small, quiet treasure’ (Grand, Genius Summer of Henry Hoobler) and
  • celebrate ‘small silent victories’ (Dragonfly Song

Congratulations to all the shortlisted authors and their publishers.

See the complete shortlist below and follow the links to read more about each book.

2017 Queensland Literary Awards Shortlists

The Queensland Literary Awards congratulates the authors and publishers of all shortlisted nominations for the 2017 Awards.

The winners of each category will be announced at the Award Ceremony on Wednesday 4 October 2017 at State Library of Queensland.

Queensland Premier’s Award for a work of State Significance

Matthew Condon Little Fish Are Sweet (UQP)

Mary-Rose MacColl For a Girl (Allen & Unwin)

Cathy McLennan Saltwater (UQP)

Bill Wilkie The Daintree Blockade: The Battle for Australia’s Tropical Rainforests (Four Mile Books)

Queensland Premier’s Young Publishers and Writers Awards

Lech Blaine

Mindy Gill

Anna Jacobson

Emily O’Grady

Bonnie Stevens

The University of Queensland Fiction Book Award

Melissa Ashley The Birdman’s Wife (Affirm Press)

Nick Earls Vancouver (Inkerman & Blunt)

Ashley Hay A Hundred Small Lessons (Allen & Unwin)

Hannah Kent The Good People (Pan Macmillan)

Heather Rose The Museum of Modern Love (Allen & Unwin)

The University of Queensland Non-fiction Book Award

Deng Adut and Ben Mckelvey Songs of a War Boy (Hachette)

Richard Fidler Ghost Empire (HarperCollins)

Mary-Rose MacColl For a Girl (Allen & Unwin)

Kim Mahood Position Doubtful (Scribe)

Cathy McLennan Saltwater (UQP)

Griffith University Children’s Book Award

Gus Gordon Somewhere Else (Penguin Random House)

Paul Jennings A Different Dog (Allen & Unwin)

Bren MacDibble How to Bee (Allen & Unwin)

Wedy Orr Dragonfly Song (Allen & Unwin)

Lisa Shanahan The Grand, Genius Summer of Henry Hoobler (Allen & Unwin)

Griffith University Young Adult Book Award

Simon Butters The Hounded (Wakefield Press)

Cath Crowley Words in Deep Blue (Pan Macmillan)

Zana Fraillon The Bone Sparrow (Hachette)

Mark Smith The Road to Winter (Text Publishing)

Richard Yaxley This is My Song (Scholastic)

University of Southern Queensland History Book Award

Rebecca Ananian-Welsh, Gabrielle Appleby, Andrew Lynch The Tim Carmody Affair: Australia’s Greatest Judicial Crisis(NewSouth Books)

Paul Irish Hidden in Plain View: The Aboriginal People of Coastal Sydney (NewSouth Books)

John Murphy Evatt: A Life (NewSouth Books)

Rebe Taylor Into the Heart of Tasmania (MUP)

University of Southern Queensland Australian Short Story Collection – Steele Rudd Award

Michelle Cahill Letter to Pessoa (Giramondo)

Kyra Giorgi The Circle and the Equator (UWA Publishing)

Tara June Winch After the Carnage (Penguin)

State Library of Queensland Poetry Collection – Judith Wright Calanthe Award

Jordie Albiston Euclid’s Dog (GloriaSMH Press)

Carmen Leigh Keates Meteorites (Whitmore press)

Antigone Kefala Fragments (Giramondo)

Cassie Lewis The Blue Decodes (Grand Parade Poets)

Omar Sakr These Wild Houses (Cordite Books)

QUT Digital Literature Award

Mez Breeze Inanimate Alice: Perpetual Nomads (Beta)

Pascalle Burton Generation Loss (after Alvin Lucier)

Jason Nelson Nine Billion Branches

David Thomas Henry Wright with Karen Lowry and Julia Lane Paige and Powe

Marianna Shek Limerence

Unpublished Indigenous Writer – David Unaipon Award

Alicia Farmer Mai Stori

Lisa Fuller Mirrored Pieces

Emerging Queensland Writer – Manuscript Award

Anna Jacobson for How to Knit a Human

Janet Lee for The Killing of Louisa

Ben Marshall for The Fox

Siall Waterbright for The Coming

The Courier-Mail 2017 People’s Choice Queensland Book of the Year

Voting closes 5pm Friday 25 September 2017.

