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.

Book Week: the CBCA Eve Pownall Books, Part 1

The Eve Pownall Information Books this year span the ABC, animals and history.

They highlight several small, independent publishers, who should be congratulated on their excellent publications.

Spellbound: Making Pictures with the ABC

By Maree Coote    Melbournestyle Books

Spellbound also won a 2017 Bologna Ragazzi Award. It’s a large, sumptuous hardcover in three parts: architecture, animals and people, and features typography (letter art) where images are created from letters that spell their names.

Young children could find the letters in the illustrations. Older readers could appreciate the typographic poetry (shape poetry) where the meaning of the text is enhanced visually.

I spoke to the creator, Maree, on the day before she flew to Bologna to receive her award, who explained that she has restricted herself to using existing fonts.

There are three levels of difficulty within the book’s examples: 1. any letters that inspire a picture can be used 2. only use letters of the correct spelling of the subject’s name 3. only use correct spelling and only 1 font per letter (see page 3).

This book helps understanding of Visual Literacy. (See page 3 for line and shape, and page 63 for patterns.)

Children could use Macs, or equivalent, to create their own letter art.

There is even a mini tutorial on how to create animals using only letters.

 A-Z of Endangered Animals

Words and Illustrations by Jennifer Cossins       Red Parka Press

The Introduction explains how the high animal extinction rate is due largely to humans, and also introduced species such as rabbits and foxes, in Australia.

Everyone can help by reusing and recycling, keeping beaches clean and not wasting water.

The book is well-designed; it’s clean and clear.

It is structured with one animal representing each letter of the alphabet.

Information on the left-hand page includes conservation (e.g. endangered or vulnerable) status; current population; description of the animal and where it lives; and an interesting fact such as no two tigers have the same striped pattern, and eastern gorillas use basic tools to gather food.

Each animal is illustrated on the opposite page.

Primary-aged children could focus on Australian endangered animals and present information using the same format, possibly to make a class book.

Amazing Animals of Australia’s National Parks

By Gina M. Newton    National Library of Australia

Like A-Z Endangered Animals, Amazing Animals of Australia’s National Parks shows which species are endangered, vulnerable or threatened (their conservation status).

Every state and territory is included, so readers may be able to visit one.

The structure is organised by environments and habitats such as woodlands and grasslands (the Bush), wetlands and waterways, arid zones and coast, oceans and islands.

Each habitat has a double page, followed by one page each for selected animals.

Read this book to discover more about our wildlife and how to care for the environment

There are high-quality photos, interesting ‘fast facts’ and a glossary.

I will write about the 3 other Eve Pownall shortlisted books in another post.

Love and Life – Picture Books for Mums

Looking for beautiful books that capture your heart with themes of comfort, joy, encouragement, living life and nurturing this Mother’s Day? Here are a few that possess these qualities, and more, ensuring you’re bursting with love and light on your special day.

My Meerkat Mum, Ruth Paul (author, illus.), Scholastic Australia, April 2017.

Meerkats. Utterly adorable. Quirky. Funny. Eccentric. Fiercely protective and loyal. It doesn’t take much to fall in love with them, and here is a sharp-witted, sweet tale that you will fall in love with, too.

Single words and short, punchy sentences establish the pace for the quick and tenacious characteristics of these feisty little creatures. “Up. Stretch. Left. Right. Sleepy Mum. Morning light.” The illustrations favour the same theatrics with their humorous assortment of snapshots showcasing the meerkats in each and every action. It is Mum’s duty to prepare her three pups for the busy day ahead. Ensuring they are meticulously groomed from every angle, they are ready to set out from their burrow for a lesson in hunting. But their work is not without misadventure as the young meerkats encounter a lick of danger. Luckily Meerkat Mum is there to assert her authority, security and comfort…as all good mums do!

Ruth Paul has captured the heart of motherhood through her cheeky, vivacious story of possibly one of the cutest animals in existence. My Meerkat Mum is a delightful read for mums and bubs to share, highlighting the love and ultimate dedication of a Mum who’s work is never complete. A book that preschoolers will simply adore.

Old Pig, Margaret Wild (author), Ron Brooks (illus.), Allen & Unwin, Jan 2017.

Written and illustrated by the legendary creators that are Margaret Wild and Ron Brooks, this heart rending classic remains as moving as since it was first published 20 years ago. The comfort in knowing you’re taken care of long after a loved one has gone brings peace and warmth even to the most broken of hearts. This story of living, giving, optimism, appreciation and infinite love will move you to tears whilst shining a beacon of light and hope in the places you need it most.

It has been only Old Pig and Granddaughter for a long time. They are an inseparable pair, a tremendous team that work well together, but most importantly, enjoy each other’s company. As quickly as we’ve fallen for this loving duo, we are shaken with a harsh reality that Old Pig is gravely ill. And Granddaughter is left to deal with her sudden sense of loneliness, alone. But Old Pig has some final affairs to prepare. Besides the bills, Old Pig gives Granddaughter the gift of peace and a sensational love for the world around her. “Do you see how the light glitters on the leaves?” “Do you see how the clouds gather like gossips in the sky?” And Granddaughter gives her own final gift too…tissues, please!

This story that deals with life and letting go has been written by Margaret Wild with the most beautiful, sincere language in a spiritually uplifting and gentle manner. It emanates with an aura of goodness; that generosity, solicitude and serenity can fulfil one’s happiness. Brooks’ use of light and shade and autumn tones encapsulate the ride of emotions as well as capturing the beauty of a world infused with promise.

Old Pig is a delicate look at loss in a story so filled with love. It is a reassuring book for early primary years children, and in particular those who have lost, or are especially close to, a grandparent.

Under the Love Umbrella, Davina Bell (author), Allison Colpoys (illus.), Scribble, Feb 2017.

No matter where one is, physically, emotionally or spiritually, they can take comfort in knowing that they are deeply and truly loved. Under the Love Umbrella is a charming analogy and reminder for our children that they always have the security of our love despite their fears, mistakes, insecurities, and even their misdemeanours.

Gorgeously poetic in its rhyming stance, Davina Bell uses sweet and mesmerising language to steal our hearts. A variety of everyday situations are captured, and are constantly brought back to the soothing words, “…love umbrella.” Whether they are experiencing unfair play, or feeling shy, moving house and strange new things, or bad dreams and big worries, the children can rely on feeling safe, considered and loved. Although it cannot be seen, love can be felt, even a long, long way away.

The simple colour palette with pops of neon orange is in similar style to this duo’s previous title, The Underwater Fancy-Dress Parade. Colpoys effectively attracts readers with her joyous and warm images, encapsulating a diverse population of family types and cultural backgrounds.

Under the Love Umbrella is an encouraging, reassuring and light-hearted story filled with warmth for any parent to share with their young ones. It includes several themes that offer valuable discussion points, including the final question, “Who’s under your love umbrella?”.

Stay safe, warm and protected this Mother’s Day! Snuggle up with a good book and a loved one. X

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

The Magic of Music – musicality in picture books

Deploy music to tell a story and joy results. You need only to think about your favourite song to understand this. Unite the magic of music with the unique creation of a picture book story and the result is something very special indeed. These next few picture books combine a passion for music and story and the exceptional ability of both to bring people together. They’re also a whole concert-full of fun.

The Great Zoo Hullabaloo! By Mark Carthew and Anil Tortop

Not only is the word hullabaloo an absolute hoot to roll off your tongue, it implies mayhem of the most exuberant manic kind. This is exactly what The Great Zoo Hullabaloo! delivers.

Lively, liberating adventure is what Jack and Jess encounter one morning upon entering a zoo that is ‘strangely deserted.’ Even the new roo seems to have bunked. Unable to find a single real-life occupant, they begin a quest to track down the missing residents with little more than a trail of feathers, footprints, and poos, aka scats, to guide them.

Their bush tracking efforts eventually lead them to a party to end all parties. Every animal is hooting and tooting, and hopping and bopping a right hullabaloo! There’s cake, a surprise appearance and enough revelry to fill a pirate ship. For whom is this euphonious shindig, though? Well, you will have to come to the party yourself to find that out.

Tunefully rhythmic and exploding with joviality, this is classic Carthew and Tortop. Great musical verse (with a lovely reference to the Silvery Moon) and animated illustrations make The Great Zoo Hullabaloo! worth getting vocal about! Make sure you read Romi Sharp’s full rhapsodic review, here.

New Frontier Publishing May 2017

Baby Band by Diane Jackson Hill and Giuseppe Poli

Life for the residents of Level 8 in their apartment block is rather subdued and unexciting. They coexist placidly with very little interaction despite their close proximity, so artfully portrayed in the very first pages by Poli. Then one day, The Baby arrives. And, as babies are wont to do, that changes everything.

Baby’s persistent refusal to sleep wears his mother to distraction. His cries are heard and felt by each resident of Level 8, again shown by Poli’s brilliant vignettes that provide telling glimpses into the lives of Baby’s neighbours.

Then, Baby’s chance discovery of the pots and pans cupboard sets off another chain of cacophonous chaos. Each clamorous clang, squeak, squawk and stomp, vibrates throughout Level 8 and awakens a melodious joy in all who dwell there. Slowly, each of the residents is drawn to the rooftop to rejoice in all things musical, with one noticeable difference. They are celebrating, together. But, can you guess what happened to Baby amidst all this musical mayhem?

Hill has composed her palpable passion for music into an elegantly told tale that truly does rise ones soul an octave higher. Poli’s illustrations resonate charm with very few brush strokes. The linear use of images and variation of perspectives, rather like notes on a musical stave, sweeps the reader along the corridors of Level 8, in and out of the apartments and finally to their common park area, which the residents now utilise to play together in their newly formed Baby Band.

Baby Band is a symphonic story pre-schoolers will love having read to them, incongruously gentle in appearance and sound yet magnificently entertaining. This story elicits plenty of opportunity for musical interaction and discussion about all manner of instruments, pots and pans notwithstanding. I adored the cleverness of it all and the irony of young children being able to find solace and slumber in sound. Bravo!

New Frontier Publishing March 2017

The Bear and the Piano by David Litchfield

Sometimes, finding yourself only occurs because of some other serendipitous discovery. This is what happens to a young bear cub one day after he happens upon a piano in the middle of his forest home. At first, the sound Bear is able to procure from the piano is so awful, he abandons it but after several seasons not only does he mature so too does his ability to produce beautiful sounds from this strange thing.

Playing the piano transports Bear far beyond the wooded boundaries of his forest and fills his heart with melodious joy. Night after night, crowds gather around bear and his piano entranced by the magic he evokes from its ivory keys, until one night Bear is given an opportunity he is unable to say no to, to see the world and share his music with it. And so, he leaves his home and friends behind.

Bear’s tale of yearning for brighter lights and attempting to make better of himself is not unique but Litchfield’s personification of a bear embarking on a journey of self-discovery is both touching and purposeful. Bear’s successful debut in the big lonely city and then consequent tug to return to his old friends and home draws the reader in with cinematic magnitude. When he does return to the forest, he is deeply dismayed to find no one and nothing as he left them. He worries his desertion has made them angry or worse that they have forgotten him. However, he is mistaken as the heart-melting ending reveals.

The Bear and the Piano is a picture book that quietly moves you to the core as an operatic aria would. Bear is tragic yet infinitely loveable. His desire to share his love (of music) and taste the bittersweet reality of his dreams is one many of us may harbour and thus relate to easily. It is easy to like and admire his courage and equally as easy to feel his heartache and despair in spite of his successes. It can be lonely at the top. Luckily, for Bear, and us being at the top is not the be all and end all.

This book is an arresting mixture of loud and strong – forte piano as it were and is beautifully supported by Litchfield’s sumptuous illustrations. A pleasure for lower to upper primary students.

Frances Lincoln Children’s Books Quarto Group UK March 2017

 

 

Ideas for Book Week – CBCA Younger Readers, Part 3: Dragonfly Song & A Most Magical Girl

Now that the CBCA Short List has been announced, it’s time to start preparing for Children’s Book Week in August, when the winners are also announced.

This is my third post about Book of the Year: Younger Readers and I have already posted about Picture Books and books for Early Childhood. Teachers, librarians and parents may be interested in sharing these books with young readers. I have included a range of activity ideas.

Dragonfly Song by Wendy Orr  Allen & Unwin

Dragonfly Song dances far back into historical fiction – to the Bronze Age in Crete where King Minos, the Bull King, demands an annual tribute of 13-year-old boys and girls. Aissa, named after the dragonfly, is born with extra thumbs and her father defies the gods by cutting them off. When he dies, the wise-woman takes the baby to a farm but her life there is destroyed and she becomes a ‘mute’ servant and then a bull dancer. Aissa summarises her life as a poem on pages 376-7.

The writing is a mixture of prose and poetry and these both extend the narrative. There is recurring dragonfly imagery and snakes are a potent motif. This is a crossover novel for younger and older readers. Could some read it as a literary Hunger Games?

Writing Children could write in the styles of both the prose and poetry.

Sculpture They could google images of sculptures of Theseus and the Minotaur (on which part of Dragonfly Song is based), or use the cover illustration, and twist thin, coated wire to replicate the human and other figure in action (science: force and gravity).

Dragonfly Jewellery Children could represent the dragonfly symbolism by threading coloured beads, particularly blue, onto wire to make brooches or other jewellery.

A Most Magical Girl by Karen Foxlee  Allen & Unwin

Karen Foxlee continues the speculative fiction with A Most Magical Girl, a fantasy for 9-12-year-old girls (in particular) about Annabel Grey who is sent to live with her witch great-aunts in their magic shop in London. These women can bewitch broomsticks or make a potion to turn someone into a wolf.  At first Annabel doesn’t believe in magic, even though she can see visions in puddles, but she is enlisted into a quest to prevent Dark Magic and evil Mr Angel and his shadowlings and resurrection machine from overtaking London.

Kitty, the wild betwister (someone who goes between ‘this world and that world’), frequents Highgate cemetery and other crannies and is also full of magic. She is able to create a ‘heart-light’. Readers could contrast these two girls, as well as smelly, eye-twinkling troll Hafwen who longs to see the stars.

When Annabel and Kitty are sent ‘Under London’, they encounter trolls and a dragon. A map is somehow drawn onto Annabel’s skin. Children could read the descriptions about the map and use them to illustrate the visible skin of a paper figure or mannequin.

The girls must find the Morever or White Wand to save the people of London. As well as a rite of passage and story about friendship, A Most Magical Girl portrays the battle between dark and light.

Each chapter begins with an extract from Miss Finch’s Little Blue Book (1855) about manners for young ladies. These loosely correlate with the plot. Readers could write a brief alternate plot line to correspond with all or some of these extracts.

The UK setting is interesting because, until recently, Karen Foxlee seems to have been better known and appreciated in the UK and US than in her homeland. Hopefully this is changing. A Most Magical Girl is a very well imagined and constructed middle grade novel.

A Most Magical Girl is a beautiful hardback publication and is a great companion novel to Ophelia and the Marvellous BoyOlder readers should explore Karen Foxlee’s YA novel, The Midnight Dress. It is an exquisitely written, wondrous tale.

I will also write about the shortlisted books for Older Readers and the excellent Eve Pownall information books in upcoming posts.

CBCA 2017 Younger Readers, Part 2: Mrs Whitlam & Within These Walls

Mrs Whitlam by Bruce Pascoe  Magabala Books

Bunurong man from Victoria, Bruce Pascoe also wrote Fog a Dox, which won a YA Prime Minister’s Literary Award and Seahorse. Like Seahorse, Mrs Whitlam centres around an Aboriginal family, without emphasising Aboriginal issues. Pascoe here portrays well-functioning, happy, ‘normal’ families. He also won 2016 Book of the Year for the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards for his adult book, Dark Emu. I’ve interviewed the author for Boomerang Blog here.

In Mrs Whitlam, Marnie is surprised to inherit a Clydesdale horse called Mrs Maggie Whitlam after its young owner dies. The horse is named after the wife of the former Prime Minister who, as Marnie’s mother states, ‘Did a fair bit for black people too!’ The tale explores suffering at an appropriate level for young readers, introduces us to a very appealing girl who is brave but sometimes made to feel inferior, and culminates in an exciting rescue.

After finishing the short novel, children could re-read descriptions of the horse, research Clydesdales and then make an ‘assemblage’ (a 3D collage originating from Picasso’s cubist constructions). They could make the rough sculpture by using ‘found objects’ such as wire, cardboard and wool or twine.

Within These Walls by Robyn Bavati  Scholastic Australia 

Extreme suffering is evident in this well-written holocaust tale set in Warsaw, Poland during WW2. It is mainly placed in history just before Morris Gleitzman’s novel, Soon, another graphic account of violence against children and adults.

Within These Walls is not just another holocaust story. It is particularly interesting and engaging and reveals a depth of knowledge and research based on true events, especially in the sealed ghetto. The details such as Miri’s mother wearing a wig and baking challah create verisimilitude. The family reads the Biblical book of Esther and the Passover account of the Jews’ Exodus from Egypt, replacing slavery with freedom. Both books are pertinent to the story told here. Family is critical to Miri but, tragically, she loses her parents and siblings one by one.

We experience Miri’s life in the city, the open and closed ghetto and in a dark cellar. The novel begins with her time in the cellar and it is used to foreshadow some of Miri’s darkest times.

Even though Within These Walls is shortlisted for younger readers, parents and schools may wish to examine the contents before giving to all children.

The author also wrote Dancing in the Dark, which has a Jewish focus as well.

CBCA 2017 Younger Readers, Part 1: Captain Jimmy Cook & Rockhopping

The Younger Readers CBCA Short List has a well-balanced selection of books; there’s something for all primary school age groups. I know the awards are judged on literary merit, but this is a helpful and positive by-product.

I’ve written about these 6 books in three Parts for the blog.

As well as a plot run-down and mention of anything that stands out, I’ve incorporated some activities that children could do with these books at school or home.

Boys, in particular, will be very keen to read these first two books.

Captain Jimmy Cook Discovers Third Grade 

By Kate Temple & Jol Temple, illustrated by John Foye  Allen & Unwin

Jimmy is thrilled to share a name with Captain James Cook but not so keen to write a diary, like the explorer. When he reads that Cook kept a ‘log’, he becomes far more interested. Like Jimmy, children could keep a short log about their daily activities, especially at school, and include one or more illustrations in the naïve style of the book.

