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?

www.lisashanahan.com

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!

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

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.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

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.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

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.

Winners & Honour Books CBCA 2017

What incredible achievements by our Australian writers and illustrators for young people as shown by this year’s CBCA winning and honour books.

Claire Zorn stands out again with her extraordinary One Would Think the Deep (University of Queensland Press). She won both CBCA Older Readers’ category and the Prime Minister’s Literary Award with her previous novel, The Protected. One Would Think the Deep is set in the 1990s and submerges the music of this era into the struggles of Sam who is suffering from grief and rage after the death of his mother. The authoritative evocations of the ocean and surfing reflect his passion.

Congratulations also to the highly accomplished honour books in this category. They are both also remarkable and world class: Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley (Pan Macmillan Australia) and The Bone Sparrow by Zana Fraillon (Hachette Australia). I’ve written more about this impeccable trio of novels previously, as well as about the shortlisted books in this category.

I am also very excited by the Book of the Year: Early Childhood winner, Go Home, Cheeky Animals! (Allen & Unwin) written by Johanna Bell and illustrated by Indigenous man, Dion Beasley. It is such a cheeky, joy-filled story; perfectly structured. The illustrator also sells his work in the form of t-shirts and other merchandise on his website.

The honour books in this category are also excellent examples of texts for young children. Nannie Loves by Kylie Dunstan (Working Title Press) has nostalgic-looking but bright tissue-paper collages and Gary by Leila Rudge (Walker Books) is an ingeniously structured tale about a homing pigeon who can’t fly. I’ve written more about the Early Childhood books for the blog here.

Another picture book with appeal to young readers won Picture Book of the Year. Home in the Rain (Walker Books) is Bob Graham’s seventh CBCA win. He is a maestro and this book equals his magnificent best even though it takes place in the unlikely setting of a car in the rain.

The Picture Book honour books are written by the affable and inventive Lance Balchin with Mechanica (The Five Mile Press) and talented writer for a range of ages and genres, Maxine Beneba Clarke with The Patchwork Bike (Hachette Australia). Van T Rudd has expressed movement and community in his street art inspired illustrations of the bike and its creators. I’ve written more about these books here and elsewhere in the blog, including how to share the books with children.

Book of the Year: Younger Readers has been won by Trace Balla’s entertaining and comprehensive depiction of a trip through the Grampians in Rockhopping (Allen & Unwin). Honour books are Wendy Orr’s masterful, myth-inspired novel Dragonfly Song (Allen & Unwin) and the comical Captain Jimmy Cook Discovers Third Grade written by Kate & Jol Temple and illustrated by John Foye (which completes the A&U triumvirate of winners in this category). I’ve written previously about the books for younger readers here and elsewhere in the blog.

The Eve Pownall Award for Information Books has been won by the informative, traditional Amazing Animals of Australia’s National Parks by Gina M. Newton (NLA Publishing). The honour books are the clear, well-designed A-Z of Endangered Animals by Jennifer Cossins (Red Parka Press) and the fascinating The Gigantic Book of Genes by Lorna Hendry (Wild Dog Books). I’ve written more about these books here and elsewhere in the blog.

Congratulations to all the winners and everyone who was shortlisted this year. Thank you to the judges and all the volunteers involved in the CBCA.

Emily Rodda & ‘The Shop at Hoopers Bend’

Emily Rodda is indisputably one of Australia’s best writers and she is also acclaimed around the globe. Many of her works, of which I have a large collection in my bookshelf, are contemporary classics where she conjures magical worlds based in both reality and fantasy that resonate with all young people and kindle their imaginations. 

I can’t overstate her gifts and importance to countless children’s (and adults’) lives and am unbelievably excited that she has agreed to speak to Boomerang Books Blog.

Emily, I have heard you say that some of your characters have been based on your own children. Have you written a character based on yourself? If so, who?

A: It’s fairly common for writers to draw on autobiographical material in their early books, and I was no exception. Lizzie, the mother of the main character in my first book, Something Special, is a light but quite faithful sketch of me—as I was at that time, anyway. Normally I don’t base characters on real people, though. It’s more interesting to let characters grow into themselves as the book develops.

 

How do you create a magical element in a realist setting? How do you know how much magic to include?

A: I’ve always seen the potential for magic in ordinary things, people and places. Most people have experienced odd things at one time or another—a weird string of coincidences, maybe, or time apparently going faster or slower than usual, or a strange feeling in an old house, or a flicker of shadow seen out of the corner of an eye … I’ve written stories based on all these things. Writing magical reality is just a matter of giving your imagination full play, letting it lead you, allowing yourself to believe, and then writing the story accordingly.

Which of your settings would you like to visit or live in?

But in fact I actually feel as if I have lived in all my other worlds as well. While I was writing Deltora Quest, part of my mind was living in Deltora all the time. It was the same with Rondo, with the world of the Three Doors, and of course with Rowan of Rin. I know them all as well as I know my home place, and I can revisit them any time I like. Rowan’s world is the one I find the most appealing, I think, but this could be because it was the one I wrote about first.

What is your favourite nursery rhyme or fairy tale and have you included it in your work in any way?

A: I can’t say I have an absolute favourite, really, though Little Red Riding Hood has always appealed to me because I like the idea of the big bad wolf impersonating the Granny. I put legendary, fairytale and nursery rhyme characters into the world of Rondo because I see Rondo is a sort of metaphor for the imagination, and of course the tales we’ve heard and read are part of that, all jumbled up in our minds with the things we’ve thought up for ourselves.

The Shop at Hoopers Bend (Angus&Robertson, HarperCollins) is a transcendent tale that made me cry both times I’ve read it but also lifted my heart.

A: Thank you! That’s a wonderful compliment.

You’ve named your main character, Quil (from Jonquil). Why have you chosen this name rather than another winter bulb or flower?

A: I always try to give my characters names that somehow suit their personalities. We have a lot of jonquils in our garden. They aren’t flamboyant and bright. They don’t make big, happy, dancing statements, like daffodils. They’re unobtrusive, but when you get close to them you can see their delicate beauty, and you realise that they have the most beautiful scent. So to me the jonquil was a good symbol for a reserved and sensitive person like Quil.

Could you tell us a little about Quil’s game, ‘Stardust’?  What type of person are you from this game?

A: Having learned that everything on earth contains the dust of long-dead stars, Quil decides that this is the answer to the vexed question of why we are instantly attracted to some people—even feeling as if we have met them before—but are left unsure or even wary about others, however nice they are, till we know them much better. Quil believes we recognise and feel we ‘know’ people whose stardust most exactly matches our own.

This has been an idea of mine for a long time. It applies to places as well as people. Quil takes the theory further by dividing people she meets into types and giving those types star names of her own invention. This helps her to feel in control of her world, to some extent. Her stardust types are very personal to her. I wouldn’t dare say which type she might decide I am. A bit of a mixture, I suspect.

The setting around the character-filled shop at Hoopers Bend is distinctly Australian. How do you create this or other scenes with a minimum of description?

A: That’s quite a hard question to answer, because when I’m writing I don’t think specifically about which words to use. I just put myself into the scene and say what I’m seeing, hearing and smelling. I don’t like to stop the story dead with great slabs of description, preferring to give the atmosphere and appearance of any setting come out through the eyes of the characters as the story moves on.

What did you enjoy reading as a girl?

A: In early primary school I read all the usual Australian children’s classics, The Wind in the Willows, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan and lots of Enid Blyton and LM Montgomery books among many others. By the end of primary school I had discovered the Brontes, and after that I read books for adults almost exclusively.

What have you enjoyed reading recently?

A: I’m just reading Hag-Seed, Margaret Atwood’s take on The Tempest, and am enjoying it immensely. Margaret Atwood never fails to amaze me.

Thank you, Emily, and all the best with your wonderful books and their important legacy.

Belief Compassion Dreams – More Picture Books that Inspire

The well of picture books possessing that alluring duality to entertain and inspire never seems to run dry. Here are a few new titles to keep you topped up.

Feathers by Phil Cummings and Phil Lesnie

Phil Lesnie used pencil, watercolour and a tiny bit of gouache to decorate Cummings’ story of compassion and hope. According to his note, he also spilled his coffee on it twice and left it in. Despite his refreshing flippancy, both he and Cummings have created a picture book awash with extreme visual sincerity and narrative beauty. Their story follows the flight of a migrating sandpiper whose tug for home takes the reader through crumbled war-torn landscapes, over deep river valleys, through dark stormy nights, and across flood-ravaged plains and turbulent seas until finally coming to rest near Mia’s house.

At various locations, a feather or two is lost, each causing a reaction between those who happen upon it, connecting us, the reader, with the inhabitants from lands far distant and their circumstances. The sandpiper is a curious yet brilliant choice for the allegorical conduit between that which is normal for some and catastrophic for others.

Feathers promotes themes of immigration, hope, tolerance, cultural awareness, compassion and humanity in a divinely beautiful way. Highly recommended for primary aged readers.

Scholastic Press August 2017

Once Upon A Small Rhinoceros by Meg McKinlay and Leila Rudge

When a small rhino sets off across a the ocean waves in search of something more, he discovers a world of possibilities and wonders greater than he could have ever imagined and the satisfaction of eventually returning home. This is a comely tale of living your dreams to their fullest and ignoring those soothsayers who warn you otherwise. See Romi’s full review, here.

Walker Books Australia August 2017

I’m Australian Too by Mem Fox and Ronojoy Ghosh

I’m Australian Too focuses on multiculturalism from within our own backyards or indeed, the backyards of a dozen or more typically Aussie kids with not so typically Aussie roots. Celebrating diversity in a way that pre-schoolers will relate to, Fox uses simple verse and a conversational tone to prompt readers to investigate their own cultural heritage and to not only celebrate it but embrace those with different family histories, as well. Each introduction ends on a bouncy high note suggesting that no matter where we originate from, no matter what the circumstance of our being Australian, we are all one and better for it.

Scholastic Australia March 2017

Sarah and the Steep Slope by Danny Parker and Matt Ottley

One of the most powerful and affecting picture book teams around, join forces again to present Sarah’s story of seemingly insurmountable odds. Sarah is unable to leave her home because of a slope. It blots out the sun and surrounds her house blocking every exit. Despite her best efforts, the slope will not budge, trapping Sarah, ‘all day long’. Until the slope doctor makes a suggestion and with the help of her friends, Sarah discovers a way to see past the slope and to conquer it.

Sarah and the Steep Slope is a tremendous story of courage, friendship and emotional resilience. Occasionally we, including young children, all encounter slopes like Sarah’s that effectively prevent us from seeing what is beyond and inhibit us from venturing further than we need to. Parker’s narrative gives one hope and salvation from negative thoughts and actions by illustrating the formidable healing power of friendship. Ottley reinforces this notion of self-belief with utterly lovable, whimsy-filled illustrations that bathe each page with texture and meaning without imagery clutter. Another masterpiece and my new best favourite.