Melissa Ashley – The Birdman’s Wife
Nick Earls – Vancouver
Richard Fidler – Ghost Empire
Ashley Hay – A Hundred Small Lessons
Anita Heiss – Barbed Wire and Cherry Blossoms
Joan Katherine Isaacs – To Prey and To Silence
Mary-Rose MacColl – For a Girl
Cathy McLennan – Saltwater

Big Stories at Brisbane Writers Festival 2017

Brisbane Writers Festival has had a new lease of life with the appointment of CEO and Artistic Director, Zoe Pollock for the festival’s 55th anniversary. The festival was about “The big stories – and the little ones in between” and the biggest story of them all was probably the recognition of Indigenous literature and creators, particularly the tenth anniversary of Alexis Wright’s novel Carpentaria, which won the Miles Franklin award. This was uniquely celebrated as an immersive dramatic and visual performance inside “Angel’s Palace”, a specially constructed “art-tent”, designed by Gordon Hookey.

The opening address was given by Alec Doomadgee, who spoke about “Indigenous knowledge creation”. He showed excerpts from his seminal film Zach’s Ceremony. Alec said that “reading books gives you a real history of the country you’re in”. He uses the arts and culture to tell stories and create change and urged us all to go away and do something for change. My family has something planned …

I was fortunate to moderate a panel session about “Connecting to Place” which explored how three authors create place as a character (or not – as we discovered) in their stories.

Melissa Lukashenko spoke about the significance of land in her beautifully written, award-winning novel Mullumbimby. Ashley Hay let us look inside a special Brisbane house, peopled over time by two vulnerable women whose lives interconnect. Her novel, A Hundred Small Lessons, has just been shortlisted for the Queensland Literary awards. Kate Mildenhall’s debut novel, Skylarking, was one of my best books of 2016 for the Weekend Australian. It is set on a windswept, isolated cape and is a fine piece of writing about friendship between two young women. Kate is destined for big things in the literary world if she continues to write at such a high level.

I also attended a session about the Australian book industry, “Published in Oz”. It was exciting to hear how writing and reading is the biggest art form that people engage with in Australia. 20% of Australians attend a book event annually and Australia has the highest per capita attendance at writers’ festivals in the world. Reading books is the number 1 favourite leisure activity of Australians. Double the number of Australians enjoy reading books to attending sporting events, playing video games or other pursuits. Australia also has the world’s top independent bookseller market.

Another enlightening session was a workshop for adults on visual literacy by James Foley. He has illustrated Sigi Cohen’s, My Dead Bunny, The Last Viking by Norman Jorgensen and other books.

The BWF also hosted “Word Play” an outstanding program for young people. My highlight was hearing Wendy Orr, author of the Nim’s Island series (the genesis of the movies), Peeling the Onion and the masterful historical fantasy based on the Minoan myths of bull-dancing, Dragonfly Song. This novel has also just been shortlisted for the Queensland Literary awards.

Thanks to the organisers of the 2017 BWF and to those involved. There was a very special buzz in Brisbane.

Take Three Girls by Cath Crowley, Simmone Howell & Fiona Wood

Take Three Girls (Pan Macmillan Australia) is a brilliant new novel written by three prominent Australian YA authors, Cath Crowley, Simmone Howell and Fiona Wood, each the creator of their own notable, highly acclaimed novels.

Fiona Wood, Simmone Howell, Cath Crowley Photo: Jake Nowakowski Herald Sun Weekend

I’m thrilled that all three authors join us on the blog. 

How did you meet and could you tell us something that surprises you about your co-authors?

CATH: I met Simmone on a road trip to a Lowther Hall writing camp. I didn’t have a car, and she gave me a lift. We talked all the way. I met Fiona when Pan Macmillan published the brilliant Six Impossible Things.