The book is funny. When Jimmy dresses up as Cook for History Week he uses powder and hair cream to create Cook’s curls but the cream leaves him with bald spots. He takes his fake arm to Bed, Bath and Cables and loses it in the Kids’ Ball Pit.

When he realises that Cook was killed by the Hawaiians, Jimmy resolves to continue his explorations. He eats cereal to try to win a competition to Hawaii, feeds his baby sister an orange thinking she has scurvy and inadvertently terrorises a guest speaker. He starts an Explorers’ Society (but no girls are allowed) and the members use a formula of ‘Sir + Street Name + Fridge’ brand to invent their names, such as ‘Sir Clanville Fisher-Paykel’. Children could also try finding their own explorer names using this method.

Jimmy discovers lots of information from Google, such as what ‘fermented’ is, and uses an ancestry site to find out about his descendants. Children could also use the internet to learn about their past family.

Devotees can read more in Captain Jimmy Cook Discovers: X Marks the Spot, which is equally good.

Rockhopping by Trace Balla  Allen & Unwin 

This companion graphic novel to the award-winning Rivertime is set in Gariwerd (the Grampians). It tells the second story of Clancy and Uncle Egg, whilst respectfully including and acknowledging the Jardwadjali, Djab Wurrung and other Aboriginal peoples, as they try to find the source of the Glenelg River. Nephew and uncle also encounter native wildlife and plants and, of course, get lost along the way.

Read this book in conjunction with the Eve Pownall shortlisted, Amazing Animals of Australia’s National Parks. Teacher notes are available at the publishers’ website. Also read My Place by Nadia Wheatley and Donna Rawlins to highlight the section where Clancy imagines the history of the lake and who could have lived there (page 71).

Children could use the panels when Clancy is falling down the cliff, on pages 32-39, to create their own mini-graphic novel or animation of something that could go wrong in the wilderness.

Anil Tortop’s Illustrations Bring Stories to Life- Picture Book Reviews

Following my delightful interview with the charming, and uber-talented illustrator, Anil Tortop, today I focus on two of her most recent, ebullient and boisterous books that are sure to become family favourites; The Leaky Story by Devon Sillett and The Great Zoo Hullabaloo! by Mark Carthew.

Know that magical feeling of being totally captivated by an exotic world of unbelievable action and a place where only your imagination comes true? If you’d like to experience that feeling again then take heed, because The Leaky Story will take you there! It’s like a fantastic blend of the realms captured in The Neverending Story and Jumanji; with curious characters and creatures literally bounding from words to life.

This book about an eager book, busting to be engulfed by an inquisitive young boy, packs a hearty punch when it comes to fruition. But slowly at first, the tension builds as the leak becomes a flood, and soon overcomes the entire Blossburn living room – unbeknownst to J.J’s technology-addicted parents. But with gusto and fight, the whole family become the swashbuckling pirate- and kraken-battlers they could only ever imagine possible and reclaim the land that is rightfully theirs. I wonder what other surprises are in store for the Blossburn family!

Sillett’s narrative exudes energy, spirit, wit and personality, which is perfectly matched by Tortop’s whimsical illustrations. With both text and pictures, you can feel the tension rising and pace quickening as quiet moments become rowdy, and empty spaces begin to saturate each scene. I just love the quirky little details that Anil always integrates into her books. Readers will enjoy spotting funny, subtle qualities and character relationships (even of the unlikely kind!). Her sketching and digital art is rich with colour, fluidity and ambience- the ultimate atmosphere for a treacherous test on the high seas!

The Leaky Story certainly laves over us with its exciting and memorable read aloud experience, surging the wildest of imaginations. So get off your devices and go pick up a book! Highly recommended for preschoolers and up. Dimity’s review is here.

EK Books, April 2017.

The Great Zoo Hullabaloo! piques our curiosity from the outset, leading us in with a medley of scittering and scattering animal footprints across the endpapers. Upon entering, a bird’s eye view shot of the sparse scene again creates a sense of wonder and keeps the pages turning. Anil has brilliantly captured this intensity throughout with her subtle clues and witty elements that add further richness to the animated text.

In a rhythmic rumble that reflects a bebopping tune, Carthew’s narrative sweeps us from a hush to a rambunctious hullabaloo. When Jess and Jack discover the absence of creatures in the Zoo, they set about with their most astute senses to solve this unusual mystery. Only to find a ka-thumping, drumming, hooting, humming orchestral menagerie of wildlife celebrating none other than baby roo’s first birthday! With clapping, jiving and a goose-ejecting cake, moonlight parties don’t get any better.

Movement, energy, exhilaration and cuteness-overload, The Great Zoo Hullabaloo! offers a festivity for the senses and a clamorous encounter of the wild kind. A range of animals and instruments from all over the world provide plenty of scope for learning, as well as a reminder of our universal similarities and the importance of unity. A joyous book of rhythm, teamwork, togetherness, and a love of music that children from age three will devour with every turn.

Love them, Anil Tortop! 🙂

New Frontier Publishing, May 2017.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Unbelievably Good – Strange but True Mid-Grade Reads

Tweens and teens love dipping into the world of fantasy. The more quirky the premise, the more unbelievable the outcomes, the better. These middle grade novels serve up a mind-bending mixture of almost too-whacky-to-believe storylines showcasing time travel, ghosts and gigantic invisible felines. Strange but delightfully, true.

Frankie Fish and the Sonic Suitcase by Peter Helliar and Lesley Vamos

A forever morphing, triple paced collision of Doctor Who meets Top Gear is one way of describing Pete Helliar’s first foray into writing for kids. His enthusiastic use of wacky, over the top metaphors is a touch extravagant at times but oh, do they provoke some face-wrinkling chuckles.

Francis (aka Frankie) Fish’s race against time back into time has all the hallmarks of a mega time travelling adventure with one difference; he is making the journey in desperation to preserve the existence of the Fish family line of which he may or may not still be a part of (it all depends on the battery!). And he’s doing it with his very grumpy, slightly geriatric, grandfather.

Continue reading Unbelievably Good – Strange but True Mid-Grade Reads

Review: Night Swimming by Steph Bowe

BUY HERE

Night Swimming by Steph Bowe was a piece of adorkable cuteness! It’s such a good example why Aussie YA is absolutely the best and so entirely special. I’ve loved Steph Bowe’s previous books (Girl Saves Boy and All This Could End) and I’m so glad she’s back writing again with this one! It has goat puns, quirky humour, dry wit, book lover appreciation, and features a super cute gay romance. Plus it’s set in a small dusty Australian town where everyone knows everyone’s business. Oh. And there’s crop circles. Because of course.

The story centres around Kirby, who is one of the only two teens in the town. Her best-friend-by-default is Clancy Lee, son of the local Chinese restaurant owners. They have the most hilarious witty dialogue of ever and I can’t get enough of it! Kirby is working as a carpenter apprentice and fast approaching the doomed decision of What Do I Do With My Life.

Kirby is also such a fabulously relatable protagonist! She has a great sense of humour and she is very obsessed with books. Although she claims she has a “book buying problem” which is obviously nonsense because when is buying books a problem? It’s a lifestyle, Kirby, you’re fine. When the new girl Iris comes into town, Kirby can’t work up the courage to admit she likes her. The adorkable awkwardness is equal parts hilarious and definitely relatable. Plus Kirby is a huge fan of chips and I mean…who isn’t.

The plot isn’t super faced paced, but it’s full of interesting happenings. Someone’s making plot circles in the local fields (aliens?!) and Clancy is putting on a musical for the sole reason to impress the new girl, Iris. There’s flood warnings coming and goats eating everyone’s shoes and is Kirby’s mum secretly dating the local Greek grocery store assistant?!

There is a love triangle, but it’s not a super angsty one. When Iris arrives, both Kirby and Clancy immediately fall in love with her…but it’s Kirby who actually tries to befriend her while Clancy maintains a more dreamy idea of Iris’ imagined perfection. Iris is part New Zelander and part Indian and is the daughter of a new restaurant owner, bound to give Clancy’s family a bit of friendly competition. She’s also definitely hiding the reason they moved out and Kirby is definitely curious about that. But I appreciated how the romance was “Friendship to Lovers” because I think it makes it so much stronger and sweeter!

OTHER THINGS TO LOVE

  • beautiful but horrible puns
  • small dusty country Aussie town
  • Kirby was fat and while she fretted over it occasionally she was also okay wiher her body and sent great messages of self-love
  • the romance was basically ADORKABLE with Kirby spending 5 hours sending a text that says “sure”
  • bookworm appreciation
  • a pet goat named Stanley who will eat your shoes and soul
  • Aussie slang which is my favourite
  • Kirby’s grandpa features in the story
  • excellent diversity representation

I fully adored this book! I laughed out loud and ate it faster than a goat with a tasty stolen slipper. Steph Bowe is a master storyteller and I was engaged the entire time with the quirky and fabulous writing style. It summarises the awkward and awesome that is the life of a teenager and the tale is poignant as well as downright fun.

Birds, Animals and Seasons in the CBCA Early Childhood Short List

The 2017 CBCA Early Childhood Short List features animals (as always), with two picture books specifically about birds. Two books are about farms and one is set on a Northern Territory camp. Family remains an evergreen theme and humour is the core of some of the books.

Go Home, Cheeky Animals! written by Johanna Bell, illustrated by Dion Beasley (A&U)

This funny story is the stand-alone sequel to Too Many Cheeky Dogs. The book is sponsored by the NT Government and has an engaging narrative with a cyclic structure based on the seasons and changing weather. Animals are the highlight, though. At first, too many cheeky dogs keep the other animals away. Then the rains bring a gang of goats, the sweaty season brings a ‘drove of donkeys’, cool winds bring a herd of horses and drought brings a bunch of buffaloes and caravan of camels. But when it storms, ‘all the cheeky animals go crazy’. And the cheeky dogs do nothing to stop them, for a while …

Illustrator, Dion Beasley is a 24-year-old Indigenous man with muscular dystrophy. He is also deaf so he and author, Johanna Bell, collaborate using Skype and sign language. He has a naïve drawing style with plenty of humour, such as how he shows when something happens to Grandpa’s pants, and when goats drive. The endpapers give an overview of all the animals. Children could practise counting animals throughout the book and the Too Many Cheeky Dogs website includes a child-friendly activity of making wrapping paper with cheeky dogs.

Family is important to this story and includes Dad, Mum, Grandpa, Uncle, Aunty, brother, sister, but no Grandma. Nannie Loves fills this gap.

 

Nannie Loves by Kylie Dunstan (Working Title Press)

Nannie lives on a cosy and inviting farm, with ‘rolling hills, a muddy creek and lots of paddocks, green in winter, brown in summer’. It is a quintessential Australian setting and makes us want to walk into the story. The scenes are contained to provide an appropriate focused framework for young readers; there is repetition of the words, ‘Nannie loves …’ to help beginning readers; and there are some wordless pages.

Nannie collects her mail wearing her gumboots. She loves her letters, her animals, her garden and her family. She laughs with her family who help her work around the farm. She loves them and she loves the young narrator. This book has a gentle humour, such as when Nannie watches for Grandpa in one of his many checked shirts.

Kylie Dunstan has used paper collage, gouache and pencil.

The greens of Nannie’s farm change to browns of a drought-stricken farm in All I Want for Christmas is Rain.

All I Want for Christmas is Rain written by Cori Brooke, illustrated by Megan Forward (New Frontier Publishing)

This story begins clearly with an illustrated bird’s eye overview of a dry farm. In the rhyming text, the protagonist, Jane, asks Santa for help with her family’s threatened property, ‘My mission was clear – I had hatched a great plan: I would ask for help from the great bearded man.’

Santa seems to fulfil her wish and there is a particularly evocative picture of the family dancing in the rain and mud on Christmas Day.

Children could extend their experience of this story by reading some other Australian Christmas stories such as Glenda Millard and Stephen Michael King’s Applesauce and the Christmas Miracle and Colin Buchanan‘s books, or by painting an Australian farm scene using mud.

In contrast, The Snow Wombat is set in a very different part of Australian.

The Snow Wombat written by Susannah Chambers, illustrated by Mark Jackson (A & U)

Showing a wombat’s life in the snow is an original idea for a picture book. Like some of the other useful endpapers in books described here, these endpapers are a highlight and show a map of the wombat’s movements and haunts.

Every sentence begins with the word ‘snow’, and many begin with the phrase ‘snow on …’, which is helpful for beginning readers. The repetitive, simple text becomes even more predictive, encouraging young children to say or ‘read’ the rhyming word.

After reading the book, children could make wombat footprints in ‘snow’ using baking powder and conditioner or shaving cream. Tracks of some of the other animals in the book could also be made by indenting the ‘snow’ with fingers or sticks.

In a different illustrative style, cartoon seagull, Chip, follows with a funny story.

Chip by Kylie Howarth (Five Mile Press)

Chip loves eating chips – fat, skinny, soggy, sandy, crunchy, spicy chilli-dipped chips – even though he doesn’t feel well afterwards. This is a tale about healthy eating in the guise of a hilarious story about Chip and the length he goes to eat when people are banned from feeding the gulls.

The illustrations include newspaper collage (apt because it’s used for wrapping fish and chips; a newspaper article also features). My favourite illustration shows Chip with a noodle box on his head and noodles streaming out like hair.

Another bird protagonist in the Short List is Gary.

Gary by Leila Rudge (Walker Books Australia)

 

Gary is a racing pigeon who can’t fly but dreams of adventure. He works on his scrapbook of travel mementos on race days when he’s left alone in the loft, even though he’s never travelled. When he lost his balance one night, he fell into the travel basket and was carried far from home to the city. Of course the racing pigeons flew home, but Gary was left by himself. Fortunately he had his scrapbook of travel mementos and was able to plot his way back to the loft.

This is a very appealing story of overcoming obstacles or disability and of flourishing in different surroundings. New situations can be frightening for children and Gary demonstrates courage and ingenuity, which could help young readers.

The illustrations are created using mixed media and, again, in this book we find interesting endpapers.

After reading the story, children could use found objects and mixed media to create their own scrapbook about travel.

Alex Ratt & Stinky Street Stories

Hi Alex Ratt, could you tell us about yourself and your alter-ego? 

That’s a very existential question! I have to decide which is me and which is the alter ego…Well, I was Frances Watts first, so let’s start with her—I mean me.

I have written twenty-two books, ranging from picture books (including Kisses for Daddy and Parsley Rabbit’s Book about Books, illustrated by David Legge, and Goodnight, Mice!, illustrated by Judy Watson) to historical novels for young adults (most recently The Peony Lantern, set in nineteenth-century Japan). And then there’s my less fragrant alter ego, Alex Ratt. I thought being someone completely different would allow me the freedom to write something completely different—hence Alex Ratt. (Also, Alex Ratt has a big bushy false moustache and Frances doesn’t. And who wouldn’t jump at an excuse to wear a false moustache?!)

Who is Jules Faber? 

Jules Faber, I’m delighted to say, has a much more straightforward identity: he is Jules Faber! He is also an extremely talented cartoonist and illustrator, well known for his work on Ahn Do’s Weirdo series and David Warner’s The Kaboom Kid series.

How important are the illustrations in this book?

The illustrations are integral. The Stinky Street Stories (Pan Macmillan Australia) should feel welcoming and accessible to all kinds of readers, whether they are confident readers or not, and the illustrations do so much to convey the humour that is inherent in the text. One thing I particularly loved about working with Jules on this book is his spirit of adventure. Whatever wacky image I can dream up, he is prepared to draw. A sculpture of a rocket ship made entirely of carrots? No problem!

What type of comedy do you write?

Despite the word ‘stinky’ in the title, I don’t actually see the humour in The Stinky Street Stories as focusing on the gross. To me, the real humour is in the absurdity of situations and images. And the challenge is to take the absurdity and, within the bounds of the story, make it logical.

How do you get your readers to laugh out loud (as I did about some carrots and a pumpkin head)?

I’m glad you liked those bits—that’s exactly what I mean about the humour being absurd rather than gross. That’s where I find those laugh-out-loud moments: in unexpected juxtapositions, in ideas pushed to ridiculous extremes, in characters who treat these hilarious scenarios seriously.

Brian is a very funny character. Could you tell us about him, his sister Brenda, and any other characters?

Brian (‘call me Brain—everyone does’) has a somewhat overinflated sense of his own intellectual prowess, which is why he is able to meet absurdity with seriousness. His friend Nerf is the perfect sidekick, being just ever so slightly dafter—but loyal and good-hearted. The real brain of the family is Brian’s sister Brenda. And in his heart, Brian knows it to be so, and calls on her in moments of crisis.

What is your favourite scene in The Stinky Street Stories? 

You picked it yourself: the pumpkin heads. Because within that particular story, ‘The Ripe and Rotten Reek’, it not only makes perfect sense for Brian and Nerf to be running across a field with pumpkins on their heads, it is a positively brilliant plan!

Who do you hope reads this book?

Everyone! By which I mean boys and girls. I had a lot of fun turning gender stereotypes on their heads. The (anti)heroes might be boys, but the girls have a strong, smart, sassy presence. And, as I said above, I hope the book is enjoyed by confident readers and reluctant readers—we (by which I mean the whole village that makes a book: the author and illustrator and publisher and editor and designer) were determined to make it a book that had something to offer every kind of kid and every kind of reader.

What’s next in Stinky Street?

The second in the series, 2 Stinky, will be published in August. There are smelly sewers, pongy penguins…and a house of (stinky) horrors!

What other humour have you written? 

All my books have humour in them—it’s just the way I’m wired—but the first overtly humorous books were those of the Ernie & Maud series, featuring trainee superhero Ernie Eggers and his trainee sidekick: a sheep called Maud. More recently I have contributed stories to two humorous anthologies, Laugh Your Head Off and Laugh Your Head Off Again.

How many aliases do you have?

Oh dear…You’re on to me, aren’t you?! The truth is, Alex Ratt is not my only pen name. Frances Watts is a pen name too. (Yes, my pen name has a pen name.) My real name is Ali Lavau, and I am a very serious book editor who hardly ever wears a false moustache to work.

Thanks very much, Alex, Frances, Ali …

Thank YOU! (I loved these questions.)

And – here is a video about the book! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wORzbpzfTzs&feature=youtu.be

CBCA 2017 Picture Books

Congratulations to all the authors, illustrators and publishers who have been shortlisted for this year’s Children’s Book Council of Australia (CBCA) awards.