Little Hare Books, imprint of HEG August 2017

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I Want to Be Something – Picture Books with Inspiring Characters

Children have their whole lives ahead of them to do and be whatever they desire. Whether or not those wishes seem achievable, let’s encourage their dreams and aspirations and teach them that obstacles are an important part of the journey. Here are a couple of inspiring picture books that support the notions of following your heart and striving to reach your goals.

Eric the Postie by Matt Shanks is an adorable story about a little echidna stamping his mark on the small township of Wattleford in outback Australia. His ancestors, as seen in Eric’s own Hall of Fame-type gallery, had all achieved greatness in their own right. However, Eric’s dream is to be the best postie in town, and he has all the perfect attributes to prove it – dog protection, a really long tongue for licking envelopes, a sharp beak for opening the residents’ mail, and the ability to keep the letterboxes pest free. But when he realises he has no actual mail to deliver, Eric abounds an inventive delivery scheme that ensures a successful postal experience for everyone.

Matt Shanks’ ingenious story is heartwarming, lively and simple, and his illustrations on white backgrounds equally match the gentle, charismatic and uncomplicated nature of the book. I love his placement of the characters’ off-the-face eyes, and the endpapers are pretty special, too!

If you’re looking for a book that will get the seal the approval from your preschooler, then this one delivers! With sheer determination, tenacity and ambition, Eric the Postie addresses them all.

Scholastic Australia, July 2017.

Nothing says, ‘I’m the queen of the world!’ like the majestic stance of the small rhinoceros on her boat that graces the front cover of this book. And rightly so. In Once Upon a Small Rhinoceros by Meg McKinlay and Leila Rudge, this little powerhouse impresses us all with her spirited resolve as she achieves her dreams of seeing the world.

Against the belief of the other rhinoceroses, who only trust in mud wallowing, grass grazing, tree scratching and sun bathing, the small rhinoceros doggedly, yet stoically, fashions up a boat, waves goodbye and sails away into the distance. With the dreamy wording by McKinlay and Rudge’s equally dreamy watercolour, pencil and collage illustrations, we are allowed to share in the protagonist’s wonderfully dreamy and exotic adventures to “faraway lands and beyond.” The rhinoceroses are typically unimpressed with her stories on her return, but perhaps there is still hope for one inspired ‘littler’ soul.

This small character with big might is clear in her resistance to the adult’s pressures and expectations, without all the fuss. She is impressively composed, curious and adventurous, and doesn’t fall into the trap of accepting the everyday monotonous routine. So, take her example and create your own story… Once Upon a Small Rhinoceros is inspirational for all living beings, great and small.

Walker Books, August 2017.

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Review – Ruben

It took Bruce Whatley almost the same amount of time I have been plying my trade as an author to conceive and create this 96-page picture book (around 10 years that is). To call Ruben a masterpiece is a discredit to the complexity and intense beauty that harbours within each page. One might spend hours alone exploring the end pages, searching for clues and analysing the significances secreted within.  This is not a picture book for the faint hearted. However, it is a supreme testament to Whatley’s self-effacing talent and a proclamation to strive to be the best you can be. As decreed by Whatley himself, ‘It had to be the best I could be.’

Ruben is a captivating synthesis of picture book and graphic novel. Told in parts akin to chapters, it describes the solo existence of a small boy living in the shadows of a futuristic city that functions only on what it receives. It is incapable of producing anything in return, an inequitable industrial wasteland of pylons, viaducts and ominous occupants who represent the pseudo organic heartbeat of a mechanical monster.

Continue reading Review – Ruben

Interview with Katrin Dreiling – Illustrator of The World’s Worst Pirate

From teaching in Germany to illustrating in Australia, Katrin Dreiling has literally come a long way to become the inspiring, creative and talented artist she is today. Celebrating her first picture book with award-winning author Michelle Worthington, we are fortunate enough to have Katrin join us for an awesome chat on her work and The World’s Worst Pirate. First, a little about the book.

Will hates being a pirate, and his buccaneering skills, or lack thereof, are obvious to the rest of the crew. His mother, the Captain, is less than impressed with his choice of passion – a scallywag chef in the galley. That is, until Will saves the entire ship from a bloodthirsty Kraken – by feeding it one of his delicious cupcakes! With all satisfied by the outcome, a change of heart sees Will become the best pirate-chef / Kraken-tamer / cupcake-maker of the seven seas.

Dreiling’s illustrations bring much life, colour and energy to this thought-provoking and empowering story about listening to your heart. Her cleverly curated techniques involving splashes and sprays, line and fluid watercolours, mixed with her unique and quirky stylised characters and scenes make for a playful, light-hearted romp on board this momentous deck.

Aspirational, with plenty of sweet and bubbly goodness to leave you licking your lips for more, The World’s Worst Pirate is a jolly and hearty quest for any pirate-loving (or not!) adventurer from age four.

Little Pink Dog Books, July 2017. Purchase here.

Katrin, congratulations on the release of your debut picture book, The World’s Worst Pirate! Can you tell us a bit about your journey towards being selected as illustrator for this book?

Thank you very much and thank you for inviting me to this interview! I have known Kathy and Peter Creamer for a little while simply through social media. They contacted me when I had just finished an illustration for my inky version of Hans Christian Andersen’s Princess and the Pea and bought the original artwork. When Little Pink Dog Books started to call for submissions Kathy was so kind to approach me again and this is how things started to flow. I really appreciate all their support. It is so important to know that someone believes in your work when you are just starting out.

The story by Michelle Worthington contains an empowering message about following your dreams despite challenges. Does this resonate with you? What were your challenges and rewards during the illustration process?

It resonates with me indeed on a very personal level. A couple of years ago I took the plunge to make a career change and start out as an illustrator which has been a very freeing experience for me considering my background. I am writing about this in more detail on my blog at katrindreiling.com. I thoroughly enjoyed the illustration process and working in this team and have to admit that the biggest challenge was to not eat too much chocolate…

I love your mix of line, watercolour, splashes and sprays! What a perfect combination of techniques for this book! What kinds of media did you use? How did you develop your unique style?

I usually like to mix media depending on what colour I’m after. For example, if I am about to create a cloud and I remember to have a beautiful blue paper somewhere in my paper collection I might decide to do a collaged cloud. I also always aim to incorporate techniques that children are familiar with (ink/ watercolour splashing) to inspire them to get creative, too.

What is your favourite part / illustration in The World’s Worst Pirate? Why?

I think I like the cover the best because I really enjoyed drawing those waves. They took forever but it was really relaxing to do. Also I liked having all characters on this one page and seeing how they look together.

How did you find collaborating with Michelle? Were there any surprising moments?

I have met Michelle years ago before this project when I was undertaking my own little publishing business. So I knew she was very professional to work with but I had no idea she would be so easy going and supportive. She made my job really easy and a pure delight.

How would you describe the support of the publishing team at Little Pink Dog Books? How long did the illustrations take to complete?

Little Pink Dog Books were equally supportive, very transparent and a joy to work with. The illustrations were done in three steps (sketching, storyboarding, final artwork) and I had plenty of time for each stage to help achieving the best results possible. I think altogether I was illustrating over a course of eight months.

Fun Question: What is your favourite flavour of cupcake?

Most certainly vanilla! Although I am very fond of chocolate, too…and I can never say no to mocha flavour but I think my favourite one would be choc chip cupcakes unless there’s the ones with fancy icing and strawberry flavour, they aren’t too bad either…..

Have you always wanted to be a children’s illustrator? Which artists influenced you along your journey?

It’s a life-long dream to work creatively but the direction of children’s illustrations was definitely influenced by my own three children. I could see how much impact the artwork has on little minds when reading a book together and I wanted to achieve exactly that. My favourite illustrators are Russell Ayto, Chuck Groenink and many French illustrators because I love the poetry in their art.

What else is on the cards for Katrin Dreiling? What can we look forward to seeing from you in the near future?

I recently finished a project with MacMillan Education and hope for more projects of that kind. Currently I am working on my own picture book manuscript and the illustrations and then I also recently signed my second contract with Little Pink Dog Books and Michelle Worthington. Illustration work for that one are well on the way and I sometimes give some sneak peaks on my social media…..

Thank you so much for your piratey participation, Katrin! 😊 🐙 

Argh!!!!! 

Katrin studied languages in Germany to become a teacher, and ended up being an illustrator in Australia. She loves to come up with quirky creations that inspire children to get creative themselves. She also provided the characters for animated university lectures and government staff coaching videos that attracted over 320,000 views worldwide to date. Katrin just finished her first pirate book written by Michelle Worthington and to be published by Little Pink Dog Books this year and currently works on a project to be published by Macmillan Education.  As much as she enjoys illustrating, she could not fully put her language studies behind her, occasionally authoring short stories. Katrin also enjoys giving colourful and messy art classes to kids twice a week. In her free time Katrin loves to spend time with her husband, three children and Golden Retriever “Loki”.

For my interview with Michelle Worthington on getting to know The World’s Worst Pirate, please head here.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Samantha Wheeler, Wombat Warrior

Samantha Wheeler writes informative tales about environmental and conservation issues. She frames these inside warm, child-friendly stories. They are also exciting.

Thank you for speaking with Boomerang Blog, Samantha.

My pleasure, thanks for asking 

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

 I split my time between our inner city home near the Brisbane CBD, and a small property we have near the Sunshine Coast. I came to writing quite a late, only writing my first story after completing the Year of The Novel course at the Qld Writers Centre in 2009. Prior to that I worked with farmers and taught agriculture and science in high schools. My first published story, Smooch & Rose, about koalas in Redland Bay, was accepted by UQP after I pitched to Kristina Schulz at the CYA conference in 2012, and was published in 2013. Being fairly new to writing, I’ve found the children’s literature community in Brisbane, and Australia wide to be incredibly welcoming and encouraging. I feel very lucky to have chosen this genre for my books. 

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

 Yes, I do, and with my background in teaching, I love this part of being an author. I hope I make them interesting by having fun with the animals and characters I’ve written about. Encouraging children to explore their curiosity is a wonderful thing. For example, who knew cassowaries had no tongue? Or that wombats had square poo? Nature is full of delightful surprises. One of the most memorable responses happened just recently at a local school. After I spoke about my latest book, Wombat Warriors, the whole school (including the principal) sang ‘Dig Like a Wombat’ – with actions!! It was fantastic!

 I can imagine children collecting and keeping your books. Could you tell us about your books?

 Aww! That’s a nice thing to say! Thank you. To be honest, I would collect my books (he he). I write exactly the type of book I would have loved as a child. I was really into books with an element of truth, so books like Gerald Durrell’s My Family and Other Animals fit that description. So when I write now, I try and satisfy that burning urge to find out more about nature while creating an adventurous ride for the reader. I usually choose stories after seeing things myself (e.g: when developers cut down all the trees where a koala lived: Smooch & Rose, or when I saw a newspaper article about wombats being buried alive: Wombat Warriors) or after talking to children about the problems facing our wildlife. (e.g: the cassowaries up in Mission Beach: Mister Cassowary, or the problem of plastic in our ocean: Turtle Trackers (coming 2018)). So if you’ve seen anything that worries you … let me know!