I am not surprised by their talent, but I’m in awe of it. I’m always surprised by their descriptions in writing. I read them and wonder how they came up with such beautiful sentences.

SIMMONE: Fiona and I met when we were both working on TV show The Secret Life of Us. I was Script Coordinator, she was writing an episode. I really liked her episode. Also, she shared her sandwich with me!

FIONA: Simmone introduced me to Cath, and she also suggested I show my manuscript for Six Impossible Things to her publisher, Pan Macmillan. I’m not exactly surprised any more but still impressed that both Cath and Simmone are such lateral creative thinkers. I’m much more inclined to choose a path and stay on it, while Cath and Simmone will more readily take a detour or write a new section of the map – so I love that; I need more of that in my writing practice.

Whose idea was the book and how could you consider putting aside writing time that could have been used for your own books to write Take Three Girls together?

CATH: We all wanted to write together. (At least, that’s how I remember it.) I was thrilled to be writing with two of my favourite authors. Take Three Girls took a long time because we were always able to put aside the joint book to work on our own projects.

SIMMONE: I can’t even remember which of us said we should write the book. I think we all laughed and then had a moment of, wait, YES! It was good to work on the book because it was contracted, and because it was fun. When I’m mid-way through writing a novel (as I always seem to be) any distraction will do. The writing of Take Three Girls was much easier than my current WIP maybe because the investment was split three ways.

FIONA: It was lovely to break from the usual solitude of writing. We agreed that we’d never put pressure on each other to put this project first – it had to fit around our other writing deadlines. If you build that in as a condition of the collaboration, then delays are not a problem. And we also said that our friendship comes first: if it stops being enjoyable, or it causes any friction, then we drop it. You do hear the occasional horror story of collaborations going wrong, but we weren’t going to let that happen.

It seems that this novel has been a long time coming. I first heard of its existence through the Leading Edge Books conference several years ago and have been waiting with great (and completely fulfilled) expectation. Why has it taken until now to reach us?

CATH: It has taken a long time! We agreed to let each other work on individual projects. (So Words in Deep Blue slowed us down!) But also, it takes time to write in collaboration. There’s a lot more talk, planning, juggling, rewriting.

SIMMONE: None of us stopped writing on other projects. It wasn’t like we could rip six months out of the calendar and work exclusively on the book. We refused to let it be a stressful exercise because that would have defeated the purpose, which was in some to give us each some relief from our own personal book hells.

FIONA: It definitely took longer than we had originally anticipated, but that has ended up being a strength. We had longer to develop and live with and get to know our characters, and the story itself evolved in ways it probably wouldn’t have if we’d had a clear run at writing it and finishing it more quickly. It took just as long to write as an individual novel because it’s not just a matter of dividing the work three ways, rather, you are engaging in an extended creative process of listening and responding to two other writers as you shape a world and story and themes together.

Where does the title come from?

SIMMONE: Just a little bit inspired by the 1960s UK TV show. The book was originally called Friends Anonymous, but then we found a dating website with the same name so had a rethink and did a bit of a poll.

Probably like all your readers, I was trying to guess who wrote which character – Clem, Kate and Ady – while I was reading (and I occasionally wondered if you were trying to put us off track by using some of each other’s signature traits). And the warmth and understanding makes me think you also have fallen in love with each other’s characters. Maybe you each wrote one character and then added to the other characters…

How did you collaborate on the writing process? Are you going to reveal who wrote what? 

SIMMONE: Ha! I don’t know about Cath and Fiona but I can’t really write like anyone but myself. I think we are pretty simpatico writers though … I wrote Clem, Cath wrote Kate, Fiona wrote Ady.

FIONA: One of the things that made our process very writer-friendly was that we each created a character – and wrote that character, and did all the plotting together. And we divided up the Wellness work sheets and PSST posts. So we developed an initial overall narrative outline and talked through our character arcs at a weekend away, then we would do further plotting and planning, chapter by chapter, go away and write our own characters, come together and read, talk, rethink, refine, replot. I think our writing styles do sit comfortably together, and we loved spending time with these three characters. And yes, I absolutely fell in love with Clem and Kate.