I am very fortunate to have copies of the following picture books, with thanks to the publishers, and have written a short exposé of most here.

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

This is a stunning, moving picture book about loss and grief, grief shared by the three creators due to the death of a loved one. The written text is minimal and carefully placed on each page. Vignettes of a small donkey lead the viewer through most of the text. Graphite pencil creates a monochromatic effect for most of the book, becoming warm, yellow-suffused watercolour towards the end.

Teacher Notes are available at the publisher’s website.

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

One Photo is a touching look at the effects of early onset dementia on a family. Dad comes home with a camera to record his memories and help him remember things. Liz Anelli is growing in power with her illustrations, here using sensitive, child-appealing drawing of the photos as well as of the family.

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

Mechanica is a magnificent, innovative pseudo-scientific study of mechanical (mainly winged) insects and other creatures. It reminds me of Gary Crew’s The Lost Diamonds of Killiecrankie and James Gurney’s Dinotopia in the way that a character embarks on a fictional enterprise in a factual, imaginative style. The book champions the protection of our world and its living creatures and is distinctive because of its fine technical/inventive drawings. The sequel, Aquatica, is on the way. Author-illustrator Lance Balchin, has proved to be a popular presenter at festivals and other events.

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

Maxine Beneba Clarke is currently one of Australia’s most exciting authors. She also tells the story of a patchwork bike in one of her books for adults and it is interesting to compare it with this sensory, lively version for young children. The illustrations are by street artist Van T Rudd and they are exceptional in their use of media such as corrugated cardboard and smears of paint to show movement. (I will be writing more about Maxine Beneba Clarke’s work in a future post.)

 

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

It is a simple refugee / asylum seeker – ‘but that’s not my name’ – story for young readers told from the point of view of a girl. The agonising trip by boat is not glossed over but is told at an appropriate level. The pencil illustrations also make it accessible for the young.

Congratulations also to Bob Graham (Walker Books Australia) for Home in the Rain. I’ll write about this picture book next week. 

Love Ever After – Picture Book Reviews

If all you need is love, added with delicacy, beauty and tenderness, then these two gorgeous new titles from the home of New Frontier Publishing are for you. A classic fairy tale and a global sensation, both possessing the ability to melt your heart.

Happily Ever After: Beauty and the Beast, is another beautiful book in New Frontier’s (Alex Field) series of classic tales with a twist. The story of a young woman, regretfully sacrificed by her father to an unrelenting Beast, has been told with reverence and endearment. It also enlightens girls with a sense of power, evincing Beauty’s strength and courage in facing her fears and standing up for her rights. The story further relays a message of trust and loyalty as the relationship between the unlikely pair evolves. And finally, the ultimate commitment is made when Beauty agrees to live forever with the Beast and he is transformed into a prince. A true display of unconditional love.

Helene Magisson has unequivocally supported this sweet tale with her soft-paletted, fluid and gentle illustrations. She has created magnificent atmosphere with the muted tones of blues and oranges, beautifully depicting both the contrasts between Beauty and the Beast as well as their tendency to naturally complement each other. The subtle symbolism of the caged butterflies, eventually trading places with the wicked fairy, is clever, and most intriguing for its astute readers.

Happily Ever After: Beauty and the Beast has a modern edge whilst retaining the charming essence of the classic. A keepsake treasure for any princess-loving youngster, and especially perfect timing with all the current ‘Beauty’ hype!

I Love You, written by Xiao Mao and illustrated by Tang Yun is a special picture book specifically about three special, little words. It has a universal appeal that any preschool-aged child, around the globe, can relate to. It is fun-loving, pure, reassuring and irresistibly adorable.

‘I love’ how this book encourages a sense of humanity and togetherness, where we can all, including the animals, live in a world of peace and fondness towards one another and our environment. When the tall-necked Ms Giraffe writes words in five different languages on the board at school, Little Badger takes a particularly keen interest. As it turns out, each phrase translates into the same meaning: I Love You. With her best Chinese, Italian, French, German and Spanish, and English, Little Badger professes her love for everything around her, including Mum and Dad. ‘Ti amo, little tree.’ ‘Te quiero, pretty flowers.’ ‘Wo ai ni, cloud.’ ‘Ich liebe dich, rice.’ ‘Je t’aime, underpants.’ Once she is fluent she can finally rest. Now Mum and Dad can practise, too!

Wonderfully dense, textured paintings fill the pages with natural, warming tones, perfectly suiting this wholesome, meaningful story of love, appreciation and cultural integration. There is also a sense of cheekiness and humour that certainly reflects the age of the readers and the engagement when learning something new.

If any book can send good, loving vibes your way, it’s I Love You. It provides opportunities to explore dialect in one’s own community and beyond, and reinforces that universal bond between children and their carers. So let’s celebrate our world’s rich diversity, and affections, one language at a time!

New Frontier Publishing, 2017.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Agent Nomad and Skye Melki-Wegner

Skye Melki-Wegner‘s new series is ‘Agent Nomad’  (Penguin Random House Australia).    

Thanks for speaking to Boomerang Blog, Skye.

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

I’m based in Melbourne. I write fantasy/ adventure novels for young readers (and the young at heart). I also regularly visit schools and teach writing workshops. It’s such a joy to work with students and to encourage their creativity.

Your writing has a singular, imaginative style. It’s also thrilling and unexpected.

I really loved your stand-alone novel, The Hush, and reviewed it for the Weekend Australian here.

How do you think your creative brain works differently from the brains of other people?

Thanks Joy, that means a lot to me.

I’ve always had an urge to tell stories and to ‘make believe’. My parents have countless videos from my early childhood, full of me babbling about fairies or dragons or making up alternative endings to fairy tales.

Having said that, I believe everyone has the potential to be creative. When we are children, all it takes is a plastic toy or a pile of sand to craft a wildly imaginative universe from scratch.

Many people lose touch with their childhood creativity as they grow older. However, I think the potential for wild imagination still lurks within all of us, whether we are authors or accountants! All we need is a chance to express it.

Have you had any particularly memorable feedback about The Hush?

I recently received an email from a young reader who used The Hush as inspiration when playing her various musical instruments. She said that she liked to pretend she was conjuring sorcery through her music, just like the characters in The Hush.

I loved this idea, since it reminded me of my own childhood. When I was a kid, I used to pretend to be various literary characters to inspire myself during daily tasks. (When we did fitness tests in PE, I secretly pretended I was training for a quidditch match!)

It was incredibly touching to hear that my own book could have a similar effect for a reader.

After such a powerful novel, why are you now writing a series?

In a fantasy novel, it often takes a while to establish how the magic and society function. This can sometimes take up a significant chunk of the book. By writing a series, I can cover most of this ‘world building’ in the first book. Then, in later installments, I get to have fun exploring the characters and world more deeply.

I also love the fun of plotting out a series in advance and hiding secret clues about future titles. In the Agent Nomad series, there are moments in Book One and Two with hidden significance that won’t be revealed until later… but of course, my lips are sealed!

Could you tell us about The Eleventh Hour, the first in the Agent Nomad series?

It’s about spies and sorcery — and unlike my previous books, it’s set in the modern world.

The protagonist is a 15-year-old called Natalie. When the book begins, she’s an ordinary Aussie teenager, worried about homework and Maths tests.

One night, however, it all changes. A pair of deadly strangers invade Natalie’s home and she barely escapes with her life. In the aftermath, she is recruited by a sorcerous spy agency called HELIX.

As a HELIX cadet, Natalie must train to use her own magical abilities. She adopts the codename ‘Nomad’ and prepares to fight against a cabal of ruthless sorcerers called the Inductors.

Before her training is complete, however, Nomad and her fellow cadets are sent to London, risking their lives to thwart a ruthless Inductor plot before time runs out.

Could you describe each of the three main protagonists, Nomad, Riff and Phoenix, in a phrase or sentence?

 Nomad is an artist and a born traveller, who yearns for adventure and to explore the world.

Riff is a jokester with a love of fun, food and rock music – but he also has real talent and a deep love for his friends and family.

Phoenix is a talented fighter, who hides the trauma of her past behind the façade of an emotionless warrior.

I liked both the Australian and London settings. How do you create a sense of place without excessive description?

I think a few carefully chosen sensory details can be more effective than overloaded paragraphs of description.

In the school assembly scene, for example, I needed to describe an Aussie high school gym on a scorching February day. I snuck in snippets of sensory detail: the stink of sweat and cheap perfume sprays, the buzz of a blowfly, the whispering students and glaring teachers etc.

A few of these little details should be enough. If they’re strategically placed throughout a scene, they should prompt the reader to subconsciously fill in the rest of the setting with their own experience and memories.

The pace moves quickly. What’s a favourite scene or ‘inventiveness’ you’ve created?

For personal reasons, I’m quite fond of the chase scene on the train into Melbourne. I’ve spent countless hours sitting on Melbourne’s public transport, daydreaming about magic and excitement. It was fun to incorporate a mundane location like Caulfield Station into a fantasy book. I felt a bit cheeky doing it, actually!

(In reality, I associate Caulfield Station with travelling to university exams. Not quite as thrilling as a magical chase scene!)

Your writing style is a highlight. How would you describe it?

It varies a bit from book to book. In Agent Nomad, I’m speaking through Natalie (a teenage first person narrator). It’s an interesting balancing act to weave in descriptive detail without losing the flavour of her narrative voice.

Danika, my narrator in Chasing the Valley, has a slightly different voice. She’s more cynical and hardened at the start of the series, so her style of self-expression is different. Also, since she’s from a fictional dystopian world, she narrates with different vocabulary and colloquialisms.

By contrast, The Hush is written in third person. I had fun incorporating fancier descriptions (and more complex figurative language) into this book, since I didn’t have to worry about a first person narrator’s style or vocabulary!

Science or magic? Magic or science?

Science in the real world, magic in fiction.

What have you enjoyed reading recently?

In SFF, I’ve really enjoyed Illuminae and Gemina by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff – it’s such a brilliant idea to write SciFi in an epistolary format.

In contemporary YA, I’ve recently loved A Shadow’s Breath by Nicole Hayes and Black by Fleur Ferris.

Are you writing something else at the moment? If so, could you tell us about it?

I must confess I’m writing too many things! Needless to say, they’re all fantasy projects. Every time I finish a manuscript, a new idea starts itching at me… and before I know it, I’m halfway through another one! Oops.

All the best with ‘Agent Nomad’, Skye. It should create a unique niche in the market.

Thanks so much, Joy!

Review – Home of the Cuckoo Clock

‘There’s a sad sort of clanging from the clock in the hall and the bells in the steeple too. And up in the nursery, an absurd little bird is popping up to say, “Cuckoo, cuckoo!”’

So marks the passing of time as decreed by Rodgers and Hammerstein. Time, we often complain about its restraints and resist its ravages but to ignore it completely results in chaos. At least it does for the village of Schoenwald in Home of the Cuckoo Clock.

Home of the Cuckoo Clock is Robert Favretto’s first venture into the picture book world, one he makes with considerable assuredness and aptitude along with illustrator, David Eustace. Together they navigate the difficult yet supreme landscape of telling stories in pictures against the stunning backdrop of Germany’s Black Forest region.

Schoenwald is caught in a peculiar metaphysical time warp, in other words, frozen in time. It’s not a bad thing ignoring the passing of time however complete deprivation of any time keeping results in some devastating situations for the villagers: children are late for school, the shops do not open on time, and cows are not milked. The problem? No clocks.

Continue reading Review – Home of the Cuckoo Clock

Two Australians Shortlisted for the CILIP Carnegie Medal

No surprises that Australian YA literature is up there with world’s best. The prestigious UK 2017 CILIP Carnegie Medal shortlist has just been announced and two Australians have been included: Glenda Millard for The Stars at Oktober Bend (Allen & Unwin) and Zana Fraillon for The Bone Sparrow (Hachette). The writing in both these YA novels is sublime.

The Carnegie Medal is awarded for writing and the Kate Greenaway Medal for illustration.

I reviewed The Stars at Oktober Bend for the Weekend Australian . A memorable scene is of beautiful, damaged Alice Nightingale perched ‘on the roof of her house at Oktober Bend, “like a carving on an old-fashioned ship, sailing through the stars”. She is throwing fragments of a poem into the night.’ Her new friend, Manny, is a former boy soldier.

I also reviewed The Bone Sparrow, about young Subhi in an Australian detention centre, in another Weekend Australian YA column, describing it as a ‘universal refugee tale’ and an ‘exalted, flawless book’. They were both in my top 6 YA books for 2016 and both are currently CBCA Notables (the Children’s Book Council of Australia’s long list). The Bone Sparrow was also shortlisted for the 2016 Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize.

It does sound as though Mal Peet and Meg Rosoff are favourites to win the Carnegie. I haven’t yet been able to finish reading Beck, which Meg Rosoff completed after Mal Peet’s untimely death. The pedophilia scenes are so confronting I fear the images won’t be erased. Mal Peet was a raconteur. I chaired a wonderful session at the Sydney Writers Festival with him and Ursula Dubosarsky, whose new novel, The Blue Cat, will be published soon. I was fortunate to have an entertaining lunch with Meg Rosoff and a colleague when working in Brisbane. She is a spectacular, unconventional writer. The other international shortlisted authors (and illustrators) are also stars. Fingers crossed for our Australian writers, of course though.

Other Australians to have won the Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals are Ivan Southall with Josh (our only Carnegie winner so far and that was in 1971- but we have won other major international awards since then), Bob Graham for Jethro Byrde Fairy Child, Freya Blackwood for Harry and Hopper (written by Margaret Wild) and Gregory Rogers for Way Home (written by Libby Hathorn). I believe Levi Pinfold (Black Dog) lives in Australia. A number of other Australian illustrators, including Jeannie Baker, have been shortlisted for the Greenaway.

See the complete shortlists from the official website below.

SHORTLISTS FOR 2017 CILIP CARNEGIE AND KATE GREENAWAY MEDALS ANNOUNCED

  • Children’s Laureate Chris Riddell could win record-breaking fourth Kate Greenaway Medal in 60th anniversary year
  • Dieter Braun’s Wild Animals of the North, shortlisted for the Kate Greenaway Medal, is first ever book in translation to feature on either shortlist
  • Mal Peet’s final novel Beck, co-authored by Meg Rosoff, could posthumously win the 80th anniversary Carnegie

www.ckg.org.uk / #CKG17 / #bestchildrensbooks

Today (Thursday 16th March), the shortlists for the 2017 CILIP Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals, the UK’s oldest and most prestigious book awards for children and young people, are revealed.

The Kate Greenaway Medal, which celebrates illustration in children’s books, sees award-winning writer and illustrator Chris Riddell, the Children’s Laureate, in the running to win an unprecedented fourth Kate Greenaway Medal just a year after his hat-trick in 2016. Riddell is joined by another potential record-breaker in the form of Dieter Braun’s Wild Animals of the North. Originally published in German, this is the first ever translated title to make the Kate Greenaway shortlist following the Medals opening up to translated works in English in 2015. They are joined by former Kate Greenaway Medal winners Emily Gravett, William Grill and Jim Kay and first-time Kate Greenaway-shortlisted authors Francesca Sanna, Brian Selznick and Lane Smith.

The Carnegie Medal, which celebrates outstanding writing for children and young people, sees a range of YA and Middle Grade books make the shortlist. Mal Peet’s final novel Beck, co-authored by Meg Rosoff, could be the second book to win the Medal posthumously, following Siobhan Dowd’s Bog Child in 2009. Peet and Rosoff are joined on the list by fellow former Carnegie Medal winners Frank Cottrell Boyce and Philip Reeve, previously shortlisted author Ruta Sepetys, debut authors Lauren Wolk and Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock and first-time Carnegie-shortlisted authors Zana Fraillon, Glenda Millard and Lauren Wolk.

The 2017 shortlists are:

The CILIP Carnegie Medal 2017 shortlist (alphabetically by author surname):

  1. Sputnik’s Guide to Life on Earthby Frank Cottrell Boyce (Pan Macmillan)
  2. The Bone Sparrowby Zana Fraillon (Orion Children’s Books)
  3. The Smell of Other People’s Housesby Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock (Faber & Faber)
  4. The Stars at Oktober Bendby Glenda Millard (Old Barn Books)
  5. Railheadby Philip Reeve (Oxford University Press)
  6. Beckby Mal Peet with Meg Rosoff (Walker Books)
  7. Salt to the Seaby Ruta Sepetys (Puffin)
  8. Wolf Hollowby Lauren Wolk (Corgi)

The CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal 2017 shortlist (alphabetically by illustrator surname):

  1. Wild Animals of the Northillustrated and written by Dieter Braun (Flying Eye Books)
  2. TIDYillustrated and written by Emily Gravett (Two Hoots)
  3. The Wolves of Currumpawillustrated and written by William Grill (Flying Eye Books)
  4. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stoneillustrated by Jim Kay, written by J.K. Rowling (Bloomsbury)
  5. A Great Big Cuddleillustrated by Chris Riddell and written by Michael Rosen (Walker Books)
  6. The Journeyillustrated and written by Francesca Sanna (Flying Eye Books)
  7. The Marvelsillustrated and written by Brian Selznick (Scholastic)
  8. There is a Tribe of Kidsillustrated and written by Lane Smith (Two Hoots)

The ANZAC Tree by Christina Booth

Christina Booth is a talented author and illustrator. She began her career illustrating books written by Colin Thiele, Max Fatchen and Christobel Mattingley and then graduated to creating her own picture books, which include Purinina – A Devil’s Tale and Kip. Kip won a CBCA Honour award.

We have a fine backlist of picture books about the ANZACS and my review of some top titles in recent years appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald/The Age http://m.smh.com.au/entertaining-kids/parenting-and-childrens-books/gallipoli-books-for-children-open-an-enlightening-window-on-the-reality-of-war-20150420-1mmcfl.html .

Christina Booth has added to the canon by writing and illustrating The ANZAC Tree (Scholastic Australia) ready for this year’s ANZAC Day.

The ANZAC Tree is set on a farm in Tasmania and traces generations of soldiers from the one family. Phillip, the young narrator at the beginning of the story, likes to climb the big hill and look out at forever. His older brothers each planted a tree on the hill before they left for the Great War. Phillip waters the trees. Roy’s survives but Percy’s tree is dying, foreshadowing his fate.