 What awards have they been shortlisted for or won?

 My first children’s book, Smooch & Rose, was shortlisted for the 2014 Queensland Literary Awards and the Readings Children’s Book Prize, and my third, Mister Cassowary, was shortlisted for the 2016 Wilderness Society Environment Award for Children’s Literature, the Readings Children’s Book Prize, Speech Pathology Australia Book of the Year Award and was commended in the Royal Zoological Society of New South Wales Whitley Award. It’s too early to say for Wombat Warriors, but fingers crossed!

 How do you combine information about Australian animals and environmental issues with a satisfying storyline?

 It’s a bit tricky! I usually do a lot of research before writing, and my early drafts can be a bit didactic. I sprout facts worse than an encyclopedia. Luckily I have very patient editors at UQP, who kindly point this out, and I have to switch things around to weave the facts more carefully into the story. It’s not always easy though. Endings are especially hard as, like my characters, I want to save all the cassowaries or all the wombats, which can be a bit unrealistic. I have to keep focussed on the ones in the story and think about how they might be saved in a practical and realistic way.

 What’s your favourite Australian animal? 

I think I’d have to say the southern hairy nosed wombat. So adorable! I loved researching them, and think a sequel to Wombat Warriors might be in order, just so I can research them again! I do have a soft spot for sugar gliders and willy wagtails though.

 What were you like as a girl?

I lived in Africa as a little girl, and although I loved school and reading, I think I was quite shy in class. Collecting interesting animals (like chameleons, tortoises and giant stick insects) and having adventures outdoors were by far my favourite things to do.

Who do you model your characters on?

Most of my characters are a mix of people I know. So Aunt Evie in Wombat Warriors was based on a colourful aunt of mine in England who didn’t have her own children and seemed to forget I was only a child. Staying with her was both scary and exciting, as she’d let me do things Mum would never approve.The shy Mouse in the same book is based on a young girl I know who always looks to her mum when I ask her a question, despite having very firm views on wildlife herself. Spud in Spud & Charli was a huge thoroughbred I used to own, who smelt terrible, and loved eating more than anything else in the world. And nasty Uncle Malcolm in Smooch & Rose, well … some things are best left a secret.

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

My books have become a little longer since Smooch & Rose, mainly because there’s so much to say! But the overall style and intended audience has remained the same. I’ve tried to spread the protagonists out across the books so that I’m not always writing about girls or about boys, just trying to mix it up. The issues have no real pattern, just the ones that press most to be written. I’m always on the lookout for possible ideas, and most of our family holidays revolve around some sort of animal adventure, so all suggestions welcome!

What are you writing about now or next?

I’m editing my next book called Turtle Trackers, which is set up near Mon Repos in Bundaberg. Approximately 300-400 turtles come to the beaches in this area to nest every year. While I had the pleasure of watching baby turtles hatch last January, I was saddened to hear of all the problems they face. Many students I’ve spoken to have said that the turtle is their favourite animal, so I’m really looking forward to sharing this book with them early next year.

What have you enjoyed reading recently? 

I’ve just finished the most magnificent children’s book by my wonderful friend and colleague, Peter Carnavas. The Elephant. It’s also published by UQP and is beautiful, funny, and sad. It’s Peter’s first novel and boy, its good!

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

Thank you Joy, it was my pleasure. All the best with your wonderful blog.

Review – That Stubborn Seed of Hope

Human beings can be a tenacious breed. Our stubborn ability to cling to optimism often overrides unsolicited fear, which I guess allows us to fit in with the rest of the world’s species and, in short, survive. Brian Falkner artfully cultivates that seed of hope in a choice collection of short stories ideal for mid-grade to YA readers and beyond.

That Stubborn Seed of Hope Stories heralds what I hope is the first of more anthologies for children, depicting concise, gripping stories linked in theme and flavour. The tone of this collection is at times dark and sobering, sorrowful and desperate yet somehow also manages to leave the reader with a yearning to read on, to venture further into their own swamp of fears and to face those disquietudes with the help of another’s story.

Falkner addresses a number of fearful situations and occasions to dread with these stories: the fear of death, embarrassment, rejection, heartbreak to name a few. At times the obvious theme is enshrouded by a veil of less certain anxieties which combine to form complex and rich narratives. Continue reading Review – That Stubborn Seed of Hope

Night Swimming by Steph Bowe

Steph Bowe’s latest YA novel is Night Swimming.

Thanks for being interviewed by Boomerang Books Blog, Steph. Where are you based and what is your current role?

I’m based on the Gold Coast, but I was born and raised in Melbourne. I write Young Adult novels and visit schools to give talks and run writing workshops.

How involved are you in Australia’s YA community?

I read more Australian YA that probably any other category! And I recommend it heartily to everyone, every chance I get. Australian YA is wonderful both to read and as a community to be part of – I have always found YA writers and readers incredibly supportive and welcoming.

Could you tell us about your earlier books?

My debut novel, Girl Saves Boy, is about a girl saving a boy from drowning, the secrets they both keep and all of the events that ensue, including garden gnome theft and lobster emancipation.

My second novel, All This Could End, is about Nina, a girl who robs banks with her psychopathic parents and younger brother – and accidentally takes hostage a boy she knows in a bank robbery that goes horribly awry.

Why is your new novel Night Swimming (Text Publishing) important?

It’s the first time I’ve really felt comfortable writing about a lot of things that are very close to my heart – I drew on my own life a lot writing this novel, and wrote about things that I think are important to represent in fiction for young people.

I was inspired to write Kirby dealing with her grandfather’s dementia after someone in my own life was diagnosed with dementia, which is something that so many people deal with. And even though the novel covers a lot of heavier things – including mental illness and being estranged from a parent – there’s still a lot of humour and lightness. It’s a novel that’s hopeful.

Kirby is gay but the focus of the novel is not on her coming out; that’s just one aspect of her life and who she is, and is normal and accepted, as it should be. The country town where she lives is not a homogenous place, because Australia is diverse, and I wanted to represent that – so characters some from a variety of cultures and backgrounds. I aspired to write individuals; no real person is defined by one aspect of themselves, and people rarely fit clichés, so I wanted my characters to reflect that.

I wrote Night Swimming as the novel that would have been a comfort to me as a young person, who often felt anxious and out of place and awkward, and who struggled with my sexuality and my race and so many other things. And I hope that other young people will find the novel uplifting. I hope that it resonates.

Who are the major human (and animal) characters?

Kirby, our awkward/adorable protagonist, who has a pet goat, is a carpentry apprentice and loves her family and her town more than anything. She wants nothing to change in her life, and – unfortunately for her – suddenly everything does.

Clancy, her best friend, who is obsessed with musical theatre and longs to leave town, move to Sydney, and become a star. Instead he’s stuck working in his parents’ restaurant. He continually comes up with ridiculous money-making schemes and insists on Kirby being his partner-in-crime.

Iris, new girl in town and the love interest of both Kirby and Clancy. Her parents open a restaurant across the road from the restaurant belonging to Clancy’s parents, sparking a bit of a rivalry. She plays the mandolin, is the most brightly dressed person Kirby has ever met, and makes a lot of puns.

Stanley, Kirby’s pet goat, son of her first pet goat, Gary. Likeable, charming, sophisticated. Not a regular goat, a cool goat. Best character in the book.

You have a cast of minor characters who help create the community setting. Who is your favourite and why?

Kirby’s cousin Nathan is my favourite of the secondary characters – he’s a bogan and a bit of a dag, but he’s a very affable, endearing character. (And he, and Kirby’s friend/Nathan’s girlfriend Claire, were the same age as me when I wrote this – about 21. So if I lived in the town, I would be friends with them – that’s probably why I wrote them to be so likeable.)

I really enjoyed the humour in the story. Could you share a little?

Thank you! Clancy is the biggest source of humour in the story – probably because he is so unapologetically and ridiculously himself, and Kirby is willing to be a sidekick and go along with his absurd plans. His Cane Toad Removal Specialists scheme is one of my favourites.

Why crop circles?

I love The X-Files. I love conspiracy theories around aliens, though I don’t believe them – they’re entertaining. And I love the idea of bored teenage kids in country towns making crop circles.

I also wanted to explore the way that things that are pretty uneventful (i.e. some crops getting flattened) can explode into a huge source of gossip and intrigue when there’s not much else going on (i.e. in a small town).

Why have you mentioned George Orwell books?

I really enjoyed 1984 and Animal Farm as a teenager, and so many young people study George Orwell books at school. And because they’re classics, older people have read them, too. So a love of George Orwell books is something that Kirby has in common with her mum – who she’s very different from, in a lot of ways.

Were you talking to Gabrielle Tozer while you both were writing your new books? You’ve both mentioned The Very Hungry Caterpillar! What were some of your favourite books as a child?

The Very Hungry Caterpillar is such a timeless classic – I adored it as a kid, and I think anyone who read it as a child loved it. I remember wanting to create stories way back when I was reading picture books – probably before I actually understood the words. I loved Where The Wild Things Are, and the Charlie and Lola series, and The Lighthouse Keepers’ Lunch.

As a slightly older kid, I loved massive series – The Saddle Club, Babysitter’s Club, Enid Blyton’s books, just anything with a whole lot of books I could collect and obsess over. My favourite Australian books as a kid was Deborah Abela’s Max Remy Superspy series. I always wanted to be a spy.

I started reading YA when I was about eleven – my first favourite YA novel was On The Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta, and it’s still one of my favourites now (I could not possibly name a single favourite novel these days – I would have to give you a top ten).

What have you been reading recently?

I’ve been reading lots of Australian YA, including:

Vikki Wakefield’s Ballad For A Mad Girl which is an incredibly creepy novel about a girl being haunted by a ghost – that’s still very authentic and magnificently written (like everything by Wakefield).

Paula Weston’s The Undercurrent which combines sci-fi and action in a future, dystopian Australia and manages to be both enjoyable escapism and politically relevant and thought-provoking, which is quite a feat.

Mark Smith’s The Road To Winter which is a really haunting dystopian novel that’s ultimately hopeful. It’s reminiscent of Claire Zorn’s The Sky So Heavy but with a deadly virus as the apocalyptic event rather than nuclear winter. I’m excited for the sequel.

And I just finished Begin, End, Begin, the #LoveOzYA anthology, which was all kinds of wonderful. My favourite story is the one by Jaclyn Moriarty, because it features a time travel agency and a hilarious protagonist.

Thanks very much, Steph, and all the best with Night Swimming.

Thank you for interviewing me! Always a pleasure to ramble about books!

