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.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

 

 

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.

5 Reasons You Should Read Nevernight

9780008179991As a rather rabid fan of epic fantasy, I was very keen to try Nevernight by Jay Kristoff. It’s an adult fantasy that features teen characters and it promised to be dark, gritty, and sassy. It absolutely was. It was brilliant! And not only that, it’s by an Australian author, so obviously it has my pledge of intense fangirling for evermore. (No no, I’m not dramatic at all.)

Today I have a list of 5 reasons why YOU should try Nevernight! It’s a very sensible list and you’re going to want to listen to it. Trust me now.

 

1. IT’S ABOUT A SCHOOL FOR ASSASSINS.

Which I’m sure we’ve all read a lot of, because it’s a very popular trope. But this one just brought a whole new level of DANGER! ALERT! to the page. This school is actually vicious, cutthroat, and unforgiving. The tests the students go through are pretty creative — and also terrifying. There’s also a good helping of magic too. And poisons. And really creepy teachers who might kill you or train you. Either/or.

 

2. IT FEATURES A TOUGH AND SASSY PROTAGONIST.

Mia is 16, which originally made me think the book is YA…but it’s probably a little too dark and graphic with the violence and sex to be strictly considered YA. Still! Mia is a vicious little poppet who wants revenge on her father after he was wrongfully murdered by the most powerful men in the city. She travels across deserts and survives rigoursous initiation tests to get into the Red Church assassin school. And she still manages to find time to throw around some barbed quips that made me snicker.

 

3. SPEAKING OF SASS…THERE IS AN INCREDIBLE NON-CAT.

When I say “non-cat” I mean the cat is made entirely out of shadows. Because…SURPRISE. Mia can also manipulate shadows because she’s a Darkin. Not sure what this means? Be calm, my friend, neither does Mia. She really really wants to learn more about her powers which is another reason she’s at the Red Church. But she has an adorable animal companion, named Mister Kindly, (hey no judgment, she found him when she was only 10) who can talk and they have the most epic banter sessions. Mister Kindly is always there for Mia. Let’s just look past the fact he’s made of shadows. He is too precious, too pure.

9781250073020

4. THE BOOK HAS UNIQUE FORMATTING.

I really love this because it helps keep my attention! It has 2 gorgeously designed maps that made my map-loving heart sing. And it also features footnotes! The book is told by an “unknown narrator” who has a little running commentary on Mia’s life, put on the page via footnotes. Sometimes the footnotes add in extra details to the world building, and sometimes they just snarkily make fun of how terrible Mia’s luck is.

 

5. IT HAS SO MANY PLOT TWISTS!

Obviously I won’t share what, because you want the surprises. TRUST ME. But I was so thrilled with the finale plot twists, where people aren’t who they seem and surprises leap out of every corner to stab the characters, and also stab my feels. But who needs calmness while reading epic fantasy?! Not I. The plot of Nevernight will keep you glued to the page and entirely alert!

 

[buy here] 

Review – Sage Cookson’s Ring of Truth by Sally Murphy

Sometimes, you just need some good food, good spirit, or a good book to make your day, or week, or holiday season. Well, how about all three rolled into one? Sally Murphy’s Sage Cookson early reader series certainly satisfies. Here’s the latest book, ‘Ring of Truth’.

imageA bright, eager to please young Sage is the luckiest daughter of world famous TV star chefs, enjoying an exciting life of adventure, travel and delicious culinary delights. Content to take a back seat from the limelight, Sage Cookson is off on another enlightening trip with her parents to watch the filming in the beautiful Harmon Island. There they meet two sisters who will feature on the show; pastry chefs of the most scrumptious pastries, pies and bread. But the success of the segment, and Sage’s good-natured reputation, hang in the balance when one of the sister’s treasured emerald ring goes missing. Can Sage clear her name? Will they go on with the show? There is one ‘pie’-ticular piece of evidence that will reveal the truth.

Within the ten short chapters is a plot that is straightforward and easy for early readers to grasp. Charmingly, the peppering of feeling and warmth throughout adds that extra flavour of drama and emotive goodness. Murphy cleverly integrates themes of friendship, sincerity and modesty within the exhilaration that unfolds in the final scenes. And decorated at each chapter heading are the rich, black and white pencil shadings of illustrator Celeste Hulme, tantalising our senses for what’s ahead.

imageInfused with zest and a sense of refreshment, Ring of Truth satisfies its readers with honesty, passion and aplomb. This series is a treat for all chefs in the making from age seven.

Check out Sage Cookson’s Sweet Escape, and Sage Cookson’s Fishy Surprise, out January 2017.

New Frontier Publishing, September 2016.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Under the Christmas Tree Part 4

It’s time for some fun fiction for kids. This little cluster of Christmas inspired picture books is sure to generate a smile or two and plenty of sage head nodding, perfect for slipping under the Christmas tree.

christmas-at-homeChristmas at Home by Claire Saxby and Janine Dawson

I adore the homegrown simplicity juxtaposed with the bustling busy detail Dawson’s illustrations project in this seasonal picture book. Saxby’s narrative is snugly woven to fit the meter of O Tannenbaum however instead of endless verses about pine branches, it’s the lines applauding classic Aussie Christmas lunching and community Christmas light displays that demand your cheery attention. From decorating the tree and touring the neighbourhood streets in search of the most  razzle dazzle to squeezing around the table and forcing down a feast, Christmas at Home is a jazzed up observation of a typical Aussie silly season enjoyed with those you love… at home.

The Five Mile Press November 2016

pig-the-elfPig the Elf by Aaron Blabey

Oh dear, he’s back and behaving badly as per usual. Resounding full marks for this festive episode of the world’s most self-centred pooch. Pig the Elf is a hilarious cautionary tale of greed and arrogance vs compassion and gratefulness. Blabey’s lilting and often times, cutting verse is almost of sing song quality, the carolling type no less (I had to hold myself back) and puts readers nicely in a ‘night before Christmas’ mood. Pig wants stuff for Christmas, lots of stuff and is not shy about slugging old Santa up for it. He does get his just desserts in the end although I’m not sure if he requested them as part of his kilometre long Wish List and I’m not altogether convinced he will mend his gluttonous ways; which I guess bodes well for future puggish adventures. Unbridled fun for pre-schoolers, pug lovers, and kids with Christmas lists that may warrant a hefty bout of structural editing.

Scholastic November 2016

the-naughtiest-reindeer-goes-southThe Naughtiest Reindeer Goes South by Nicki Greenberg

How can you not love a picture book with real snow and ice on the cover? Well at least that’s what the cover of the latest joyful instalment from Greenberg feels like. This type of tactile teasing instantly puts readers in the mood for some frisky frolicking about with Ruby, the naughtiest reindeer on Santa’s team. She and brother, Rudolf are bickering over sleigh-lead-pulling rights until Mrs S steps in and awards both of them poll position in the sleigh line up. Ruby however is having none of it. She swoops and swerves rebelliously, eventually causing sever upset and capsizes the sleigh. Stranded in Antarctica, Ruby has to overcome chilling reality and hostile penguins to make amends and deliver Santa’s presents on time. Greenberg’s rippling verse and super jolly illustrations transport young pre and primary school readers on a glorious special-delivery ride.

Allen & Unwin September 2016

all-i-want-for-christmas-is-rainAll I want for Christmas is Rain by Cori Brooke and Megan Forward

Two front teeth. A hippopotamus. A visit from Old St Nick. Not a lot to ask for, so why not some relief from the crucifying clutches of drought? Jane’s Christmas wish is about to take on a dramatic realisation. She lives with her farmer parents in Australia’s drought stricken Outback.  One day she makes the long trek into town to see Santa to place an extra special order with him. It’s not toys and presents that she yearns for as she counts the sun shot days down to Christmas morning. When it dawns, magic rains forth.

Brooke’s soulful text expresses the exact type of childlike innocence that allows such magic to spill into our lives. Believe, hope, and wish hard enough for something and it will eventually come to pass. If only that were true for our farmers.  Still, this picture book sings hope. Forward’s stunning watercolour illustrations drag us from bone dry dusty paddocks into mud-splattered pastures. Her end pages depict the stark before and after contrasts that epitomises our harsh Australian climate with such eloquent beauty, it will make your heart dance for joy, too.

At a time of year where in many parts of Australia, holiday cheer withers under the savage heat of summer, All I Want for Christmas is Rain is a timely reminder of the spirit of Christmas with a stout-hearted nod to those amazing Australians who feed us, the farmers. Evocative and poignant.

New Frontier Publishing November 2016

kids-reading-guide-2016-2017For more cool gifts for kids this Christmas check out Romi Sharp’s recommendations and Cait Drew’s list for older readers, or visit the Kids Reading Guide, here.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

 

Christmas Crackers – Picture Book Reviews

As we mark the first day of December, the Christmas countdown has officially begun. A time for snuggles, a time for giggles, a time for togetherness, a time for giving, a time for remembering and making new memories. Here are a few glorious picture books that have all the joy, laughter and magic of Christmas covered.

imageThere is Something Weird in Santa’s Beard, Chrissie Krebs (author, illus.), Random House Australia, October 2016.

Argh! It’s like The Dreadful Fluff in disguise! Yes, there is a dreadful, terrorising mutant refusing to depart the comfort of Santa’s beard. Created by tired and grotty Santa’s leftover crumbs of bubble gum, candy canes, French fries and mince pies, the hideous, squatting blob threatens to ruin Christmas. It devours toys from the workshop and snaps up the elves’ trap. Santa attempts to remove it but to no avail. At last, it is the skilled, king fu-fighting reindeer that save the day. All is well with Santa until he treats himself after a training session with a sticky ice cream.

Chrissie Krebs has written this story with the great gusto and rollicking rhyme that it deserves. I love the depiction of Mrs Claus, too – homely and caring, but let’s face it, everyone’s patience has its limits! With its slapstick comedy, unfaltering rhyming couplets and vibrantly bright and energetic illustrations, this book makes for a highly engaging and fun read-aloud experience.

There is Something Weird in Santa’s Beard will take your preschoolers on a belly-rolling, chin-tickling journey as Santa overcomes the most terrible experience imaginable. But you can count on poor, messy Santa reliving it over and over again, as he did in our household!

imageI Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas, John Rox (author), Simon Williams (illus.), Scholastic Australia, October 2016.

Here lies the renewal of the classic 1950 song originally written by John Rox, and performed by a young Gayla Peevey in 1953, which resulted in the Oklahoma City zoo acquiring a baby hippo named Matilda.

The story subtly portrays a sweet innocence, yet the narrator is firm with complete conviction on why s/he should have a hippopotamus for Christmas. Written in first person with its irregular upper and lower case handwriting as the main text, this is a fun, lyrical narrative (with bonus CD by Indigenous singer Miranda Tapsell) perfectly capturing the magic of childhood and Christmas for its preschool listeners.

Simon Williams gorgeously ties in this magical essence with his own interpretation of the humour and playfulness through his whimsical illustrations. Pairing a ginger kitten as narrator with its ‘Hippo Hero’ is an inspiring move portraying a wonderful unlikely friendship. The kitten makes promises to feed and care for it, and is excited by the hope of being surprised by its presence on Christmas morning. No crocodile or rhino would do, “I only like hippopotamuses. And hippopotamuses like me too!”

Adorably energetic, bouncy and joyful, children from age three will be adamant that they want I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas for Christmas.

imageThe Night Before Christmas, Clement Clarke Moore (text), Helene Magisson (illus.), New Frontier Publishing, November 2016.

With illustrations that are soft with warmth, deep with texture and rich with love, this newest edition of The Night Before Christmas is truly one to treasure.

With the timeless poem by Clement Clarke Moore, talented illustrator Helene Magisson works her magic to create a stunning gift for any family celebrating Christmas. As Santa and his eight reindeer journey through the snow-speckled sky to below the snow-crested rooftop, we are soothed by the pale watercolour tones that beautifully contrast the outdoor shades of blues with the indoor hues of reds. I also love the little whimsical subtleties like Santa’s cheeky expressions, the playful cat and the koala toy for our Australian readers.