The narration quickly changes from Phillip to Kenneth, who is Roy’s nephew. Kenneth farewells his father (probably Phillip as an adult), who is going away to fight Mr Hitler. When the family don’t hear from him, Kenneth waits under Uncle Roy’s tree.

In the next section it is implied that Kenneth is the soldier fighting with Uncle Joe in Korea. His daughter, Sophie, takes over the narrative. The psychedelic Sixties follow and Emily witnesses her brother Kevin being drafted to fight in Vietnam. He later has a Vietnamese girlfriend and watches the sunset under Roy’s big pine tree rather than attending the ANZAC parade. Then Chris sees his cousin Jenny go to fight in Iraq and Jack skypes his father in Afghanistan. The story culminates with family members united once again under the pine tree planted by great-great-grandfather Roy a hundred years earlier, appreciating that war isn’t something to be proud of, but being brave enough to fight in them to protect other people is.

Children will enjoy the challenge of deciphering the family relationships and following the recurring symbol of the tree in this powerful, soulful story inspired by real people and events. The illustrations, including the drawings of photos, extend the narrative. The structure is sophisticated but executed skilfully and seamlessly in words and pictures. The ANZAC Tree is a commemoration of one family’s fallen, and is also an excellent picture book for primary schools to use to observe ANZAC Day.

Review: Gemina by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

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After the amazing phenomenal experience that was reading Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff, I was obviously desperate to get my clammy paws on the sequel. I get nervous reading sequels, because what if it doesn’t live up to the incredibleness that was the first book?!? But Gemina was an absolutely mind-blowing book. It had gut-punching plot twists, blood and bullets, and that gorgeous and complicated visual formatting we know and love from this series.

And I think it probably has left many readers screaming into the void in pain and agony while waiting for the finale. I just have this hunch.

Gemina begins with two new characters from those in the first book. This time we have Nik and Hanna. Their relationship is love-and-war as Nik has an insurmountable crush on Hanna, but she, as the captain of the station’s daughter, is dating a respectable officer. Nik is son of cutthroat Mafia organisation that sells drugs (which Hanna buys covertly) so you can imagine that getting them together is not going to be easy. Since the story takes off outlining what’s happening at the Heimdall Jump Station while the journey in Illuminae is still going on, we get to see the evil Baytech company infiltrating the station and trying to take it down. Except they didn’t count on Nik and Hanna being a lot better at fighting then their given credit for.

I was worried I wouldn’t love these new characters as much as I adored Kady and Ezra from Illuminae…but I shouldn’t have been concerned! Hanna and Nik were fantastic and complex and dynamic. One of my favourite things about Hanna was how she drew quirky things in her journal, liked fashion, and did things like draw hearts around her and her boyfriend’s name…but then she was also skilled at physical combat training and military strategy. She was absolutely full of badass surprises.

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Nik was equally wonderful, with a dash of tragic bad-boy on the side. As part of the Mafia, it’s dubious as to exactly what illegal activities he’s been involved with. Which does create some questions. And tensions. He’s about 90% sass and 10% sadness, which he covers with sass, and his crush on Hanna was equal parts adorable and pathetic. This is unrequited love at it’s finest. I also loved Nik because when something bad happened, he reacted like any normal teen would. He’s not bullet proof and he’s emotional.

And bad things happen to everyone all the time, so this book is, in a word: stressful.

The plot has a similar set up to the first book: two teens have to save a lot of people on a dire countdown. This time we have psycho soldiers from Baytech sneaking about and trying to utilize the wormhole for their own dark needs. There are freaky monsters in the vents and clever guerrilla warfare tactics.  Nik and Hanna are trying to save people and also stop the jump-station from exploding as the wormhole collapses. There’s clever traps, traitors, child computer geniuses, Mafia families, an irritating pop song, explosions, murder, and plenty of sass.

The plot twists are also my favourite part! This series never fails to blow my mind with the genius creativity. Although be ye warned: the cliffhanger is not kind.

And of course I must mention the art! This series is done in a very unique type of formatting, which involves pages of art, interestingly done typography, transcripts, interviews, and amazing galactic explosions across the page. The added affect of art by NYT bestselling author, Marie Lu, was also incredible and so cute. I would also thoroughly recommend the audiobook as it’s dramatised and features many actors and sound effects that makes it feel like a movie in your head!

Gemina was everything a sequel should be. It was exciting and terrifying and had my heart pounding several times wondering who’d make it out alive. The kill-count is high and the nerves are exploding. It’s not your traditional sci-fi story, which I think makes it the best kind.

For the Love of Dogs – Picture Book Reviews

A little while ago I dedicated a review article to man’s best friend. Today I have another brilliant collection of dog stories that highlight their boundless vivacity, loyalty and dedication, not to mention their occasional misdemeanours, that truly make our pets so loveable.

The 12th Dog, Charlotte Calder (author), Tom Jellett (illus.), Lothian Children’s Books, Jan 2017.

To adoring cricket fans, and of course dog lovers: this one’s for you! Oh, and you have the added bonus of the eye-popping, crowd-pleasing illustrations by the legendary Tom Jellett!

Combining his three favourite c’s; chewing, chasing and catching, Arlo the dog loves to play cricket. Except he never gives the ball back. Struggling to play for the team, Arlo is sentenced to the pavilion (the kennel) by the children as the 12th dog. But he makes a come-back to form. Skilfully integrating cricket terminology into an everyday, Aussie backyard scene sees Arlo score the winning run and he is crowned the best fielder in the street… but is he?

Brilliantly characteristic of ball-loving dog behaviour in an exciting pitch of teamwork and sportsmanship, The 12th Dog marvellously bowls out humour, cricket knowledge and a beaut Aussie flavour. Any fan from age four will be cheering for more. Howzat!?

Gus Dog goes to work, Rachel Flynn (author), Craig Smith (illus.), Working Title Press, Jan 2017.

This book both melted my heart and had me laughing out loud. What a gorgeous representation of a loyal working dog, with a big personality. The narrative and the illustrations both reflect these aspects beautifully. Gus Dog goes to work is uncannily relatable and articulately universal, even if the setting is in rural Australia.

Tom the farmer belongs to Gus Dog, and together, they have the perfect formula for a good working relationship – A mixture of special, ‘formulated’ breakfast with the commonality of an understood language. One day Gus awakes to the disappearance of Tom, and so off he sets on his explorative journey to find him. Using his natural doggy instincts, Gus sniffs and looks and listens and chases and rounds up and rolls in everything he comes across, only the townsfolk are highly unimpressed with his antics. He doesn’t understand everything, but drawing on some of his human-word-knowledge, he knows what ‘getoutovit’ means. Gus also recognises ‘goodboy’ and ‘gohome’, which are music to his ears when he’s finally reunited with Tom.

With fluid pencil work combined with digital painting, Craig Smith has sensationally captured the energy, wit and idiosyncrasies of this working dog and the special bond with his owner. The narrative has elements of a mocking humour matched with a visceral innocence, which superbly depicts the dog’s point of view.

Loyalty, friendship and communication between man and dog faultlessly combine in this funny and loveable story. Gus Dog goes to work will be received with pleasure, compassion and relatability by its preschool readers.

Blue the Builder’s Dog, Jen Storer (author), Andrew Joyner (illus.), Penguin Random House, Aug 2016.

In another tale of a working dog with a mind of his own, Blue the Builder’s Dog is delectably sweet and fiercely passionate in all matters on the building site. Jen Storer brings her quirky and charming sense of humour to this reflective and encouraging story, as does the awesome Andrew Joyner with his lively, retro-feel illustrations, representative of independence and being strong-willed.

Blue is dedicated to his job. He guards the tools, signs the concrete slabs, inspects the works (often) and keeps stickybeak cats away. He is friends with everyone on the team. Except Blue wants more. He wants to be able to go up high, wear a hard hat, and most of all, a home of his own. Living in the shed is no place for a Working Dog. So, with great building plans in mind, Blue quits his job and embarks on his own grand endeavour. His creation is nothing short of remarkable (for a dog), but it seems this kennel is short of stability, particularly in a big storm. Realising his shortcomings, Blue makes amends with his builder and the team. And there is another new and improved design too.

Blue the Builder’s Dog is an animated story of teamwork and having a voice. It shows a determined character who makes a clear statement about the importance of marking one’s territory, so to speak! Humorous with cleverly portrayed themes and insights that children from age four will adore.

My Dog Dash, Nicky Greenberg (author, illus.), Allen & Unwin, Apr 2016.

If you haven’t read this story then I’m not going to spoil it for you. But let’s just say that this dog has no problem coming out of his shell. On first read, I found this so surprising I had to do a double-take! The title, My Dog Dash, may be ‘misleading’, but demonstrates perfectly how easily something, or someone may be misjudged by preconceived notions.

Despite Dash’s inattentive meanderings, misreading of social cues and favouring for homely disorder, the girl narrator is passionate about the wellbeing of her beloved pet, even when others don’t understand. She is dedicated to training him, walking him and cleaning up after him. When Dash disappears one night, the girl is naturally devastated (however not to any dismay by her parents, by the looks on their faces). In a most satisfying ending, there is one more shocking surprise. You’ll have to read it to find out!

I love the rawness of this story; from the sacrifice of standing up for a misunderstood friend, to the natural, earthy tones and mixture of pencil sketching and textured paints in Greenberg’s illustrations.

My Dog Dash is a quirky, comical take on what is considered ‘normal’ puppy behaviour. Friendship and responsibility are at the heart of this sweet tale for preschool children. Remember, don’t judge a pet by its covering!

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‘Design Thinking’ and Matt Stanton

Author, illustrator and former designer at HarperCollins, Matt Stanton, opened our eyes to ‘design thinking’ and strategy in writing and publishing books at yesterday’s ‘Between the Covers’ seminar in Sydney about children’s books and publishing.

Matt is the creator of two very successful series for young readers. The first is aimed at 6-year-old boys. It is unashamedly commercial and doesn’t even try to win literary awards. It is illustrated by Tim Miller and began with There is a Monster Under My Bed who Farts.

His second series creates a funny and interactive experience for young children and their parents or carers. The first book in the ‘Books That Drive Kids Crazy!’ series is the very popular, This is a Ball and is a collaboration between Matt and his teacher wife, Beck. Now parents, Matt and Beck are ‘learning how to re-enter the space of play’ and what better than using a book to do so! The second in this series is Did You Take the B From My –ook? and The Red Book, with its bold purple cover, is on the way. 

His third series ‘Funny Kid’ will be launched around the world this year. It is aimed at middle grade readers.

Matt focuses on the ‘who’, the reader, rather than on what he personally may want to write about (although maybe these are the same thing). I found this stance fascinating and very different from the many authors who I have interviewed at writers’ festivals and elsewhere. In my experience, authors generally speak about the story that they have to tell, regardless of who it’s for. An example is John Boyne and his masterpiece The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, which has found its own audience. Matt is surprised that more authors don’t target their readerships more strategically. I believe that there is probably a place for both approaches.

Matt makes it easy for buyers and browsers to find his books on bookshelves. He uses block colours such as blue, green or purple on his covers. He recognises that yellow is the strongest colour in the spectrum and will feature this on the spines of his upcoming ‘Funny Kid’ series. The book covers in this series will all feature an enormous face to distinguish them from other funny series aimed at middle grade who show smaller characters. Our brains will also register that these faces are looking at us in bookstores and libraries, drawing our attention.

Matt’s website includes a virtual ‘Stretch Your Imagination’ book tour. He also has a YouTube channel that is very popular with his young readers.

Matt reminded us that we’re in a golden age of children’s publishing in Australia. In 2016, children’s and young adult book sales took 44% of the total book market in volume. In 2016, 9 of our 10 top authors wrote children’s/YA. Last year, 9 million more children’s/YA books were sold than in 2005.

Thanks to keynote speaker, Matt, the Australian Publishers Association, host Allen & Unwin and Fiona Stager and her team for organising this very informative event.

Review – Digby and the Yodelayhee… Who? by Renee Price

Digby and the Yodelayhee…Who?, Renee Price (author), Anil Tortop (illus.), Create It Kids, March 2017.

Strumming up a musical storm in a delicious brimful of plonks, plinks and twangs is the energetic page-turner; Digby and the Yodelayhee…Who?. Sequel to the adventurous antics of Digby’s Moon Mission, here is a seamless transition from the moonlight to the limelight.

And just like its predecessor, the themes of teamwork, curiosity and problem solving, and the teachable concepts of measurement (telling time and noise levels) are included and presented in a whole new and refreshing melodic tone.

Price’s musical background is showcased in full spotlight, incorporating not only different instruments and their sounds but also in the way the narrative has been pitched. She has written this story with a tuneful arrangement, harmonising between rhyme and prose, just like the verses of a song. Clever!

Anil Tortop’s mixed-media illustrations once again bring life, colour, vibrancy and a discernible swag to the pages, composing the opportunity for a hand-clapping, toe-tapping, bottom-wriggling romp for its audience. And to add further to the liveliness of this book, Digby and the Yodelayhee… Who? is accompanied with swinging song notes and QR code for ‘Digby’s Jam’; a lyrical composition by Renee Price (and family) herself!

Digby is perplexed by the mystery of a ‘super-duper noise’. So he sets out on yet another mission to find a conclusion. It takes five hours of careful auditory processing, watching each of his trusty friends explore a different instrument at different hours of the day. Stanley strums on his guitar at half-past one, Sophie toots on her kazoo at half-past two. Finally at half-past six the noise-o-meter makes a much-needed appearance, and when it rings out a ‘Thunderous!’ sound the gang know just where to look. With their newly acquired yodelling prowess in tow, the group enjoy a noisy jam… but there’s another unexplained sound to settle!

Euphoniously delightful as a read aloud experience, visually dynamic, encouragingly active, humorous and imaginative, Digby and the Yodelayhee… Who? will lead its preschool audience on a most exhilarating journey of resounding goodness.

For more information on this innovative and talented creator, please read my interview with Renee Price on Digby and the Yodelayhee… Who? here and through the Digby Fixit interactive website here.

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Julie Hunt, the imagination behind KidGlovz

When reading a book by Julie Hunt I feel like I’m entering into an uncanny world, where imagination seeps into the interstices of reality. Julie is the author of The Coat (illustrated by Ron Brooks), which won CBCA picture book of the year in 2013.

Her other major books are Precious Little (illustrated by Gaye Chapman), the Little Else series (illustrated by Beth Norling) and KidGlovz, which features in this interview. These books are published by Allen & Unwin.

Quality graphic novels for children are extremely rare and should be cherished. KidGlovz, written by Julie Hunt and illustrated by Dale Newman over four years, is an outstanding example of the form. It won the 2016 Queensland Literary Award and Dale was shortlisted for the 2016 Crichton Award as a debut book illustrator. Although sophisticated, reluctant readers also enjoy it.

The title of KidGlovz derives from the saying, ‘handle with kid gloves’. The protagonist, KidGlovz is a talented, fragile boy who is being raised for profit rather than nurtured. With insufficient food and while virtually a prisoner in his room, he is visited by tightrope walker, Shoestring, who frees him from avaricious guardian Dr Spin, exposing him instead to an external world of danger and adventure.

I met Julie at the State Theatre Café in Hobart last week. It seemed like a fitting, although subconscious, choice by Julie because KidGlovz begins as a theatre performance by the young precocious pianist. Fittingly, the Hobart theatre and café also adjoins a bookshop.

This was the perfect time for an interview because Julie has just had the go-ahead from her publisher Allen & Unwin (great supporters of the graphic novel) for Shoestring, the companion book to KidGlovz. Julie actually wrote it as a sequel soon after completing KidGlovz. It’s now less a sequel than a discrete work even though the characters of KidGlovz and, of course, Shoestring reappear and Julie is rewriting it so that it will become an illustrated, rather than ‘graphic’ novel. She is translating potential visual images and jokes into words but there will still be 100 pictures.

Shoestring will be published in 2018 and a third book will then be in the pipeline, featuring Sylvie Quickfingers, a stolen child prodigy who has a cameo at the end of KidGlovz.

Even though writing is ‘arduous and difficult’, Julie is ‘only interested if the work excites me’. When I asked Julie if her editor and publisher need to restrain her creative brain with its original perspective and perhaps prevent her from straying too far into a wondrous strangeness, she replied that they are formative, ‘They encourage me to go further’.

Julie’s picture book The Coat has been greatly acclaimed. Its illustrator, Ron Brooks, happens to live across the river from Julie, but The Coat was not a collaborative work – Ron illustrated Julie’s story after she wrote it.

Julie’s subconscious seems to be continuously at work, with the gloves being a recurring motif in both The Coat and KidGlovz. She’s often ‘not aware of this stuff till a bit later.’

Music is another motif rising throughout Julie’s books such as Song For a Scarlet Runner, winner of the inaugural Readings Children’s Book Prize and shortlisted for multiple prestigious awards. Julie studied the trumpet and sang Bulgarian folk music, which took her to ‘another realm’ and showcased her ‘larger than life self’ when she was on stage.

Secondary characters such as Splitworld Sam from KidGlovz and Siltman from Song For a Scarlet Runner are both otherworldly figures. Names, such as in Julie’s junior series Little Else, illustrated by Beth Norling, are important to Julie. She knows she’s not on the right track if she doesn’t have the right names for her characters.

It was a pleasure to meet this extremely talented author. Julie is a delightful person, with a generous  smile and laugh. As a writer, Julie feels like the tightrope walker in the famous postcard by Quint Buccholz. She steps out and ‘hopes for the best’.

The Fix-It Man by Dimity Powell and Nicky Johnston

From our very own Boomerang Books blogger / word smith extraordinaire, Dimity Powell, together with the divinely talented illustrator, Nicky Johnston, we have a very special feature here today! I have had the utmost pleasure in reviewing their gorgeous new book, The Fix-It Man, and in finding out more about their collaboration. Enjoy!

Review:

Poignant, perfectly pitched and picture perfect. The Fix-It Man is a story that so effectively and sensitively captures the heartache and love between a little girl and her father when dealing with loss. Dimity Powell’s words are paced at a gentle rhythm that allow its readers space to breathe and take in the deeper meaning at the heart of the tale. The illustrations by Nicky Johnston encapsulate adversity and strength with their unmistakable emotive intensity.