Amazing Creatures of the World – Stunning Non-Fiction Books for Kids

When non-fiction texts are presented in the most visually and perceptively- arousing ways that leave the mundane behind and turn into a curious adventure of the wild variety. That’s what these following graphic information books about nature’s amazing creatures do to nurture and sharpen our hearts and minds.

A is for Australian Animals, Frané Lessac (author, illus.), Walker Books, August 2017.

Internationally renown for her striking illustrations is USA-born, Frané Lessac, artist to books including Pattan’s Pumpkin (by Chitra Soundar), Simpson and his Donkey, Ned Kelly and the Green Sash, and Midnight (all by Mark Greenwood). Her remarkable A is for Australia (review) precedes this stunning addition; the factastic tour, A is for Australian Animals.

A necessary introduction neatly begins the book at ‘A’; a map of Australia surrounded by general facts about the unique qualities of our native fauna. What’s to follow is a detailed alphabetic collection of fascinating facts and characteristics all the way through to ‘Z’. With one or two animals featured on each double page spread, this resource is a compendium of colour and life. Each page is divided with large, bold headers and accompanied by smaller font paragraphs interwoven between the pictures. Beautiful, vibrant earthy tones in a production of silky gouache and etched naive-style paintings capture the eclectic mix of wildlife characters in their surroundings.

Equipped with animal distribution maps in the index and enough mind-blowing information to forge the most knowledgable animal experts, A is for Australian Animals is a highly valuable and engaging learning tool for students in primary school. I am now a fan of the long-necked, mosquito-devouring oblong turtle!

Koala, Claire Saxby (author), Julie Vivas (illus.), Walker Books, August 2017.

One particular favourite is the native Aussie fluffball- the koala. With other best-selling Australian animal themed books by award-winning non-fiction author Claire Saxby, including Emu and Big Red Kangaroo (review), here is a gripping exploration of the symbolic Koala.

Written in both a story tale and informative format, and masterfully illustrated by the legendary Julie Vivas (Possum Magic), Koala’s journey begins high in a tree fork with his nurturing mother. But he is old enough to look after himself now, and being challenged by another male sees little Koala lost in search for another home. Factually, males fight in their need for a mate between late spring and the end of summer. Navigating his way around the bushland and avoiding dangers like predators and human deforestation, Koala eventually finds his own tree where he is safe and independently sufficient.

Here is a book that is so beautifully descriptive, with sensational watercolour scenes you could hang on your wall. Koala enforces enough compassion to reinforce proactive pledges for wildlife sustainability, but is also simply a pleasurable and captivating read for its primary school aged readers.

Rock Pool Secrets, Narelle Oliver (author, illus.), Walker Books, April 2017.

With her final contribution to the children’s literature world, the superlative Narelle Oliver leaves a lasting testament of her undeniable passion for the creatures of our world and her abundance of talent. Oliver has blessed us with numerous award-winning treasures, like Baby Bilby, where do you sleep?, The Best Beak in Boonaroo Bay, Sand Swimmers, and this last one; Rock Pool Secrets.

A scrupulously crafted linocut print, etch and watercolour portfolio of art make up this glorious exploration into the shallows of the pools. Each spread contains secrets nestled in and amongst the exhibition of line, shape, colour and texture. Cleverly integrated lift-the-flaps intersect between what is hiding and its unveiling. Whether it’s bubble-coloured shrimp tangled in seaweed, rock-fronting, ‘bumpy’ starfish, octopuses in ink clouds, or turban sea snails sealed in their shells with ‘lids called cat’s eyes’, there’s plenty to peruse and discover in this satisfyingly magical, concealed realm of the rock pool.

Beautifully descriptive turns and phrases add more depth and interest to the stunning visuals that facilitate factual knowledge about this richly diverse world of sea organisms. Huge amounts of detail to be learned about some of the smallest and most fascinating creatures! Children from four will absolutely delight in the Rock Pool Secrets search, but it will be no secret how much they love it!

Wild Animals of the South, Dieter Braun (author, illus.), Walker Books, June 2017. First edition by Flying Eye Books, London.

German author-illustrator, Dieter Braun, presents a spectacular array of animals from the southern hemisphere in this delectably gorgeous encyclopaedia-style graphic volume. Wild Animals of the South is the sequel to Wild Animals of the North.

A powerfully persuasive introduction leads the opening with a dedication to the wonderfully colourful, diverse, rich and rare wildlife that lives within these pages. Unfortunately, many will, and have already disappeared. What would the world be like without the power and beauty of these creatures in the animal kingdom? Despite their unique differences, their individual ways of living, it is with such importance that we take cognisance; “their will to live and their freedom” is what ties them together.

The book is divided into five regions; Africa, South America, Asia, Australia and Antarctica. Fun, fascinating and witty facts of various animals are explained in short paragraphs (just the right amount to prevent brain-overload!), along with its common and more scientific name, and striking, crisp and textured prints that fill the large-face pages. Meet majestic lions, impressive giraffes and even the unceremonious mantis in Africa, the glowing toucan and lazy sloths in South America, and zesty crocs, powerful kangaroos and our cuddly wombats in Australia, plus so much more!

There are 140 pages, including a pictorial index of each animal in their region, of breathtaking images and banks of useful, modest and age-appropriate information to add to your brain trust. Wild Animals of the South is a must-have resource for any home or school bookshelf.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Review – The Elephant

It is a rare day on earth that I’m lost for words. Fortunately Peter Carnavas never seems to be. And he uses a few more than usual in his latest work, The Elephant.

Now it’s no secret I’m unashamedly enamoured by Carnavas’ work; his illustrated picture books embrace you like a warm welcome hug. This, his first foray into longer narratives, is a hug you can immerse yourself even deeper into but beware, you may not want to let go. I didn’t.

The Elephant is an average-sized, understated junior novel for people with small hands and large hearts. Even the cover is benign and quiet, muting the enormity of what’s to come. It reads with the elegant crispness of a verse novel using a collection of brief chapters to relay Olive’s story about her dad and the lugubrious grey elephant that plagues his every move. Despite the heavy nature of Olive’s situation, it’s this wonderful lightness of touch, Carnavas’ refined way with words to convey powerful meaning and Olive’s own irrepressible personality that add the light to her father’s shade and give this story a sunny disposition. Continue reading Review – The Elephant

Anything But Catastrophic – Picture Books about Cats

Cat lovers! You won’t find disaster here. In fact, far from it. These following cat books are brilliant enough to stretch your imaginations, tickle your sweet spots and scratch at your curiosity. And they all so precisely capture the little nuances that make cats, cats.

In this sequel to The Cat Wants Custard by dynamic duo, P. Crumble and Lucinda Gifford, The Cat Wants Cuddles delights us with humorous cat antics and extreme mood swings. Whether being notoriously independent, totally ambivalent or attention-deprived, Kevin is a typical tomcat.

Surly facial expressions and skittish body language emphasise the stubborn and scornful retaliation Kevin assigns to his owner’s requests for a cuddle. Managing to escape the torturous grip of patting hands, and with absolutely no regard for his flatmate, Dog, Kevin finally finds some peace and quiet. That is until a wave of jealousy rushes over him and he commands dominance over Dog for his former lap-position… but that doesn’t last long!

This book is decidedly potent with its bold, primary-based colours and energetic qualities that exude passion and wit, especially those lime-green, telling eyes. The Cat Wants Cuddles is a book that preschoolers will be snatching, cradling and squeezing with both paws.

Scholastic Australia, May 2017.

The Catawampus Cat is full of personality and individuality, and utter charm. Jason Carter Eaton writes a thoughtful and witty tale that inspires his readers to consider the world from a different perspective. Gus Gordon’s mixed media illustrations are characteristically charismatic and ooze with a sway of retro style and a hint of contemporary flair. The characters are flawlessly represented to match their quirky names and traits that Eaton so brilliantly describes.

When the catawampus, aka diagonally-angled, cat enters the town on a Tuesday morning, one by one each of the villagers see things from another point of view. Because of the askew-walking feline, lost possessions are found, relationships rekindled, creativity is sparked and new challenges are triumphed – all with thanks to the power of the tilt. Soon the whole town is lopsided, and they even mark the first Tuesday of the new year as “Catawampus Cat Day” in his honour. But all the cat wants is to be unique, so he sets off… ‘straight’ out of town!

Eccentric, memorable and thought-provoking with the most loveable and endearing character. The Catawampus Cat will be the new favourite for preschool and early years children…it’s ours!

Penguin Random House, April 2017.

Doodle Cat is back, but this time Doodle Cat is Bored. At first this drives him out of his mind, but then he finds a crayon. Experimenting with it as a soup spoon, a spade, a dance partner finally leads the cat to discover it is in fact for doodling… But he already knew that, right? Demonstrating his creative, imaginative, and sometimes crude mind through the use of the crayon is a tiring feat for the red, graphic squiggle that is Doodle Cat. And with one final engagement, he asks the audience, “What will you draw?”

Kat Patrick writes this story with bounce, energy and vitality. The sentences are simple to create an interactive yet highly amusing report from the view of the cat. Lauren Marriott’s illustrations reflect this beautifully. Her choice of fire engine red perfectly assigns Doodle Cat his prominence on the mostly plain white backgrounds. She has also introduced the front cover’s lemon yellow, which features sporadically within the pages, too.

Young children will certainly be ‘drawn’ to both the simplicity of the book but also the scope of curiosity and artistic opportunities it reinforces. Doodle Cat is Bored is bursting with ideas to quell those boredom blues.

Scribble, May 2017.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Double Dipping – Meaningful Mindfulness

Mindfulness feels like the new catch cry. Its sudden appearance on school curricula and in children’s literature gives one the sense it’s a new concept but of course this is not one hundred per cent accurate. It’s more of a case of nudging empathy and caring within our next generations into a more prominent light, one that is accessible to them. Literature is one such way to improve accessibility and these two examples show how cleverly it can be done.

Ella Saw the Tree by Robert Vescio and Cheri Hughes

Picture books on mindfulness abound. This picture book by Big Sky Publishing is particularly special because of its gentle quality and strong connection with the everyday child. There is no overt preaching to relay the suggestion to pause for thought and take time to look around and notice the world. Hughes illustrations glow. Vescio’s narrative flows with an easy grace, reflecting the soul of this story, to remain calm and thoughtful.

Ella loves her backyard and fills her days playing in it but she overlooks the most obvious things at times, like the giant tree in the corner of her garden until one day, as the wind showers her with the tree’s falling leaves, she gets the impression it is crying. Despite reassurance to the contrary from her mother and Ella’s attempts to stem the downpour of falling leaves, nothing can alter nature.

Ella’s mother then teaches her daughter to see things in a different light by learning to sit still, observe, feel and ultimately recognise and appreciate all the many splendours, whether large or minuscule of the world. And this allows Ella to enjoy her world much, much more.