With a special story and exquisite illustrations that represent togetherness, comfort and the undeniable joy that is Christmas, The Night Before Christmas is a beautiful keepsake for children between four and six years old.

You can find more fantastic gifts in the Kids Reading Guide 2016.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Dinosaurs and Cheeky Animals in Australia

dinosaursImagine if dinosaurs lived today in Australia. As we know, dinosaurs did live in Australia, some on the Kimberley coast of northwest Australia, and their footprints are still visible there. In Return of the Dinosaurs (Magabala Books) Nyiyaparli and Yindijibarndi descendant Bronwyn Houston wonders what it would be like if dinosaurs roamed around Broome today.

As a girl the author-illustrator played at the beach with her brother and found footprints that turned out to be those of sauropods. In this picture book, she has created the surrounds of Broome in vibrant, inviting illustrations. Her characters – human and dinosaur – visit the rocks at high tide, play with humpback whales, meet their prehistoric crocodile cousins in the mangroves, feast on salmon, hunt for bush tucker, play at Cable Beach and enjoy the outdoor movie screen at Sun Pictures.

Brachiosaurus, Ceratosaurus, Megalosauropus, Broomensis, Parasaurolophus and Stegosaurus are included in the narrative and humans are sometimes shown in the illustrations to provide scale. Young readers will find this well conceived and executed book captivating.

animals_in_my_garden_high_res_Bronwyn Houston’s other new book is a board book for very young children, Animals in My Garden (Magabala Books). It is a simple counting book, “1 one snake … 2 two kookaburras … 3 three lizards” and so on up to “10 ten mosquitoes”. Each numeral and accompanying creature is showcased on one page.

The animals can be found in Australian backyards and the illustrations are extremely appealing: bright, textured and inviting children into nature.

cheekyAnother new Magabala Books’ publication for young readers is a second board book, Cheeky Animals by Shane Morgan. This book is inspired by Shane Morgan’s book Look and See, which was first published in 1999 and is still in print. This is testament to the synergy between the clear, often ochre-coloured illustrations and the simple appealing written text, “Look at the lizard, he’s up in the tree. See the big lizard. He’s looking down at me … Look at the turtle walking so slow. See the turtle, he stood on my toe.”

Shane Morgan is a descendant of the Yorta Yorta peoples of Victoria. Cheeky Animals’ appeal as a board book for the very young culminates in its ‘bedtime’ ending, “Look at the dingo howling with might. See the dingo, he’s saying goodnight.”

 

boySome of my other favourite picture books published by Broome-based Indigenous publisher, Magabala Books are Once There Was a Boy by Dub Leffler (simply beautiful), Mad Magpie by Gregg Dreise and Our World Bardi Jaawi by One Arm Point Remote Community School.

 

Doodles and Drafts – All of Us Together with Bill Condon

 bill-condonBill Condon is a man of modest expectations that do not match his considerable abilities. He writes with charm, wit, sincerity and affection. His novels for young people, of which there are many resonate a genuineness that fascinates newcomers and for many older readers, transports them back to the idle days of their childhood, warts and all. We are fortunate to have Bill at the drafts table today to reveal some of the mental conflicts he still encounters prior to penning a new story (a predicament faced by nearly every author) and some insights behind the inspiration for his latest junior novel, All of Us Together.

All of Us Together is a tale of warmth, heartache, tragedy and hope all rolled up in one very threadbare blanket that was the Great Depression in the early 1930s. The heroes of this tale are ordinary folk trying to etch out a life during an extraordinary period of Australia’s pre-World War II history. Poverty and having to grow up sooner than you ought to thankfully are not issues many modern day Australian youngsters have to deal with on a day to day basis (although unfortunately they are never completely absent from any society). Condon manages to infuse enough hope into what appears an untenable and inevitable situation for Daniel and his family when they are forced to leave their family home and begin afresh, without being morose. All of Us Together is a realistic and unapologetic view of life with an emphasis on the positive power of sticking together through thick and thin.

Here’s what Bill has to say:

On Writing

Recently I started to watch a movie called Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. I didn’t care for it very much and turned it off after a short while. The thing that struck me most about it were the very first words spoken. A teenage boy says: ‘I have no idea how tall-of-us-together-front-covero tell this story’. This is exactly how I feel every time I go into battle with the blank page. One of the problems I have is that usually my mind is blanker than the page.

Although I have been at this game for a long time and have published many books, writing doesn’t get any easier. In fact, it often feels like I’ve never written anything, and have no idea how to go about it.

As gloomy as it may sound, one of the great motivators for me has long been the prospect of death. From the early 80s I wrote children’s poems and plays, short stories, and non-fiction. This was my comfort zone, and I was fairly successful at it. However, I felt that a novel was beyond me.

One night I was talking to one of my two wonderful sisters, and she hinted very tactfully, that perhaps I should try to push myself a little with my writing. I think she even put it more delicately than that, but it was enough to stir me into action. When I was 50, I at long last took the plunge and attempted a young adult novel. I was afraid that I’d fail, but I was even more afraid that I’d die without having tried. The book was called Dogs and it won an Honour Award in the CBCA Book of the Year Awards. Awards are such a lottery, but I was lucky. Perhaps if it hadn’t done well I might have gone back to doing what came easier to me. Even so, it was another five years before my next young adult novel appeared. I’ve now written eight novels, and each one has been a huge struggle.

the-simple-thingsIn 2014 I had a junior novel called The Simple Things published. I thought writing for younger kids would be easier than writing for teenagers, but I was so wrong. It seems any kind of writing is just plain hard for me. I’d written that book and had it accepted in 2012, but it took two years to get published. Then another two years went by, in which I was unable to write anything. So for four years the blank page won out. The one thing that finally got me going again was my old friend Death, or the fear of it.

At the start of this year I had a lot of medical tests done and I’d convinced myself that the results wouldn’t be good. ‘Just one more book’, I told myself. So I went back to a story I’d tried to write the year before, only to give up on. This time I attacked it as if I had a very pressing deadline. From the outset I had a title, All Of Us Together. I knew it was a junior novel set in the Great Depression in Australia, but like the boy I mentioned at the start of this piece, I had no idea how to write it. Then memories kicked in.

When I was young my parents told me of their Depression experiences. If only I’d known that I’d need their help in writing a book one day I would have listened much more closely than I did. But as young people often do, I took them and their stories for granted. I’m sorry to say that it was pretty much a case of in one ear and out the other.

Luckily, some things stuck. I remembered my dad talking about Happy Valley, a ramshackle unemployment camp near Sydney. There were similar camps all over Australia, set up to cater for people who had lost their jobs and homes and had nowhere else to go. I remembered my mum telling me about the tramps who would regularly turn up at her parent’s door to ask for a handout. She said they were always given something to eat.  Both of these memories – Happy Valley, and the tramp asking for food – made it into my book. And too, I borrowed from my own life, as I usually do. When Daniel, the main character in the story, gets into strife, his misdeeds are ones that I got up to when I was a child.

Slowly I got to know and understand Daniel and his sisters, Adelaide and Lydia, as well as their parents, and instead of dreading the thought of going to my computer, I actually wanted to spend as much time as I could with my fictional family.  They had become almost real to me, and I hope readers will feel the same way.

Once I’d found my way into the story and the words were starting to flow, I received my test results. All is fine.  This leaves me free to get on with life, and keep on hoping, for one more book.

We hope so too, Bill!

Thanks for visiting. Discover more bookish revelations about Bill as he continues his Blog Tour around Australia.

About Kids Books November 2016

BLOG TOUR DATES

17 November Di Bates http://www.diannedibates.blogspot.com.au

18 November Clancy Tucker http://clancytucker.blogspot.com.au

19 November Sally Odgers http://promotemeplease.blogspot.com.au

20 November Sandy Fussell www.sandyfussell.com/blog

21 November Dee White http://deescribewriting.wordpress.com
22 November Dimity Powell http://blog.boomerangbooks.com.au/author/dpowell

23 November Elaine Ousten http://elaineoustonauthor.com/
24 November Melissa Wray http://www.melissawray.blogspot.com.au
25 November Susan Whelan http://www.kids-bookreview.com
26 November Romi Sharp http://www.justkidslit.com

#ByAustralinaBuyAustralian

 

 

Who are The Good People?

Hannah Kent is a master of atmosphere and of extracting her characters’ souls. Her new novel The Good People (Picador, Pan Macmillan Australia) is set in 1825, in a dark and dank Irish valley where, “Mushrooms scalloped out from rotting wood in the undergrowth. The smell of damp soil was everywhere”. The community has a peasant culture of simple rituals governed by the seasons, alliances and health. The effects of petty, and more serious, quarrels are balanced by small daily kindnesses.

good-peopleCould The Good People be shadowing the author’s Burial Rites as the second in a possible trilogy based on true stories about women living in wretched poverty whose fates are controlled by powerful men and others?

In The Good People, Nóra’s husband Martin has died inexplicably at the crossroads. The tale opens with his wake. Nance Roche comes to keen and wail for Martin. She is a “handy woman”, the gatekeeper of the thresholds between the known and unknown who lives in an isolated mossy cabin dug into the mud. She keeps it as clean as she is able, cares for her goat and collects healing herbs. She has inherited “the knowledge” of the Good People, fairy knowledge that cures people from the folk whose lights are seen near the whitehorn trees by Piper’s Grove.

With both her husband and daughter Johanna dead, Nóra is left alone with Micheál, an ill-formed child who can’t speak or walk and continually soils himself. She employs red-haired Mary Clifford from the north to help her care for Micheál. The gossips believe that someone with red hair has the evil eye. Nóra’s daughter also had red hair and some insist she was “swept”, taken by the Good People.

Mary cares for Micheál selflessly but Nóra and Nance believe he is a changeling, a fairy child who has been exchanged for a human child, bringing bad luck on the village. They resolve to “put the fairy out of him”, taking him to be dunked in the river three times.

Superstition escalates when a cow is found dead, chickens are left headless and an egg is filled with blood. Nance is accused of making piseóg, curses, and of poisoning people with her treatments of “bittersweet” and foxglove. And yet she describes the dying year as, “The night was falling holy, as though the glory of God was in the changing of the light”.

Former priest Father O’Reilly protected Nance but the new priest Father Healy preaches against her.

burial-ritesWhose viewpoint is right? Hannah Kent makes us believe in the veracity of the superstitious Nance and Nóra because she has plunged us into their lives and thoughts. But if we extricate ourselves from their powerfully constructed beliefs and peer through the eyes of their opponents, could the latters’ views be equally valid? One of the author’s gifts is to coax us into relinquishing our, perhaps more reasoned, views and to accept those of her protagonists.

The Good People of the title are alluded to but never seen. But are they more or less integral to the story than the human good people we meet: kind neighbour Peg O’Shea and steadfast Peter, as well as the multifaceted major characters? Goodness, grief, mercy and truth are wound with verisimilitude into The Good People.

Clade, still being shortlisted for awards …

I have been keen to read James Bradley’s Clade since hearing about it pre-publication. James Bradley has come through the ranks of exciting Australian authors-to-watch after great responses to his novels Wrack and The Resurrectionist. I adored his novella Beauty’s Sister, a memorable retelling of Rapunzel.

cladeHis most recent novel, the dystopia Clade, is still being nominated for awards, most recently the 2016 Western Australian Premier’s Award for Fiction. It has also been shortlisted for the Christina Stead Award for Fiction  at the 2016 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards; the 2016 Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards Prize for Fiction; Australia’s oldest literary award, the ALG Gold Medal; and the Aurealis Award for Best Science Fiction Novel.

The cover with its image of bees in a surreal hexagon sets the tone for a slightly futuristic setting where bees are at risk (as they are in many places already). Climate change has caused disasters such as blizzards and flooding, leading to the disappearance of birds, crop failures, power cuts and overcrowded hospitals.