A little girl has complete faith in her dad to fix anything. “It’s what dads do.” Whether it’s super gluing kites, mending the dog’s kennel or piecing shattered teapots back together, Dad is at the heart of turning bad days into good. But even her dependable, handy father can’t fix Mama. And there is nothing more shattering than that moment. That wordless moment of grief in the slimmest of moonlight that father and daughter lay wrapped up in Mama’s quilt, sure to be the first of many sleepless nights. Hearts break and cracks widen, but with a little bit of optimism and a whole lot of love, they know they can fix things together.

Superbly narrated and delicately illustrated, The Fix-It Man is a reassuring story that gently addresses the themes of love, life and loss in a thoughtful way. Being able to embrace life and cope with death at the same time shows great resilience. And for readers from age four in similar circumstances, this book offers an invaluable sense of hope and comfort.

EK Books, March 2017.

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Join us now for the interview:

Congratulations on the release of your newest picture book, The Fix-It Man!

DP: Thanks, Romi. Dancing on clouds happy about it.

Dimity, this is your debut in the picture book arena! Where did the foundation for this story come from?

DP: Like many story ideas of mine, it evolved from a real life incident, which developed into a thought, which led to a question, which resulted in a small movie inside my head. The hard part was extracting the best bits and shaping them into a picture book text. I love the belief small children have in their parents, that they can fix anything and everything. I wanted to explore the reaction of a child when this belief is challenged, when their fixer suddenly needs fixing, too.

How did you find the whole publishing process with EK Books? How much input did you have with Nicky’s illustrations?

DP: A veritable dream. Likewise, Nicky is a dream to work with. She is dedicated and meticulous and included me in just about every step of the process from rough drafts to finals. This was something I had not expected so it was a joy to correspond with her and give feedback on the images as they developed. There was never any real need to clarify the relationship between her images and my text; Nicky just seemed to know what was going on in my head. There was however, a lot of discussion between us and our publisher about the various nuances and symbols; all the tiny details used throughout the visual narrative. It was a real team effort.

What do you like about Nicky’s style? How do you feel her illustrations have complemented your text?

DP: Everything! Nicky’s current style is perfectly suited to this story and exactly the way I envisaged this family to be. The emotion projected in Nicky’s images is poignantly powerful.

Nicky’s illustrations more than just complement the story. They add a level of subtly and sensitivity without ever being maudlin. Her soft colour palette and homogeneous characters invite readers into the very heart and soul of the story: we could be that family.

Nicky, what drew you to Dimity’s story when you first read it? Did you feel a connection with the text? Did the images naturally appear in your mind or was it a process that developed over time?

NJ: As soon as I read Dim’s manuscript, I connected to it immediately. Visuals started filling my head, I sketched them all into my sketchbook (pages of them!) it was quite overwhelming actually.

The story is beautifully written, every word, every pause and every page break is a deliberate choice to ensure the flow of the story is not only read, but felt.

The illustrated scenes, the characters, the subtle visual sub stories came to me with immense ease. I worked on the first concept roughs almost obsessively. The entire developmental process from roughs to producing the final artworks filled me with pure joy.

Dimity and Nicky, you seem like a terrific team with an organic relationship, which certainly resonates through the book. How did you feel about the collaboration with one another along the journey? Were there any hiccups or surprises you can share with us?

DP: Extremely grateful and satisfied in the most fulfilling way. From the very first sample spread I saw, I knew my words were in good hands. Nicky’s ability to ‘get’ my intentions is uncanny. I think the way she is able to extract exactly how I picture the characters and scenes out of my head and capture them in watercolour (without any consultation) is true genius and just a little bit spooky. The biggest surprise for me was that everything progressed so fluidly and enjoyably.

NJ: I am amazed with the personal connection Dim and I have, given we have only ever met in person twice! I think our minds, visions and emotions are aligned in quite an authentic way. I am pleased the illustrations and the text combination demonstrates this unitedness too.

This was my first time working with EK Books and I really loved the team approach that was given to the entire project. It was fabulous to be able to bounce around my ideas and rough sketches with everyone to be sure we would create the book to the highest standard.

What has been the most rewarding part of creating this book so far?

DP: When I got the call from my publisher with the green light good news. It had been a long hard slog to get to that point so that call was a massive relief. I may have shed a few tears. Holding it (The Fix-It Man) in my hands for the first time was also a bit momentous. Oh and watching the visual landscape of my story come to life with each of Nicky’s illustrations. I still find that part of storytelling inexplicably rewarding; watching your words come alive is pure magic. Sorry to carry on but I feel very rewarded!

NJ: Seeing the illustrations and the text together for the first time was pretty special. And to be called a ‘Dream Team’ topped it off for me!

It was quite a lengthy process from beginning to end, and like all things that take time, the wait has been worth it.

DP: The dream team…still sets me aglow.

Thank you both so much for participating in this mini interview!! 🙂 xx

NJ: What great questions, thank you for having us share our collection journey of creating The Fix It Man!

DP: It’s been a pleasure, Romi. Thanks J

Purchase The Fix-It Man.

The Fix-It Man will be launched in both Brisbane and Melbourne! Check the flyers for details.

 

The Blog Burst party continues at the following websites. Check them out!

Kids’ Book Review

Creative Kids’ Tales

Dee White

GumbootsPearlz

Visit Dimity Powell at her website, and Nicky Johnston at her website.

Please enjoy one last special show, courtesy of Nicky Johnston!

Review: Queens of Geek by Jen Wilde

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Queens of Geek by Jen Wilde is an absolutely adorable story about the fangirl life and being happy being yourself. It’s absolutely adorkable and definitely not to be missed. I also didn’t realise it was by an Australian author when I picked it up, so that just entirely made my day! Although it is set in the USA, but the two protagonists are Australian. And what could be better than reading a cute fluffy story about two best friends off to a ComicCon type of event to live their dreams of nerdom and to find love?

This book calls to you, it does. Just look at it and all that calling.

The story centres around Charley who’s a sudden star from an Aussie indie film, and how she’s at SupaCon to do press. She brings her BFF’s Taylor (who has Autism) and Jamie (who is Latino) and together they go into 100% GEEK MODE and have the time of their lives. There are famous authors to meet, movie stars to flail over, competitions to enter, anxiety to be tackled, crushes to be confessed, and the realisation that you should be unapologetically yourself at all times. Which is such a beautiful message!

The book is really rather short, but manages to pack a lot of fun dialogue and relatable scenes in. I’m not generally one to rush after fluffy contemporaries, but this was definitely a light and one! It did border on making the characters so perfect, however, that they could’ve practically sprouted angel wings and frolicked about in halos. But I’ll forgive it because these were kids I looked up to! Even if they felt a bit idealistic in the way they were written.

If you’re a fangirl, also, you’re going to love all the fandom references! It mentions Marvel comics and the TV show Supernatural. They mention the Vampire Diaries and Felicia Day, too! And it’s so centred around youtube and tumblr, which Charlie and Taylor are updating constantly. Taylor is also heavily obsessed with a fantasy series, which was made up for the show, but it easily had an “insert fandom of choice here” feel to it which made it very relatable! They were doing cosplays and book signings and film previews and zombie mazes. Basically your little nerd heart will explode with wish to go to this magical SupaCon.

I loved the inclusion of diversity too! Taylor has Autism, and it was so refreshing to see love for ASD girls here because they are overlooked so much in literature. Taylor’s ASD traits (including severe anxiety, very intense obsession interests, and struggle with change) all felt completely realistic and well represented! Also Charley is bisexual and Asian and their other friend, Jamie, is Latino.

And of course there is romance…and it’s super cute! Charley has had a crush on a youtube star, Alyssa, forever….and finally gets her chance to see if it’ll work. But she’s also recovering from a messy public breakup with a costar so putting her emotions out there is NOT easy for her. And Taylor has had a crush on her best friend, Jamie, for years…but she hates the thought of their friendship dynamic changing. And she doesn’t know how to romance. How doth one romance. So her reluctance to act on her feelings is complicating things immensely. I thought the romance was a sweet and lovely touch, and didn’t drown out the rest of the plot.

Queens of Geek is, in summary, EXTREMELY GEEKY. It made me smile with all the fangirl appreciation and the cute dialogue and fantastically winning characters! I wish they’d been a little less “perfect”, however,  but the fun storyline over a quick 3-day period definitely made up for it. I also appreciated the Aussie references and how it represented minorities that definitely need their voices heard. If you’re looking for a fun story: HERE IT IS.

Reviews – Pickle and Bree’s Guide to Good Deeds Books 3 and 4

The gorgeous Pickle and Bree’s Guide to Good Deeds series (by author Alison Reynolds and illustrator Mikki Butterley) continues from where it left off from The Birthday Party Cake and The Decorating Disaster (see previous interview). With another two exciting books on exploring social etiquette and positive behaviour now available, we can hardly contain ourselves! Here they are:

Gently reinforcing the value of kindness, The Playground Meanies is a delightfully explorative story into managing challenging social situations in the playground. The Reynolds and Butterley team once again draw us in with their engaging script and expressive illustrations that truly allow readers to connect with these relatable characters.

It is a common occurrence for preschoolers to experience some level of bullying, even at their young age. Knowing what is appropriate behaviour, whether the instigator or recipient, can sometimes be confusing and definitely emotionally confronting. Alison Reynolds approaches this concept beautifully with her easy-to-follow and humorous narrative, and empowering ‘guide to good deeds’ notes that tie it all together.

When Pickle and the sensitive Jason are teased about their big feet by two little bears at the playground, it is Bree who shows maturity and wisdom, reminding her friends not to stoop to their ‘mean’ level. But Pickle, being loyal yet impulsive, sympathises with Jason’s sadness, and protests his vexation. And the result of his boisterous actions causes a roll-on effect. Getting along with the meanies may seem like a slippery slide to manoeuvre, but Pickle and Jason do well to compose themselves and be kind, with an effective result.

The Playground Meanies opens doors for plenty of discussion and role play, teaching children about positive actions in a sensitive, safe and playful manner.

In The Big Snow Adventure, Pickle and Bree hit the ski slopes a-sliding with aplomb. In this action-packed escapade of tobogganing-chaos, skiiing-turbulence and snowballing-frenzies, the heedless pair need reminding to respect the rules.

It’s all too easy to be unaware of invading people’s space or neglecting to check their feelings when you’re in your own world of fun and competition. That’s certainly what happened to Pickle and Bree during their trip to the snow. All the excitement of ski lifts and ploughing down the mountain makes them forget about listening to and following instructions and respecting the given boundaries. Disowned by their friends following the path of snow-covered destruction eventually leads Pickle and Bree to realise their foolhardy ways, and an exhiliranting ending to the day is had by all.

I love the consistency between books; the gentle and humorous storylines that play out like a real life scene, the strongly defined characters and the adorable multi-textured illustrations that make these books so full of charm and authenticity.

The Big Snow Adventure and The Playground Meanies are both delightfully engaging ‘lessons’ in friendship, respect, compassion and morality. Admirably empowering children from age four to harness a peaceful world, one step at a time.

Five Mile Press, February 2017.

Alison Reynolds recently completed her blog tour for her Pickle and Bree series. See her post with Dimity here and the books’ development here.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Author Roadshow: Fleur Ferris and Robert Newton

There were too many exciting books from the recent Penguin Random House roadshow in Sydney to outline in one post so here is Part 2. As well as many standout titles, we were privileged to hear from two YA authors, Fleur Ferris and Robert Newton.

Robert Newton spoke from the heart about his new novel Mr Romanov’s Garden in the Sky. It is an outstanding work, exceeding his Prime Minister’s Literary Award winning When We Were Two. It follows the sad and dangerous existence of Lexie in a Housing Commission Tower who lies to protect her drug-addicted mother. She saves old Mr Romanov from death after thugs throw his dog off the building. The story then becomes an original tale of friendship and hope.

Fleur Ferris is one of Australia’s best selling YA novelists and she is also a most delightful person. Her first novel Risk, a cautionary tale about online predators, is essential reading. It is wildly popular with teens and I reviewed it for the Weekend Australian here. I’ve also interviewed Fleur about Risk here for Boomerang Blog.

Fleur’s second novel Black was Australia’s best-selling ‘new release’ Oz YA book of the year for 2016. It is another a thriller, and incorporates a cult and unexpected ending. I reviewed it briefly for Boomerang Blog here.

Fleur’s third novel Wreck (note Fleur’s one word, one syllable titles, each ending in the letter ‘k’) will be published in July. It is also a thriller but has dual narrators and is set in two different time periods. It sounds like her best work yet and we will hear much more about it.

Other upcoming YA novels include Geekeralla by Ashley Poston from the U.S. (April), billed as a ‘fandom-fuelled twist on the classic fairytale’. Danielle encounters cos-play and her godmother works in a vegan food truck. I’ve read the beginning and can’t wait for the rest.

One of Us is Lying by debut novelist Karen M. McManus (June) is a U.K. title. There’s an omniscient narrator and one teen is murdered in detention with four others without anyone leaving the room.

Darren Groth returns after his triumph with Are You Seeing Me? in Exchange of Heart. Endearing character, Perry from the first novel returns and Down Syndrome is addressed.

Krystal Sutherland’s second novel appears quickly after Our Chemical Hearts. I’ve interviewed Krystal for the blog here. A Semi-definitive List of Worst Nightmares (September) explores phobias, particularly when Esther’s list of possible phobias is stolen, with strange results.

Juniper Lemon’s Happiness Index (July) by U.K. author Julie Israel revolves around Juniper’s file cards of happy and unhappy experiences. But one card goes missing, the one thing that people can’t know about.

What reading extravagances we have in store.

(Author photo at top courtesy Fleur Ferris. From left to right, standing: Fleur Ferris, Belinda Murrell, Felice Arena, Robert Newton)

Author Roadshow: Felice Arena, Belinda Murrell and more

It was a thrill to attend the Penguin Random House Young Readers’ Highlights roadshow in Sydney this week.

As well as being told about upcoming books, four authors (three from Victoria – Fleur Ferris, Felice Arena and Robert Newton, and Belinda Murrell from Sydney) shared their books with us. More from them later…

Picture book highlights for me were Anna Walker’s Florette, full of inviting greenery in the heart of Paris (March), The Catawampus Cat by Jason Carter Eaton and Gus Gordon (April), the retro colour palette of Stephen W. Martin’s Charlotte and the Rock (April), We’re All Wonders (April), an adaptation from R.J. Palacio’s Wonder, Deb Abela’s fractured fairytale, Wolfie: An Unlikely Hero (May), Marc Martin’s stylish design in What’s Up Top (September) and Pamela Allen’s A Bag and a Bird, which is set in Sydney (September).

Middle Fiction looks incredible. Felice Arena, author of popular series ‘Specky Magee’ and ‘Andy Roid’, enthusiastically told us about his stand-alone historical fiction, The Boy and the Spy (April). The Anglicised version of Felice (pronounced Fel-ee-chay) is Felix, meaning ‘happiness’, and Felice certainly demonstrated that.

The Boy and the Spy has family at its core, especially foster families. It is set in Sicily in 1945 and is for 10-12 year-old readers. It can be read at one level or the layers in its text can be uncovered. Felice hopes that it will inspire readers about travel, history and art. He loves writing ‘movement’ and has tried to emulate the stimulating experience given by teachers who read aloud and stop at the end of a chapter. Felice enjoyed researching and talking to relatives and has devised some entertaining Morse Code activities for school visits.

Other titles I can’t wait to read are Skye Melki-Wagner’s ‘Agent Nomad’ series (March) about a magical spy organisation with an Australian feel. I loved Skye’s stand-alone YA fantasy The Hush. Talented Gabrielle Wang has written and illustrated The Beast of Hushing Wood (April), another of Gabrielle’s original magical realist stories. I facilitated a session with Gabrielle at the Brisbane Writers Festival in the past and the children adored her. My favourite of her books are In the Garden of Empress Cassia and The Pearl of Tiger Bay.

Ally Condie returns with Summerlost (May), the irrepressible Oliver Phommavanh with Super Con-Nerd, Morris Gleitzman with Maybe (September) and Tristan Bancks with The Fall (June), a fast-paced thriller with disappearing characters. It will no doubt follow Tristan’s assured debut into literary-awarded fiction, Two Wolves. Tamara Moss’ Lintang and the Pirate Queen (September), a quest on the high seas, looks very appealing.

The charming Belinda Murrell spoke about her popular backlist of the ‘Sun Sword’ trilogy, timeslip tales and ‘Lulu Bell’ and introduced her new series for tweens, ‘Pippa’s Island’ (July), which reminded me of Nikki Gemmell’s ‘Coco Banjo’ but with more sand and sea.

And the wonderful Jacqueline Harvey’s ‘Alice-Miranda’ and ‘Clementine Rose’ series have sold 1 million copies in Australia and worldwide. We celebrated with a special cake. 

I’ll roundup YA at the roadshow in a second post.

Nicole Hayes and ‘ A Shadow’s Breath’

A Shadow’s Breath by Nicole Hayes (Penguin Random House Australia) has just been published. Nicole spoke to Boomerang Books.

Where are you based and how are you involved in Australia’s YA lit community?

I am a Melbourne-based YA author and reader. The YA lit community in Melbourne is very open and embracing, and as an Ambassador to the Stella Schools Prize Program and a writing teacher, I get to meet lots of readers and writers at schools and festivals. When I’m not writing or teaching writing, I often work with other authors on their manuscripts.

What sports are you interested in?

A lot of sports, but I love AFL most of all. I used to play footy when I was a kid and became a rabid Hawthorn fan in my teens. My first novel, The Whole of My World, featured a teenage girl obsessed with footy, very loosely based on my experiences, and eventually led to my writing two more books about footy, and introduced me to the rest of the Outer Sanctum team – the all-female AFL podcast I’m involved in. I also watch a lot of soccer and Futsal because both my daughters are keen players.

Can you tell us about your other books?

The Whole of My World is about teenager Shelley Brown who is desperate to escape her grieving father and her own terrible secret. When she changes schools and a new friend introduces her to her footy heroes, Shelley’s passion for the game tips over into obsession, and she loses track of herself and all the things that matter in the process. 

One True Thing is about 16 year old Frankie Mulvaney-Webb whose mum is the Premier of Victoria. But Frankie hates the spotlight. All she wants to do is lay low and focus on her rock band, but her life is turned upside down when photos of her mum in a secret rendezvous with a much younger man go viral.