One of the characters, Kate, plays cello. How do you know so much about cello and loop-based performance?

CATH: I had some help! My niece, Esther, plays the cello. She told me about the double stops. ☺ But I adore Zoe Keating. If I could have any talent, I would be able to play like her. She stops my heart.

Ady is regarded as ‘Queen Bitch, according to school folklore’. She is much more than she seems (like the other girls) and is surprisingly perceptive about others. How do you show this?

FIONA: Because Ady is an artist, it felt natural to give her that perceptive quality: she really looks, really notices. I show that in her thoughts, and we offer the reader a dislocation between what Ady is thinking, and how others perceive her. Because our structure includes Wellness journal entries for each character this allowed me to give readers extra glimpses of how Ady’s understanding of Kate and Clem changes over the course of the narrative, for example.

Clem recognises that most girls are trying to be perfect. Why is she able to step away from looking svelte from swimming?

SIMMONE: I think she has a moment where she realises that she will never look how she wants to look, or how she thinks she’s supposed to look, and that there has to be more to her, and that there is more to her.

I love when the girls talk about their perfect days late in the novel. Kate’s is ‘writing music and playing music’, Ady’s is ‘playing with fabrics, dreaming up clothes that don’t look like other stuff’ and then Max cuts in to say her thousand perfect days ‘all involve books and movies and music’.

What are your perfect days?

CATH: My perfect day is filled with nothing – so there’s space to dream and write.

SIMMONE: My perfect days sees me far away, maybe seeing in real life something I’ve only read about.

FIONA: Mine would include a long sleep-in, a walk, some writing, some reading, some food, some solitude, and some family and friends time.

Thank you all for this wondrous YA novel about surprising friendship.

SIMMONE: You’re welcome!

FIONA: Thanks, Joy.

Connecting with Dads – Picture Books for Father’s Day

With Father’s Day just around the corner, it’s a good time to celebrate all the quirks, quips and quandaries that go with fatherhood, but especially all the sweet, sugary and special moments that loved ones share together. Whether it’s about dads, grandparents or other role models in your life, the connection is what’s important. Here are a few special stories showcasing a mix of tenderly love, fatherly-figures and families with memories.

A Thousand Hugs from Daddy, Anna Pignataro (author, illus.), Scholastic Australia, 2017.

It’s true… one hug is never enough! For little people, it’s those big bear hugs, that comfort and warmth that helps them feel safe. From sailing paper boats on the ice, to playing catch in the clouds of snow, sheltering together from the fog and wind, and hopping from iceberg to iceberg, father and baby polar bear do everything together.

Anna Pignataro’s soothing rhyming couplets glide effortlessly across the tongue and through this tender tale on the ice. Metaphorical descriptions beautifully tie in with her delicate and dreamy illustrations. Where “the climb is way too high”, daddy is there lifting him up to reach their paper boat. When it’s foggy, daddy is there holding his hand. Each verse sweetly portrays the love, security, encouragement and playfulness felt by the little cub towards his father, and ending with the phrase “And I’ll be happy as can be – one hug is not enough for me!” But at the end of the day, with a gentle goodnight hug, will one just be enough?

A Thousand Hugs from Daddy oozes love, warmth and the unconditional support of a parent. The perfect bedtime story for children from two, when one giant bear hug can feel like a thousand hugs.

Whatcha Building?, Andrew Daddo (author), Stephen Michael King (illus.), ABC Books, 2017.

Not as much a story about fathers but rather an ode to father-figures and tasks you could tackle together. Particularly if you have a soft spot for construction and a cup of tea!