Adam and Ellie become a couple and eventually give birth to Summer. Ellie and Summer spend fractious times with Maddie, Ellie’s stepmother at Maddie’s beach house. This setting also epitomises the natural world.

beautyThe author employs time-shifts, moving between Summer as a young girl, a teen who sneaks into houses and as a young mother of Noah who is on the autism spectrum.

A pivotal scene occurs when Adam plans to attend a conference in London but instead finds Summer and Noah, his unknown grandchild. Summer feels that she can’t deal with Noah. The three generations of family flee from the approaching storm, avoid soldiers and roadblocks, shelter in a church and an apartment and are able to escape the fate of the thousands of people killed in the flood.

Themes of aging, life cycles, death, grief and erasure of the past complement the major issue of the effects of climate change. The analogy of ‘boiling the frog’ is used to represent people’s slow response to gradual change. People don’t seem able to think clearly because they are caught up in falling from one disaster to the next.

Sci fi elements include genetically engineered trees known as ‘triffids’ that resemble baobabs.  People use ‘overlays’ to communicate as well as screens. resurrectionist

The writing moves quickly without being superficial. It is engaging and lean yet also poetic.

Clade is an ideal Christmas gift, appealing to those who would appreciate an important story, beautifully told.

Author James Bradley is a literary critic for the Weekend Australian and blogs at City of Tongues.

Interview with John M. Green, author of The Tao Deception

Today we welcome Sydney based author John M. Green to the Boomerang Books blog.

Welcome to the blog John. What can you tell us about your new book The Tao Deception? It’s an eco-political thriller, but what’s it about?the-tao-deception
Thanks Tracey. In The Tao Deception, a rogue Chinese elite – The Ten Brothers – conspire with the Hermit Kingdom, North Korea, to use spine-chilling technology to wipe out the West. Why? They’re committed to cutting dead the rampant global consumerism that’s turning China into the world’s waste dump and destroying the planet. Also, they’re bent on backing China away from its modern “path to prosperity”, U-turning it to its simpler, pre-industrial, rural roots.

Tori Swyft, ex-CIA spy, Aussie surfer and now global corporate wunderkind, is visiting China, working on a mega-merger between Chinese and European tech companies. She unearths the plot and, risking her life, is in a race against the clock to stop it.

What was your inspiration for the main character Tori Swyft?
What inspired Tori Swyft was a glaring literary deficit … the dearth of women as thriller heroes … the lack of female James Bonds. So I decided to create one.

So I’m especially thrilled that you’ve name Tori as ‘THE female James Bond’ in your review over at Carpe Librum.

Like James Bond, Tori’s young, tough and sexy, constantly finding herself in pickles most of us couldn’t possibly extricate ourselves from. But there’s more to Tori than that. This feisty, strong-willed woman carries a PhD in nuclear engineering and a Harvard MBA. People trifle with Tori Swyft at their own risk.

What inspired the threat in The Tao Deception?
On top of writing thrillers, I’m on the board of a global insurance company. Three years ago, when discussing the Top Ten emerging risks for the insurance world, a risk I’d never heard of jumped out at me and grabbed me by the throat.

I won’t say what it is – spoiler alert! – but it’s what The Ten Brothers in The Tao Deception are conspiring to unleash on the world. Experts disagree on how likely this risk is in real life. But if it did happen, the outcome would be catastrophic … a US Congressional Committee says that 200 million Americans would die within 12 months … from starvation, disease and societal collapse.future-crimes

What are you reading at the moment?
I’m juggling four books right now, three as research for my next Tori Swyft novel:
1. Eric Siblin’s The Cello Suites, about J.S. Bach and Catalonian cellist, Pablo Casals
2. Marc Goodman’s Future Crimes – Inside the Digital Underground
3. George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia
4. Clive James’ Gate of Lilacs – A verse commentary on Proust – for its sheer delight (but also for Tori – see below)

What books might we be surprised to find on your bookshelves at home?
How about a 1st edition of J.D. Salinger’s Nine Stories, his second and arguably scarcest book? A slim volume, it’s heavily annotated by a notable mid-20th century American editor, critic and author, Maxwell Geismar. His notes give a fascinating glimpse into the mind and working methods of a major literary identity.

In the margins of one story, Geismar’s blue biro scratches this out: ‘This hero is better than Holden Caulfield of Rye … This is really the best story! … Most authentic … Good? … So far.’

john-m-green-nov-16
Author John M. Green

What book have you always meant to read but never got around to?
Like Tori Swyft – who’s always trying to read this one at the beach – it’s Marcel Proust’s À la Recherche du Temps Perdu. A journalist once asked Australian Prime Minister Gough Whitlam if he’d ever read it, and he answered, ‘I’ve glanced at it extensively.’ That’s my approach too.

That’s hilarious, I must remember that phrase (I’ve glanced at it extensively). In your bio, I noticed that you sit on the Council of the National Library of Australia. What does that involve?
It’s been one of the most exciting boards I’ve had the privilege to sit on. Sadly for me, my term just expired. The NLA is a haven for Australia’s heritage. Two of the most exciting NLA projects I got to contribute to, in a small way, are Trove – the NLA’s astonishing on-line research resource which many authors use extensively – and the massive project to digitise the Library, to make it accessible on-line to all Australians, no matter where they live.

What’s next? Will Tori Swyft be back?
Tori Swyft is definitely on her way back, taking readers to Barcelona, Spain. She’s already four chapters into her next thriller, and the crisis she’s up against has got me sweating about how she’s going to survive.

Anything else you’d like to add?born-to-run
As well as Tori Swyft, I also adore a lead character from an earlier novel Born to Run, my US President Isabel Diaz – the first woman to ‘really’ to win the White House. Isabel had a cameo in my first Tori Swyft novel, The Trusted, and gets a far bigger role in The Tao Deception.

But I’m going to let you into a secret … while writing The Tao Deception, I recalled how much you raved about Isabel’s deaf stepson, Davey, when you reviewed Born to Run way back in 2011. Remembering that prompted me to bring Davey back in The Tao Deception. And I’m glad because he adds a crucial dimension to the story.  So thank you, Tracey! Davey’s return is down to you!

Wow, that’s amazing, what a thrill! I love it when authors listen to feedback from readers and to know I had a part in bringing Davey back is so exciting. Thanks John for sharing your secret and for joining us here on the Boomerang Books blog.

Click here to buy The Tao Deception.

Chasing the Legend

Ford Street Publishing has recently revised and re-issued ‘The Legend Series’ by Michael Panckridge. I remember how appealing it was for primary age children when I read it in 2003 and so was keen to re-read it. chasing-the-break-cover-e1474516051991

The Legends sports competition is held over the course of the year, beginning with surfing in February. The scoring for the winning Legend in each sport is based on skills, knowledge and a game or competitive session.

The first book in the series is Chasing the Break and it’s about surfing. Mitchell Grady is a new student and is immediately targeted by vindictive bully Travis Fisk. A strong (dirty) athlete like Travis is the perfect antagonist in a series like this.

Camp at the beginning of the year is dedicated to surfing, with the ironman and ironwoman competition held at the end of the week. The descriptions of surfing will capture the attention of young sports’ lovers, with an added thrill from Travis’s underhanded tactics.

Mitchell and his new friends work out a ploy to help Mitchell ‘find the flag’ in the traditional Aussie Nippers’ beach race. Jack tries to sacrifice his own chances of winning to help Mitchell in the race itself. Non-sporty readers may find an affinity with Bryce, who is skilled in using technology.

Mitchell is probably the best male surfer in the group but Travis is a strong swimmer and sprinter, so the ironman race is up for grabs. As a surfer, Mitchell knows the ocean, and uses it to his advantage.

Girls don’t miss out. Some of the best athletes are girls. Their talent in both surfing (such as Penny who has just returned from a surfing competition in Sydney) and cricket (the featured sport in Against the Spin, the second book in the series) can supersede the boys’ skill. The competition between the girls is also intense, particularly between Mia Tompkins, Katie Chan and Luci Rankin at the start. against-the-spin-500-h-cover

There is a hint of beginning romance between Mitchell and Luci, who shows an interest in Mitchell by talking to him and watching him surf. Mitchell has probably never spoken more than a few words to a girl before but he enjoys her attention.

Tennis follows cricket. Then there are some winter team sports before concluding with athletics and swimming. Each book has a slightly different feel because of the focal sport. There is a quiz about the sport at the end of each book.

Reading the series is fun with the points being added up not just in each book but also cumulatively throughout the series to find out who will become the Legend of Sport.

Guest Post with Robert Vescio – Connecting Friends Oceans Apart

robert-vescioToday, dedicated writer for children and father himself, Robert Vescio uncovers the story behind his latest picture book, Jack and Mia. In this special guest post, he reveals how his own family background influenced this story.

But first a little bit about Jack and Mia. I have to say I love the look and feel of this book. Claire Richards’ diversity aware illustrations make me want to reach out and stroke the cover and pages. They are vibrant, childlike and at the same time, visually satisfying, filling up the pages with joyful colour, kind of how I’d imagine kids would view their world. The pages themselves are thick and glossy, a delight to turn through. The generous finger feel somehow makes me want to start reading the story again immediately I get to the end which will put this book in good stead for those repeated read requests.

Vescio’s tale is reminiscent of other classic picture books addressing the friendship separation theme such as Amy and Louis by Libby Gleeson and Freya Blackwood but flips the concept ijackandmiamedn that Mia does not move away at first, but rather into Jack’s life. By doing so, suddenly ‘his days were full of rainbows’. He experiences a deep, rewarding friendship with Mia, unlike any other he’s ever had. They share everything together even a case of chicken pox and become King and Queen of their kingdom, until suddenly, Mia has to move ‘far, far away’. It’s not exactly clear where Mia’s family are transferred to however Richards’ illustrations suggest that it’s because of her father’s military postings.

Jack’s kingdom is in tatters, his world in ruin as he worries that Mia will no longer remember him being so far away. Little does he suspect that she shares the same despair as him until he happens upon one of Mia’s books, left behind in his toy box. It is this simple keepsake coupled with a bit of modern day technology that reunite the pair once again and allow their kingdom to flourish and grow…across the oceans.

Jack and Mia is an ideal book to share with young readers who may be experiencing their own emotional lows caused by separation of a loved one, either family member away for work or friend who’s had to move even just to a new school. A great class room and bedside book and possibly one of the most sensitive and well penned by Vescio to date. Now, here’s more from Robert:

‘I wrote Jack and Mia to show how friendships (rich in imagination) can survive distance by finding creative ways to stay connected.

Jack and Mia do everything together. They stick together like paper and glue. Then, one day, Mia’s family moves away – not to another suburb but to another country on the other side of the world.

This is a story that will resonate with children who are about to move or have moved and miss their friends. Unlike other picture books about this subject, Jack and Mia illustrates how today kids are finding it easier to keep in touch with friends and loved ones who live far away.

“Growing up, I had friends that moved half the world away – common for working parents and military families – and the only way to connect with them was to write or call,” said Robert. “Today, technology is changing the way we stay connected. Everything you need is in the palm of your hands.”

Skype hangouts have become a common occurrence in today’s society. It’s as easy as grabbing a coffee with your computer screen. In fact, Skype has become so popular that people use ‘Skyping’ as a verb to connect with people.

Of course, social media has also revolutionised how people talk. Facebook connects over 1 billion worldwide every day.

But, of course, not everyone embraces high tech gadgets. Some people prefer the human touch – a hug, for instance. Jack and Mia is all about how kids can use their imaginations to play together, even when they’re an ocean apart.

Jack and Mia (illustrated by Claire Richards and published by Wombat Books) is a warm and entertaining tale about the power of a child’s imagination and to keep a friendship long and strong, regardless of distance.’

Thanks Robert!

Barnaby and the Lost Treasure of BunnyvilleRobert Vescio  picture books include, Barnaby and the Lost Treasure of Bunnyville (Big Sky Publishing), Marlo Can Fly (Wombat Books) listed on the NSW Premier’s Reading Challenge for 2015, No Matter Who We’re With (IP Kidz). He has more picture books due out in 2016 and 2017.