I’ve also written two other books about footy – one for adults called, From the Outer: Footy Like You’ve Never Heard It, and most recently, A Footy Girl’s Guide to the Stars of 2017, aimed at kids and featuring players from the new women’s Aussie Rules competition.

Could you explain the structure you’ve used in your new novel A Shadow’s Breath?

The novel has two alternating narratives, depicting two different timeframes interwoven throughout until they merge into one near the end. The Now chapters tell of Tessa Gilham’s survival story following a car accident that has left her and her boyfriend Nick stranded in the middle of the Australian bush. The second narrative, the Then chapters, go back over the last days before the accident, uncovering what drove Tessa and Nick into the bush in the first place, revealing why Tessa is afraid to go home.

It’s a fascinating title. Could you give us an insight into it?

Once I decided that Tessa would be a painter, I became particularly interested in finding a title that reflected the many issues around light and colour. My research uncovered a lot about the relativity of colour, which emerged as a powerful theme throughout the novel. I became fascinated by colour and how we see it differently, how it’s a cultural construct as well as an individual one, but also the logistics of how it works – that it’s also about how light is reflected and how our brain processes this information. In the middle of this reading I remembered an Emily Dickinson poem, “A Certain Slant of Light”, and this stanza caught me:

When it comes, the Landscape listens –

Shadows – hold their breath –

When it goes, ’tis like the Distance

On the look of Death –

That’s when the shadow made its way into the title. I played around with different phrasings, then stumbled on “a shadow’s breath”, which is also an expression that means the smallest thing, or the tiniest margin. I really liked the idea of that – because these tiny things, even as slight as a shadow’s breath – can change how we see things completely. And so often the difference between life and death is as small as a shadow’s breath – one step the wrong way, or seconds earlier or later… Whole lives can change at a whim. There’s so much power in that almost non-existent thing. I also love that it hints at something vaguely mystical and impossible to hold.

Tell us about the characters Tessa, Yuki and Nick.

Tessa Gilham is mostly a loner and feels like she doesn’t belong. She’s convinced that the town hates her and her mum, and she’s probably right to a point. But Tessa’s life is improving — her mum has kicked out her abusive ex-partner, and is sober again. Tessa wants to believe that life will be different, but she’s so fragile and damaged that she struggles to trust it to last. In the process of trying to heal, she rediscovers her love of painting and, between this therapeutic outlet and the blossoming friendships around her, her new boyfriend, Nick and the ever faithful Yuki, Tessa is beginning to find her feet.

Yuki Fraser is Tessa’s best friend and her one reliable companion. It was often the Fraser home where Tessa sought escape from her abusive home life. Yuki’s dad is the local cop, and an old friend of the Gilhams – he’s determined to protect Tessa and has worked hard to keep Ellen Gilham out of jail. Yuki’s mum and little sister treat Tessa like family. Always have. But Yuki is trying to find her own way too, and tension between the girls increases as Tessa leans more heavily on her boyfriend Nick, neglecting to be there for Yuki in the way Yuki has always been there for Tessa.

Nick Kostas is one of the “new kids” from St Catherine’s which has recently merged with Carrima High. He and Tessa have just started dating but because he’s so popular and successful, and a year ahead at school, Tessa isn’t entirely secure in their relationship, and struggles to understand why he would choose her over more likely girls. The fact that he’s about to move to the city to go to university doesn’t help the situation, despite Nick’s obvious devotion to her.

What is the importance of Tessa’s home life to the story?

Tessa and her mum are trying on this new life, and still finding their way back to each other. Ellen Gilham has only recently sent “the arsehole” packing, and is newly sober, but as it’s been so long since it was just the two of them together, Tessa and Ellen are still working out how to be a family.

Tessa has been responsible for herself for so long that she isn’t sure how to let Ellen mother her, and Ellen is weighed down with guilt and regret that she let things continue for as long as she did. A guilt that Tessa feels is, mostly, deserved. Damaged and hurt, Tessa is struggling to forgive her mother, while the fragile Ellen wants only to earn back her daughter’s trust.

How important is the concept of ‘shouganai’ (surrender) in the narrative?

It was one of the first meaningful phrases I learnt in Japanese when I was living there many years ago, and it always stayed with me. It has different interpretations – positive and negative – but when Yuki’s mum says it, there’s a certain dignity and grace attached to accepting what – or who — can’t be changed. Specifically, accepting those you love for who they are – warts and all. In A Shadow’s Breath, I twisted its use to apply to people and their situation, but I love the bravery inherent in that. The idea of stepping back and letting things play out as they’re intended.

What role does art play?

For Tessa, art is her saving grace. Through her art she is able to find her way back to her childhood and begin to process and understand what happened to her. Her painting offers an outlet but also a means through which she can develop self-belief and start to accept her own worth. It also provides a connection with her new friends, and an opportunity to express herself, to earn these new friendships, particularly with Nick, who admires her work and envies her talent. Through their appreciation and admiration, she begins to look to the future for the first time.

Have any responses from your readers particularly resonated with you?

The story idea emerged at least partly from my encounters with young people whose own homes are not the haven they’re meant to be, and I really wanted their stories to be heard too. Since the novel came out, I’ve had several readers message to congratulate me on how I have depicted the reality of an abusive family and the challenges for those left behind. It’s genuinely humbling to be told that Tessa’s experience feels authentic to those who have had a similar life.

What other books have left a deep impression on you? 

So many! The book that continues to shake me, no matter how many times I read it, is The Road by Cormac McCarthy. There are several reasons for this. Firstly, McCarthy manages to depict a harrowing and bleak world of post-apocalyptic America in such sparse and beautiful language that I have found myself rereading passages too many times to count. But beyond the writing itself, the story depicts possibly the purist kind of parental love – it is a story about a dying man and his young son attempting to travel south to avoid an almost certainly lethal winter – and yet it never once uses the word love. There’s barely an expression of emotion in the whole novel. And yet it makes me cry like a baby every time I read it. I shiver even now just thinking about it.

Thanks for your generous and insightful responses, Nicole, and all the best with A Shadow’s Breath.

‘Before You Forget’ and Julia Lawrinson

 

Meet Julia Lawrinson, author of Before You Forget, Penguin Australia

Thanks for talking to Boomerang Books, Julia.

Where are you based and what’s your background in books?

I am based in Western Australia, and I’ve published thirteen novels for children and young adults (lucky thirteen, I hope!)

I really enjoyed your 2006 YA novel, Bye Beautiful . Could you tell us about this and some of your other writing? bye-beautiful

Most of my books are realistic, contemporary novels. Bye, Beautiful is set in the wheatbelt in 1966, and so is a departure from that. It is about a policeman’s family, and what happens when two sisters fall in love with the same boy, who happens to be Aboriginal. Although it is fiction, it is based on my mother’s story: my grandfather was a policeman who became officer in charge of the North West before he retired, and his strong personality and morality has had a lasting effect on his family. I feel I work best as a writer when I have a strong emotional connection to what I’m writing about.

My earliest work was very ‘gritty’: dealing with bogan high schools and adolescent psychiatric hospitals. Those stories resonated a lot with readers, and were stories that needed to be told.

Your new novel Before You Forget has a devastating personal connection for you. Could you tell us about the genesis of this novel?

before-you-forgetThe novel was written in response to seeing the suffering that my daughter went through when her father developed early onset Alzheimer’s disease, which began as she was starting high school. It wasn’t just the loss of memory that was an issue: his whole personality changed, and he went through periods of being anxious and angry by turns, which was difficult for both me and my daughter. He would give money away, invite perfect strangers home, almost cause accidents when he was driving without the slightest awareness of it. He refused to see doctors, and when he finally did, they suspected he had depression, alcoholism and various other things until he saw a specialist. Being there with him when he was diagnosed remains the most awful day of my life.

It was incredibly painful for my daughter to see the father she knew disappear in this way, and nobody really seemed to understand. The only person who truly got it was her friend Gemma, whose mother had the same disease, and who tragically died the week the book was released. I want people to understand the impact of diseases like Alzheimer’s on the kids in the family, to have empathy for the extended grief such conditions create.

What is the most terrifying thing about Alzheimer’s?

That it strips away what defines you as yourself. Annie’s dad’s defining feature was his intelligence. It was so awful to see that disappear. Although he’s retained his sense of humour to the end.

How has the book helped your family?

It’s been cathartic, being able to describe some of the things that happened, and to reclaim some of what we lost through the story. The situations in the novel are common to most families where a parent develops Alzheimer’s or similar neurological diseases, so hopefully it will provide a sort of sense of community.

How can others help families in this situation?

By asking what they need. People often want to come in and take control, or offer what they think is best, but it’s really important to listen to what would make the family’s life easier. It will be different for everyone. Also, to be respectful of people’s emotions: taking care of a loved one with Alzheimer’s is an emotional rollercoaster. I remember someone saying to me early on that Alzheimer’s was a beautiful thing, which felt like being slapped in the face. Teenagers with parents with Alzheimer’s can become very impatient and frustrated, but this doesn’t mean they don’t love their parent. It means they are dealing with the grief of dealing with a parent who is no longer who they used to be.

flyawayWho are your favourite artists?

Visual artists? Monet, Van Gogh, Rene Magritte, Brett Whitely, Frida Kahlo, Jeffrey Smart, Margaret Olley.

The protagonist, Amelia, loves art. How have you used art to reflect Amelia’s experiences?

I tried to have Amelia’s struggle to express herself as an artist parallel her difficulties in expressing her feelings about what is happened to her and her dad. Amelia is quite self-contained, but her art shows what is important to her.

How have you incorporated 9/11 into the story?

Amelia obsessively watches 9/11 footage, reads about it, tries to imagine what it would have been like to be there. To her, it is her personal disaster writ large. Instead of having something slow and invisible up-end your life, there is something fast, immediate and visual. But she also learns that it is not just one story: there are lots of stories out of 9/11, including stories of hope and bravery and fellow-feeling.

Amelia’s best friend Gemma has a problem. Could you tell us about this?

Gemma develops an eating disorder almost by accident: she begins dieting and then finds herself on a path she can’t get off. I’ve seen this happen with a lot of young people, and it happened to me as a teenager. You can’t mess with restricting food: once you start, the problems you may have been using food to deal with get magnified. Amelia can’t understand it, because to her Gemma has everything, and she is also upset that Gemma can’t appreciate Amelia’s serious problems. They can’t help each other, in a sense, because of what’s going on in their own lives, but they do try to find a way back to each other.

I should note that I used my daughter’s best friend’s name with permission in the novel, but the real Gemma bears no resemblance to the fictional one!

1b28f-chessnutscoverAmelia’s neighbour, Will, plays chess and one of your earlier books is called Chess Nuts. Why have you used chess in your YA novel, rather than another pastime or point of contact?

Again, this was part of the autobiographical aspect of the novel: my daughter played chess, and her dad was a chess coach (which is how Chess Nuts came about). It was also one of the first things that alerted me to his mental decline: a man who remembered every move of his year seven chess final to suddenly forget how to move a knight. It was a clear sign something was wrong.

What other books have left a deep impression on you?

I read a lot of books featuring bodily or mental illness when I was a teenager. Lois Lowry’s A Summer to Die had a big impact on me, as did The Bell Jar, A Patch of Blue by Elizabeth Kata, and Second Star to the Right by Deborah Hautzig.

Thanks very much, Julia, and all the best with your new book and your family. Your story will no doubt help many others.

All creatures great and small – animal inspired picture books

Animal antics, you can’t beat them. Creatures great and small, they make us laugh, cry, and ponder. As characters in picture books, they are culturally neutral, globally recognisable conduits for expressing a range of emotions that small children (and adults) are readily able to relate to. In short, their appeal is universal. Today we get up close and personal with a few new animal orientated picture books bound to stir up the David Attenborough in you.

mopokeMopoke by Philip Bunting

Hot new author illustrator, Philip Bunting has produced a veritable winner. Mopoke’s cultivated, impossibly restrained colour palette and fierce economy of words positively exudes brilliance. It’s the genius absence of colour and preamble that snaps readers into full alert, squaring their attention on the one and only character, a small southern boobook owl, aka Mopoke (although there is an incongruous cameo appearance by a certain nocturnal marsupial, as well).

Mopoke is quiet and unassuming, clearly one who relishes peace and tranquillity. The Australian bush at night, however is rife with annoyances forcing Mopoke to assume various airs of tolerance until finally, he makes a dramatic move.

Covertly comical and clever, one could interpret this picture book as a subtle poke, pardon the pun, at our social media addictions and the intrusive way they interrupt our daily lives. Of course, none of this will matter to readers under seven or so. They will simply be enthralled by Mopoke’s milk chocolate coloured marvellousness. An experience to be savoured.

Omnibus Books February 2017

my-friend-tertiusMy Friend Tertius by Corinne Fenton and Owen Swan

Until I’d open the sepia hued covers of My Friend Tertius, I had no clue this zoo/war time story even existed. Fenton has, however not just written an historical, fact based picture book. She has encased the true-life story of a British Intelligence covert living in pre-war Hong Kong with that of Tertius, a small-orphaned gibbon into a kind of love story.

Told from Arthur Cooper’s point of view, Tertius soon becomes an inextricable part of Cooper’s life. Together they work and savour the steamy tropical pastimes of Singapore and Hong Kong until the onset of World War II finally forces Cooper to evacuate to Australia. He is loath to leave his best mate behind, though so smuggles him into the country before having to surrender him to the Melbourne Zoo.

This is a story of turbulent times, separation, and unconventional friendships that somehow endure. Despite Tertius’ imperfect circumstances, one cannot help but feel a certain warmth for his relationship with Cooper. A fascinating picture book for older readers revealing yet more amazing wartime alliances thoughtfully illustrated by Swan.

Allen & Unwin February 2017

one-keen-koalaOne Keen Koala by Margaret Wild and Bruce Whatley

Not since One Woolly Wombat have I come across an animal counting book that is so full of bounce and spirit, I thought I might have to a lie down after reading it. Wild’s wondrous way with words is so pleasing to read, you’ll wish this continues beyond the count of 12 happy possums. Light, breezy, and bristling with Australiana, her verse escorts young readers from numbers one to twelve whilst gently stimulating them with the notion that new beginnings are indeed enjoyable. The appeal for new pre-schoolers or primary schoolers is therefore ten out of ten.

Whatley’s illustrations are soft and unobtrusive albeit awfully cute and fun. He even manages to inject new life into an old favourite, the perennial wombat.

One Keen Koala is a counting / back to school book that almost makes me want to troop back off to Kindy. Highly recommended.

Scholastic Press February 2017

Stay posted for another instalment of animal inspired reads, soon.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

A Little Piece of Australiana – Picture Book Reviews

Paying acknowledgement to our ‘great southern land’ today on Australia Day with a few true blue Aussie picture books, their dinky-di characters and beaut landscapes. There is a lot to love about this unique nation. What does Australia mean to you?

imageRow, Row, Row Your Boat, Scholastic Australia (text), Matt Shanks (illus.), Scholastic Australia, 2016.

Putting a spin on the old classic nursery rhyme, with the gorgeous integration of some of our favourite wildlife animals, is the Aussie version ofRow, Row, Row Your Boat. Charmly illustrated by Matthew Shanks, this short and sweet story takes its enthusiastic preschool readers on a river ride adventure full of excitement and surprise.

Life is certainly a dream rowing your boat gently down the serene, native-laced stream. With each stroke, we are greeted by another animal doing their characteristically natural thing in their landscape. A sleeping koala, a squeaking bandicoot, a sword-wielding piratey platypus, and a laughing kookaburra all feature in the fun rhyme. But it is the entertaining illustrations that really tell the story. Look out for the inconspicuous crocodile throughout, as well as the funny story taking place in (and out of) the boat!

Row, Row, Row Your Boat is an endearing and energetic Aussie-flavoured book that will have its audience captured from start to finish, over and over again.

imageDon’t Call Me Bear, Aaron Blabey (author, illus.), Scholastic Australia, 2016.

Here’s a little piece of Australiana that us locals all know about…right?! For poor Warren, it seems like a serious case of mistaken identity. You see, Warren is a koala, not a ‘bear’, and he goes to every length to justify himself.

True to the authentic Blabey-style, here is a sarcastic and cringe-worthy yet surreptitiously loveable rhyming tale that is full of energy and laugh-out-loud moments. Warren explains how it all started with the stupidity of Captain Cook and his pioneers claiming to have found a ‘bear’, but in fact, he is a member of the common marsupial family (see the very scientific chart). Actual bears from around the globe are examined, and when Warren thinks he’s finally broken through, it is his own Aussie counterparts who still don’t quite ‘get it’.

Don’t Call Me Bear is a colourful book of a colourful character, and through its quirkiness and craziness, could be a great opener for studies on history of The First Fleet and the biology of Australian animals. ‘Bear-iffic’ for children from age four.

imageWhy is that Emu Wearing One Red Shoe?, John Field (author and lyrics), David Legge (illus.), Scholastic Australia, 2016.

Written and performed on the bonus CD by John Field, and with digitally mastered illustrations by David Legge is the farcical performance of an emu on a mission; Why is that Emu Wearing One Red Shoe?.

Listening to the music certainly makes for a lively experience, but reading the story aloud is just as exuberant. With each rollicking verse, another group of creatures join the parade as they follow and wonder “why was that emu wearing one red shoe?”. Soon enough the media become involved, and after a bustling train ride and some questionable speculations, the answer is finally disclosed, and it’s really not as complicated as made out in this huge hullabaloo.

The textural and life-like quality of the mixed media illustrations perfectly suit the energy and movement of the fast pace and the feel that this is a live, broadcast event. Why is that Emu Wearing One Red Shoe is an action-packed comedy that will have preschoolers hopping and bouncing and jiving from head to shoe.

imageColours of Australia, Bronwyn Bancroft (author, illus.), Little Hare Books, 2016.

Colouring our sensory world with all the shades of the rainbow is the beautifully transcendening Colours of Australia.

Bronwyn Bancroft, member of the Bundjalung Nation, spoils us with her outstanding talents as she leads us through a bright, texturally and lyrically entrancing venture across the land. From white diamonds spilling across the sky, to an explosion of red sunrise and vivid dances, orange ochre shapes protruding from ancient foundations, orbs of sun light and green velvet cloaks of hills, and finally, blue fingers of sky drawing the day to an indigo close.