Andrew Daddo tells the tale of a curious and persistent boy, Little Davey Durak, with a penchant for off-cuts of wood. Burly builder Bruce is busy deconstructing the old corner milk bar, which certainly takes Davey’s fancy. Over days and different kinds of weather, the two struck up a solid relationship, although Davey’s lips as to his building plans are tightly sealed. Bruce’s own curiosity is fed by his imagination, as he wonders whether the boy is building a rocket ship, a boat, a Ferris wheel, billycart, a space station or a complicated roller-coaster. Once the “brand-new, super-sized, super-schmick corner store” is complete, all that’s left is the old milk bar sign. The pair take it through the most fascinating streets lined with King’s glorious mix of photographed recycled bottles, jars, cups and kerosene lamps acting as a backdrop to his eccentric, animated cartoons and illustrated cardboard cut-outs. And finally Davey allows Bruce into his mastermind creation. “It’s exactly what this town needs.”

Whatcha Building? relays a wonderful message of community and awareness of recycling and sustainability. The text and illustrations are carefully considered whilst absolutely entertaining us at the same time. Although with little dialogue on Davey’s part, the bond between him and the builder is undeniable with their mutual respect and subtle banter. A down-to-earth book to share with dads; a reading experience that is sure to be recycled over and over.

Grandma Forgets, Paul Russell (author), Nicky Johnston (illus.), EK Books, 2017.

When an ageing loved one suffers from dementia, the whole family is affected. But the resilience and maturity of the little girl narrating this story is truly admirable. Taking what often is a disheartening situation and turning it into a wonderfully positive and bonding experience is how the grandchildren and their parents treat Grandma.

Paul Russell’s story provides readers valuable opportunities to share old and plan for new memories with their parents and grandparents. In this case, the Dad’s heart is heavy as his mother forgets, but the brother and sister ensure ways of continuing Grandma’s involvement and inclusion as a valued and loved family member. There are plenty of joyful and playful moments throughout the book that subdue some of that heaviness to make it such a light-hearted and ‘memorable’ read.

With Nicky Johnston’s beautifully nostalgic, vibrant and emotive illustrations, Grandma Forgets is a meaningful and powerful story that youngsters will adore sharing with their loved ones at any time of the year.

And for another favourite to share with Dad is the “poignant, perfectly pitched and picture perfect”; The Fix-It Man by Dimity Powell and Nicky Johnston. A deeply significant, achingly heartbreaking and heartwarming tale, all at the same time. You can read more of my previous review of this beautiful book here.

Happy Father’s, Grandfather’s and Special Person’s Day to all the admirable, caring and supportive men who do so much for your loved ones.


Homeless in Australia: ‘Because of You’ by Pip Harry

Pip Harry is the author of three Australian YA novels, I’ll Tell You Mine; Head of the River, an unflinching look at elite school rowing, and now, Because of You which gives insight into people living on the streets.

Where are you based and what is your current role, Pip?

Currently I am based in steamy Singapore, where my family has been living for the past 18 months on an expat adventure. I had an earlier stint here when I was six years old … it’s changed a bit since then! I love the warm weather, the proximity to Asia for quick trips to exotic destinations and the food is so good. Satay, noodles, chilli crab, dumplings, I could go on!

How involved are you in Australia’s YA community?

I’m actively and passionately involved in Australia’s YA community, even from my Singapore outpost! Through the #LoveOzYA movement – which aims to promote local content to local readers – I’ve been swept up in support and love for Aussie YA. Wherever possible I review or promote other #LoveOzYA releases. We are one big YA family.

Could you tell us about your earlier books?

In 2012, I released my debut novel, I’ll Tell You Mine, about a goth teenager sent to a strict girl’s boarding school. In 2014, I followed up with Head of the River, about siblings competing in the high stakes annual school rowing race and putting it all on the line to win. 

Why is your new novel Because of You (UQP) important?

It’s important because it offers younger readers the opportunity to understand and emphasise with the daily struggles of street people. Many teenagers have little or no contact with the homeless community, except perhaps walking past them on the street, but this book tells their stories, reminds readers that it could happen to any one of us, and offers hope for change.

Could you tell us about your major characters, Tiny and Nola?