Wombat Books October 2016

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Sweet Dreams, Little Ones – Picture Book Reviews

Amongst the themes of bedtime routines and playful antics are ones of sentimentality, unconditional love and guidance. Each striking in their own visual and lyrical ways, the following picture books perfectly set the tone for engaging and soothing shared reading experiences before the lights go out.

imageCounting Through the Day, Margaret Hamilton (author), Anna Pignataro (illus.), Little Hare Books, June 2016.

Here’s to making every little one count. Because this book gives us the warm fuzzies just like our own special ones do. Each number from one to millions is dedicated its own page with gorgeously combined pencil, watercolour and fabric collage illustrations. And to add to the gentle and soothing tone, a beautiful lyrical rhythm unfolds with every turn. The rhyming couplets take us through a fun and reassuring day with teddy, pets, favourite toys and loving parents and grandparents to share and protect the little girl.

Counting Through the Day is a comforting vision of a peaceful routine and the beauty of nature. It presents a seamless integration of time from morning to night, and number awareness from one to twelve and larger figures including twenty, hundreds, thousands and millions.

With immeasurable sweetness to devour, toddlers and preschoolers will lap up every precious moment shared reading this book with their loved ones.

imageI Just Couldn’t Wait to Meet You, Kate Ritchie (author), Hannah Sommerville (illus.), Penguin Random House Australia, March 2016.

From the get-go, this book brings a sentimental light and a sparkling twinkle to every mother’s eye. The endpapers are laced with precious milestones from early pregnancy scans to growing bellies and baby shower invitations, and completed with snippets of the baby’s development. Ritchie tells a poetic love story to her little one about her every thought, hope and dream that soon becomes a wonderful reality when baby enters the world. The calming watercolours in pastel yellows, greens and pinks deliver this affectionate tale as parents prepare for their bundle of joy to arrive. The illustrations exquisitely give meaning to the words, with mum’s imagination presented in delicate thought bubbles.

I Just Couldn’t Wait to Meet You is a book that both parents and their babies will treasure, enlightening bonds as they share their own loving stories of the journey into being.

imageQuick as a Wink, Fairy Pink, Lesley Gibbes (author), Sara Acton (illus.), Working Title Press, August 2016.

What better way to soothe young ones at the end of the day than with a sprinkle of mischief and a dusting of spirit from five little flutter fairies in all their lighthearted glory as they set off to bed! As Fairy Blue, Green, Gold and Red fairy-step their way from teeth brushing, bathing, dressing, and reading into fairy-dreamland, one cheeky flutter fairy is playing a sneaky hiding game around the house. Enchantingly engaging us, amongst the rollicking rhythm, with the repetitive phrase is “But someone’s playing hide and seek. Can you see her? Take a peek. Quick as a wink, find Fairy Pink!” After all the frolicsome fun, I wonder who falls asleep first?!

Clearly defined, bright colours and varied page spreads allow readers to identify each fairy and their actions. The illustrations further provide an interactive experience to complement the text with their adorably energetic line drawings and hidden details, such as locating the whereabouts of the naughty pink fairy.

Quick as a Wink, Fairy Pink is suitably the most fairy-licious read to get your little ones to hop, wriggle and flutter their way to bed every night. My three year old daughter highly recommends it!

imageNoisy Nights, Fleur McDonald (author), Annie White (illus.), New Frontier Publishing, August 2016.

It’s quite a predicament when one is unable to sleep with a terribly noisy racket outside your window! This is the case for poor Farmer Hayden. His menagerie of animals, plus a clattering train, are chirping, moo-ing, maa-ing, nickering and howling through the night. And no matter how loud he shouts, the volume is far too high to even hear him. So what’s a sleep-deprived farmer to do? Count sheep, of course!

A story of continuous laughter, and a touch of empathy, with its whimsical illustrations, Noisy Nights is loveable and entertaining. Preschoolers will certainly appreciate the silence after this read to ease them into a peaceful slumber.

imageDream Little One, Dream, Sally Morgan (author), Ambelin Kwaymullina (illus.), Viking Penguin Random House Australia, May 2016.

Vibrantly painted with line, pattern and bold colours, and told in a lyrically gentle tone, this title by much-loved Indigenous team sets such a joyous and endearing mood. A collection of popular Australian animal parents guide their babies to develop strength, skill and safety through nature’s most beautiful occurrences. Bushes bloom and roos bound, seas sigh and dolphins glide, insects buzz a story of the earth and snakes slide into the peace of a loveable land.

The visuals and the visual literacy blend flawlessly, and are both stunning to see and listen to. Dream Little One, Dream will transport preschool-aged children to another world where only the most transcendent of dreams can take flight.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Australian YA: Becoming Aurora and Elizabeth Kasmer

Elizabeth Kasmer’s debut novel Becoming Aurora has just been published by University of Queensland Press. It has a thoughtful, multifaceted storyline and deals with important issues. liz-author-portrait-oval

Thanks for speaking with Boomerang Books Elizabeth.

Where are you based and how involved are you in the YA lit world?

I live in a tiny town in the hinterland of the Sunshine Coast. Over the years I’ve met many aspiring and established writers through the annual CYA Conference in Brisbane, SCBWI (Brisbane and the Sunny Coast) and the occasional visit to the Write Links group. Children and YA writers sure are a warm-hearted and generous lot!

What’s your working background and how else do you spend your time?

My work background is quite varied. I’ve worked for the blood bank as a donor attendant (visiting just about every RSL and local hall in the greater Brisbane area), as a car park attendant and receptionist. When I was a student I worked in a recycling factory and I have also worked as a primary school teacher. Since the birth of my three sons I’ve helped my husband run his home-based business as a construction programmer. Any spare time is usually spent reading, swimming or catching up with family and friends.

What award has Becoming Aurora won?

Becoming Aurora (or, Aurora, as it was then known) was awarded the Queensland Literary Awards, Emerging Queensland Writer – Manuscript Award 2015.

auroraCould you tell us something about your main characters, and the genesis of Aurora’s name?

Rory is grieving the loss of her father and trying to fit in with a group of kids who resent the influx of migrants (known as ‘boaties’) into their town. Jack is a feisty former champion boxer and tent boxer and Essam is an Iranian migrant and boxer trying his best to fit into his new home country.

I named Aurora after a painting that hangs in the Queensland Art Gallery. I was in Brisbane for a meeting with my writing mentor to discuss story ideas when I decided to take the opportunity to stop by the gallery. Inside, I got talking to an elderly man who told me he had been visiting the (Australian) paintings every year since the gallery had opened there in 1982. He said his annual trip was like visiting old friends. I was on my way out of the gallery when I spotted Aurora by Edward Burne-Jones (one of my ‘old friends’). aurora-126x300As I have a niece named Aurora I decided to purchase a postcard of the painting to send to her. On the train trip home I knew the main character in my story was named Aurora by her father after the painting hanging in the gallery.

How do your characters show kindness?

Rory tends to Jack in the aged care facility and takes the time to listen to his stories. Through friendships with both Jack and Essam, Rory learns to overcome her prejudices and preconceived ideas of what ‘old person’ and ‘boat person’ means. Essam teaches Rory how to box.

How is Becoming Aurora a very Queensland story?

The story is set in the (former) sugarcane town of Nambour. I tried to root the story in the landscape, using local features and icons such as the Glass House Mountains, the beaches and the Big Pineapple. The story is also set over the Christmas holidays which means there is plenty of heat, sweat and storms brewing on the horizon.

Have you received any responses from young readers about Becoming Aurora that particularly resonate with you?

Not as yet but I’m looking forward to hearing responses from young readers!

What are you writing at the moment?

A children’s novel also set in Queensland. This story revolves around a river, superstitious river folk, and two friends who live and fish there.

What have you enjoyed reading? deep

I’ve loved so many books this year but off the top of my head, Rebecca Lim’s The Astrologer’s Daughter, Claire Zorn’s One Would Think the Deep and Lian Hearn’s Tales of the Otori are standout reads. I’ve also just finished (and loved) Vigil by Angela Slatter where the world of the Weyrd collides with modern-day Brisbane.

It was great meeting you at the Brisbane Writers Festival and being in conversation on a panel of debut YA novelists with you, Christopher Currie and Mark Smith. What’s a strong memory of that day?

Meeting both yourself and fellow debut writers Chris Currie and Mark Smith for our discussion was a highlight, but my strongest memory of the day was when I went back to the green room to collect my bag before heading home. I slid open the door and inside, waiting to go on stage, was David Levithan, Meg Rosoff and Jay Kristoff! I stumbled into the room, smiling like a maniac and babbling about just needing to get my bag. David Levithan asked me a question, but it was at that point I got tunnel vision, grabbed my bag and backed out of the room, still smiling. I’m kicking myself now because, really, who wouldn’t want to say hi to a trio of awesome authors?

What a memorable green room encounter!

It was lovely to meet you and all the best with your books, Elizabeth.

More Funny Authors from Laugh Your Head Off Again

laughLaugh Your Head Off Again (Pan Macmillan Australia) is a very funny book of clever stories by top Australian writers such as Andy Griffiths, Morris Gleitzman, Meg McKinlay, Frances Watts, Sally Rippin, Jaclyn Moriarty, Katrina Nannestad, Tony Wilson and New Zealander, Alan Brough. It’s ideal for primary school aged children and would be a good Christmas present.

Read more from some of the funny authors in Laugh Your Head Off Again…

Firstly we have Jaclyn Moriarty

Ta Da!

Can you write funny stories because you come from a funny family? What’s something funny about your family?

I think people who come from serious families can probably be funny too.  Maybe even funnier than the people who come from funny families?   After all, they had to do all the work of being humorous while they were growing up.  Nobody else in their family pitched in.  So they have now become well-trained, highly-tuned humour machines.   Whereas I got to lie around on couches laughing at my parents and my siblings.

Something funny about my family is that none of us can sneeze just once.  We all have to sneeze twenty-five or thirty times.  We are accustomed to it but other people stare and count our sneezes.

What’s something funny about you?

My hair looks a bit funny today.   It looks funny every morning, to be honest, because I seem to sleep like a revolving door, turning around and around on the pillow until my hair is so electrified I could be a dandelion.

What are your other books? What’s something funny in them?celia

I wrote the Ashbury books–– including Feeling Sorry for Celia and Finding Cassie Crazy–– about a letter-writing exchange between two schools, one private and one public.  I also wrote the Colours of Madeleine trilogy about a Kingdom called Cello.

In Finding Cassie Crazy, a boy named Charlie thinks he has saved the school from a gas explosion.  All the kids are sitting on the oval waiting for the police to check the school, and Charlie is feeling very proud of himself.  ‘See those girls sitting cross-legged and singing?’ he says.  ‘They wouldn’t be doing that right now if it wasn’t for me.  See that guy over there taking the shoelace out of one of his sneakers?  Same thing.  That girl picking her nose?  SHE WOULD BE DEAD AND HER NOSE WOULD BE FULLY UNPICKED IF IT WAS NOT FOR ME.’

What everyday experience have you been able to turn into something humorous? How did you do it?

ameliaIn my book Dreaming of Ameliathe characters are writing an exam essay which has to be in ‘gothic’ form––so they have to make it scary and mysterious.  Emily is describing ordinary, everyday things and trying to make them sound gothic to impress the examiners.  ‘There is a deep foreboding in me,’ she says, ‘that my new shampoo doesn’t actually bring out the honey highlights in my hair like it says it does!’  Also: ‘I often sense, via a paroxysm of terror, when I’ve got a new pimple.  And behold, there it was, a pimple of gothic proportions.  I won’t distress you by describing it, except to say that it was on my chin where a witch will oft keep a wart.’

What is the title of your story in the book Laugh Your Head Off Again? Could you tell us something about the story?