Bancroft brilliantly incorporates the beauty of trademark landscapes and features of Australia’s stunning earth, with her equally poetic-style narrative and mesmerising Indigenous-quality illustrations, that all literally dance off the pages. Colours of Australia; wonderfully whimsical and evocative to connect readers with our astonishing country, and to reinforce sustainability and the highest respect to the Aboriginal people and their culture.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

See Dimity‘s lists of great Australian books here and here.

Doodles and Drafts – Nick Earls reveals his Top Secrets

word-hunters-and-nick-earlsA few years ago, I had the supreme pleasure of joining a world of word nuts who allowed me to accompany them on hair-raising adventures through time and reason; I discovered the Word Hunters – a trilogy of etymological enigmas by author Nick Earls and illustrator, Terry Whidborne. I carry on a bit about the awesomeness of their series, here. Although Word Hunters is more than satisfying and a dozen other superlatives to boot, I was left wanting more as many exhilarating experiences are wont to make you feel. And so, the trilogy has expanded with the launch of the Top Secret Files.

Top Secret Files is a sort of compendium of loosely connected thoughts and verbal exploration. It’s a journal of notes and taste bud temptations. It’s an explanation of even more philology through brief crisp narrative and pages of eye-catching sketches, drawings, and diagrams. It’s the journal of the great word hunter, Caractacus entrusted to the ancient librarian, Mursili who perhaps a little misguidedly assigns it back to our dauntless duo, Earls and Whidborne.

Today we have the auspicious pleasure of welcoming Nick Earls to the draft table to learn a little more about the custodian of the Word Hunters and how he is dealing with his Top Secret Files.

nick-earls-2017Welcome Nick!

Who is Nick Earls? Describe your writerly self.

Twenty-six books into the job, he’s an unkempt work in progress, growing into the thought lines etched deep into his forehead and still trying to get better each time he writes.

In a former life, your quest was to serve and protect or at least, make people feel better. How does your current occupational goal as a writer compare?

I now wear my underpants on the inside and don’t have a cape. Each job hinges on a connection with people. In medicine, it’s getting to understand them on their terms, so that the story they tell makes as much sense as possible. In writing the kind of fiction I mostly do, it’s about tapping into characters who, when read, feel as though they can’t have been made up. With Word Hunters there are other objectives too – there’s an adventure to be had and a world of mind-blowing words facts to play around with. My goal as the writer of this series is to entertain, but also be part of opening minds to the possibilities of history and the fascinating workings of the language. It’s too easy to fall into the habit of saying that English is a crazy language that makes no sense, but the more you grasp its 1500-year history (plus some back-story) the more sense it ends up making. And the more powerfully you can use it. ‘Night’ and ‘light’, for instance, aren’t spelled that way by chance, or because someone threw darts at a board – there’s a reason for it, and a really interesting one (featuring a now-lost letter), so we wrote about that in the new book.

wisdom-tree-novellasName three titles you have created that you are particularly proud of and why.

It’s not a thing I feel about anything I write. Which doesn’t mean I think it’s all awful – it’s just that ‘pride’ isn’t really the feeling. I love the process of exploring the story and its characters, and how they’ll all work, and then the job of working hard to get the details right and delivering them in a compelling way. If someone gets it, I feel good. It feels as if all that work was worth sharing. Okay, one example: Gotham, the first novella in the Wisdom Tree series. I had two story ideas that I wanted to give to one character, and I thought I could make them work together in an interesting way. So, the first two acts are essentially one of those story ideas, with seeds being sewn for the third, then act three really takes you somewhere, delivers something (I hope) you’re not expecting, and also casts new light on the earlier part of the story. It’s worked just as I hoped it would for quite a lot of people now, and I have to admit that’s gratifying, since I love it when fiction works that way in my head.

top-secret-files-word-huntersIt’s been nearly three and a half years since the Word Hunter series hit our bookshelves. Was a follow up compendium like Top Secret Files always on the cards? If not, what evoked the idea and need for it?

It was Terry’s idea, and he put it to me when we were driving between two schools, doing our live Word Hunters show when the third book came out in 2013. He wanted to do something more visual and less dependent on a big new narrative, and he wanted to explore some of the gadgets we’d included. In that conversation, I realised I’d found some excellent word stuff that I hadn’t been able to include in the other three books, and we came up with the idea of a kind of manual, or ‘a compendium of devices and methods’ as Caractacus rather self-importantly puts it. Living in the Dark Ages and seeing the consequence of knowledge loss, Caractacus puts a premium on knowledge and, unlike the rest of us, has a pipeline to the future. So, this is him trying to keep track of the info future word hunters bring back to him, some of which he adapts for use in his own time. Some of that presented a fascinating challenge. In book three, he’s created lightweight 21st-century ceramic armour for the hunters to fight in, and for Top Secret Files I had to work out how it was made, then work out how to adapt that to processes someone could use on a Dark Ages pig farm. I have to say, that stretched me. Then we paired that with the fun activity of making your own medieval armour from cardboard, using the fascinating terms for each piece.

What can Word Hunter fans expect from Top Secret Files?

Expect the unexpected. You’ll come out of this dressed in armour from the 15th century, making bread from 3000 years ago and able to navigate using the Ancient Phoenician alphabet (or, more correctly, abjad). And who doesn’t want that set of awesome skills? You’ll also understand why we score tennis the way we do, where cricket fielding positions got their names, and how our alphabet found twelve new letters and lost nine of them!

Top Secret Files reads as a combination of loose jaunty exchanges and solid historical fact. At times if feels even more revealing and fantastical than the Word Hunters storylines. (Are all those words that couldn’t be saved as part of the English language real? Sorry had to ask; I’m too lazy to research every groke, fudgel, and curglaff) Why did you choose this style of delivery over straightforward narrative?

Some of the most improbable things in the book are true including, yes, those words that couldn’t be saved (even the one that involves doing a distinctly weird thing to a part of a horse that’s best left alone …). When I was tunnelling around for material, I wanted the facts to be weirder than the fiction, so that the fiction seems all the more plausible.

We had this kind of style in mind from the start, for two reasons. First, not having to build a massive narrative to slip in one brilliant word fact gave us licence to include lots more stuff and focus on it. It would have taken several more of the original books and a lot of complicated storytelling to have created opportunities to use everything we got to use here. Also, Terry was very mindful of creating a different way into the word hunters’ world. This was deliberately compact, really visual and in short sections (with an overarching concept but not an overarching narrative) to provide a way into the world for kids not immediately drawn to 40-60,000 words of narrative.

We wanted to make the original three books accessible by telling the most engrossing time-travel adventure story we could, but this book is designed to increase the accessibility even more. We wanted to create something for, say, 9-10-year-old boys not yet hooked by reading big stories (while at the same time offering fascinating content for people who are). If they get into this, maybe they’ll pick up book one, and then book two and book three. And by the end of that, maybe they’ll have felt that buzz in their head that only books can put there, and they’ll want more. I got into reading as a kid, but Terry didn’t, and this is Terry coming up with the kind of book he thinks might have made a difference to him at that age.

word-hunter-sketchesIllustrator, Terry Whidborne receives equal airplay alongside you, Lexi and Al throughout this journal. What was the dynamic like working with him? How did it influence and or benefit this production?

Terry’s great. We met working on an advertising campaign in 2002. We’re friends and I’m also in awe of his skills as an artist – another reason to do this book: I want publishers and others to see just how talented Terry is.

We each bring very different things to a book like this, and I think that helps make us a great team. We also had a very clear shared vision of what we wanted the end result to be. And it was always clear that we would have the freedom to suggest possible topics to each other, and throw in ideas to get the other one thinking. Terry would say things like, ‘I reckon there would be some kind of portal-sniffing device,’ and I’d have to rummage around for the science to sort-of back it up.

And I’d often say, about something I was working on, ‘I don’t know what this looks like – could you show me?’ and he would. Or I’d say, ‘here’s some great content I want to use, but how do we make it visual?’ and Terry would say, ‘How about a map?’

And he’d hide small things and see if I’d find them. Once you find, say, the ink smudge that’s also a map of Iceland – in context – you realise this book has more Easter eggs than Coles in March. It’s a slim book, but there are about a zillion tiny details in there, and they reveal themselves in different ways.

What inspires you to include or exclude words for discussion in the Word Hunter books? What external forces such as travel for example, influence your writing direction?

This time, I got the chance to use things that had amazed me, but that I wasn’t in a position to devote 20,000 words of narrative to. So, that was fun.

It was very interesting plotting the big story that runs across the first three books, and that create the world that the Top Secret Diary lives in. I needed each of the first three books to be an entire satisfying story, but also part of a whole, and I knew each one would feature three word quests. I also knew I wanted to follow a bunch of different pathways – English is what it is because of that – so I needed a mix of Germanic and Norman French/Latin words and words with very different origins. And I needed to get the characters to certain places at certain times to tell the big story we were telling. That was an awesome puzzle to try to solve. In the case of the last word in book three, I decided I needed something that would take us to the earliest-known book in English, link with an epic Dark Ages battle and get there via Shakespeare and one other interesting step. No easy task. I got there though.

Whose genius was it to include the interactive app, LAYAR for kids to utilise? Do you think this is the way of future storytelling?

That was Terry. The moment he discovered LAYAR, I got fanatical about it. It’s perfect for this book. Perfect. Again, it’s a great way in for someone not rushing to read lots of text, but for whom the idea of using a gadget to reveal hidden content appeals. And no one had more potential hidden content than me. I instantly knew it’d add massively to the reading experience, and I’d get to use a lot more great stuff.

Is it the way of future storytelling? It’s part of it, I’m sure. Technology gives us more tools than we’ve ever had. We just have to be smart enough to use them judiciously. LAYAR would be a gimmick or a distraction for some things, but it’s ideal for this.

On a scale of Never-Do-It-Again to Most-Exhilarating-Audience-To-Write-For-Ever!, how do you rate writing for tween readers? What is most appealing about writing for this age group?

I’m still learning, I think. I’m maybe a more natural writer for adults, but with the right material, time and smart editing, I can end up with something that works for the tween brain, and I’m getting closer to some of the techniques becoming instinctive. Two things are massively appealing about this age group. It’s a huge buzz when a kid comes up to you and raves about their Word Hunters experience and starts sharing some great etymology they’ve dug up. There’s a 9, 10, 11, 12-year-old whose grasp of English, you know, has been altered for the better. I love that. The other thing I really love is going round the schools and doing Word Hunters events. We’ve come up with a show that we can do together or solo that includes loads of visuals, props, games and a lot of noise, and It’s way more fun doing it than I ever thought. Every time I front up to a school with all my Word Hunters’ gear, I’m excited.

word-hunters-the-lost-huntersNow that you and Terry have been entrusted with Caractacus’ archive of Word Huntery (and really really interesting recipes!) thanks to Mursili, and blatantly ignoring all warnings to the contrary, have exposed it to the world, what plans do you and Terry have for the journal? Are more copies likely to appear? In short, what is on the draft table for Nick?

I have a PhD to finish, so no new fiction this year, but in the meantime, I want to make the most of the new material we’ve added to our show and take it around the place. I know that’s technically part of the job, because it might sell some books, but I actually want to do it because of the fun we can have and because of the way it opens a roomful of minds to the prospect of actually looking at our language and how it works, understanding it better and ultimately using it with greater power than most of us grew up being able to. I’ll also be putting in some effort to avoid the wrath of Caractacus. He’s not one to understand that this stuff was just too good to keep hidden.

Just for fun question (there’s always one): Describe a guilty pleasure (of yours) incorporating three words that did not exist before the last century.

Brilliant question. I’ll go as recent as I can. I regularly google (2001, as a verb) idle factoids (1973, invented by Norman Mailer, though the meaning has evolved since) using Bluetooth (1997).

Super! Thanks Nick.

If you reside in Queensland,  you can catch Nick and Terry putting in some effort to avoid Caractacus’ wrath and share their Top Secrets at one of this year’s Book Link QLD’s Romancing the Stars events during March. For details on where they will be appearing (there are Brisbane, Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast venues), and how to book, visit the Book Links site, here.

The Word Hunters Series including the Top Secret Files is available, here.

UQP December 2016

Bugs, Trains and Dragon Tales – Picture Books for Starting School

Starting school for a new year is definitely a big transition for most kids (and parents). Learning new routines, new skills, ways of managing change and making new friendships are all a part of the progression towards a happy and healthy school life. The following few picture books deal with these themes, friendship in particular, and will have your little ones starting the year with fresh and open eyes (and hearts).

imageMolly and Mae, Danny Parker (author), Freya Blackwood (illus.), Little Hare Books, October 2016.

Friendships are not always straightforward. Just like a train journey, there are bumps, bends, fun moments and impatient moments. Divinely structured text by Danny Parker, together with brilliant illustrator, Freya Blackwood, magically represent the adventure of ‘friendship’ via two girls travelling side by side through a countryside train ride.

Beginning on the platform, Molly and Mae giggle and play as they wait for the train to arrive. Beautifully rendered warming and cooling tones perfectly contrast with one another to create the backdrop for the long, scenic landscape pages as we travel through each moment, and emotion, of the trip. From excitement to boredom, frustration to solitary dreariness, forgiveness and absolution, the illustrations perfectly portray the bond between Molly and Mae, which inevitably reaches the distance.

Gorgeously rich and evocative in every sense, Molly and Mae is an enchanting voyage of the ups, downs, ins and outs of relationships; sweet, thought-provoking and heartwarming all at the same time. A wonderful book for children from age four.

imageMy Friend Ernest, Emma Allen (author), Hannah Sommerville (illus.), HarperCollinsPublishers, February 2016.

Another story exploring the complexities of friendship is My Friend Ernest. Oscar tries to be brave when he begins at his new school, with knight helmet and sword in full attire. But he is challenged at every turn when a kid with freckles, dressed as a dragon, bares his teeth and tramples on Oscar’s sandcastle. The battle between knight and dragon is finally surrendered when both boys admit they’re not as brave as they had planned for. Finding common ground is the ultimate solution and the boys share imaginative role play experiences together as new friends.

With gentle narrative written from Oscar’s point of view, and equally soft colours and textures in the illustrations, My Friend Ernest is an encouraging tale of overcoming initial discrepancies and building confidence when forming new friendships. Perfect for early years students in any new situation.

imageTwig, Aura Parker (author, illus.), Scholastic Australia, November 2016.

There is no camouflage when it comes to the gorgeousness of this book. Its messages of teamwork, compassion and friendship are clear, as is the sweetness of the whimsical illustrations in every minute little detail.

Finding the new girl, stick insect Heidi amongst the tall trees and scuttling of hundreds of tiny insect feet is no easy task, but a fun one for its readers, nonetheless. However, for Heidi, being invisible to her classmates makes for a lonely, dispiriting starting-school experience. Finally being discovered by others proves to be equally about self discovery and expression, and a beautifully-weaved gift from her new friends helps Heidi to bloom in full vibrancy.

Twig; an enchanting and gentle book for preschoolers and school starters to explore their own self identity and confidence when approaching new experiences, as well as an engaging and eye-catching story of hidden, ‘creepy-crawly’ gems and counting fun.

imageThe Ballad of Henry Hoplingsea, Julia Hubery (author), Lucia Masciullo (illus.), Little Hare Books, September 2016.

Talk about dedication! This young farmer would do anything for his princess, going as far as the farthest lands to prove he can be the bravest, most heroic knight that his princess desires. But Henry Hoplingsea soon realises that this life of swords and slaying is not what his own heart desires, for his passion still lies in a simple life with his love. And fortunately for Henry, his princess has had a change of heart, too. Maybe there’s still some room for a ‘spark’ of excitement!

The Ballad of Henry Hoplingsea is a sweet and romantic tale of making sacrifices for the ones you care about, following one’s heart and appreciating what you have. Rich and meaningful, full of warmth and energy, both in the text and illustrations, this book is an insightful example for early years children of tenaciousness and relationships.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

That’s the Spirit – Aussie books that inform and thrill

With only a week to go before you sling a few more lamb chops onto the barbie, here is swag of ‘must read’ Aussie kids’ titles to put on your reading list, (not the barbie).

theres-a-magpie-in-my-soupThere’s a Magpie in my Soup Sean Farrar & Pat Kan

It’s that time of year when raucous baby magpies scream night and day for food. Seems they are no different when submersed in soup. Sean Farrar takes pre-schoolers on a merry epicurean romp through a menu of Australian critters as they pop up in the most extraordinary of places, (the only one that failed to make the endemic Aussie grade was the porcupine whom I felt could have been replaced by the Echidna). Snakes slither from cakes, cockatoos appear in loos. Possums get stuck in pies and blue tongues pop in for lunch. Kan’s chipper illustrations jockey this ditty merrily along  as rhyme and fauna are introduced to young readers in a fun, relatable way. A jolly little bedtime read.

Big Sky Publishing April 2016

stripes-in-the-forestStripes in the Forest – The Story of the Last Wild Thylacine Aleesah Darlison & Shane McGrath

Demonstrative illustrator, Shane McGrath teams with accomplished author, Aleesah Darlison in this picture book for mid primary readers about the last Tasmanian Tiger. Portrayed in a sweeping epic narrative from a female tiger’s viewpoint, Stripes in the Forest escorts readers through Tasmania’s pre-settlement days to present day, as she recalls a life of cyclical and human influenced changes. Gradually numbers of her kind reduce to the point of assumed extinction however, Stripes ends on a positive note of supposition; what if she is not the last of her kind?

Stripes in the Forest is alluring for its historical references, detailed Thylacine Facts and nod towards the need for environmental awareness and understanding. Full marks for this picture book for making a difference.

Big Sky Publishing July 2016

this-is-banjo-patersonThis is Banjo Paterson Tania McCartney & Christina Booth

Two leather clad gold embossed volumes of verse sit reverently upon my bookshelves: The Singer of the Bush and The Song of the Bush – the collected works of A B Banjo Paterson. Now another, smaller, more modest but equally as treasured title will accompany them; This is Banjo Paterson.

This inspired new picture book by the notable partnership of McCartney and Booth is as entertaining as it is beautiful. It begins in the middle of the Australian bush, at least Andrew Barton ‘Barty’s’ story does but do not be misled by the smooth  informative narrative of McCartney’s for Booth’s illustrations tell another story. Readers are invited into Barty’s urban backyard where they are introduced to his inclinations, desires, friends, and favourite pastimes. He has a hankering for horses and rhyming words but ‘is also a fine sportsman’.

Barty harbours a secret desire to write in verse as he grows and one day one of his anonymously submitted pieces is published. From then on end there is no stopping ‘Banjo’ as his name becomes synonymous with the classic bush inspired, character driven poetry and stories many of us know to this day.

Quiet and unassuming in its delivery, This is Banjo Paterson is visually rich and emotionally satisfying to read.  Many aspects of Banjo’s accomplished life are covered in a way that is both revealing and appreciable for young readers.  McCartney’s knack for conveying facts in a beguiling spirited fashion is put to good use in this picture book that broadens minds and warms hearts. The inspired broadsheet replication at the book’s conclusion includes sepia coloured photographs of Paterson and a more detailed chronological description of his life plus extracts from several of his most well-known poems. Highly recommended for early learners and primary aged readers, This is Banjo Paterson is a marvellous introduction to one of Australia’s literary heroes.

National Library of Australia Publishing (NLA) February 2017

lennie-the-legendLennie the Legend:  Solo to Sydney by Pony Stephanie Owen Reeder

Once upon a time, a nine-year-old boy named Lennie Gwyther took his pony, Ginger Mick for a ride. It was a very long ride, from country Victoria to Sydney, over 1,000 kilometres in fact but in the days of the Great Depression back in the early 1930s, people were accustomed to making such long arduous journeys.

Lennie’s mission was to be at the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and his tenacity and determination were recognised and admired by the entire nation. Lennie’s story is adeptly told by Reeder with animated narrative and is interspersed with complementing historical snippets. Occasionally, comparisons are made between present day and last century living. Stunning photographs of this slice of Australia’s past are included along with fascinating statistics and notable people. The result is a feature-rich read, well endowed with fact and good story telling. Ideally suited for primary aged readers and those who love legends.

NLA February 2015

the-dreaming-treeThe Dreaming Tree Jo Oliver

Whilst suffused with the essence of the Australian landscape and renowned poets, let’s take a moment to appreciate the free verse poetic stylings of Jo Oliver whose, The Dreaming Tree reflects the ‘joy and freedom of being a child in Australia’.  Oliver’s poems, many of which are centred on the fierce and dramatic beauty of the Australian countryside, flow and ebb with all the finesse and passion of a verse novel. They are both uplifting and enlightening, and an extreme joy to read. This collection is presented in a picture book format accompanied by Oliver’s own dreamlike illustrations.  Her note at the end stresses that ‘poetry is fun’ and simply ‘feeling and thought playing together in words’. Oliver’s feelings and thought play magnificently together in The Dreaming Tree, for which I can list no favourites for I relished them all.

Highly recommended for primary and lower secondary school students as an excellent illustrative tool for capturing the essence of feeling in verse and injecting an appreciation for the enjoyment of poetry into the young.

New Frontier Publishing February 2016

HAPPY AUSTRALIA DAY!

#byAustralianBuyAustralian

 

 

 

 

There’s no place like home – Aussie flavoured picture books

During my short sabbatical from all things digital over the festive season, I visited some exotic, mesmerising places, supped on mouth-watering local fare, and immersed myself in numerous colourful cultural experiences. It was invigorating and fun but like always after a hard stint abroad, it is great to be home, because for me, there is no place like home. Therefore, to kick off the New Year and in readiness for our annual Aussie Day celebrations, here are a few picture books to stir up your patriotism.

shearing-timeShearing Time by Allison Paterson & Shane McGrath

Nothing shouts Australia louder than sheep, blowies, and working dogs on bikes. I envy the ability the picture book team of Paterson and McGrath has at capturing the essence of the Aussie outback with such bold open sky appeal.

Colourful and engaging, Shearing Time begins during the school holidays with one farm girl’s exclamation, ‘I love shearing time!’ She goes on to explain why, inviting readers to share her shearing experiences from sunrise to sunset. Every aspect including herding cantankerous sheep, the arrival of the rowdy seasonal shearers, the racket and rumble of shearing time right up to the feeding of workers is ably depicted giving youngsters a realistic, close-up look of how wool is procured from paddock to jumper. The glossary of well-loved shearing terms is especially useful.

A great focus on rural life and one of our most significant primary industries for 4 – 8 year-olds.

Big Sky Publishing March 2017

gus-dog-goes-to-workGus Dog Goes to Work by Rachel Flynn & Craig Smith

Here is another picture book duo whose combination of imaginative images and engaging text I adore. Once again, there are strong visual and verbal connections with regional Australian life. Chock-a-block full of colloquial language and ribald observation, Gus Dog Goes to Work is an excellent read-aloud picture book allowing carers to inject plenty of iconic Aussie swagger in their rendering of it. Gus is your typical sheepdog who exists only to work and please his owner, Tom.  When he awakes one morning to find Tom and his Ute missing however, Gus decides to venture out on his own to work. His meanderings steer him a little off track and into some stinky, hilarious, quintessentially doggy dilemmas until finally he and Tom are reunited.

Dog lovers aged five and above will get a massive kick out of this entertaining expose of country life from a pooch’s point-view. Bursting with more Aussie flavour than a barbie full of beef sangers, Gus comes highly recommended.

Working Title Press February 2017

fabishFabish the horse that braved a bushfire by Neridah McMullin & Andrew McLean

This is a gem of a book that evokes considerable emotion; warm tears spring forth unbidden each time I read it. Based on the true story of the vicious bushfires that ripped through the Victorian bush in February 2009, this picture book introduces us to ex-thoroughbred racer, Fabish and his retired role as mentor to the younger flighty yearlings.

McMullin faithfully recreates the mood and atmosphere of that scorching summer’s day when fire menaced the region. Fabish’s trainer, Alan Evett released the yearlings and Fabish fatalistically to find their own way while he huddled with the remaining stock in the stone stables. Outside a firestorm blazed out of control. He never thought he would see Fabish and the yearlings again.

The next morning dawned charred and desolate. Not a single living thing remained and yet miraculously, through the choking smoky haze Fabish appeared leading his yearlings home. McLean’s raw rustic palette coupled with McMullin’s poignant interpretation of the tale is a beautiful tribute to human resilience, loyalty, the power of nature and a truly unforgettable horse.

Strongly recommended for 6 – 9 year-olds

Allen & Unwin July 2016

sparkSpark by Adam Wallace & Andrew Plant

I grew up in the Adelaide foothills and witnessed the horrors of several summer infernos like Ash Wednesday but never experienced one first hand as author Adam Wallace did. Spark is a fascinating picture book depicting Australia’s most recent and devastating bushfire event, Black Saturday but ostensibly describing the catastrophic destructiveness and formidable beauty of any firestorm. And, along with Plant, he does so indescribably well.

Wallace succeeds with what no other has attempted before, to give fire a voice.  From the uniquely omnipotent point-of-view of a tiny spark, Wallace characterises the burgeoning flame with an almost child-like persona, suggesting a helpless naivety that encourages an instant empathy. Together, with the growing flame, we are borne along with a capricious and irascible wind, intent it seems after at first befriending the flame, to cause as much upset as possible until all control is lost.

Exhilarating and wild, terrifying and violent, Spark rips through your emotions with a mere sprinkling of words but with the force of an atomic bomb. Soul serrating language is not the only draw card. Plant’s monochrome illustrations will make the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end. Textural and scented with the acrid bitterness of the aftermath of pure destruction, Spark ends on the same quiet unassuming note as it begins; with teardrops from above, a flash of light and glimmer of green hope, simply brilliant.

A potent and compelling picture book useful for prompting discussions on natural disasters, Australian history,  and looking at things unconventionally for older primary aged readers.

Ford Street Publishing imprint of Hybrid Publishing October 2016

Stick around for the next swag-load of Aussie titles coming soon.

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The Best Aussie YA of 2016

2016 has been an excellent year for books! A few weeks ago, I cheered about the best YA fantasy that has graced our shelves, but now it’s time to talk about a very important topic: Aussie YA! Our homegrown authors have been hard at work giving us delicious books to devour at dawn (or at any time, really, they’re not picky) and I today have an exciting list of excellent 2016 Aussie books.

You should probably read them all. Just saying.


9781742612386WORDS IN DEEP BLUE

[buy]

Cath Crowley is an amazingly profilic author and her books never disappoint! I was so excited for Words In Deep Blue because it’s about (A) bookstores, and (B) people who love books, and (C) people writing love letters to strangers and leaving them folded between pages of books. Isn’t that amazing?! Well guess what: THE BOOK WAS AMAZING TOO. It was exquisitely written with complex and relatable characters, who were a little bit self-depreciating and a little bit tragic and entirely winning.


9780143573630THE THINGS I DIDN’T SAY

[buy] 

This is about a girl named Piper with selective mutism who’s trying to make a fresh start in a new school. She has severe social anxiety, which results in her not always being able to talk. Although Piper’s plan is just to improve her photography and finish out her last year of highschool…she just happens to meet an amazing boy (who is coincidentally an amazing cook and I don’t know about you, but I fell in love with him right then) who really likes her. But Piper’s worried he won’t stick around if she never talks. It’s such a moving and incredible story about the power of words, with a great representation of anxiety. There is no “romance cures all” themes, which is bliss. And the characters are so entirely adorable I couldn’t help but root for them!


9780702253942ONE WOULD THINK THE DEEP

[buy]

This is about Sam who’s just lost his mother to an aneurysm and is forced to live with his relatives…who may or may not kind of subtly hate him. Sam’s life is falling to pieces. He’s so angry at being abandoned and he’s neglected and unloved, and your heart will probably bleed for this poor kid. He takes up surfing and tries to make a new life for himself. This is my 3rd read by Claire Zorn and perhaps my favourite?! I can’t get enough of her incredible characters and the way her books always rip at my heartstrings.


9781760112226MY SISTER ROSA

[buy]

This is about Che, whose sister is probably a psychopath. The book is mostly set in the USA, but Che and his family are Australian, and Che is not really happy to have left his life in Oz to come here. He’s a boxer but he suddenly has no friends and he’s the “new” weird kid. Plus there’s his 10 year old sister, Rosa, to worry about with her vaguely psychopathic tendencies. Che has no idea what she’ll do next. Right now it’s callous pranks and manipulation of everyone around her — but what if it ends up with murder? This story will keep you 100% glued to the page, wondering what is going to happen next. It’s part coming-of-age story of Che and his boxing and first serious romance. And it’s part thriller as you watch a young psychopath at work. It’s entirely one of the best books in the universe!

Under the Christmas Tree Part 6 – Tis better to give than receive

It’s almost time to step away from the desk and wrap up the year. What a year it’s been, brimful of incredible stories and pictures, all of which have been a delight to share with you. It is, as they say; better to give than receive, so here are some final last minute helpful hints for something worth tucking under the Christmas tree.

was-not-me Was Not Me! by Shannon Horsfall

This fits the Naught but Nice list. Perfect for the school holidays, this picture book by talented newcomer, Shannon Horsfall will have kids swinging from the chandeliers and surging through the high seas with her calamitous Not Me character. He is cheeky and illusive and always hangs the blame for the mess on the carpet or the floods in the bathroom on his twin brother, Me. Mum suspects foul play and is not so easily fooled.

was-not-me-illos-spreadKids and mischief is a mix that portends all sorts of hilarious possibilities. Horsfall has managed to bottle that common go-to-get-out-of-jail card-catch-cry that kids so frequently use, ‘Was not me!’ with lightly rhyming humour and very likeable illustrations. Something fun for bored would-be house wreckers these holidays aged four to eight.

Harper Collins Children’s Books July 2016

twigTwig by Aura Parker

Another author illustrator production this time by Aura Parker whose unique organically inspired illustrations turn this gentle story about making friends and starting school into an obvious holiday choice for four to six-year-olds.

Heidi is a stick insect. She is tall and slender and blends in incredibly well with her surroundings so much so that she goes virtually unnoticed by all those around her. Such anonymity does not bode well for a creature as unassuming as Heidi and she fails to make an impact on her new classmates or even her energetic teacher, Mrs Orb. Dejected and miserable, it is not until Scarlett inadvertently unearths Heidi’s indignation that the rest see Heidi for who and what she is for the first time. From then on, the webs of friendship begin to spin.

twig-and-aura-parkerTwig is a sweet tale about finding the confidence to embark on new adventures. It is also a glorious detailed experience of visual discovery. Each of the end papers is crawling with critters and bugs of every description with prompts to seek them out. Twig is a marvellous way of getting real with bugs with a captivating nod to counting, species classification, biology, and colour. A picture book to truly pour over.

Scholastic Press November 2016

elephants-have-wingsElephants Have Wings by Susanne Gervay and Anna Pignataro

We have reviewed this one before (read Julie Fison’s encounter with Susanne Gervay, here) but it’s worth special mention and a prime place under the Christmas tree.

At a time in our history when there should be no child that suffers comes this powerful picture book by the accomplished team of Susanne Gervay and Anna Pignataro. Based partly on the ancient parable the Blind Men and the Elephant, this outstanding work is suffused with elegance, immense spirit and a beauty that young children will recognise and draw from even if they are not able to comprehend the complexities that lie within each page.

My daughter was nine when she first read it and stated, ‘It is great out of the box thinking isn’t it? I mean, who would have thought that elephants could fly.’ Indeed, capturing the essence of the blind men and the elephant in a picture book is one thing. Exhibiting it with such exquisite heart and sensitivity as the team of Gervay and Pignataro do is higher than commendable.

The journey of discovery begins one night as two young siblings beg their father for a bedtime tale. This particular night he tells their grandfather’s story, thus spanning the generations. From his recount, we learn of a group of children from varying cultural backgrounds intent on going out one dark night in search of a secret. They each find part of something, each certain they are right in their assumption of what it is, each unwilling to accept that their interpretation of their discovery whilst subjectively correct in one instance could also be part some bigger picture. They ‘argued until everyone was angry’ – my favourite line in the book, also one of the most disparagingly accurate of observations. It is not until grandfather appears with his candlelight that the children discover that each of them ‘was right, but also wrong’ and the magnificent elephant is revealed.

But what of the secret? As brother and sister embark upon the elephant’s sturdy back and soar with him over the many glorious fabrics of their world, they come to appreciate not only the beauty that surrounds them but also the cracks that threaten that beauty, until finally they arrive home, conscious now of their differences and sameness.

elephants-have-wings-illos-spreadThe subtle nuances so intricately and delicately woven into this creation are numerous. Pignataro’s textured, collaged illustrations, lift and transport, defying gravity and borders. They convey a rich tapestry of multiculturalism, religion, and ultimately, Nirvana – a divine realisation of self and the ability to see past fear, a call to reach out for harmony. The use of the colours of the Chakra, of pages drained of any pigment and then restored, provide reasons to clutch tightly to life, ride out derision, to hope – to forge forward.

Gervay’s impossibly expressive narrative articulates confusion, disaccord, reconciliation, and understanding, prompting young readers to ponder and question all that which they see (and hear) around them. To paraphrase the words of George R R Martin ‘Just open your eyes… is all that is needing. The eyes see true…then comes the thinking and in that knowing the truth.’

Supremely brave, eloquent and masterful, Elephants Have Wings will initiate discussion over many shared readings; it is one to treasure and grow with.

Ford Street Publishing October 2014

Find your elephant within as soon as you possibly can.

Cherish your Christmas moments. Give a Book. Read lots!

See you in 2017!

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Hope Farm, A Guide to Berlin, Between a Wolf and a Dog and other awarded lit fiction

hope-farmAward long and short lists continue to showcase our excellent Australian contemporary literature, much of which is written by female authors. Peggy Frew’s superlative Hope Farm (Scribe) has just been longlisted for the 2017 International Dublin Literary award and this year has already been longlisted for the Indie Book award and shortlisted for the Miles Franklin, Stella Prize, Australian Book Designers’ award and won the Barbara Jefferis award.

Hope Farm is narrated by thirteen-year old Silver who lives a peripatetic life, moving each time her mother Ishtar’s relationship breaks down. They follow Miller from warm Queensland to freezing Victoria but the situation becomes inflammatory.

An unnamed character’s point of view is revealed in notebooks. These entries describe a naïve, poorly educated young woman who falls pregnant and is cast out of her family, taking refuge in an ashram.

The descriptions of the Australian bush are tactile and inspired. The sense of dread is perfectly crafted. The character of Silver is portrayed as longing, awkward and yet knowing, as befits a girl with vulnerable and disrupted life experiences.

berlinAnother outstanding work of literary fiction still being nominated for awards this year is A Guide to Berlin (Penguin Random House Australia) by Gail Jones.

Protagonist Cass meets regularly with five other foreigners in Berlin who share their lives through story. The writing is exquisite. There are references throughout to the work of Vladimir Nabokov who “likened the bishop’s move (in chess) to a torchlight, scanning in the dark, swinging into angles”. There are butterfly motifs and exploration of rich words used by Nabokov such as “lemniscate” – the shape of infinity; “conchometrist” – one who measures the curves of seashells and “drisk” – a drizzly European rain. The novel’s title also comes from a short story by Nabokov. The beautifully crafted insights remind me that I need to re-read Hermann Hesse’s The Glass Bead Game.

A Guide to Berlin has been shortlisted for the 2016 NSW Premier’s awards, longlisted for the 2016 Stella Prize, ABIA awards and the Sisters in Crime 2016 Davitt award. In October it won the 2016 Colin Roderick Award.

housesTwo other acclaimed books, which I applaud for their fine writing, are The Life of Houses (Giramondo) by Lisa Gorton (which jointly won the 2016 Prime Minister’s Award for Fiction with Charlotte’s Woods’ The Natural Way of Things – reviewed here), and Between a Wolf and a Dog (Scribe) by Georgia Blain (which has just been shortlisted for the 2017 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Fiction and won the 2016 Qld Literary Award for Fiction).

Like Hope Farm, The Life of Houses is a dual narrative, one strand of which is from the viewpoint of a teenage girl, Kit. Her mother, Anna, is a most unlikeable character.

Georgia Blain’s writing in Between a Wolf and a Dog has a sparkling clarity and beauty. It addresses euthanasia. It is devastating that this gifted writer has just been felled by cancer. wolf

Between them these books have won and been long and shortlisted for many awards. We no doubt have a surfeit of fine Australian contemporary female writers of literary fiction.