Ella Saw the Tree is a beautiful picture book to share, to keep and refer back to when needed. Whilst it focuses on an individual’s discovery of self-awareness, the implication that we should be more observant and empathetic towards our friends is also present amongst the swirling leaves of Ella’s tree.

Read Romi’s in-depth review of Ella Saw the Tree, here. For more insight into the story behind this story, read my interview with author, Robert Vescio, here.

Big Sky Publishing 2017

Too Many Friends by Katheryn Apel

This lilting junior novel is so on point with readers in this age bracket (6 – 8 years), it’s alarming. Apel reaches deep into the playground psyche of Grade 2s and extracts genuine emotion with the feather touch of verse.

The dilemma of having too many friends and those friends not all liking each other truly does germinate in the junior school years, quickly sprouting into an all-encompassing crisis, at least it can in the eyes of a seven year old. It’s a problem that often continues throughout the primary years as children’s social webs widen and become entangled by their developing emotions.

This eloquent verse novel more than ably addresses this social predicament from the point of view of Tahnee, whose pond of playmates is full to overflowing. How she works on retaining her bonds with friends she already has whilst inviting others she wants to befriend is skin-tingling touching and will no doubt strike a chord with many other children her age.

This third verse novel by Apel has a slightly younger, more playful feel about it than the previous, Bully on the Bus and On Track, which again suits the topic well. Tahnee is a warm, likeable character who epitosmises the concept of a mindful child. She shares her friendship woes with us in a series of short, elegant chapters that almost feel like standalone poems, perfect for readers to spend time with by themselves or as a sensitive shared reading experience.

Too Many Friends positively celebrates mindfulness and friendship for lower primary aged readers, demonstrating the power and beauty of these two concepts through the discerning use of verse. Highly recommended.

UQP May 2017

#byaustralianbuyaustralian

Begin, End, Begin: a #LoveOzYA anthology

I interviewed Danielle Binks, editor of Begin, End, Begin: a #LoveOzYA anthology of Australian YA short stories (HarperCollins)

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

I live in Melbourne, and currently I wear many hats … I’m a young adult and middle grade literary agent with Jacinta di Mase Management. I’m a writer, editor and book blogger – and most recently I edited and contributed to the HarperCollins book Begin, End, Begin: A #LoveOzYA Anthology.

How did something you’ve done in the past help you get this position?

From about the ages of 14–21 I wrote a lot of FanFiction. “FanFic”, if you don’t know, is fiction about characters or settings from an original work of fiction, created by fans of that work rather than by its creator.

I wrote a lot of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Dawson’s Creek and Twilight fanfic – just because I loved it, and imagining worlds beyond the end of a television season or the last page in a book got my creative synapses firing.

And actually, when I applied for the university course that set me on this path of books – RMIT’s Creative Writing and Editing program – I didn’t have any of my own creative writing to submit for consideration, so I sent through one of my Buffy fanfic pieces. And I got in.

I honestly don’t know that I’d be here today if I hadn’t found a sustaining creative-outlet in FanFiction.

Gabrielle Tozer

How involved are you in Australia’s enthusiastic YA community?

Very. I’ve had my own personal book review blog – Alpha Reader – since 2009 that I still contribute to today. When I started my book blog, I called it “my solo book club” and I just read the books that I wanted to – which just so happened to be a lot of what I’ve always read and gravitated towards – romance and YA. I’d always write these long, rambling and impassioned reviews of YA books, and eventually that led to me being invited to write about youth literature for the Kill Your Darlings online journal, for about 2 years. I always tried to give YA, and Aussie YA especially, the respect and consideration I didn’t think it was getting from mainstream arts media.

Then in 2015 the #LoveOzYA grassroots movement kicked of and I became a proud supporter of that conversation – until I was eventually elected to help form the inaugural and official #LoveOzYA committee, championing Australian YA.

Ellie Marnie

It’s fantastic that females are writing brilliant Oz YA. Even in the recent past there were outcries about lack of female writers being shortlisted for the Older Reader (YA) category in the CBCA, for example, but this year all 6 shortlisted books are by women. I know there are a few around, and you’ve included two in your book, but where have the males gone?

I think it’s all pretty subjective, really – and balances out in the end.

If you look at younger children’s books in Australia (junior fiction and the 8-12 middle grade readership), that category has mostly been male-dominated, and for a long time. The likes of Paul Jennings, Morris Gleitzman, Shaun Tan, Jack Heath, Tristan Bancks, John Flanagan, Andy Griffiths, Oliver Phommavanh…

Michael Pryor

Australia and international YA also has no problem spotlighting fine male authors – Markus Zusak, Jay Kristoff, John Marsden, Patrick Ness, John Green, James Dashner, Rick Riordan, David Levithan, Ransom Riggs, Jay Asher … I think the guys are doing okay.

The fact that the #LoveOzYA Anthology doesn’t have more male writers came down to availability – we did query others, but timelines and deadlines didn’t match up, in the end … but we got two of the finest writers – period! – in Will Kostakis and Michael Pryor.

Will Kostakis

And what we prioritised more was a diversification of story and genres, as opposed to genders.

Could you tell us about Begin, End, Begin, the anthology of Australian YA short stories you’ve edited?

#LoveOzYA was a hashtag that sparked a conversation that created a movement that led to this book … the #LoveOzYA hashtag was created in response to the onslaught of American blockbuster YA that was dominating our bookshelves. And the idea to create an Anthology riffing on that hashtag and grassroots movement was just about showing people all there is to love about Australian YA – and giving us a way to crack open the conversation about supporting local stories and authors.

At the end of the day I think the hashtag, movement and book are all about encouraging Aussie teens to read Australian stories – so they grow into adults who seek out their national literature, and keep our books community alive and thriving.

How was this title selected?

The theme we gave each of the authors to write to was “firsts”. But writing about “firsts” inevitably leads the mind to think about “lasts”. And we found that this second recurring theme emerged in just about all the stories being written – every beginning was an ending too – and we loved that, we wanted to pay tribute to that.

Jaclyn Moriarty

What genres have you included? Was this deliberate, or an outcome of what the authors wrote?

We wanted a big enough theme that all of these eclectic authors could write across multiple genres and really showcase the fact that “Australian stories” are not just set in the outback or small coastal towns …but that Australian stories are ghost stories. And space stories. And anything-else we want them to be! It was very deliberate.

How did you select which authors to invite to contribute to Begin, End, Begin – or did they twist your arm?

Well, when I started approaching authors it was all a very hush-hush secret and embargoed project … but myself and Harper Collins publisher, Chren Byng, started by writing separate lists of – maybe? – 30 authors we’d love to work with. Then we came together and picked out where we had crossovers in our wish-list, and from there it was a matter of going down the line and asking everyone if they were available and would they like to be apart of this amazing project?

I will say that since the Anthology came out, I’ve had a few Aussie YA authors approach me and let it be known that *if* there’s a second, they’d love to be involved.

So. Watch this space.

What brief/guidelines did you give the contributors?

The theme of “Firsts” and a ten thousand-word limit. And that the story had to be original. Then it was a matter of letting their imaginations run wild …

Was there any author you wanted and couldn’t get – and could maybe include in another book? Or an author you want for the future? 

Lili Wilkinson

Yes. And yes. But I won’t say who, because they may be someone I’d like to approach for Anthology No. 2 and I’d quite like any future line-up to be a surprise. But I’ve been asking readers which Aussie authors they’d like to see appear in any future Anthology … and writing down those suggestions too.

There’s definitely a list I’m holding onto.

What have you learned about any of these authors?

I’ve learned that I was absolutely right to have been fans of all of them before embarking on this project … because every single one just astounded me with their generosity and story.

My advice is; don’t just meet your idols – but work with them. See what magic happens.

Who wrote the most unexpected story? Why? 

Danielle Binks

Oh my gosh, – me! I was the unexpected emerging voice in the Anthology, with my story ‘Last Night at the Mount Solemn Observatory’ and there were times when I thought I would be too crippled by self-doubt and imposter syndrome to get it done … but I did and I’m proud of it. And a bit surprised, to be honest.

Mine is a story about a little sister, saying goodbye to her Deaf big brother on his last night in their small town. It’s inspired by my own family, partly – and when I initially spoke about it with our Harper Collins editor, she told me that she loved the idea because she’s CODA (a child of Deaf adults). So we both spent a lot of time getting it right and focusing especially on the rhythms, beauty and rapidity AusLan (Australian sign-language). So I’m proud and surprised by what I accomplished.

Amie Kaufman

Did anyone surprise you by submitting their work early?

I don’t think so? … Amie Kaufman surprised me by being a day late, only because she was getting her friend (who works at NASA!) to read over her story and give some feedback on the logistics and feasibility of her outer-space setting.

I wasn’t upset in the least; I thought it was SO COOL!

And I’d still quite like to get a “NASA-certified” sticker on the front cover because of it. HA!

How did you sequence the stories?

My publisher, Chren, put is so perfectly when she said choosing the sequence would be like putting together the perfect mix-tape. I took that advice and made sure there was a balance of genres (so sci-fi, followed by contemporary, followed by surrealism, followed by contemporary) just to hit those different peaks. And also that long and short stories were side-by-side, so readers wouldn’t get two 10K stories in a row, and become a little weary with lengths.

Was much editing involved throughout? If so, what type of edits?

There was a bit of editing … structural edits for each story, talking out things like character-development and whether or not the story was hitting the right marks at the right times (trickier to do when you have a shorter word-count, and not the length of a novel to ease into dramatic climaxes or subtle denouments). But everyone got there in the end. And there was certainly nobody who needed more editing than anyone else (myself included!)

Alice Pung RoselliPhotography

What do you hope for OZ YA in the near future?

I certainly don’t think that Australian YA is perfect. I think it needs to be more diverse and inclusive, to honestly portray Australia back to its teen readers.

But that being said – I don’t think the representation in Australian YA will get better by us ignoring our national youth literature. I think it will improve by us investing in it, and that’s certainly the route I’m taking.

I’m now a literary agent, and I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’m actively seeking and prioritising “Own Voices” stories (a term coined by American YA author Corinne Duyvis, to identify books about marginalised protagonists written by authors who share that same identity.)

And I’m really proud of the fact that the first YA manuscript I sold was a sci-fi, eco-thriller called ‘Borderland’ – written by a debut Indigenous writer and poet, Graham Akhurst (coming out with Hachette, in 2018).

Melissa Keil

I take it as a huge honour, opportunity and responsibility that I’m now in a position to have a say in the Aussie YA of the future … and for my little corner of the books world, I’m going to do all I can to make sure all Australian stories get told, and that as many Aussie teens as possible see themselves in those stories.

Because teenagers who fall in love with their national youth literature, will one day grow up to be adult readers who seek out Australian stories. And everyone has a story worth telling.

Thanks for answering these questions and for all your work in promoting Oz YA literature, Danielle, and all the best with Begin, End, Begin and your other endeavours.

Thank you, thank you, thank you

Remind Me How This Ends by Gabrielle Tozer

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

I’ve lived in Sydney for 11 years, went to university in Canberra and grew up in Wagga Wagga. It’s no secret the YA community in Australia is filled with passionate, supportive and hardworking authors, readers, bloggers, bookstagrammers, vloggers, educators, booksellers, librarians, publicists, editors, publishers etc, and I’m thrilled to be a part of it. Writing novels is so solitary and I’m an extrovert – well, most of the time – so I adore the wider community from a social and professional aspect, including participation in festivals, launches, catch-ups, book clubs, Twitter live chats, writing sprints, the list goes on.

You seem to be very active on social media. How does this help (or not help) your work? 

I have a love-hate relationship with social media, especially Twitter. I made a horrifying discovery the other day: I have written almost 46,000 tweets since joining in October 2009 (I won’t tell you how many novels I could’ve written with that number of words but it’s in the double digits). I’m quite all or nothing in everything I do in life so I’ll often have to block myself from social for blocks of time using apps like Freedom or SelfControl – but a large majority of the Australian writing community is online now so I can’t see myself quitting anytime soon! On the upside, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook connect me with other writers, book lovers and pop culture addicts, which has been a joy – I’ve taken many online friendships to the real world, especially in recent years. Believe it or not, it can also be a wonderful source of motivation; I often invite other writers to join me for #500in30 writing sprints on Twitter, where we strive to write 500 words in half an hour, so it can be fruitful. Sometimes.

What does your title, Remind Me How This Ends (HarperCollins), refer to? Which came first, your title, the story or something else?

My novel Remind Me How This Ends is about two characters who don’t know what’s next after high school – and the title refers to decision-fatigue, being stuck at the crossroads and feeling like you missed the memo on getting your life together. My own feelings of uncertainty, grief and heartache came first with this novel, closely followed by the lead characters and storyline. The title came well after I’d finished the first few drafts. My husband, who is my first reader, and I had Adele’s latest album blasting at home one day and he suggested the title ‘Remind Me How This Ends’ to me after listening to the lyrics of her song ‘All I Ask’. I knew it was perfect. (Later that day we realised the lyric ‘remind me how this ends’ was a mondegreen – a misheard lyric – and Adele’s real lyric was ‘it matters how it ends’.)

What is the significance of the cover?
Like the title, Remind Me How This Ends’ cover plays into uncertainty and endings – happy or otherwise.The daisy petals represent that classic idea of ‘They love me, they love not’… but you’ll have to read the novel to find out more!

How does this novel differ from your earlier books? 
Remind Me How This Is Ends is a very personal novel. My heart is smeared on every page of this one. I loved entertaining readers with Josie’s shenanigans in The Intern and Faking It, but I wanted to challenge myself to write something real that connected on an emotional level, even if it hurt. Reading it now, I can see I wasn’t in a great headspace during the drafting process – my characters’ pain is my pain – but the wonderful thing about writing is you can unpack your feelings on the page. I’m proud of this one, mainly because I wasn’t always confident that I’d be able to finish it, so it’s extra special to hold a copy in my hands.

Could you introduce us to the major characters?
Milo and Layla are 18-year-old family friends and former next-door neighbours who haven’t seen each other for five years – not since Layla’s mum died in shocking circumstances when they were 13 and her grieving father whisked her away from their small town of Durnan in the middle of the night. Now, Layla is back – showing up at Milo’s family’s bookstore of all places – and things are even more complicated between them. These two friends are lost, so very lost, but in extremely different ways. Milo’s girlfriend and mates have fled Durnan for jobs and university but he’s stayed behind so feels suffocated by his overbearing parents and indecision. Layla’s spent five years pushing away the memory of her mum, but being back in town with Milo triggers the past in a way she never expected…

Is there a character you would like to write more about?
Maybe Milo’s obnoxious older brother Trent. He was so much fun to write. I’ve met many ‘Trents’ during my time living in Wagga and Canberra – his voice was so clear to me during the drafting process.

Could you describe Milo’s family’s bookshop? How would you change it if you owned it?
The Little Bookshop is quaint, sleepy and, like many of the people and places in Durnan, a little unappreciated – mainly because his father is too busy chasing after another dream! Milo and Trent, who both work shifts at the shop, also don’t treat it with the care it deserves either because they’re too self-absorbed with their own lives. If I owned The Little Bookshop, I would change it in many ways – I’d connect with the Durnan community, add storytime sessions for parents and children, and hire staff who are passionate about books!

Characters remember the picture book, The Very Hungry Caterpillar. What other books from your childhood left an impression? 
So many! My parents are former teachers so my childhood was filled with gorgeous stories – and their passion for reading is a big reason why I dedicated my debut picture book Peas and Quiet to them. I still have Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge, There’s A Hippopotamus On Our Rooftop Eating Cake, Possum Magic, Wombat Stew, Picasso The Green Tree Frog and Edward the Emu on my bookshelf – and the collection hasn’t stopped growing.

What books are you reading at the moment (or recently)?
I’ve recently finished A.S.King’s Still Life With Tornado, Pip Harry’s forthcoming Because of You, Claire Christian’s forthcoming Beautiful Mess and Catherine Deveny’s Use Your Words. Next on the TBR pile is Madonna King’s Being 14, Maxine Beneba Clarke’s The Hate Race, and Eliza Henry-Jones’ Ache.

Thanks Gabrielle.

It was my pleasure!

My Life as a Hashtag, interview with Gabrielle Williams

I was very disappointed to miss hearing you at the Sydney Writers’ Festival, Gabrielle. What did you talk about and what did you particularly enjoy about your sessions?

 I’m disappointed I missed out on meeting you too, Joy. It was a crazy-busy week, and we obviously both had full dance-cards! As for my Festival talk: I have a theory about teenage audiences –10% of them love writing, and really want to be there. 20% are readers, so they’re happy to be there as well – that means 30% of the room are ‘interested’. 40% are pleased to be missing out on classwork, and if they enjoy the talk that’s a bonus. I put them in the ‘open’ category. That leaves 30% of the room at various degrees of active resistance to listening to what I have to say. I figure I’ve already got the ‘interested’ top 30%. The ‘open’ 40% can be persuaded. But it’s those tough nuts in the bottom 30% – the ones who don’t want to be there – who I want to crack. So my talk is directed at them. I talk about what I was like when I was at school (bad), and I read out extracts of my year 11 report (very bad), which generally sends a gasp through the room. I then explain that I’m a professional liar these days because I’m paid to make up stories, but I add that they shouldn’t judge me too harshly because actually, everyone lies. The fun part is when I ask them to put their hand up if they’ve told a lie that morning, and most of the room puts up their hand (including teachers). I then explain that lying isn’t always bad, because it utilises a particular type of thinking called ‘divergent thinking’ which is important for creativity. I take them through a technique I use called Nine Squares – which is divergent thinking made easy – and explain how they can use it for good (coming up with ideas), instead of evil (telling lies). One of the things that I particularly loved about my sessions at the Festival was when teachers came up to me afterwards and said they’re now going to incorporate Nine Squares into their classroom lessons. And when a group of boys walked up to me and said they thought writing sucked, but they’d each bought a copy of my book for me to sign anyway. Well, that right there felt like success to me.

What a great turn around with those students, Gabrielle! Where are you based and how are you involved in the YA literary community?

I’m a Melbourne girl, and work a couple of days a week at Readings books in Malvern. I’m lucky enough to have made a fantastic group of friends in the Melbourne YA writing community who I’ve met through talking at Festivals and school visits  – Fiona Wood, Cath Crowley, Emily Gale, Nova Weetman, Kim Kane, Bec Lim, Chrissie Keighery, and Simmone Howell are all people I catch up with regularly. I’ve also become great friends with some Sydney writers (again through Festivals) and catch up with Kirsty Eagar, Melina Marchetta, and Will Kostakis whenever I’m in their neck of the woods.

I’ve really enjoyed the originality of your novels, Gabrielle. Could you give our readers a brief overview of each?

That’s gorgeous of you to say so, Joy. Thanks. My first YA book was ‘Beatle Meets Destiny’ which was about a superstitious boy called Beatle, who meets a girl called Destiny in unusual circumstances, and wonders whether she’s ‘the one’ – only problem being that Beatle already has a girlfriend. My next book was, ‘The Reluctant Hallelujah’, a crazy road-trip type adventure between a group of 5 teenagers who have never met each other, but who have to drive (unlicensed) from Melbourne to Sydney in order to deliver the body of Jesus Christ to his next ‘safe house’. Some people were put off reading it because they thought it would be thrusting religion down their throat – it wasn’t. It wasn’t about religion at all (despite the fact that Jesus Christ Himself featured as one of the characters). In fact, it was an exploration of the themes of trust and selflessness, and I loved writing it because I felt like it was such an original concept. My third book was called ‘The Guy The Girl The Artist and His EX’. It follows four characters (again, who don’t know each other) who are all impacted on by the real-life theft of Picasso’s ‘Weeping Woman’ from the National Gallery of Victoria by the Australian Cultural Terrorists in 1986. My newest book is called, ‘My Life as a Hashtag’. It centres on a girl called MC who feels like everything is going wrong in her world, so she vents anonymously against one of her best friends on-line, only to watch, powerless, as her rant goes world-wide viral a few weeks later.

As with your other titles, I greatly admire My life as a hashtag (Allen & Unwin). How does this differ from your other books?  

‘My Life as a Hashtag’ is a much more linear novel. It’s ‘straighter’. It’s told from the perspective of looking back over the past year, running straight through from beginning to end, whereas with all my other books I’ve always liked playing with structure. I wanted to have a more tried-and-true structure for MLAAH, because there were a number of important issues I wanted to explore, and I felt like a linear structure would help give clarity to the concepts I was wanting to examine.

What issues did you raise in the novel?

There are a number of themes I wanted to look at: the issue of social media and how teens negotiate it; family break-ups; the identity of self; the politics of boys in female friendships; on-line trolling; the fact that once you post something on-line, you have no control over what people do with it; sibling relationships; ‘blocking’ and being ‘blocked’; and watching a party unfold on social media, when you’re not invited.

How did you create such a strong feeling of dread?

Creating a strong sense of dread was one of the ‘balances’ we worked hard to get right. I say ‘we’ because my editor and publisher were instrumental in pushing me to go further, and pulling me back when I went too far. I wanted there to be a sense of dread, but I also wanted a lightness throughout the book, otherwise the story would have been too grim. The sense of dread is created partly by telling the story from the perspective of the narrator looking back over the past year, which gives the reader the sense that something momentous has happened which the narrator is now reflecting back over.

This novel is very current, especially about social media. How do you know what teens are saying/doing?

The irony of me writing a book where social media is one of the major focuses, is that I’m not on Facebook, I’ve only recently started getting the hang of Twitter, and I’m still nervous about posting photos on Instagram. So technically, I don’t know what I’m talking about! However, as it turned out, my lack of knowledge ended up being to my advantage, because I didn’t make any assumptions about how teenagers use social media. Instead, I interviewed a number of them about how they approach it, the politics of posting, and how they deal with it emotionally. One of the things that I found interesting was the fact that they engage with it differently from even twenty somethings, creating something of a ‘generation gap’ between teens and people who are only a few years older. With respect to the teenagers I interviewed, I was astonished by some of the things they revealed to me (to the point where some them didn’t want to be thanked in the Acknowledgements – they’d rather remain anonymous). Through my research, I learnt about a thing called the secret Tumblr diary, which parents definitely don’t know about, and even friends aren’t privy to. If a teenager has a secret Tumblr diary, it’s the place they go to find a safe (and secret) community with others who are struggling with, say, their sexuality, body image, gender or friendship issues. I found the concept of the secret Tumblr diary both alarming and comforting. Alarming, because if, for example, they’re anorexic or bulimic, there are girls (overwhelming this is a girl issue) called Ana (pro-anorexia) or Mia (pro-bulimia) who give tips on how to purge (vomit) effectively. But comforting because this is where they go to speak to likeminded individuals if they aren’t sure if they’re gay, or trans, or are trying to reconcile other confusing feelings or issues inside their head.

What tips have you learned about successfully using social media while researching and writing this novel?

I learnt that if you want to get the optimum ‘likes’ on Instagram, you have to time your posts for when everyone is most likely to be on-line. Generally a Sunday afternoon is a good time. Definitely NOT a Saturday night.

Have you ever started any trending posts?

No. I think a trending post would be quite difficult to manufacture, and the stuff that goes viral is so random, it’s almost impossible to pick.

What does the cover represent? 

I adore the cover and think Debra Billson did an outstanding job. It’s a photo from an Instagram post, taken the night MC and one of her best friends Anouk have a massive falling out over a boy called Jed. The title and my name are written in a font which has graduated colouring, mirroring the logo of Instagram. It’s so funny to watch adults pick up my book and ask me what the cover represents, whereas teenagers pick it up and instantly recognise it as Instagram.

MC and her friends are studying Jasper Jones and Harvest in English. Why did you choose these two books?

‘Jasper Jones’ by Craig Silvey is a current school text that has as one of its themes the idea of rumour and innuendo and assumption of guilt. ‘Harvest’ by Jim Crace is set back in the middle ages when stocks in the village square were a form of punishment. Both books – even though they’re both set in an earlier time – have parallels with today’s internet culture: the public shaming, innuendo and rumour, where society makes judgments on people without having the full facts – often without even caring what the real facts are. So long as someone can be the scapegoat, everyone’s happy.

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

I’m one of the judges for the Readings Prize for Adult Literature, so I’ve been reading plenty of new Australian fiction lately. Some of the ones I’ve personally loved (which may or may not make it onto the long or short list) are, ‘Skylarking’ by Kate Mildenhall, ‘The Lost Pages’ by Marija Pericic, ‘To the Sea’ by Christine Dibley, ‘From the Wreck’ by Jane Rawson and ‘The Good People’ by Hannah Kent. So much great Australian fiction at the moment – we’re really experiencing a heyday. The other book I really want to read is, ‘Lincoln in the Bardo’ by George Saunders which I’ve heard amazing things about.

I loved Skylarking and The Good People but you’ve given me even more books I must read, Gabrielle.

Thank you for your very generous answers, Gabrielle, and wishing you great success with My life as a hashtag and your other books.

Sharing the CBCA Picture Books with Children

I described this year’s CBCA picture books in a previous post but promised to also write about Bob Graham’s Home in the Rain, which I have done here.

I’ve also added some ways of sharing the shortlisted picture books with children at home or school in case it helps with Book Week activities.

Home in the Rain  is written and illustrated by Bob Graham (Walker Books Australia)

A mother and daughter, Francie, are driving home from Grandma’s in heavy rain. The illustrations suggest that they are possibly African-Australian. The mother is pregnant with a baby sister for Francie. They stop en route to have a picnic in the car.

While driving, Francie uses her finger to write names on the foggy windows.

Children could:

Spell words with their fingers using different media, e.g. play-dough, sand, polystyrene balls, or fingerpainting with paint.

Alternatively, if the weather is cold, they could blow on windows to make steam and then write words or names.

This picture book is also appropriate for very young readers, partly because of the interest generated by the animals shown outside the car, such as the baby rabbit diving for cover, the hunting kestrel, and a seagull eating chips.

Children could make cork creatures of the animals shown in the book and hide them around the library, classroom or home.

Out is written by Angela May George and illustrated by Owen Swan (Scholastic Press)

After reading Out, read other refugee stories such as Teacup, Ziba Came on a Boat, My Two Blankets, The Treasure Box and Little Refugee.

Music/Dance The girl dances at school to different music.

The teacher, parent or carer could play music from cultures represented by refugees in Australia and children could dance to this music.

English The child’s mother has English lessons.

Children could learn a few words from languages spoken by refugees in Australia.

My Brother is written and illustrated by Dee Huxley, character creation and illustration by Oliver Huxley and design by Tiffany Huxley (Working Title Press)

Children could emulate the structure and changing colour of the illustrations in the book by folding a piece of paper to form a left and right hand side. On the left side they could draw or paint in monochrome colours to represent sorrow and grief. Then, beside this on the right hand side, they could illustrate using warm colours to represent happiness and hope.

One Photo is written by Ross Watkins, illustrated by Liz Anelli (Penguin Random House Australia)

At home, children could take photos of family and important things.

Then they could select one best photo of people or something that is important for them to remember.

Print the photo at home if possible, or digitally send to school ready for printing.

Form and display a class montage with one photo from each child.

Mechanica: a beginner’s field guide by Lance Balchin (The Five Mile Press, Bonnier Publishing Australia)

The Mechanica website enables children to make their own creatures https://www.mechanica.com.au/

Alternatively, construct 3-D winged creatures similar to those on the endpapers using found and made materials, such as foil.

Children could also make up their own 2-D creature in the style of those in the book. Present these on a double-page using the format of the book, where there is both an illustration and a written description.

The Patchwork Bike is written by Maxine Beneba Clarke, illustrated by Van T Rudd (Hachette Australia)

Make a large bike as a class. If possible, make it big enough to sit on.

Try to use materials shown in the book:

Bent bucket seat,               handlebar branches

Bashed tin can handles,      wood cut wheels

Flag from flour sack,           small pot bell

Painted on lights,                bark numberplate

Paint Movement Practise the technique of smearing paint to show movement.

Never Bored – Board Books for Babies

Little books for little hands to grasp. Big world concepts for small minds to soak up. Board books are often baby’s first introduction to the relationship between sound and words and pictures. They also represent a delightful extension of love between parent and child as their worlds widen. These next few board books ensure these shared reading experiences are both entertaining and memorable.

At the Zoo I See by Joshua Button and Robyn Wells

This is the first in the Young Art board book series by young Indigenous Australian artists. Home grown and little hand worthy, it is a brief but merry parade of animals you might find at the Zoo. Some you’d have to look hard for, like the ‘prowling quoll’ and ‘queenly cassowary’ chicks, others are more immediate and recognisable like the ‘surprised lion.’

Button’s stripped bare text is spot on for toddlers and two year olds but includes some jolly adjectives to keep little minds tuned in and turning. I love Wells’ painted and ink illustrations – expression plus! Collect them all for your 0 – 4 year-olds.

Magabala Books February 2017

The Thank You Dish by Trace Balla

Meal times at our place are often a mixed plate of dedicated eating, distracted concentration and animated conversation. The Thank You Dish draws on these around-table -scenarios as one family sits down to enjoy their meal.

Continue reading Never Bored – Board Books for Babies

CBCA Older Readers Short List: Waer, Yellow & Frankie

There were three debut authors shortlisted in the 2017 CBCA Older Readers category, signalling the new talent being unearthed in Australian YA. Unlike some short lists in the past, all the authors are female this year, representing the number of females writing YA.

Overview

Most of the novels are contemporary realism, although Waer is speculative fiction and Yellow has elements of spec fiction.

Many of the characters come from working class backgrounds and some are dealing with deep anger, particularly in Frankie and One Would Think the Deep.

Parents are missing, dead or substance-abusers in virtually all the books. Children are missing in Frankie, Yellow, Words in Deep Blue (where Cal drowned) and Waer (where Kemp is missing). Beach/water settings are prevalent and music features in Frankie and One Would Think the Deep.

The predominance of the colours blue and yellow on the covers reflect the colour schemes published in 2016, very different from the black dystopian and supernatural covers of the past.

In this post, I will focus on the three novels by debut authors because I’ve written about the other books previously.

Waer by Meg Caddy (Text Publishing)

Waer is a werewolf tale, told as an intricate fantasy.

There are three narrators: Kaebha, a torturer, Lycaea and Lowell, who takes his pagan religion seriously, lives in a valley and finds Lycaea almost drowned. When soldiers destroy the valley dwellings, Lowell and Lycaea escape with some others. Archetypes from fantasy such as the journey, battles and hidden identity surface.

War and the displacement of Lowell and others form some parallels with current refugees, ‘To them we’re not people’.

Readers who enjoy Waer should love Megan Whalen Turner’s exceptional series which begins with The Thief. She has a new one out, Thick as Thieves.

Yellow by Megan Jacobson (Penguin Random House Aust)

Yellow is a very well written story about 14-year-old Kirra. Her surfie father named her after Kirra Beach, but calls her ‘Yellow’ because of her yellow eyes. Yellow often suggests cowardice but this girl is brave.

The story is set near Byron Bay. Kirra’s father has left the family and her mother has become a drunk. In graphic scenes, Kirra forces her to detox. The words of the popular girls scratch her inside but she decides to fight back. ‘People only have the power to make you feel small if you let them.’ Her relationship with kind Noah seems promising but she wrecks it by getting drunk at his party.

Yellow becomes a ghost story when Kirra causes a dog to drown and then talks to a ghost boy in a disconnected phone box. She tries to catch his murderer, putting herself at risk.

Kirra’s English teacher and the local librarian recommend Lord of the Flies, To Kill a Mockingbird, Catcher in the Rye and The Bell Jar. All books worth pursuing…

Issues of forgiveness arise here and in Frankie.

Frankie by Shivaun Plozza (Penguin Random House Aust)

Frankie is Italian and funny. She was abandoned by her mother and thinks she ‘deserve[s] to fail’. Her younger half-brother, Xavier, who seems to be a thief, finds her and gives her a longed-for Joy Division album. In this book, musician Ian Curtis killed himself like Jeff Buckley did in One Would Think the Deep, but both their music lives on.

Frankie is set around Smith St, Collingwood (where Robert Newton’s Mr Romanov’s Garden in the Sky and some of his historical novels were also set).

The dialogue in Frankie is smart, with a streetwise voice. The scene where Frankie follows Nate with his ‘blue gaze’ to a ‘fence’s’ house, is chillingly intimidating. When Xavier disappears, the contrast between the lack of energy put into his disappearance compared with that of rich boy Harrison Finnick-Hyde is explored.

There are numerous descriptions of graffiti throughout the novel. Readers could perhaps create their own ‘Small Street Interruptions’ based on Michael Pederson’s website ‘Outside’ http://miguelmarquezoutside.com/.

Pederson leaves quirky temporary artwork (such as roping off a dandelion with a sign, ‘do not touch’ like in an art gallery) in laneways, backstreets and buildings to surprise and encourage people to slow down, be in the moment and recognise surroundings. He attaches them with Blu-tak and removable tape.

The other three shortlisted books are:

Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley (Pan Macmillan Aust) which recently won the Indie YA award.

Readers can explore a related Virtual Letter Library http://loveozya.com.au/love/the-letter-library/ .

One Would Think the Deep by Claire Zorn (UQP) was recently shortlisted for the NSW Premier’s Ethel Turner award.

Music helps but doesn’t heal protagonist Sam’s residual rage and grief. There is a playlist at the end of the book featuring Jeff Buckley’s Loser, So Real and Grace and Split Enz’s I Got You (which Jennifer Niven also uses in All the Bright Places).

The Bone Sparrow by Zana Fraillon (Hachette Aust) recently won the ABIA award for older children, was shortlisted for the Guardian Children’s Book award and is currently shortlisted for the CILIP Carnegie medal.

Zana Fraillon’s next novel, The Ones That Disappeared, about child trafficking, will be published this month.

NSW Premier’s Literary Awards & SWF Indigenous Voices

As always, the Sydney Writers’ Festival in May was an amazing week.

The NSW Premier’s Literary Awards were announced on the Monday night and I was thrilled to meet the Patricia Wrightson (children’s book) winner for the surrealist mystery Iris and the Tiger, Leanne Hall (who I interviewed for the blog here), photographed below with shortlisted Tamsin Janu and shortlisted Ethel Turner YA author Lili Wilkinson.

Image may contain: 3 people, people smiling, indoor

 

The winner of the Kenneth Slessor Poetry award was Peter Boyle for the inimical Ghostspeaking, an intriguing mystery of finely woven stories and poems. The richly constructed characters are brought to life with interlaced poems. It evokes Borges’ Labyrinths with the brush strokes and ideas of artist William Robinson and the clear bold outlines and strokes of Matisse.

Congratulations to James Roy (who I interviewed for the blog here ) and Noël Zihabamwe, whose One Thousand Hills won the Ethel Turner award and all the other shortlisted and winning authors, including overall winner, Leah Purcell for The Drover’s Wife play script.

At the SWF, I was privileged to be in conversation with Dr Anita Heiss and Witi Ihimaera for the ‘Indigenous Voices’ sessions at the Wharf in Walsh Bay and at Parramatta Riverside Theatres. It was great to have the opportunity to discuss Anita’s new The Race for Reconciliation, a novel for children that celebrates Aboriginal hero Cathy Freeman and shares truths that many Australian children don’t know about stolen children, National Sorry Day and other aspects of Aboriginal recent history.

Anita has also shown Aboriginal women in contemporary Australian literature in new and important ways such as in Barbed Wire & Cherry Blossoms. This compares the WW2 Prisoner of War camp near Cowra in central NSW when Japanese soldiers broke out, with the local Wiradjuri people who also virtually lived under prison conditions – and had less food than the Japanese prisoners.

Also in this session was revered Maori writer Witi Ihimaera. He was the first Maori author to have both a novel and short stories published. In his memoir, Maori Boy, Witi uses a unique and powerful spiral thread structure. He also uses myths in his work.

Witi is well known for his book and movie from the book, Whale Rider and also now, Mahana. At times he wished he was brought up more in Maori traditions and he wasn’t great at the haka. But he was destined to do another kind of haka.

Anita and Witi made a fine team enlightening us about indigenous voices.

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Picture Books to Help and Heal

When you’re feeling a little lost, a little broken, or need a helping hand, what better way to lift you up than with a few beautiful, encouraging books with a whole heap of sentiment and warmth. Here are a few newbies you’ll want to hold close to your heart.

The Whirlpool, Emily Larkin (author), Helene Magisson (illus.), Wombat Books, May 2017.

When one moment shifts into another, without warning, and your world suddenly seems like a foreign place. This emotional whirlpool, as it is described; can pluck you from a place of familiarity and warmth then spin you round until you’re left confused and displaced. The Whirlpool considerately and sensitively addresses this sentiment without needing a definite cause; there doesn’t have to be some traumatic event for us to experience those ‘bad’ or isolated days. Because we all know happiness, sadness, loneliness and love, and here they are expressed beautifully through the eyes of a young polar bear cub.

Emily Larkin’s words are poetic-like. In their very being they stir up emotions in your soul. The simple sentences are sharp and carefully crafted for dramatic impact. Helene Magisson’s breathtaking illustrations almost literally wrap you up in this sensational vortex. Specifically defining moments are highlighted through her choice of visual layout and colour. Vast scenes define both feelings of joy and desolation, and focal sequences display proudness and a tiring endurance. And with Helene’s characteristically alluring charm and symbolic nuances, the significance of the yellow scarf cleverly ties the changing moods and atmospheric conditions altogether.

The Whirlpool is, funnily enough, a gentle and hopeful tale, reassuring its primary school aged readers that experiencing a range of feelings and challenges in their life can be helpful in navigating their individual journeys. This is explained further by helpful notes at the back of the book. So, take a step back and watch a snippet of real life flash before you- this book is insightful, sincere and stunningly beautiful.

Nanna’s Button Tin, Dianne Wolfer (author), Heather Potter (illus.), Walker Books, June 2017.

The sentimentality of a little piece of plastic, primarily used to hold material together, may mean little to some, but for others, buttons hold a lifetime of memories. Nanna’s Button Tin is brimming with warm and fuzzy goodness, of special intergenerational bonds and precious reminders of the past.

For a little girl, Nanna’s button tin holds the key to healing her Teddy’s much-needed amending. And she has the added comfort of being fulfilled with stories of love as she searches for the perfect round, brown button for Teddy’s eye. The tiny yellow button reminds Nanna of the day the little girl was born. The bear-shaped button was worn on her birthday jumper when she was three. The sparkly green one signifies the connection between her grandparents. Whilst the silver angel button helped bring her back to health when she was sick. With Teddy finally fixed, the button tin and all its contents are replaced on the shelf for another day of memorable moments.

With heartfelt dialogue between the characters, and superbly detailed, realistic and warm illustrations, Nanna’s Button Tin contains a pile of love and a beautifully familiar homely feel. This book will be adored, shared and reflected upon by its preschool-aged audience, and their grandparents, many times over. Certainly one to replenish all the warmth in your heart.

Ava’s Spectacular Spectacles, Alice Rex (author), Angela Perrini (illus.), New Frontier Publishing, June 2017.

Another story told through the eyes of a child is Ava’s Spectacular Spectacles. And what a vision she has! Initially, though, Ava is self conscious about her glasses and won’t wear them in class. But with Mrs Cook’s bright and imaginative attitude, things have never looked the same. Presenting a page from various fairy tales to Ava, much like watching an oversized movie screen, the teacher explains how glasses would have helped the characters avoid their problems in the story. Featuring Little Red Riding Hood, Hansel and Gretel, Humpty Dumpty and more, Ava soon realises that in order to perceive the world clearly, she will need to ‘see’ the world clearly.

I love the enthusiasm and energy throughout the text, inviting readers and listeners to join in and ponder these sentiments. There is that subtle coercion that adults attempt to convince children of what is best, but the tale is written so playfully and creatively that it just feels like pure entertainment. The illustrations are equally jovial, colourful and expressive, and particularly visually large and easy-on-the-eye to suit its purpose.

Ava’s Spectacular Spectacles is fantastically fun, full of familiar fairy tale delights. It is perfect for children from age four, and especially providing a shining light for those with vision impairments to feel confident and secure.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Book Week: the CBCA Eve Pownall Books, Part 2

Fabish: the horse that braved a bushfire

By Neridah McMullin, illustrated by Andrew McLean   Allen & Unwin

Another amazing animal in the Eve Pownall shortlisted books is the horse, Fabish. He was an old horse who rescued the yearlings from the terrible Black Saturday bushfire. The trainer rescued the finest race horses but couldn’t look after them all so he set Fabish free with the yearlings. He discovered every single one safe after the decimating fire but didn’t know where Fabian had taken them.

Picture book form is an apt medium for this true story. Important Australian illustrator, Andrew McLean, is an expert in painting our countryside and animals and Neridah McMullin has crystallised the events into a riveting tale.

Primary-age children could no doubt imagine where the horses may have found safety. They could write and draw their possible experiences.

These creators have published other very worthwhile books, such as McLean’s A Year on Our Farm and Bob the Railway Dog and McMullin’s Kick it to Me and KnockAbout Cricket.

William Bligh: a stormy story of tempestuous time

By Michael Sedunary, illustrated by Bern Emmerichs Berbay Publishing

This tale begins in 1808, 20 years after the First Fleet, when soldiers arrest Governor Bligh. It then retrospectively tells the account of the Mutiny on the Bounty before returning to Bligh’s attempts to quell both the Rum Rebellion and John Macarthur.

Michael Sedunary’s writing is picturesque and colourful; personalising Bligh’s life and endeavours.

Bern Emmerichs’ illustrations are intricate and patterned.

Surprisingly, blogging and social media appear in this book. Bligh’s log (now kept in Sydney’s Mitchell Library) relates blogging to the gossip, printed pamphlets and handbills of the period. Macarthur’s ‘tweets’ against Bligh are viewed as the social media of the time.

The first Australian political cartoon (adapted here) shows Bligh dragged from under his bed by Major Johnston’s men. Propaganda is explained and readers are asked to think about how ‘simple slogans and labels are meant to stop us thinking any further about things.’

More surprises appear when readers are asked to consider who is the hero or villain – Cook or Bligh? (Cook ordered many more floggings than Bligh.)

Other books in the series are What’s Your Story? and The Unlikely Story of Bennelong and Phillip.

 Enormous congratulations to Berbay Publishing for its Bologna Award.

 The Gigantic Book of Genes

By Lorna Hendry   Wild Dog Books

This is a glossy science publication with high quality photos. It includes seamless explanations of genes and genetics with apt examples for children to understand.

It has incredible information, such as ‘If you took all the DNA in your body, unwound it and stretched it out into a single strand, it would reach all the way to Pluto and back.’

Readers are asked: which has more genes: a grape or a human? (the answer is on page 32)

We are reminded that tongue-rolling and widow’s peaks are genetic.

No doubt every reader will be amazed when they clasp their hands to see if their left or right thumb is on top. (page 59) Try it!

And genetically all humans have 99.9% of identical DNA. We are almost exactly the same.