The story is called ‘The Quibbles’.  It’s about Barney, the King of the Realms of Dartmeter, Emperor of the Islets from Hither to Thither, Lord of all the Surrounding Bits and Bobs.  He has come to Sydney for a holiday.  While in Sydney, he spends a day taking the kids next door––Tim and Emily––to their activities (swimming, tennis, karate and guitar).   He has many quibbles (small complaints) about the way these activities are taught.  He also has many quibbles (tiny pebble-sharp creatures that jump around between toes) in his shoes.

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And here comes Katrina Nannestad … mischief

Can you write funny stories because you come from a funny family? What’s something funny about your family?

Coming from a funny family sure helps. It’s even better if they’re all crazy.

My dad is optimistic, enthusiastic and extremely clumsy – a dangerous combination. I loved reading the Berenstain Bears when I was a kid, because the dad in those books was so much like my mine. Once, at a camping ground, my brother and I were trying to perfect the art of somersaulting into the pool, when Dad came along to show us a better way. He leapt into the air, completed a brilliant somersault, then came down, head-first, onto the edge of the pool. Moans. Groans. Blood. Stitches. The whole catastrophe. My brother and I were delighted!

What’s something funny about you?

I watch ‘Shaun the Sheep’ when nobody’s watching. I laugh myself stupid.

What are your other books? What’s something funny in them?

My other books are Bungaloo Creek, the Red Dirt Diary series, The Girl Who Brought Mischief and the Olive of Groves series. olive

Mrs Groves, in my Olive of Groves series, is one of the funniest characters I’ve ever created. She’s headmistress of Mrs Groves’ Boarding School for Naughty Boys, Talking Animals and Circus Performers. She is kind but bonkers, and has absolutely no control over her unruly students. In fact, when things get out of hand, she drops to the floor and commando crawls into hiding – beneath the fronds of a potted palm, inside a cupboard amongst the tangrams and protractors, or behind the heavy velvet curtains in her office. It may not be the most effective way to run a school, but it has worked for Mrs Groves for the last twenty-seven years and she is not about to change things now!

What everyday experience have you been able to turn into something humorous? How did you do it?

redI used to teach at a tiny country school. One day at lunch time, the kids made rude body parts in the sandpit. They were killing themselves laughing. It was really cute and a typical little-kid thing to do. I was in the middle of writing Red Dirt Diary 2: Blue About Love at the time, so I put it in the book. There’s just one line and a picture. I didn’t need to change anything. It was funny and sweet as it was. Life is full of marvels and laughs that are just waiting to be included in a story!

What is the title of your story in the book Laugh Your Head Off Again? Could you tell us something about the story?

My story is Mr Big and Ziggy. Mr Big is an enormous dog, possibly a mix of Great Dane, Labrador and horse. Ziggy is a small boy with a big heart, but a limited imagination when it comes to naming his pets. Both dog and boy are delightful but, together, they have a knack for getting into spots of bother. And sometimes, they get into seriously large splatters of bother …

 **************************

And last but not least, here’s funnyman Alan Brough! alan-brough

Can you write funny stories because you come from a funny family? I’m not sure. I’ve spent a long time thinking about that question and I still haven’t arrived at a satisfactory answer. What’s something funny about your family? You could always tell if my great aunt Marge was coming to visit because you could hear her coming down the street burping and farting really loudly. (That’s true. Once she got lost in a stand of native bush and was found because we followed the sound of her burps.)

What’s something funny about you? Lobster wobbling. (It’s a thing I do. Some people find it funny. Okay, only two people have ever found it funny. Most people find it slightly odd and a bit upsetting.)

granniesWhat are your other books? I have only written one other book: Charlie and the War Against the Grannies. What’s something funny in it? Charlie dies. I know it doesn’t sound funny but it is. (He’s not really dead, he’s just been squirted in the face with rooster brand chilli sauce by an evil granny.)

What everyday experience have you been able to turn into something humorous? Farting. How did you do it? By just saying the word ‘farting.’ (Try it. Next time you’re with a group of other people doing something serious just say the word ‘farting’ and see what happens.)

What is the title of your story in the book Laugh Your Head Off Again? The name of my story is ‘Charlie and the Silence of the Llamas’. Could you tell us something about the story? It features a boy called Charlie, some llamas and a machine called ‘The Pulsating Pointy Prong of Puncturing Panic.’

Boom boom

Thanks very much Jaclyn, Katrina and Alan and all the best to you and the other contributors with Laugh Your Head Off Again.

Doodles and Drafts – Halloween guest post by Karen Foxlee

a-most-magical-girlHalloween is a time of frights and treats, tricks and magic, guises and remembrance – All Saints’ Day Eve. A fitting time to indulge in a little fantasy and fun. Karen Foxlee’s latest mid grade novel, A Most Magical Girl combines all of these things and will have primary aged readers biting their nails in delicious anticipation. Utterly charming, frightful in places and marvellously magic in others, this is an adventure both girls and boys will find spell binding.

Annabel Grey is a proper little lady of the Victorian times. She devoutly attempts to follow the sermons delivered by Miss Finch’s Little Blue Book, a bible of Victorian social etiquette and expectations but her good intentions derail after she is sent to live with her two aunts in London. They are Shoreditch witches and apart from being Annabel’s new guardians, unlock a heritage Annabel had no idea about, her ability to perform magic.

However, Annabel has no time to dispute their proclamations because her unusual abilities allow her to foresee a terrible future for London and all who dwell there. Mr Angel, evil warlock of the underworld has built a sinister device to use with his black magic to destroy all of the good magic in the world and those who practise it. Only a most magical girl can stop him.

Foxlee’s use of language is bewitching. Annabel’s adventure is fast paced and divinely otherworldly both in spirit and in setting. I thoroughly adored flying along on her desperate quest with Kitty and her strong-willed broomstick. I’m sure children will find A Most Magical Girl just as enchanting.

karen-foxlee2016Today Karen joins us at the draft table to reveal the magical places A Most Magical Girl sprung from.

Welcome Karen! Tell us a bit about kids, authors and story ideas…

The Big Leap

I love to tell my young audiences that kids and authors are pretty much the same when it comes story ideas.  They always look dubious at first.  Authors surely have a special library of previously unused ideas I can see them thinking.  It’s locked away somewhere at the top of a turret beside their quills and their perfect first drafts.

“It’s true,” I assure them.  “You tell me where you get your ideas from and we’ll see if we’re the same.”

Their hands shoot up: from life experiences, from dreams, from things you see! From things you read, things that happened a long time ago, from things you hope for, from television! Story ideas start from things you overhear, from facts, from songs, from comic books, from movies, from computer games, from mixing your own life with the life of book characters that you love! From day-dreaming!

I always love hearing that one.  It validates all my hours spent lying quietly day-dreaming. “Oh my goodness,” I cry, ticking off each one. ‘How weird! My ideas come from all these places too! They come from everywhere!”

Authors let ideas come, we day-dream, we are open to them.  We store them away in our brain machine never knowing when we might need them.  We put an idea from a year ago with an idea from today.  We percolate ideas.  We write them down without knowing what they mean.

But, I tell them, there’s also another way that authors and kids are the same when it comes to story ideas. Their dubious expressions return.  I clamber up onto a table.  Now they start to look down-right worried.

A Most Magical Girl came about as a combination of several ideas I explain.

  1. From an experience (a visit to a museum many years before)
  2. From a life-long love of history and from reading lots books with historical settings
  3. From a love of magic and heaps of little ideas about how magic works

And

  1. A good old-fashioned daydream.

I was lying on my sofa thinking about a museum I’d visited a decade before.  This museum was in London and it contained a recreated Victorian era street, where I wandered for hours.  Years later, on my sofa, I closed my eyes and day-dreamed a carriage arriving on that street.  I imagined a girl stepping down.  She was pretty and a bit posh and also, I knew as I watched her, the owner of a secret.  She stood before a shop window and read the words printed there. Miss E & H Vine’s Magic Shop.  Wow, I thought.  Magic.  I love Magic. This seems good. What’s going to happen here?

“What do you think authors do when they have some ideas that excite them?” I ask from my table top perch.  “What do you do?”

A chorus of replies: Just start! Just start writing! Just start even if you don’t know the answer!

“Do you just LEAP into the story?” I ask.

“Yes!” they shout, because they really want to see an author jump off a table.

And so, because it is the absolute truth about authors and ideas and how they really are not much different to children, I LEAP!

Fastastical, thanks Karen.

kids-reading-guide-2016-2017You’ll find A Most Magical Girl in the new Kids’ Reading Guide, here!

Allen & Unwin September 2016

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

James Roy and One Thousand Hills

jonesJames Roy has a strong pedigree in the world of children’s and young adult writing. His stand-out books in my opinion are Town, sophisticated interlinked short stories; Problem Child, about bullying from the bully’s point of view; and his intriguing, wrenching YA novel, Anonymity Jones.

James’s new YA novel One Thousand Hills was published by Scholastic Australia this year.

It’s a powerful, important story, shared by Rwandan, Noël Zihabamwe and has won the NSW Premier’s Young People’s History Prize this year.

Thanks for speaking with Boomerang Books, James.

Where are you based and how involved are you in the YA and children’s lit world?

I live in the Blue Mountains, but I travel broadly in my work as a schools presenter, as well as in my pursuit of a cracking story. I am heavily involved with WestWords, a Western Sydney youth literature initiative, and I try to be supportive of (and seek the support of) other kidlit/YA creators.

What’s your background and how else do you spend your time?

I was raised in a Seventh-day Adventist missionary family, and I think that upbringing gave me two great gifts – a love of story, and a love of music. Writing ticks the first box, and playing in various bands ticks the other.

mackI remember seeing a fantastic version of your children’s book Edsel Grizzler as a Bookgig at the Brisbane Writers Festival. Which one other of your works would you like to see in a different form?

I’m currently working on a screen adaptation of Captain Mack, which excites me (although I’m still looking for a producer – hint hint…). I think Town would make an interesting stageplay or film, and of course One Thousand Hills.

Why did you write One Thousand Hills?

As a child, my friend Noël lived the story of One Thousand Hills. In a sense this book was written to honour him and the countless other children living through the hell of civil war and tribal violence. I hope it also serves as something of a cautionary tale – this is what happens when hatred, ignorance and bigotry is left unchecked.

Is it a novel for children or young adults?

It was written for young people. It is very carefully structured to allow younger readers to appreciate it without being too confronted. But anyone – adult or young person – who comes to it with any foreknowledge of the events is left in no doubt that this was a brutal and nightmarish event.

Could you tell us about your main character?hills

Pascal is very much like Noël, who was nine at the time of the genocide. He’s a normal kid with siblings, parents, friends, teachers. He’s a normal kid who one day encounters the unimaginable.

How do you know and can write a character like this?

Societal and cultural detail was obtained through my conversations with Noël. Beyond that, Pascal is just a kid. If I’ve learnt one thing from twenty years of speaking with kids all over the world, it’s that the same things motivate, excite and worry them no matter where on earth they live.

Have you received any responses from readers about One Thousand Hills that particularly resonate with you?

The most interesting one I’ve read was on GoodReads, where someone said they really didn’t like it – that it made them feel physically ill – before going on and listing all the ways it had affected them, and talking about how much they had learnt and processed from reading the book. I took that as a win.

What are you working on at the moment? chook

I’m finishing the latest of the Chook Doolan books, and also putting together some ideas for an adult novel that will form part of my Masters dissertation. In the meantime, a sequel to One Thousand Hills seems quite likely.

What have you recently enjoyed reading?

I’m currently re-reading Moby Dick, in preparation for my dissertation. I’m also about to get back into Old Yeller forty years after I first read it. I have a multitude of tissues at the ready.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Would it be too political to suggest that we #CloseTheCamps?

Thanks for your answers and all the best with One Thousand Hills, James.

Doodles and Drafts – In conversation with Tania McCartney over tea!