Tiny, 18, is sleeping rough and has fled her rural town for the city. Nola, 17, is drifting through her final year at school, unsure of her path in life or her friendships. When Nola is assigned to do 20 days of mandatory community service at a homeless shelter’s creative writing program, the girls meet and form a friendship that will change both their lives.

You have a cast of minor characters who help create the community setting. Who most pulls at your heart and why?

One of the things I loved most about writing Because of You was the supporting cast of characters. The one who captured my heart was Meredith, who runs the Street Library. I love her belief that “books can save anyone, if they’re the right ones,” and her passion to bring stories to the streets.

My son cooks burgers for the homeless in Sydney. What would you suggest ordinary Australians do for the homeless?

Does he? That’s so fantastic! There is so much ordinary Australian’s can do to lend a hand in the homeless community, from serving food in soup kitchens to supporting creative workshops or offering your time and skills in other ways. Check out govolunteer.com.au for opportunities in your area.

What hope do you see for Australia’s homeless in the near future?

It’s easy to get discouraged about the homeless crisis when tent cities are being dismantled and figures for homelessness are rising. But my hope is that we can take national action to end homelessness in this country through supporting our homeless organisations and investing in affordable, stable and permanent public housing.

Why have you incorporated Marcus Zusak’s The Book Thief and Cath Crowley’s Graffiti Moon into Because of You?

Those books are incredible and they’re written by Australian authors I admire, so I wanted my characters to read and adore them too!

What have you been reading recently?

I’ve been reading the chilling, ghostly Ballad for a Mad Girl by the brilliant Vikki Wakefield and I’m in awe of the backwards narrative in Everything is Changed by Nova Weetman. I really liked the passion and rawness of Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur. 

Thanks very much, Pip, and all the best with Because of You.

Thanks for having me!

Jules Faber & Stinky Street Stories

Thanks for speaking to Boomerang Books blog, Jules and especially for your amazing bespoke Boomerang blog cartoon featured at the top of this interview.

Have you met Alex Ratt, the author of The Stinky Street Stories (PanMacmillan)? If so, what did Alex smell like?

I have met Alex Ratt and she smelled of success and lollipops.

Your illustrations for The Stinky Street Stories 1 & 2 add lots of wicked fun to Alex Ratt’s (aka Frances Watts) words. Which story did you particularly enjoy illustrating and why?

I think I had the most fun drawing Smelly Birthday To Me because I could draw a lot of animals, which I really like to draw.

How do you describe your style of illustration in these books?

Simplistic cartoons designed to highlight the funniest parts of the text (and there are lots of funniest parts!)

What else have you illustrated? How was your style different in these?

I’ve illustrated David Warner’s Kaboom Kid series, Michael Pryor’s Leo Da Vinci series, Damean Posner’s Helix and the Arrival, Andy Jones’s Awesome Book of Rap, Rhyme and Poetry and the Cat and Dog Stories series of short stories. Sometimes I just draw in my usual style but sometimes, as in the Kaboom Kid series, I re-imagine my style to better suit the story. It’s always important to make lead characters look very different from characters in my other books.

Have you met Anh Do, author of WeirDoanother series you’re illustrating? If so, what was your impression of him?

I’ve met Anh, yeah. He’s great fun and just as funny as he is on TV.

What work did you do for Disney?

I worked on a show called The Proud Family in the Background and Layout Department.

What awards have you won?

We won Book of the Year at the Australian Book Industry Awards for the first Weirdo and we’ve won three Honours Awards for Weirdo, Weirdo 3 and Weirdo 5 at the KOALAs.
I’ve also won three Rotary Cartoon Awards for my comic strip MiBraine.

What books have you enjoyed reading recently?

just re-read a fantastic book called Ready Player One about future life inside a 3D videogame. The movie comes out next year and I’m really looking forward to it.

Could you do a quick drawing for us at Boomerang Books Blog? It could be a sketch of Brian from the Stinky Street Stories encountering Boomerang Books Blog or whatever you wish.

Boomerang Boys

And here it is!

Thank you so much for your answers and cartoon, Jules, and we look forward to seeing more of your inimitable work.

Stinky Street Stories 2 available 12th September 2017.