Tania McCartney March 2016 cropTania McCartney is no stranger to the world of Kids’ Literature. Her knowledge and ability to produce entertaining, endearing and enduring picture books is nothing short of remarkable and now sitting comfortably in her enviable arsenal of accreditations, is a re-discovered gift – illustration.

Sumptuously rich in detail and stuffed with enough iconic charm to make both Banjo Paterson and Con the Fruiterer feel at home, her first self-illustrated picture book, Australia: Illustrated delivers a (very satisfying) slice of all things Aussie to an audience who might still remember what a frog cake is as well as those young enough to regard the Wheel of Brisbane as their first Ferris wheel ride.

Australia IllustratedIt is a magnificent compendium of facts, landmarks, foods, cultures, flora, fauna, natural wonders, celebrities and attractions playfully illustrated in Tania’s unique, considered hand. Her drawings do more than just tell a story and describe a caption. They fill my visual soul. New South Wales’s Snowy Mountain region is resplendent with wild silver Brumbies (skiiing, horse riding and snowboarding as it were!) for example, revealing Tania’s cheeky take on life and no doubt, her own personal reflections of a land she clearly adores.

Her affection is contagious. From the divinely cloth-bound cover and very first end pages, clean and devoid of the congestion of civilization (a nod to the pre-settlement days of Australia perhaps), to each State and Territories’ four to five page expose of their specific peculiarities, Australia: Illustrated draws the reader in and, sublimely, educates and entertains along the way. The final end pages, a testament to the diversity and wonder that fills this wide brown land (with green bits, girt by sapphire seas) we call, home.

Today, we leave the draft table for a pair of comfy armchairs, a delicious cup of tea and a few precious moments with the gifted creator behind EK Book’s newest non-fiction picture book release, Australia: Illustrated.

Welcome, Tania. It’s great to finally spend some ‘virtual’ time with you.

So lovely to visit, Dim!

Your very first self-illustrated picture book, Australia Illustrated, is out any moment. Has this been a dream come true?

In a word: yes!

Have you been suffering heart palpitations? I know I’d be more anxious that than

Yes. How did you know??

I could hear them all the way up here in Brisbane.

I’m not surprised. They’re pretty thunderous.

Has this book been a bucket-list kind of thing?

Yes and no. It was more of a meant-to-be than a bucket-list-thing, though now it’s been ticked off my bucket-list, I’m happy it got onto that list!

It has actually just been a long-buried seed of an idea but it may not have even grown if the circumstances hadn’t been right. There was a grant I wanted to apply for, I needed a contract to do so, my publisher just happened to think the idea was fabulous at the time (this changes, as you know!) and I got a contract the next day.

You’re kidding?!

I know! If only all contracts were like that! This was a little scary, though, because the idea was quite ethereal at the time. I mean, I knew it would unfold okay… and it did. But I did it all the wrong way.

What do you mean?

I basically winged it. I had an outline, of course, but the content was pretty much an organic process. I was SO lucky to have this kind of opportunity. And I did the cover first. I mean, who does the cover first?

I don’t much about the illustrative process, but that does sound a little dotty.

SO dotty. But it worked because that cover was one of my favourite things to create, and it set the scene for the style and layout of the entire book. I highly recommend up-ending processes!

Are you proud of thi047 qld daintrees book?

I am for the fact that I finished it. It took a year and contains over 1000 hand-drawn images over 96 pages. Half of the finished pages are digitally illustrated, too, so it was a lot of work and I was also in learning mode at the time (re-learning my illustration skills and also learning digital skills—I basically learned as I went).

I’m also proud of it because it’s my first self-illustrated book and I think first self-illustrated books take a lot of courage. Like, a lot. It’s scary because I’ve had years to get used to writing criticism, but illustration criticism is a whole other colour on the palette.

So, my nerves are on standby, for sure—and I have to consistently tell myself I created this book for me, no one else—and that if kids and adults happen to take pleasure in it, that will please me very, very much. In fact, ALL creators should create books for themselves first and foremost. If we created them for other people, we’d never enjoy it as much or do our best work. And once our books are published, they become someone else’s anyway, so it’s nice to hang onto ownership during production!

Oh gosh, Dim, this tea is so good.

Thanks! Isn’t it divine? You’ve written several books about Australia. Will there be more?

Probably not. I do have ideas for books about Australian people (biographic), plants and animals but they won’t be Australia-centric, if that makes sense.

I don’t know why I’ve written so many books on Australia. It’s not a conscious decision. Perhaps it’s because the world is full of so much negativity right now—I fully realise and accept that our country (any country) is far from perfect, but it just feels so nice to celebrate what’s good here sometimes. And there’s so much that’s good. Australia Illustrated is a celebration of w007 au beautifulhat’s good.

Hear hear! What brought you the greatest pleasure when creating Australia Illustrated?

So much. The creative freedom. The ability to play and allow things to unfold. I know it’s not realistic, but it would be incredible if all books could be created in this way! It’s just so much fun. I loved relearning skills and meeting my characters and learning so much about this country that I never knew.

I loved the digital illustration and the layout and design. I also loved doing the finishing art in Photoshop. Creating the fonts was fun.

How did you do that?

With an app called iFontMaker. It’s fabulous. You can get so creative. You can even create fonts for your kids, using their handwriting.

Sounds fascinating, I’d love to give it a go.

You must. I also loved pulling the pages together. It’s so satisfying.

So, hang on, you did quite a bit for this book. Not just writing and illustrating?

027 nsw sydney ferriesI did heaps. I researched, wrote, fact-checked, drew, painted, did digital illustration and mono-printing, scanning, touching up, photography, fonts, layout, design, typography, cover layout and design—all to print-ready PDF. I LOVE doing all this. It’s so satisfying and skills-building. Then I had the wonderful Mark Thacker from Big Cat Design take all the PDFs and whack them in InDesign for the printer.

And my gorgeous publisher Anouska Jones was my editor and second eyes and ears, and I had a group of other eyes and ears, too, and then there was the team at Exisle and our printing coordinator Carol and publicist Alison and all the fabulous book reps and all the wonderful friends and colleagues who helped me authenticate things and help me out with research.

I have an entire page dedicated to thank yous! I also had the backing of the ACT Government—artsACT—for their grant to help produce this book.

So while I did a lot, I certainly didn’t do it alone. No one ever does it alone.

Gosh, we have an amazing bunch of people in this industry.

We do. I feel privileged to be part of it. This really is great tea, Dim.

Of course it is, it’s from Queensland! What’s next for you, Tania?

Well, I’ve just come out of a long rest! I took a lot of winter off, other than ongoing obligations and a little bit of production on some upcoming titles.

 Oooh – can you share them with us?

COVER FINAL smilecryfullcover-smallWell, one is a sequel to Smile Cry with Jess Racklyeft. The other is a follow-up to This is Captain Cook with Christina Booth—and we’re also in the middle of another picture book for the National Library. Tina Snerling and I have been working on books 6 and 7 for the A Kids’ Year series.

I’ve been planning my illustration style for my first illustration commission with the National Library and I’ve been working on a non-fiction pitch for them, too, which I’ll illustrate. And I’ve been finalising a junior fiction manuscript after talks with a gorgeous publisher. Oh—and just like you would, I have several thousand other little bits and ideas floating around.

Yes, something I can relate 100% to! But would you have it any other way?

No! Well, yes—I really needed that time out after Australia Illustrated. It was an enormous amount of work. 96 pages!! So happy to have my energy and mojo back now, though.

Mojo back is good! Tania, thanks so much for stopping by today. I’ve really enjoyed the chat.

Me, too, Dim! And thanks for the tea!

The kettle is always on…

This is more than a picture book, more than a resource; Australia Illustrated is a meaningful, beautiful, thoughtful, piece of art.

Order Tania’s, Australia: Illustrated, here.

Australia Illustrated Launch PosterFollow all the excitement of her Virtual Launch this week with reveals, sneak peeks, more interviews and giveaways, here.

EK Books November 2016

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

 

 

Review – Captain Sneer the Buccaneer

imageCaptain Sneer the Buccaneer, Penny Morrison (author), Gabriel Evans (illus.), Walker Books, September 2016.

Ahoy Me Hearties! Here lies a highly amusing nautical skit that is destined to take the world by storm. A rollicking clash of rhythm, sharpness and irony that will tie you in knots. Captain Sneer the Buccaneer by Penny Morrison and Gabriel Evans is a menacingly bold and brash tale with a sweet hint of naivity and insecurity that young readers will simply lap up at every turn.

Adept listeners will need to challenge their poetic knowledge as the text surprises with humorous twists along the way. Luring the reader forward on this tumultuous journey sailing the seas in search of gold, Captain Sneer boasts about his formidable courage, wealth and leadership prowess. However, despite overcoming wild waves, potential firings of coconuts, unbearable thirst, getting lost and ominous caves, this obnoxious pirate certainly devulges more inner secrets about his cowardice than he cares to admit… and we, and his crew, are all the wiser. But it is his final foolish act of attempted bravery and devotion where the rhyming sequence unfolds and it is ‘mummy’ dearest who is left the most scornful of all.

imageEvans’ combination of fiery tones against the soothing blue backdrops perfectly represents the juxtaposition of Captain Sneer’s hypocrytical attitude and the surprising nature of the text. His technique of splatterings and smudges of gouache and watercolour, roughly outlined in pencil, gives off a whimsically entrancing sense of movement and energy that pulls its viewers directly into the scene.

Captain Sneer the Buccaneer is a classically vibrant and comically shrewd book that will have preschoolers stealing plenty of shared, treasured moments with their own families for years to come.

Find Captain Sneer Activity Sheets at the Walker Books website, and teaching notes at Lamont Books.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Review: The Sidekicks by Will Kostakis

9780143309031After reading Will Kostakis’ book The First Third and being a gargantuan fan, I knew I had to try his latest novel, The Sidekicks. And it was brilliant! (Although I confess to loving The First Third more.) This is mostly because the format in The Sidekicks threw me off a bit, but if I’d known to start with it was going to be from three points-of-view, I would’ve been a lot more prepared. As is, I was so emotional by the end I could feel my glacial heart melting. And that’s the kind of reaction I want in a book!

The story is basically about the death of Isaac and how it leaves his three friends (Ryan, Harley and Miles) all to piece together their lives without him. The twist? Ryan, Harley and Miles aren’t friends. They barely even know each other. Isaac was their link. The death affects them all very differently and they have to (A) own up to knowing darker things about Isaac’s past, and (B) accidentally start working together, and (C) learn to let go.

At first I was dubious that I might not care enough because I didn’t “know” Isaac…but I definitely did end up caring! You get to know Isaac a bit more through some flashbacks. And I loved how the three boys started to depend on each other and help each other out…like they were filling the holes Isaac left. The #SquadGoals were immensely awesome.

Like I said, there’s 3 POVs, one from each of the boys. It’s a short book (under 300-pages) so it doesn’t leave us a lot of room to get to know each boy, but I think the story still did an admirable job of pulling us into Ryan, Harley, and Miles’ worlds.

So a brief run down on the three parts of the story:

  • It starts off with Ryan who is a dedicated swimmer and is also gay but so deep in the closet he’s having tea with Mr. Tumnus. Ryan’s mum is a teacher, so he’s pretty much the goody-goody of the squad. But he also harbours a lot of fears and anxieties about who he is and what it would mean to come out.
  • Then we have Harley. The writing changes styles drastically here and goes rather stilted and jagged to represent how Harley is not very studious at all…and is known to drink and perhaps pass along drugs. But he still has one of those “mildly bad boy golden hearts” which was winning! He had such a good soul.
  • Lastly there’s Miles. I really loved Miles who is a socially-inept nerd and incredibly smart and also runs some black-market operations. He is the one who doubts if he even meant anything to Isaac, who was his only friend…until Miles gets caught up with Ryan and Harley. Miles was really blunt, but still a squishable gem who I really felt for! His ache over losing Isaac was the most palpable.

 

I think the strengths of the story definitley lie in the character development! If only it had been a bit longer, because I would’ve loved to get to know each boy just a bit more deeper than the short chapters allowed. But the plot was amazing, with a little bit of mystery, and a whole lot of heartache, and a good dash of hope. I’m endlessly in love with how these characters’ stories unravelled and I loved the diversity representation and how it wasn’t cliche or stereotyped! The book was, naturally, amazing.

[buy now]

Review – Who is Fitzy Fox?

imageWho is Fitzy Fox?, Amelia Trompf (author), Jennifer Bruce (illus.), Little Steps Publishing, September 2016.

Sweetly wrapped up in red and white this little treasure arrived at my door, keenly searching for a place to belong. Upon entering the world of this furry friend, I soon realised just how important his mission was to solve his ‘existential crisis’ of ‘Who is Fitzy Fox?’.

Gently written in a child-friendly tone, first-time picture book author Amelia Trompf narrates a soul-satisfying tale of self-discovery, reassurance, the value of family, and a bit of adventure. The beautiful textures, detail and muted watercolours and pencil illustrations by Scottish-born, Jennifer Bruce equally provide an aura of warmth, comfort and familiarity that highlight the story’s sense of the affection of loved ones and the kindness of strangers.

imageSet in Melbourne’s eclectic suburb of Fitzroy, Fitzy Fox sets off on a path to determine whether his true identity is fox, or whether it is hound. Greeted with delicious cuisine, including veggie burgers and gelati, by the local occupants of busy Brunswick Street somehow doesn’t give Fitzy the satisfaction he is looking for. A trip to the State Library provides a glimmer of hope as the poor lost soul decides to embark on a trip to London. Fitzy Fox searches for his answer in such fascinating landmarks as Buckingham Palace, Hyde Park and Notting Hill, but to no avail. Has his journey across the other side of the world been all for nothing? Has the truth been under his snout the entire time?

Targeted at early primary school-aged children, ‘Who is Fitzy Fox?’ explores some deep, philosophical questions that may be extended to discussing cultural, religious, or gender-specific identities. But the playful and endearing tone of the book allows readers to enjoy it for its life and purity, and the comfort in knowing they are loved for who they are. Perfect for locals and visitors to Melbourne to soak up those vibrant street vibes.

Amelia Trompf has prepared wonderful teaching notes and activities on the Fitzy Fox website.

Who is Fitzy Fox? is on blog tour! Check out the schedule here.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

The 2016 Qld Literary Awards Children’s Shortlist and Winner

Awards such as the Griffith University Children’s Book Award, which recognises excellent books for the young, is a great place to find books to share and enjoy with children. A run-down on this year’s shortlisted books and winner follows:

Suri’s Wall by Lucy Estela, illustrator: Matt Ottley (Penguin/Viking) Suri

Suri, the protagonist of the picture book Suri’s Wall, is living behind a wall in a grim institution. Its stonework and mountaintop buildings create a timeless, universal setting. She feels segregated from the other children because of her height but this is what eventually enables her to peer over the wall. She is then able to distract and comfort the smaller children with stories of what she sees.

Matt Ottley’s fantastical illustrations of “golden bridges stretching far beyond sight”, a colourful township and a surreal circus enhance the imaginative spaces in Lucy Estela’s story, enabling destruction to be supplanted by beauty.

How the Sun Got to Coco’s House by Bob Graham (Walker Books) Sun

Bob Graham’s How the Sun Got to Coco’s House will no doubt be recognised in both Australian and international awards lists. The story follows the journey of the sun from the Arctic to Europe, Asia and the Subcontinent, across mountains, seas, cities and countryside, over whales, birds, planes and people. It finally arrives at Coco’s house in time to wake her up.

Bob Graham’s perfectly formed spare text and detailed, light-filled watercolour illustrations show what the sun touches in its daily travels.  The sun does reach Coco’s house and, “But for a few passing clouds, they spend the whole day together”.

Incredibilia by Libby Hathorn; illustrator: Gaye Chapman (Little Hare) Incredibilia

Young, red-haired Georgie is often left out of the games of her older siblings so she devises  imaginative games to play by herself. Max and Harriet are eventually intrigued enough by what is occupying Georgie to beg her to let them join in.

The illustrations are whimsical and add to the celebration of play, which is such an important and productive way for young children to spend their time.

 

Me, Teddy by Chris McKimmie (Allen & Unwin) Teddy

Brisbane-based Chris McKimmie has been creating unconventional picture books for quite a few years now. A number of them have been shortlisted for awards. His idiosyncratic style of collage, mixed media and additions by young family members often help readers unconsciously discover different aspects of Brisbane life or new ways of looking at things.

Me, Teddy captures the endearing development of a black Labrador and his growing place in the family. The extra work and trouble he causes is completely nullified by the warmth and love he brings.

And the deserving winner of this category is:

Kidglovz by Julie Hunt; illustrator:Dale Newman (Allen & Unwin)

“There is a town in the mountains not far from here where people lock their pianos on the night of the full moon. It makes no difference – the keys move up and down and the air is filled with music.” Kid

Young pianist prodigy Kidglovz is controlled by Dr Eronius Spin but is ‘rescued’ after meeting tightrope walker, Shoestring. His life revolves around music and he ‘hears’ the stars as being five octaves high, the night is in D minor and people sound like melodies. Kidglovz encounters adventures and unusual villains and  characters in his search for truth and safety.

This innovative and impressive graphic novel for primary age children is illustrated in black and white and is a wonderful way of ‘stepping’ into literature.

Review: Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley

Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley is one of the most beautiful books I’ve had the pleasure of devouring at dawn. Actually I devoured it at midday but, please, let’s not get caught up on the details. The fact is: this is an amazingly gorgeous book of romance and writing and bookshops a9781742612386nd I can’t love it enough! Can Cath Crowley do no wrong?! I’ve adored her books A Little Wanting Song and Graffiti Moon and I’m so glad I tried her latest book too. It’s beautiful. I’ll just continue saying that…forever, basically.

The best thing about this book is: IT’S ABOUT BOOKS. I think books about books are (A) the best kind of bookish inception, and (B) doomed to capture readers’ hearts because we all relate! It’s partially set in a failing bookstore that’s facing being sold. It’s stuffed with references to other books, discussions on the importance of words, and letter writing. And being set in a second-hand-book-store just makes the entire thing so very aesthetically pleasing. Hush. That’s a thing.

It does reference newer books amongst the classics too! Although the focus definitely is on the older books (I assume because more people will recognise them).  But it references The Fault in Our Stars and other newer, Aussie books like Summer Skin!

The characters and dialogue were beyond amazing! It’s dual narrated by Henry and Rachel who are ex-best friends and in the process of becoming friends again. (Or more…) Henry is suffering a break up with the girl of his dreams and Rachel is recovering from the death of her younger brother. Both have their issues. And their secrets. And both need to be smacked with a large book occasionally for their selfish and deluded reasonings. But ultimately I loved them! Henry had an amazing sense of humour and was a huge bookworm. Rachel had snappy comebacks and was learning how to live through her depression. Plus their banter is amazingness.

“What?” she asks.
“Your head,” I tell her, “is a very pleasing shape.”
“Likewise,” she says, and smiles.

I also adored the secondary characters! They were all complex and amazing, with their own character arcs, trials, and focuses.

It does sort of contain a love-triangle, but it is a perfectly written one. Usually I’m very anti-triangles, but this was such an intriguing one because, for starters, it was 1 boy = 2 girls. And secondly, it’s very shippable. Henry was pretty deluded about his ex and Rachel was deluded about her feelings for Henry. You can’t help rooting for them to work out their differences and get together!

The book has a very comfortable, calming vibe. This in no way means the book is dull! It is the opposite to dull. But since it was set in a cosy bookshop with lots of food and banter and contained teenagers with excellent vocabularies who love of dusty old books…it just felt so comfortable to read! It was equally sad, moving, and beautiful. I’d call it a “quiet book” and mean that in the best possible way.

Basically I love this book an exuberant amount. Obviously. I can’t get over how beautifully Cath Crowely stitches words together and how easy it was to get sucked into this marvellous story and end up nearly crying over a gorgeous bookstore being sold. (Please! No!) I loved the letter writing, the plot twists, and the intense love of second-hand books. My bookworm soul is thoroughly won over.

[buy here]

Superb Sequels – Picture Book Reviews

We certainly got a buzz upon discovering the latest sequels to a few of our favourite picture books. Still highly capable of capturing our hearts and imaginations, just like their predecessors, these titles don’t disappoint. From forming new friendships to rekindling old ones, from commencing inspiring adventures to revisiting good old-fashioned traditions, preschoolers and early primary aged children will delight in every part of the wonderful journeys these books will take them.

imageSnail and Turtle Rainy Days, Stephen Michael King (author, illus.), Scholastic Press, 2016.

With the same warm and playful narrative and animated illustrations as in the original Snail and Turtle are Friends, King beautifully compliments this sequel with an equally gentle and humbling innocence in its tone. Once again, King has successfully alllured his readers with a tactile, blithe and innovative experience.

Snail and Turtle Rainy Days is a creative and heartwarming tale about going to assiduous measures to help out a friend in need. I also love the undertone that Turtle might possibly be doing so to satisfy his own little pleasures in life! However, children from age three will absolutely soak up these busy characters and adorable qualities in this sunny story set in the rain. See my full review here.

imageI Don’t Want to Go to Bed, David Cornish (author, illus.), Angus & Robertson, 2016.

Immediately following on from its prequel comes the opening line, “Every night when dinner was done, Rollo would cry ‘I Don’t Want To Go To Bed!‘”. Cleverly written and hilariously illustrated by David Cornish, this next title in the series certainly ticks all the stubborn-child-mastering-routines boxes.

In this short and sweet tale, Rollo attempts every excuse under the sun to avoid going to bed. Fortunately, with a little imagination (and perhaps some imperceivable parent influence) Rollo can check off his ‘story, food, water, toilet and monster’ checklist. Is he finally ready for bed?

Bold, vibrant and loud, and exhaustingly true, preschoolers and their parents will both cringe and delight in the arduous strategies determining when and how they will go to bed.

imageMe and Moo & Roar Too, P. Crumble (author), Nathaniel Eckstrom (illus.), Scholastic Australia, 2016.

When Me and Moo first made its grand entrance we were udderly – oops, utterly – delighted by this comical tale of friendship between a boy and his mischievous cow companion. Now, roaring onto the scene is their newest comrade, surprisingly delivered straight from the zoo; Roar.

In Me and Moo & Roar Too, it is Me and Moo’s quest to return Roar back to his home-away-from-home after he causes chaos in their house. Although this might be disheartening for readers, they will be reassured to know that every animal is happy in their place of belonging, and that Me and Moo may just encounter yet another wild pet adventure any time soon!

With its child-friendly narrative voice and gorgeously textured and discernibly witty illustrations, this sequel perfectly compliments the first and will have its preschool-aged readers roaring for more.

imageBird and Bear and the Special Day, Ann James (author, illus.), The Five Mile Press, 2016.

In a story of discovering the beauty and nuances of the world around them, Bird and Bear explore nature, science and their close relationship. When they meet again in Bird and Bear and the Special Day, Bird, on her ‘Birdday’ enchants her friend Bear with a series of ‘Eye-Spy’-esque challenges as they take a stroll through the park.

James’ winsome dialogue cleverly integrates concepts of prepositions, opposites and scientific observations, as well as the pressing problem of whether Bear will remember Bird’s Birdday. Watercolours, pencil and pastel tones perfectly suit the whimsical yet tranquil adventure walk and the gentle, harmonious friendship between the characters.

A joyous exploration of words and the outdoors, imagination and strengthening bonds, this series has the magic of childhood autonomy at its forefront. Recommended for children aged three and up.

imageLet’s Play!, Hervé Tullet (author, illus.), Allen & Unwin, 2016. Originally published by Bayard Editions as ‘On Joue?’, 2016.

A brilliant companion to the best-selling books, Press Here and Mix It Up!, pushing boundaries and exciting creative imaginations is the latest by Hervé Tullet; it’s Let’s Play! A genius masterstroke by the artist, engaging readers in a vibrant sensory, kinaesthetic and all-round enjoyable interactive experience.

Instructing its willing participants to join in, the yellow dot pulls us on its journey along, up, down, round and round a simple black line from start to end. With the dot we encounter more dots in primary colours, play games of hide-and-seek, face ominous dark tunnels and black, messy splashes and scribbles, until we finally reach the safety of clean pages and fairy-light-inspired canvases.

Children and adults alike will delight in this gigglicious, playful adventure exploring shape, colour, space and line with its subtly thrilling storyline to tempt your curiosity many times ’round.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Doodles and Drafts – Mark Carthew

Mark CarthewQuiet achievers are those I admire most. Mark Carthew is one of those quiet achievers, except when he’s strumming out a tune on his guitar and reading one of his crazy verse orientated picture books aloud. With more projects on the draft table than you can wobble a pencil at, I thought it was high time we got to know one of Australia’s most consistent and talented children’s authors.

His recent release, Marvin and Marigold  The Big Sneeze with Simon Prescott, exemplifies all that we’ve come to expect of a Mark Carthew picture book: clear, engaging story, lyrical text, and kid friendly pictures guaranteed to spark repeated readings. The Big Sneeze is the first in this mouse inspired cute critter series, ably introducing Marigold to her new neighbour, Marvin, who’s in a pretty woeful way with the flu to begin with. Their friendship begins in a rather slow, fractured way until with a dash of empathy and a slathering of kindness, Marigold comes to accept the true mouse behind all the sneezes, snorts and snuffles. A little classic in the making (which are what The Gobbling Tree and The Moose is Loose! are to me). Let’s find out how he does it.

Welcome to the Draft Table, Mark!

Q: Who is Mark Carthew? Describe your writerly-self.

I am passionate about words, pictures and music… and how each of these things resonates in its own special way to make images. The rhythm of language and the power of alliterative words and phrases shared out loud is something reflected in my stories, verse and songs.

MARK-CARTHEW-FOOTER-2-LOWRES-72DPIQ: A hefty percentage of your children’s titles are picture books. What draws you to creating this genre of children’s literature?

Working with and seeing wonderfully talented illustrators bring your ideas to life is one of the great pleasures of being children’s picture book / illustrated text author. Each book is literally a birth; a special creation and much anticipated result of both vision and passion. Illustrator’s weave their own skills and magic into this creative process, making the genre a unique blend of two imaginations. I also enjoy working with editors, publishers and designers — and they need to get due credit; as they can bring significant (emotionally detached) insights and ideas to picture book projects.

Q: What style of writing do you identify most strongly with; children’s, poetry, song writing? Which style excites you the most to create?

Hard question, as many of my works involve combinations of all three! My picture books, anthologies and plays regularly revolve around narratives with a strong sense of the poetic, alliterative and rhythmic; and more often than not they have a musical or song element that dovetails naturally.

Marvin and Marigold_Cover_frontQ: Marvin and Marigold: The Big Sneeze, is the first in a new series of picture books featuring two new fun characters. Please tell us a bit about it. Why mice? Was this your original intention or is it a product of your collaboration with illustrator, Simon Prescott?

At a meeting in Frenchs Forest Sydney, my Publisher at New Frontier Sophia Whitfield, suggested she would be interested in me developing a manuscript around two animal characters. Reflecting on this while returning on the Manly Ferry, some verses started to flow; and the Marvin & Marigold series began that very day. Some of the key alliterative and rhyming stanzas based around their names, ‘mice’ and ‘mouse houses’ were written on the way back to Circular Quay. New Frontier had just set up a UK office in London and it was Sophia who made the UK connection to Simon Prescott, based on his whimsical style and expertise in illustrating mice.

Q: How did the concept of Marvin and Marigold come to being? What do you hope to portray in your stories about them?

Children’s publishers in Australia and around the world have had great success with picture books concerning cute and endearing animal characters; interestingly quite often with titles featuring ‘two names’.  As mentioned, New Frontier was keen to see if I could pen something original and engaging along similar lines with potential for a series.

While still involving word play and strong rhyme; these narratives also explore some deeper thinking around familiar life scenarios, situations and personal challenges — as well as important themes such as family, relationships, kindness and empathy. A series with two next door neighbours and friends, a boy and a girl, provides the perfect vehicle.      

Q: You mentioned that you ‘enjoy making books that encourage play with language, words and images’. Do you find it easier to ‘tell stories in song’ when developing a picture book as opposed to writing in prose? Describe the process for us.

My creativity seems to flow when I write in a lyrical, rhyming style and I think my love of verse texts, poetry and song writing has influenced my desire to share stories in sympathetic mediums. Poetic stanzas often bounce around in my head like a ‘third eye’ or voice. However, I am also very keen to extend my writing into a more prose based, graphic narrative style for the older primary readership and I have a couple of projects on the draft table in that regard.

The Gobbling Tree with awardQ: Your picture books in particular have strong appeal for lower primary and pre-primary aged readers, providing plenty of predictive reading possibilities and moments of fun to crow over again and again. What is the attraction for writing for this age group?

 Younger audiences respond naturally to call and response, alliteration and the use of strong rhyming, onomatopoeic phrases that are part of my writing style. That natural early childhood interest in shared language and interaction excites me as a writer and allows me the privilege and space to enjoy the fun of word play mixed with drama, music, movement and spoken words.

 Q: What’s on the draft table for Mark?

 2017 will be a big year with three picture books as well as various other poetry and writing projects in production or development.

My long long term illustrator friend Mike Spoor (UK) and I will be releasing a speciality art style picture book Six Little Ducks (with song), a project which evolved from our 2013 Australian tour. The second book in the Marvin and Marigold series, Marvin & Marigold: A Christmas Surprise will be released in the lead-up to Christmas 2017 and The Great Zoo Hullabaloo illustrated by Anil Tortop (Qld) will be out in April 2017. That project was developed during my May Gibbs Children’s Literature Trust Fellowship and is in essence the sequel to The Moose is Loose!— but with a different publisher, illustrator and a new twist!

The Five Little OwlsWith the assistance of Karen Small from Small but Mighty Productions, I am planning to produce a 10th Anniversary Edition of my CBCA Honour Book and anthology, Can you keep a Secret? Timeless rhymes to share and treasure. I hope to do that in both eBook & hard copy.

I am also working on some new poetry anthologies and a graphic novel / crossover text for older primary readers.

Q: When not scribbling stories for children, who / what do you like to read?

I enjoy magical realism, folkloric and action / fantasy novels… and reading other writer’s illustrated books!

Q: Just for fun question (there’s always one): If you had to choose to be one of your picture book characters for a week, whom would you choose and why?

 The Zoo HullabalooMmmm… most of my current characters are animals, so that is a tricky question! I’d probably be Jack in my upcoming title – The Great Zoo Hullabaloo. He’s a zookeeper who enjoys being around animals, as well as playing the drums!

PS: Mark has lots of information, activities and free material on his wonderful website — www.markcarthew.com.au

Thanks, Mark!

Marvin and Marigold The Big Sneeze is available, here.

New Frontier Publishing

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

 

 

The Tales of Jahani

Leopard PrincessRosanne Hawke is writing The Tales of Jahani, beginning with  Daughter of Nomads & continuing with The Leopard Princess (UQP).

Reading Daughter of Nomads feels like being inside a rich nomad tent surrounded by colours, textures and the scent of spices.

Could you tell us about the setting?

The setting is based on where we lived when we were aid workers in Pakistan in the 1980s and early 1990s. We lived in Abbottabad which I’ve used as inspiration for Sherwan (in 1662) where Jahani was brought up. The beautiful alpine lakes with paries (fairies), rushing rivers, dangerous bridges and fairy fields are all places we took our children to visit. Even the air view from Azhar’s carpet of the Karakorams and Himalayas came from personal experience when we had to take a rather old and small plane from Chitral to Peshawar to escape the blocked snow passes.

What exotic elements, talismans or motifs have you included in the series?

I have an ancient taveez which I bought in Peshawar and it became the inspiration for Jahani’s taveez. I also have a nomad dress and a pouch (similar to the one that Jahani’s nomad mother gives her). The idea of pari power in the story comes from the folklore of Hunza (Hahayul in The Tales of Jahani). I haven’t been to Hunza but my husband has and I have some lovely photos of the area that a friend, Catherine Wood, took for me.

Where did the stories woven into the main narrative that seem to be like Tales from the Arabian Nights come from – traditional or your creation? Arabian

Most of these come from the Shahnameh: the Persian Book of Kings. The evil King Zahhak appears quite early in the Shahnameh as does that of Feraydun who slays him. The famous heroes Rostam, Sohrab and Gordafarid come later on. Even Kaveh one of the horses’ names comes from this mythology. The stories about the beginnings of the kingdoms I gleaned from Pakistani travel books. These are stories that people there know and these naturally fed into the fantasy aspect of the books.

How does the character of Jahani change?

Jahani wakes up one morning believing she is a poor girl who may not amount to much, maybe never be able to be married, and then finds she is someone else entirely. Due to a tragic event she suddenly has no idea who she is. Throughout the story she learns to trust and grows into a young woman who is able to take charge of her own destiny.

How have you subverted the traditional role of women?

In the Mughal Empire women did not rule on their own. If they were called Empress it was because their husband was an emperor. Yet the intrigue and deals that went on in the royal harems are fascinating to read about. One emperor was drugged half the time and his favourite wife made most of the decisions. He just had to sign the papers.

The women I met in Pakistan weren’t downtrodden as they are often depicted in the west. Once a girl gets educated she can do anything, wearing a scarf or not. I guess that’s why the Taliban shot Malala. She knew the truth: educate a girl and you change the world. Jahani wanted to change the world even before she knew who she was. She had to fight for the privilege to do so. I hope she will be a role model to show the unlimited potential all women have.

Are these stories for entertainment or to express issues? Or both?

After writing some stories with heavy topics like forced marriage, trafficking, war orphans and blasphemy, I wanted to write something lighter, fun, adventurous and epic. A story to show the beauty and the best of Pakistan. To celebrate the life we had there with our children. It was my eldest daughter who encouraged me to write about Jahani as this was a story she remembered from her childhood. When I look back on the story and also read some of the reviews I can see there is more to her character. It’s true I did want to portray a strong female character which I hope I have done with Jahani.

Daughter of NomadsHow have you segued book 1 into book 2? (unless this is a spoiler)

Daughter of Nomads segues into The Leopard Princess by Jahani having her recurring dream of fire; it is a pivotal scene for the second book as she finally learns what the dream means. When Jahani wakes from the dream only a few days have passed since the end of book one and then the action carries on with the nomads being attacked. Readers can read the first chapter of The Leopard Princess at the end of Daughter of Nomads.

How involved were you in the conception of the illustrations by D.M. Cornish? What is most appealing about them to you?

Aren’t they gorgeous? He is so talented. I loved the way they echo the gold and minarets of the Mughal Empire. I was asked for some ideas of what could go into the cover and the internal pictures but I wanted him to use his own ideas as I thought the best work would come out that way and so it did. I did want one of the illustrations in each book to include the leopard and one to include the carpet in the first book. Other than that D.M. worked his own magic.

Describe your dream magic carpet.

One that grows in feelings as Azhar’s does. Rich colours: red and green, maybe some animals as found on Persian carpets. One that can save your life if you fall off!

Anything else you’d like to add?

I’d like to mention the great job my son Michael Hawke did of Jahani’s poems. He’d read the manuscript and I told him Jahani liked Rumi’s poems but other than that inspiration, the work was all his own. Even at the end, close to typesetting, when my editor Kristy Bushnell and I realised we needed a song for the people to sing, Michael delivered. He is amazing.

Thank you very much for your generous responses, Rosanne and all the best with this series.

Review – Sugar and Spice Collection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Highly recommended for ages 4 and above.

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

EK Books October 2016

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian