Illustrator-icon Anne Spudvilas is known for The Peasant Prince by Li Cunxin (my teacher notes are on the Reading Australia site), Woolvs in the Sitee (written by Margaret Wild) and her first book The Race by Christobel Mattingley which won the Crichton Award for Illustration and was a CBCA Honour Book. Her new interpretation of Swan Lake (Allen & Unwin) is a sumptuous gift book. It is a retelling of Tchaikovsky’s ballet set on the Murray-Darling. The lavish illustrations are textured and allusive. Spudvilas features black and white with occasional limited shades of yellow, and red for a few sparse dramatic and accentuated moments.
Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family’s Journey by Margriet Ruurs, artwork by Nizar Ali Badr
Stepping Stones (UQP) was published earlier in the year but remains timely with the ongoing issues in caring for and resettling refugees. Margriet Ruurs saw Syrian, Nizar Ali Badr’s stone and pebble artwork online and worked hard and inventively to contact him and gain permission to use his art to highlight the plight of those escaping the horrors of war. The text is written in Arabic and English.
Another unusual and fascinating picture book is Drawn Onward (Fremantle Press), a palindromic text which can be read forwards and backwards . Meg McKinlay, who is most well-known for her multiple awarded dystopian novel, A Single Stone, uses the palindrome form to rephrase negative phrases and thoughts into positive. She calls it “optimism training for our kids”. The design is appropriately subtle and enigmatic.
Like the other books reviewed here, colour is used efficaciously in Danny Blue’s Really Excellent Dream (Lothian Children’s Books, Hachette). The story begins “Once in a blue moon, everyone has a really, really excellent dream.” Danny’s world is coloured blue and his father’s factory makes every hue of blue paint. After Danny’s dessert of blueberries one night, he dreams, not in blue, but of a red whale. Blue continues to dominate his life until he decides to create his dream colour in paint. It takes until Day 99 when “Not – Blue” appears and, even though people are suspicious, Not-Blue starts showing up where it’s not expected. This is a wonderful book about being different, dreaming and persistence in creativity.
Thank you, Joy! And many thanks for having me on the blog.
But first, where are you based and what is your background?
I live in Sydney, with my husband and our three sons, not far from where I grew up as a kid. I initially studied Communications straight out of high school at UTS, where I majored in writing and media theory, before then going on to train as an actor at Theatre Nepean, UWS. Towards the end of my acting training, I taught drama to a group of kids out at Mount Pleasant and I wrote them a play. It was then that it finally dawned on me that I didn’t want to be an actor after all, that in fact I wanted to be a writer but for young people, rather than adults. So not long after, I enrolled in a writing course with the acclaimed children’s author Libby Gleeson. That course felt both like a complete revelation and a homecoming. It was there that I workshopped a picture text I had written on my honeymoon of all places, about a little boy and his ice cream van driving dad. Libby Gleeson was a wonderful teacher and she instinctively knew how to draw out the possibilities of both a writer and a text and because of that early encouragement, here I am sixteen books later.
Do you give many presentations to children? How do you make them interesting? Have there been any particularly memorable responses?
I’ve spoken to thousands of kids over the years, presenting talks and writing workshops. In my general talks, I’ll often share funny stories about my life, what kind of kid I was growing up and especially some of the funny stories about bringing up my boys. There’s lots of acting and hilarity, especially when I share the inspiration behind stories like Sleep Tight, My Honey or My Mum Tarzan. I always bring along some of my writing journals and I usually explore the growth of at least one book in detail, from first seed to final story. I’m keen for kids to hear about the writing process but I’m also especially passionate for them to grasp how curiosity about ordinary moments can lead to the creation of juicy stories.
Funnily enough, some of the loveliest moments happen when I’m not speaking at all, when little clusters of kids sidle up at the end of a session to confide about a book they’ve been writing, or how they’re going to go out and buy their own writing journal that very afternoon, so they can write about the idea they have for a funny story about their own crazy mum, grandpa or dog. Because just as much as I want kids to love my books, at the end of the day, I want to inspire them even more so to discover the beauty and worth of their own stories.
I adore your laugh-out-loud YA novel My Big Birkett (it’s one of my all-time favourites) and love reciting parts about the animals that mate for life, The Tempest and gorgeous Raven and the meals he makes using mince; as well as your wonderful picture books. Could you tell us about some of these books?
Thanks Joy! It makes me especially happy to know that you are a Raven fan!
I’m often asked what I prefer to write most and I always say I love writing both picture books and novels and that I couldn’t choose between them. The best part of writing picture books for me is the absolute thrill of collaboration. I’ve been fortunate enough to work with so many brilliant illustrators over the years and each one has taught me so much about the power of the visual text. Some of my picture books that have been especially well-received include the Bear and Chook books, illustrated by Emma Quay, Gordon’s got a Snookie, illustrated by Wayne Harris and Big Pet Day, illustrated by Gus Gordon, who was also on the QLA shortlist too, for his gorgeous picture book, Somewhere Else. My most recent picture book is Hark, It’s Me, Ruby Lee! illustrated by Binny Talib. This was such a tough text to illustrate, mainly because of the fairly swift juxtaposition of the scenes of school life, with Ruby Lee’s fervent imagination. I’m just so delighted at what a marvellously beautiful job Binny has done.
I will say that one of the unforeseen joys of my writing life has been the steady, heartfelt emails I have received over the years from teen readers regarding My Big Birkett. These emails about Gemma and Raven and the De Head family have been incredibly sincere and poignant and they have often left me with a huge lump in my throat.
I know this is a tricky question but how do you incorporate humour into your writing?
This is a tricky question! As a kid, I looked into books like they were real windows. The books that spoke to me most were always the ones that captured acutely the laugh-out-loud jumbly nature of life, alongside the bittersweet ache. In terms of writing humour, I always keep an ear out for those little things that will make kids laugh. Not so long ago, my sister told me a story about how her four-year old son crept into her bed in the middle of the night and snuggled up tight to her, saying, ‘I love you so much Mummy, I want to shoot you out of a cannon!’ When I tell that story to kids, they roll around on the floor, laughing their heads off. But at the same time I know they recognise the vehemence of that kind of love, because they’ve felt it rocketing around in their own chests. I think humour has this remarkable capacity to encourage true connection and I’m always keen to incorporate it in my work, because it radically paves the way for readers to engage more fully and tenderly not only with a character’s dreams, fears, hopes and sorrows but also perhaps, with their own.
The Grand, Genius Summer of Henry Hoobler (A&U) has just won the QLA Griffith University Children’s Book award. The judge report says:
“The Grand Genius Summer of Henry Hoobler is structured as a quintessential Australian beach camping holiday but the exceptional storytelling soars to welcome the reader into both the setting and young Henry Hoobler’s rites of passage. We are given a heart-warming insight into introspective Henry. He is a genius at noticing things, surprising his fellow campers with his success in board and card games. He is also ‘Mr Worst-Case Scenario’, dreading the bugs, stingers and sharks of the beach but, most of all, dreading learning to ride his new silver bike. The bike is a symbol of fear, but its significance changes as Henry discovers courage and freedom. Courage can be found when friends are ‘straight-up and true’, embodied by free-spirit Cassie. This tale reminds us that everyone is different and everyone has gifts. Some, like Henry, prefer to learn quietly but even extroverts can be fearful.
The writing is literary and metaphorical, encompassing a vast emotional range whilst being utterly engaging for children. It is rare to encounter a novel for mid-primary children characterised by such perception and cadence.”
What was your reaction when you realised you had won?
I was astonished and delighted. It took quite a few days for it to truly sink in. Then I was just overcome with immense gratitude that the judges had seen something special in Henry.
It was wonderful to meet your young son, Rohan, at the awards presentation in Brisbane (and others there loved seeing him reading The Hobbit as the night wore on). Why was he there and what was your dual experience of the awards evening?
One of the initial nudges for writing Henry Hoobler was watching Rohie develop as a reader. After a slow start, he had a very sudden and rapid acceleration over a single year and I knew he was in this slippery in-between stage, where the books he was capable of reading were still quite a huge stretch for him emotionally. I began to wonder if I could write something that would speak directly to his life. As I wrote Henry, I read chapter after chapter out loud to Rohie. When I had finished the book and before it had been published, he persuaded his class teacher that I should come to school and read some chapters to his whole class as well. I dedicated the novel to Rohan because I wanted to acknowledge just what an incredible gift it was to have his enthusiastic encouragement along the way.
Rohie is an avid bookworm and so hanging out at the QLA awards ceremony for him was suddenly like meeting all of his people, all at once. He was especially touched that I mentioned him in my speech and I was especially touched when Rebe Taylor, the winner of the QLA History Book Award asked him to sign her copy of Henry. I can safely say that if Rohie’s class teacher had seen that handwriting, he would have been granted his official pen licence on the spot!
What is the significance of the title The Grand, Genius Summer of Henry Hoobler?
Early in the novel, Henry discovers that his rather unique talent for noticing things, makes him almost unbeatable when it comes to playing cards and board games. After Henry convincingly and unexpectedly smashes all the men and the older boys at games, Patch, his rather begrudging older brother finally acknowledges that Henry might be bit of a grand genius. It’s the beginning of a radical shift in the way Henry sees himself. Although Henry has replayed every worst case scenario in vivid detail regarding his camping holiday, what he has never considered is all the ways this summer might turn out to be the best one yet, the grand, genius summer of all summers.
Could you tell us about your protagonist Henry and some other characters?
Henry is a sensitive, imaginative and thoughtful nine-year old boy. He is the middle child, slotted right in between his athletically gifted, funny, know-it-all fifteen-year old brother Patch and his rambunctious, My Little Pony obsessed younger sister Lulu. Both Henry and his mum share some anxious traits and tend towards self-reflection and to feeling things deeply. Henry is very keen to please his exuberant dad, who is a real enthusiast for life. But Henry is filled with dread at the idea of learning how to ride his new bike without training wheels, especially in front of prickly Reed Barone, another boy who is close to Henry’s age and who is prone to sneering. Eventually, Henry meets ten-year old Cassie, who lives onsite in a caravan with her Pop. Cassie is a free spirit and alive to the world in ways that astonish Henry. Finally, Cassie’s straight up and true courage rubs off and with an unexpected Lulu intervention, Henry learns how to summon up his own courage and to do a whole series of adventurous things that he never imagined.
For what age-group is this novel intended?
Henry is intended for 7-11 year olds. I’ve been really pleased though by the numbers of reviewers that have also recommended it as a read-aloud for the whole family or the school classroom too.
How did you balance fine literary writing with the other elements of the narrative?
I was keen to write in a way that was hospitable to all kinds of middle grade readers, those that were confidently independent and those newly finding their feet. As a result, the story contains lots of snappy dialogue, which helps to give the text an easy, engaging flow. In terms of metaphoric imagery, I kept in mind some feedback given to me around another novel, regarding the importance of restraint. I was conscious that any poetic moment really had to serve the story and forward the action. At the same time, I wanted the novel to contain a certain richness of vocabulary because something the American writer Madeleine L’Engle once said has stayed with me for years, ‘We think because we have words, not the other way around. The more words we have, the better able we are to think conceptually.’ So balancing all of these elements was challenging, a little like prancing across a highwire tightrope.
As well as being good fun to read, Henry Hoobler has some important underpinning themes. Could you share some of these?
I’m always a little cautious when discussing themes because I know the writer is sometimes the least insightful person on that subject! With Henry though, I was keen to explore the nature of courage, the way one young boy discovers how to be brave over the summer, by learning how to make a tiny bit of room for the worry in his life, without giving it the whole house. The novel examines the transformative nature of unexpected friendship, the contagiousness of courage, the way we need one another in order to learn how to become brave and the way courage always arrives through the actual taking of considered risks. The novel celebrates the importance of family and community and the value of perseverance, forgiveness and kindness. I was keen to write about the beauty of the natural world and how to recognise and treasure the true significance of small ordinary moments.
Which awards have had particular significance for you?
Whenever a book of mine is either shortlisted or receives an award, I’m always extraordinarily surprised and grateful. I know it’s such a hard job to make those kinds of choices, especially when there are so many equally deserving and beautiful books out in the world. Writing a book does take a significant investment of energy and time and winning an award always means that a book will have a much greater chance of being widely read. I was particularly thrilled in 2010 when Bear and Chook by the Sea won the CBCA’s Book of the Year for Early Childhood, not just because it was a moment I got to share with my good friend the illustrator Emma Quay but also because as a kid, I drew a poster every single year for Oatley Library’s celebrations of the Children’s Book Council’s Book of the Year Awards. I was desperate to win a book prize in that poster competition, never dreaming that I would one day write a book that would win an award from such a long-established and hallowed institution.
What are you writing next?
I’ve been writing a series of picture book texts and I’m just returning now to a novel for teenagers that has been patiently waiting it’s turn.
What have you enjoyed reading recently?
I’ve loved Elizabeth Strout’s Anything is Possible, Karen Foxlee’s A Most Magical Girl, James Rebanks The Shepherd’s Life, Brian Doyle’s collection of essays Leaping: Revelations and Epiphanies and the picture books Oi, Frog by Kez Gray and Jim Field and Once Upon a Small Rhinoceros by Meg McKinlay and Leila Rudge.
Thanks so much for having me on the blog and for asking such astonishingly good, stretching questions. It was lovely to take the time to reflect and ponder.
Thanks for your very thoughtful and insightful responses, Lisa and all the very best with your excellent novel, The Grand, Genius Summer of Henry Hoobler, and your other works. We greatly look forward to what your imaginative mind will bring us next.
I described this year’s CBCA picture books in a previous post but promised to also write about Bob Graham’s Home in the Rain, which I have done here.
I’ve also added some ways of sharing the shortlisted picture books with children at home or school in case it helps with Book Week activities.
Home in the Rain is written and illustrated by Bob Graham (Walker Books Australia)
A mother and daughter, Francie, are driving home from Grandma’s in heavy rain. The illustrations suggest that they are possibly African-Australian. The mother is pregnant with a baby sister for Francie. They stop en route to have a picnic in the car.
While driving, Francie uses her finger to write names on the foggy windows.
Spell words with their fingers using different media, e.g. play-dough, sand, polystyrene balls, or fingerpainting with paint.
Alternatively, if the weather is cold, they could blow on windows to make steam and then write words or names.
This picture book is also appropriate for very young readers, partly because of the interest generated by the animals shown outside the car, such as the baby rabbit diving for cover, the hunting kestrel, and a seagull eating chips.
Children could make cork creatures of the animals shown in the book and hide them around the library, classroom or home.
Outis written by Angela May George and illustrated by Owen Swan (Scholastic Press)
After reading Out, read other refugee stories such as Teacup, Ziba Came on a Boat, My Two Blankets, The Treasure Box and Little Refugee.
Music/Dance The girl dances at school to different music.
The teacher, parent or carer could play music from cultures represented by refugees in Australia and children could dance to this music.
English The child’s mother has English lessons.
Children could learn a few words from languages spoken by refugees in Australia.
My Brother is written and illustrated by Dee Huxley, character creation and illustration by Oliver Huxley and design by Tiffany Huxley (Working Title Press)
Children could emulate the structure and changing colour of the illustrations in the book by folding a piece of paper to form a left and right hand side. On the left side they could draw or paint in monochrome colours to represent sorrow and grief. Then, beside this on the right hand side, they could illustrate using warm colours to represent happiness and hope.
One Photo is written by Ross Watkins, illustrated by Liz Anelli (Penguin Random House Australia)
At home, children could take photos of family and important things.
Then they could select one best photo of people or something that is important for them to remember.
Print the photo at home if possible, or digitally send to school ready for printing.
Form and display a class montage with one photo from each child.
Mechanica: a beginner’s field guide by Lance Balchin (The Five Mile Press, Bonnier Publishing Australia)
Alternatively, construct 3-D winged creatures similar to those on the endpapers using found and made materials, such as foil.
Children could also make up their own 2-D creature in the style of those in the book. Present these on a double-page using the format of the book, where there is both an illustration and a written description.
The Patchwork Bike is written by Maxine Beneba Clarke, illustrated by Van T Rudd (Hachette Australia)
Make a large bike as a class. If possible, make it big enough to sit on.
Try to use materials shown in the book:
Bent bucket seat, handlebar branches
Bashed tin can handles, wood cut wheels
Flag from flour sack, small pot bell
Painted on lights, bark numberplate
Paint Movement Practise the technique of smearing paint to show movement.
By Neridah McMullin, illustrated by Andrew McLean Allen & Unwin
Another amazing animal in the Eve Pownall shortlisted books is the horse, Fabish. He was an old horse who rescued the yearlings from the terrible Black Saturday bushfire. The trainer rescued the finest race horses but couldn’t look after them all so he set Fabish free with the yearlings. He discovered every single one safe after the decimating fire but didn’t know where Fabian had taken them.
Picture book form is an apt medium for this true story. Important Australian illustrator, Andrew McLean, is an expert in painting our countryside and animals and Neridah McMullin has crystallised the events into a riveting tale.
Primary-age children could no doubt imagine where the horses may have found safety. They could write and draw their possible experiences.
By Michael Sedunary, illustrated by Bern Emmerichs Berbay Publishing
This tale begins in 1808, 20 years after the First Fleet, when soldiers arrest Governor Bligh. It then retrospectively tells the account of the Mutiny on the Bounty before returning to Bligh’s attempts to quell both the Rum Rebellion and John Macarthur.
Michael Sedunary’s writing is picturesque and colourful; personalising Bligh’s life and endeavours.
Bern Emmerichs’ illustrations are intricate and patterned.
Surprisingly, blogging and social media appear in this book. Bligh’s log (now kept in Sydney’s Mitchell Library) relates blogging to the gossip, printed pamphlets and handbills of the period. Macarthur’s ‘tweets’ against Bligh are viewed as the social media of the time.
The first Australian political cartoon (adapted here) shows Bligh dragged from under his bed by Major Johnston’s men. Propaganda is explained and readers are asked to think about how ‘simple slogans and labels are meant to stop us thinking any further about things.’
More surprises appear when readers are asked to consider who is the hero or villain – Cook or Bligh? (Cook ordered many more floggings than Bligh.)
Other books in the series are What’s Your Story? and The Unlikely Story of Bennelong and Phillip.
Enormous congratulations to Berbay Publishing for its Bologna Award.
The Eve Pownall Information Books this year span the ABC, animals and history.
They highlight several small, independent publishers, who should be congratulated on their excellent publications.
Spellbound: Making Pictures with the ABC
By Maree Coote Melbournestyle Books
Spellbound also won a 2017 Bologna Ragazzi Award. It’s a large, sumptuous hardcover in three parts: architecture, animals and people, and features typography (letter art) where images are created from letters that spell their names.
Young children could find the letters in the illustrations. Older readers could appreciate the typographic poetry (shape poetry) where the meaning of the text is enhanced visually.
I spoke to the creator, Maree, on the day before she flew to Bologna to receive her award, who explained that she has restricted herself to using existing fonts.
There are three levels of difficulty within the book’s examples: 1. any letters that inspire a picture can be used 2. only use letters of the correct spelling of the subject’s name 3. only use correct spelling and only 1 font per letter (see page 3).
This book helps understanding of Visual Literacy. (See page 3 for line and shape, and page 63 for patterns.)
Children could use Macs, or equivalent, to create their own letter art.
There is even a mini tutorial on how to create animals using only letters.
A-Z of Endangered Animals
Words and Illustrations by Jennifer Cossins Red Parka Press
The Introduction explains how the high animal extinction rate is due largely to humans, and also introduced species such as rabbits and foxes, in Australia.
Everyone can help by reusing and recycling, keeping beaches clean and not wasting water.
The book is well-designed; it’s clean and clear.
It is structured with one animal representing each letter of the alphabet.
Information on the left-hand page includes conservation (e.g. endangered or vulnerable) status; current population; description of the animal and where it lives; and an interesting fact such as no two tigers have the same striped pattern, and eastern gorillas use basic tools to gather food.
Each animal is illustrated on the opposite page.
Primary-aged children could focus on Australian endangered animals and present information using the same format, possibly to make a class book.
Amazing Animals of Australia’s National Parks
By Gina M. Newton National Library of Australia
Like A-Z Endangered Animals, Amazing Animals of Australia’s National Parks shows which species are endangered, vulnerable or threatened (their conservation status).
Every state and territory is included, so readers may be able to visit one.
The structure is organised by environments and habitats such as woodlands and grasslands (the Bush), wetlands and waterways, arid zones and coast, oceans and islands.
Each habitat has a double page, followed by one page each for selected animals.
Read this book to discover more about our wildlife and how to care for the environment
There are high-quality photos, interesting ‘fast facts’ and a glossary.
I will write about the 3 other Eve Pownall shortlisted books in another post.
The 2017 CBCA Early Childhood Short List features animals (as always), with two picture books specifically about birds. Two books are about farms and one is set on a Northern Territory camp. Family remains an evergreen theme and humour is the core of some of the books.
Go Home, Cheeky Animals! written by Johanna Bell, illustrated by Dion Beasley (A&U)
This funny story is the stand-alone sequel to Too Many Cheeky Dogs. The book is sponsored by the NT Government and has an engaging narrative with a cyclic structure based on the seasons and changing weather. Animals are the highlight, though. At first, too many cheeky dogs keep the other animals away. Then the rains bring a gang of goats, the sweaty season brings a ‘drove of donkeys’, cool winds bring a herd of horses and drought brings a bunch of buffaloes and caravan of camels. But when it storms, ‘all the cheeky animals go crazy’. And the cheeky dogs do nothing to stop them, for a while …
Illustrator, Dion Beasley is a 24-year-old Indigenous man with muscular dystrophy. He is also deaf so he and author, Johanna Bell, collaborate using Skype and sign language. He has a naïve drawing style with plenty of humour, such as how he shows when something happens to Grandpa’s pants, and when goats drive. The endpapers give an overview of all the animals. Children could practise counting animals throughout the book and the Too Many Cheeky Dogs website includes a child-friendly activity of making wrapping paper with cheeky dogs.
Family is important to this story and includes Dad, Mum, Grandpa, Uncle, Aunty, brother, sister, but no Grandma. Nannie Loves fills this gap.
Nannie Loves by Kylie Dunstan (Working Title Press)
Nannie lives on a cosy and inviting farm, with ‘rolling hills, a muddy creek and lots of paddocks, green in winter, brown in summer’. It is a quintessential Australian setting and makes us want to walk into the story. The scenes are contained to provide an appropriate focused framework for young readers; there is repetition of the words, ‘Nannie loves …’ to help beginning readers; and there are some wordless pages.
Nannie collects her mail wearing her gumboots. She loves her letters, her animals, her garden and her family. She laughs with her family who help her work around the farm. She loves them and she loves the young narrator. This book has a gentle humour, such as when Nannie watches for Grandpa in one of his many checked shirts.
Kylie Dunstan has used paper collage, gouache and pencil.
The greens of Nannie’s farm change to browns of a drought-stricken farm in All I Want for Christmas is Rain.
This storybegins clearly with an illustrated bird’s eye overview of a dry farm. In the rhyming text, the protagonist, Jane, asks Santa for help with her family’s threatened property, ‘My mission was clear – I had hatched a great plan: I would ask for help from the great bearded man.’
Santa seems to fulfil her wish and there is a particularly evocative picture of the family dancing in the rain and mud on Christmas Day.
Children could extend their experience of this story by reading some other Australian Christmas stories such as Glenda Millard and Stephen Michael King’s Applesauce and the Christmas Miracle and Colin Buchanan‘s books, or by painting an Australian farm scene using mud.
In contrast, The Snow Wombat is set in a very different part of Australian.
The Snow Wombatwritten by Susannah Chambers, illustrated by Mark Jackson (A & U)
Showing a wombat’s life in the snow is an original idea for a picture book. Like some of the other useful endpapers in books described here, these endpapers are a highlight and show a map of the wombat’s movements and haunts.
Every sentence begins with the word ‘snow’, and many begin with the phrase ‘snow on …’, which is helpful for beginning readers. The repetitive, simple text becomes even more predictive, encouraging young children to say or ‘read’ the rhyming word.
After reading the book, children could make wombat footprints in ‘snow’ using baking powder and conditioner or shaving cream. Tracks of some of the other animals in the book could also be made by indenting the ‘snow’ with fingers or sticks.
In a different illustrative style, cartoon seagull, Chip, follows with a funny story.
Chip loves eating chips – fat, skinny, soggy, sandy, crunchy, spicy chilli-dipped chips – even though he doesn’t feel well afterwards. This is a tale about healthy eating in the guise of a hilarious story about Chip and the length he goes to eat when people are banned from feeding the gulls.
The illustrations include newspaper collage (apt because it’s used for wrapping fish and chips; a newspaper article also features). My favourite illustration shows Chip with a noodle box on his head and noodles streaming out like hair.
Another bird protagonist in the Short List is Gary.
Gary is a racing pigeon who can’t fly but dreams of adventure. He works on his scrapbook of travel mementos on race days when he’s left alone in the loft, even though he’s never travelled. When he lost his balance one night, he fell into the travel basket and was carried far from home to the city. Of course the racing pigeons flew home, but Gary was left by himself. Fortunately he had his scrapbook of travel mementos and was able to plot his way back to the loft.
This is a very appealing story of overcoming obstacles or disability and of flourishing in different surroundings. New situations can be frightening for children and Gary demonstrates courage and ingenuity, which could help young readers.
The illustrations are created using mixed media and, again, in this book we find interesting endpapers.
After reading the story, children could use found objects and mixed media to create their own scrapbook about travel.
I’ve just been presenting about Australian children’s and YA literature at the international IBBY (International Board on Books for Young People) Congress in Auckland, New Zealand. This is the first time the conference has been held so far south, it’s usually a preserve of the northern hemisphere. NZ did an excellent job as host.
Australian authors and illustrators such as our Children’s Laureate Leigh Hobbs (Mr Chicken, Old Tom), as well as Ursula Dubosarsky (The Golden Day), Bronwyn Bancroft (Colours of Australia), Nadia Wheatley (Papunya, My Place, illustrated by Donna Rawlins) and Marcus Zusak (The Book Thief) were recognised at the conference, alongside international creators.
Legendary NZ author Joy Cowley spoke after a warm traditional Maori welcome by adult and children’s groups. I reviewed Joy’s Speed of Light for the Weekend Australian and one of her famous characters, Mrs Wishy Washy was brought exuberantly to life throughout the conference. Joy’s 80th birthday was also celebrated. Other keynote and major speakers included Whale Rider’s Witi Ihimaera, Ghana’s Meshack Asare and Kate de Goldi (The 10pm Question) whose most recent children’s novel From the Cutting Room of Barney Kettle just won the Esther Glen Junior Fiction Book Award (NZ Book Awards for Children & Young Adults 2016). Kate was also on a panel with the incredible Katherine Paterson and Ursula Dubosarsky, chaired by UK children’s book critic Julia Eccleshare. This session was a highlight.
Sir Richard Taylor and Martin Bayton from Weta Workshop, which was responsible for the animations and effects in movies such as Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, Avatar and The Chronicles of Narnia also presented some stunning visuals. Sir Richard had a useful quote, ‘The art of innovation is to throw yourself at failure and simply miss.’
The CBCA winners and honour awards were announced just after my presentation, which was chaired by Nadia Wheatley, so it was a privilege to be able to congratulate Nadia on her winning picture book (illustrated by Armin Greder), Flight.
I presented after speakers from Norway and Sweden and was followed by a Canadian speaker. Exciting to be a part of such diversity. I was thrilled to share books by some of our iconic and talented authors and illustrators including How the Sun Got to Coco’s House by Bob Graham, Fog a Dox by Bruce Pascoe, One Would Think the Deep by Claire Zorn, A Single Stone by Meg McKinlay, Cloudwish by Fiona Wood (which was announced as CBCA winner for Older Readers), The Other Christie by Oliver Phommavanh, Maralinga’s Long Shadow by Christobel Mattingley, some verse novels – Another Night in Mullet Town and The Spangled Drongo by Stephen Herrick and Sister Heart by Sally Morgan (announced as a CBCA Honour book), plus a number of other picture books, novels and graphic novels.
We were fortunate that table places weren’t set at the Gala Dinner. People could select where they sat and we had the pleasure of the company of delegates from countries as diverse as Haiti, Japan, South Korea, Norway and Samoa. As a proud Australian I was able to answer the quiz question about which country won the Hans Christian Andersen award (administered by IBBY) in the same year for both author and illustrator.
Patricia Wrightson and Robert Ingpen both won in 1986, the only Australians to have ever won this most prestigious international award.
The final highlight was another coincidental one. We spoke to a distinguished lady before dinner and shared information about where we lived and why we were at the conference. This lady informed us that she is an author. Imagine my shock after asking her name to discover we had been speaking (without realising it) to children’s book royalty, Lynley Dodd, creator of Hairy Maclary!
War is a recurring theme in the 2016 CBCA shortlisted books and dominates the picture book category.
Ride Ricardo Rideby Phil Cummings, illustrated by Shane Devries (Omnibus Books, Scholastic Australia) has an Italian war setting, where the soldiers are portrayed as menacing shadows. It particularly looks at the relationship between Ricardo and his father, who work together on Ricardo’s bike (a major symbol in the book).
The illustrations include panels superimposed over larger digital paintings and strategic cropping of heads, and it looks to be influenced by the artwork of John Brack.
Suri’s Wall by Lucy Estela, illustrated by Matt Ottley (Penguin Random House) has the inevitable sorry pairing of war and refugees.
Suri is treated with suspicion by the other children who live with her behind the wall because she is tall. But her height enables her to look over the wall to see the devastation beyond. However, she tells them tales of very different settings inspired by imagination and beauty. Themes include occupation, difference, imagination, resilience, compassion and hope. Books with similar issues and themes are The Cat at the Wall by Deborah Ellis, The Wall by William Sutcliffe and The Kites are Flying by Michael Morpurgo.
Flight by Nadia Wheatley, illustrated by Armin Greder (Windy Hollow Books) has already been shortlisted for the NSW Premier’s Literary awards – the Patricia Wrightson prize. It begins with a small family fleeing into the desert to escape persecution, which parallels the Biblical story of Mary, Joseph and Jesus fleeing to Egypt. It shows how “an ancient story becomes a fable for our times”. The merging of the Biblical story with a contemporary refugee tale has been more than seven years in the making with prominent author Nadia Wheatley (My Place, Papunya) writing many drafts.
And the Band Played Waltzing Matildaby Bruce Whatley & Eric Bogle (Allen & Unwin) is a confronting anti war cry. It is a ballad as a protest song – and is not for young readers. It’s about Gallipoli, although written in response to the Vietnam War. It is structured around the Eric Bogle song, as well as Waltzing Matilda.
The illustrations could be compared with Whatley’s illustrations for Jackie French’s The Beach they Called Gallipoli (digitally manipulated photos & pen in watercolour and acrylic collages). Here the illustrations feature searing line drawings, allusive blood splotches and are dominated by the narrator soldier’s direct gaze.
One Step at a Timeby Jane Jolly (who wrote Tea and Sugar Christmas), illustrated by Sally Heinrich (Midnight Sun Publishing), explores the repercussions of land mines in Burma. The illustrations are reproductions of hand coloured lino prints. Panelling (panel strips) and movement lines are used effectively across the cover and elsewhere. Repeated motifs of elephants and other symbols make decorative borders but the underlying issue in this book is not pretty.
My Dead Bunnyby Sigi Cohen, illustrated by James Foley (Walker Books) is not a war story in the conventional sense, although it is raising heated views. It is a zombie rabbit tale, told with over the top humour and rhyming couplets: “I poked at Bradley with a stick – his fur was muddy, damp and thick, and in his final resting place, the worms had tried to eat his face”. The illustrations are in digital comic style using a predominately black and white colour scheme with sparing touches of lime and orange.
Phasmid is the first children’s book published by CSIRO, and they are very excited about its CBCA shortlisting. The Lord Howe Island stick insect was thought to be extinct, eaten by rats, but just enough survived on Balls Pyramid, a rocky outcrop. The tale of the stick insect, including its successful breeding in captivity, is told from its own imagined point of view. Lord Howe Island is one of the most glorious places in the world and it is great to see it showcased in this thoughtful book.
This colourful historical fiction tells the story of Australian female spy, Nancy Wake, who was a pivotal part of the French Resistance in WW2. Her story is told in present tense, rather than the usual past tense for history. Information is recorded on pages torn from a notebook and the illustrations are a combination of full-page spreads and panels. Gouldthorpe uses the illustrative technique of hatching throughout.
Katauskas is a political cartoonist for major Australian newspapers. This book includes diversity in race and sexual orientation. It addresses childhood, puberty, intercourse (not under a blanket as many of these type of books have done in the past), fertilisation, multiple births, IVF, sperm and egg donation, the growing baby in the uterus and birth.
The cartoon style is engaging and adds to the humour, which includes egg jokes such as ‘eggspedition’ and ‘eggciting’.
The author’s credo is: ‘Human bodies do all sorts of amazing things, but making little humans is one of the most amazing things of all.’
It’s incredible what children could (or can) do! In the 1930s during the Great Depression nine-year old Lennie rode his pony alone to Sydney for the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. The trip was 1000km; he was away for four months and faced bushfire and flood. Indomitable! The digitally coloured photographs look impressive.
Ancestry: Stories of Multicultural Anzacs by Robyn Siers (Department of Veteran Affairs)
The introduction is a useful summary of the contents of this informative book. Like Ruth Starke and Robert Hannaford’s My Gallipoli, Ancestry stands out from other books about the Anzacs because of its multicultural focus.
A particularly interesting chapter is about Aboriginal Frank Fisher who lived on the Barambah settlement, north west of Brisbane. As we also learn in Sue Lawson’s novel Freedom Ride, authorities on these settlements controlled the finances, work and even marriages of the Aboriginal residents. Frank was treated as an equal for the first time in WW1 but this didn’t last and he was discriminated against on his return. Even his pay was controlled. His son Frank Junior became a Qld rugby legend but wasn’t allowed to play in England under the 1897 ‘Aboriginal Protection and Restrictions of the sale of Opium Act’. Frank Junior’s granddaughter is Cathy Freeman.
This YA text set on the Ballarat goldfields in the 1850s is adapted from The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka, which won the Stella Prize. The original book took ten years to research. Wright has changed the historical record by re-writing history to show the female, Aboriginal, youth and Chinese (the under-represented) versions.
I adore Anna Branford’s endearing character Violet Mackerel, who features in her own series for young girls, illustrated by Sarah Davis (Walker Books). Violet is written exquisitely and her empathy and kindness moves me even on multiple readings. The most recent instalment is Violet Mackerel’s Formal Occasion.
Thanks for speaking with Boomerang Books, Anna.
Such a pleasure!
Where are you based and how involved are you in the children’s lit world?
I live in Melbourne in a little apartment that looks down over a park. It is just about perfect for a writer as it’s very quiet but at the same time, I can see the world going by. As for my involvement in the children’s lit world, besides writing, I’ve been doing lots of school visits and touring this year and I’ve also had the opportunity to present at two writers’ festivals too, Brisbane and Melbourne, both of which were fantastic.
How else do you spend your time?
I lecture in Sociology at Victoria University, teaching on topics like childhood and religion. And I also love making things by hand, especially dolls and nests. I love knitting and felting and that kind of thing.
What inspired you to write the ‘Violet Mackerel’ series?
In a funny sort of way, the inspiration actually came through doll making. I was selling my dolls at an especially beautiful Melbourne country market, St Andrews, which is outdoors and starts very early in the morning. It was during the winter so it was still dark. There was a fire and some people were playing fiddles and flutes, and even though the sun was coming up there were still stars in the sky. It was a bit magical really. I noticed that some of the people setting up their own stalls had children with them still in pajamas and half asleep, watching the market forming all around them. And as I was wondering what they thought about it all, somehow Violet and her family popped into my mind.
Could you tell us something about your main characters? Are the children or adults modelled on real people?
One of the funny things about writing is that for me, I often don’t realise where my influences and ideas come from until after I’ve finished the story. Then, as I reread, I realise how very much like my sister Violet is, or how similar Violet’s mum’s reaction is to something I have recently felt myself. Retrospectively, I can usually see exactly where each trait and characteristic comes from, but it’s never intentional at the time of writing. I see my sister, my friends (especially young friends) and sometimes myself in the characters I write about.
I love reading about Violet’s family’s creativity and involvement with making things and going to markets. Do you also like these things?
I absolutely love them. I grew up with parents who often made things and who encouraged my sister and I to make things too. And for me markets, and especially craft markets, are places where you get to see newborn ideas, fresh from people’s minds and hands. I also feel a lot of love for handwork with small and slightly uneven stitches and unintended fingerprints in clay – all the evidence of the love of human hands.
How closely have you collaborated with illustrator Sarah Davis?
I love working with her. In some ways you could say we collaborate closely in that we are absolutely co-creators of Violet and her family. But at the same time, many of the ideas in the Violet stories come purely from Sarah and are a wonderful surprise for me when I first open a set of illustrations for a new Violet story. Lots of the humour especially! In the later books in the series, Violet’s teddy bear has become a hilarious side character in the stories, reflecting Violet’s emotions and thoughts. That is purely Sarah’s doing and I enjoy it as much as any reader of the series!
Why is a different illustrator used in overseas editions?
Violet has actually had four different illustrators in her different editions! I believe that is pretty unusual and I’m not sure of the reasons behind the choices publishers make about these things, but my best guess is that an ‘ordinary family’ like the Mackerels is actually quite a specific idea depending on the culture and society it is being portrayed for. It has been hugely interesting for me to see both the differences and the similarities in the way the characters have been created in their various incarnations.
Have you received any responses from young readers about Violet Mackerel that particularly resonate with you?
One thing I would never have guessed when I started out as a writer is the wonderful mail you begin to get! I’ve received beautiful handmade gifts from children and lovely stories from parents telling me that a Violet book was the first their child read independently from cover to cover. That just amazes me. I’ve heard from a few young readers that they think of Violet as their own friend, and that resonates with me a lot. When I was young my family moved very often and I always has to leave friends behind, so I know how important portable book friends can be for children.
What else have you written?
Just recently I have been working on my new series about Lily the Elf. Lily lives with her dad and her granny in an elf house under a bridge, with a moss garden and a huge (to her) dandelion overhead. So she is an urban sort of elf who exists, as lots of us do, in the city but also in an incorporated natural world. And although there is a lot about her life that is elf-specific, such as her tininess, she is a relatable character too, and deals with lots of the same troubles and delights that children her age do. I’m having a lot of fun creating this series in collaboration with Lisa Coutts, an illustrator who captures Lily’s world so beautifully that I secretly suspect she may be half-elf herself.
What awards have your books won or been shortlisted for?
I’ve been very lucky in this department over the past few years! Violet Mackerel’s Brilliant Plot was Honour Book in the 2011 Children’s Book Council of Australia Book of the Year Awards, Younger Readers category. In 2013, Violet Mackerel’s Personal Space won the Young Readers/Picture Book Award category of the Australian Family Therapists’ Award and was short-listed for the 2013 Children’s Peace Literature Awards. And in 2014, Violet Mackerel’s Possible Friend was short-listed for the CBCA Book of the Year Awards, Younger Readers category.
What are you writing at the moment?
I’m working on two things at the moment, a new Lily the Elf story about the trickiness of parting with old things even though you don’t really need them any more. And another thing that is top secret!
What have you enjoyed reading?
My favourite book of all time is Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame. I read it when I’m feeling sad and it is like an old friend. I read it when I get sick and it makes me feel better. I read it at Christmas and it fills the time with magic. I think there will always be at least a bit of happiness with me all my life, so long as I always have a copy on my shelves.
More recently I have been some of Banana Yoshimoto’s books and enjoying them very much and wishing I could travel to see some of the places she is writing about.
Christmas is coming. How do you plan to celebrate and what books would you like as Christmas presents?
I absolutely love Christmas! This morning my sister, my mum and I are also taking my three-year-old niece to ride the Christmas train at Myer and to see a gingerbread village. In the afternoon I am going to choose myself a Christmas tree. I celebrate non-stop all through December. I can never sing enough carols, or see enough lights and gingerbread creations, or wrap enough presents or light enough candles! But for Christmas itself my partner and I will disappear up into the mountains and have a couple of very peaceful days together, which is one of my favourite things of all. This year I would love to start sharing Alison Lester’s beautiful books with my niece so I am hoping for a copy of Magic Beach.
Where can people find you and Violet on social media?
Meet James Moloney, author of The Beauty is in the Walking
James Moloney is a statesman in the world of Australian YA and children’s books. The hilarious Black TaxiandKill the Possumfor YA and Dougy, Swashbuckler and Buzzard Breath and Brainsfor children are among my favourites of his books. I store his novels behind glass in my special cabinet for revered Australian authors.
Thanks for talking to Boomerang Books, James.
Where are you based and how involved are you in the world of children’s and YA lit?
I live in Brisbane, where I write in a cabin at the bottom of my yard. I’ve been writing YA and books for younger kids for thirty years. My first novel was published in 1992 and after my next five titles did very well I took the risk and gave up my job as a teacher librarian to become a full time writer in 1997. I’ve enjoyed writing fantasy as well with ‘The Book of Lies’ being my best known. Since I’m now close to fifty titles, I suppose I’m classed as ‘an old hand’ in the world of YA lit.
Ah, tricky answer that one. The publishers did not like my original title, which happens sometimes. (I had to change the title of my first novel, in fact). We workshopped ideas for a new title until an editor at Harper Collins come up with this. I liked it straight away for its lyrical sound and the way it nailed Jacob’s attitude towards his disability. It also linked nicely to his self-proclaimed expertise as a ‘connoisseur of walks’ stemming from his growing teenage attraction to girls.
Only later did I discover the words are part of a quote from Welsh poet Gwyn Thomas, ‘The beauty is in the walking – we are betrayed by destinations’ but now that I do know, I like it even better.
There is a big push for diversity in YA lit. What diversity have you shown in this novel?
I wrote this novel partly in response to a challenge from an old friend/editor to explore how disabled teenagers seek love and explore their sexuality. Since people with a physical or intellectual disability have always been marginalized throughout the world, telling a story about a boy living with cerebral palsy could be seen as showing diversity. It’s important to understand, though, that I didn’t self-consciously build the story around that theme, any more than I set out to write my novel ‘Dougy’ and its sequel ‘Gracey’ because the main characters were Indigenous Australians. In both instances, I wanted to tell a good yarn that I felt compelled to write. I’d like young people to read ‘The Beauty is in the Walking’ as the story of a boy growing up and moving into the next phase of his life who happens to have a disability.
A second example of diversity in the novel is the Lebanese Muslim family that Jacob becomes involved with. The story is set in a country town where communities can sometimes be slow to embrace non-Anglo and especially non- European ethnic groups, especially after recent terrorist acts by people of Middle Eastern origin. Readers will note that Jacob has very little contact with Soraya and virtually none with Mahmoud, the boy he attempts to exonerate after the boy is falsely accused of a disgusting crime. Jacob is only partially motivated by anti-racist sentiment. Mostly he undertakes the role of defender to prove himself and rise above the ‘disability’ prejudice that is holding him back.
How did you create the character of Jacob?
Like I always do, I spent some time trying to ‘be’ him, to think like a seventeen year old with CP, reading about how young people cope with their disability and I interviewed a women in her early thirties whose CP had consigned her to a wheel chair since her teens. She had recently had her first child. The results were surprising. A lot was written and said about the assumptions that able-bodied people make about CP sufferers, especially the tendency to assume a person with laboured movements and speech must be intellectually disabled as well. I was also pleased to hear that many people with CP are highly mischievous and have a great sense of humour.
How important is writing about boys for you?
‘Gracey’, ‘Angela’, ‘Black Taxi’, ‘Bridget: A New Australian’ and the entire Silvermay fantasy series are all written in the first person from a female character’s perspective, so I do write about girls. However, I’m seen more as a writer for boys and I have written and spoken extensively about encouraging boys to read, so definitely, it is important to me. I think I have an innate understanding of a certain type of male character stemming from my teen years. I have often said that writers need to have something to say and mostly I say it to boys. My characters tend to share a lot with me in their interior lives so perhaps the importance to me is the continual exploration of my own masculinity. I‘m very aware that boys don’t easily externalise self-doubt, anxiety and their deeply felt needs thanks to social expectations so it’s important to explore such things in novels about boys which boys can quietly delve into as a counterbalance.
You’ve written many books, including award-winners. Could you tell us about some?
My earliest award winners were ‘Dougy’ and ‘Gracey’ which seemed to strike a need at the time to understand the experience of Indigenous Australians. Dougy saves his much loved sister, Gracey, from the violent madness that briefly overcomes their small outback town. I continued the story with that sister’s experience when her athletic ability wins her a scholarship to boarding school. Her years there separate her from her cultural roots and she has to re-make her personal identity in order to cope.
‘A Bridge to Wiseman’s Cove’ is the one everyone loves. Winner of the Children’s Book Council award in 1997, it tell of lonely, overweight Carl Matt whose been abandoned by his mother in a seaside town where his family name is roundly despised. When he leaves school to work for and ultimately save a struggling barge service, he finds new strengths in himself and forms the friendships that help him understand there is love and a place for himself in the world.
How else do you spend your time?
I love movies and TV series like Game of Thrones and Breaking Bad. I read, of course, in order to shamelessly steal ideas from other authors. I ride my bike for exercise and I’ve even ridden around Europe, although any image of the Tour de France you might create in your mind is laughably inaccurate.
Which books would you like for Christmas?
I see Anne Tyler has a new book out – ‘A Spool of Blue Thread’. I love her work and Isobelle Carmody has finally finished her grand series with ‘The Red Queen’. But really, I’d like someone to choose a couple of great new YA novels not set in a dystopian land or part of any series and put them under my tree. Christmas is a time I go into bookshops to really look around. I often give books to family as presents (and they do the same for me) and then we end up sharing them around.
It’s a pleasure, Joy, thanks so much for asking me.
Where are you based and how involved are you in the world of children’s and YA lit?
We moved to Geelong two years ago from a smaller regional town. Though we loved our life in that time, it was time to move, and it’s been a great move on so many levels. I’m loving the access to so many beautiful beaches, an incredibly sourced and staffed library, and, well, all Geelong has to offer. The proximity to Melbourne is another huge bonus, which not only makes catching up with friends easier, but makes attending many more literary events and festivals of all descriptions. And our friends from our old home are nearby.
I’m passionate about children’s and YA lit, the readers and connecting readers with books. I’m a member of wonderful organisations like SCWBI and CBCA Victoria, but my ability to support and be involved with them has been curtailed for health and family reasons of late. I’m hoping there will be a time when I can devote more energy to the CBCA, particularly. I’m fortunate to be asked to visit schools, present at festivals and other events, which gives me the chance to work with and listen to young people, and to spread the love about reading and writing. For me, it’s all about creating readers.
Where and when is your most recent YA novel, Freedom Ride, (Black Dog Books, Walker Books) set and what is its major concern?
Freedom Ride is set in fictional Walgaree, a small town in country NSW, at the end of 1964 and start of 1965. It culminates with the Freedom Ride, led by Charles Perkins, arriving in Walgaree. The Freedom Ride was organised to highlight and protest the treatment and the living conditions of Aboriginal people.
It is an era I knew very little about, I’m ashamed to say. My research broke my heart, and angered me on so many levels, especially as I had no idea how bad it had been, and continues to be. I wanted to explore how a teenage boy, who knew so much of what was going on around him was wrong, yet didn’t have the power change anything, might behave.
How do you think Australian attitudes have changed since this time?
How long to do you have?
I think, hope, we are moving forward, but we have such a long, long way to go. Until Australia as a nation acknowledges the treatment, the abuse and wrongs Aboriginal people have endured, as painful as it is, true healing can’t occur. I am absolutely no expert, I just come from the belief it is the right thing to do.
How did you create your major protagonist, Robbie?
I knew I wanted Robbie to find the courage to stand up to not only his father and grandmother, but to his friends and the Walgaree community. I love that quote attributed to Edmund Burke, that the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. Though Robbie’s stand is tiny in the scheme of things, if each of us stood up, then it’s a start.
To create Robbie, I started with beliefs and attitudes, and how his conflicted with his father and grandmothers’ opinions. I wanted him to feel alienated at home, so that when he encountered the accepting and generous Barry, he was open to the contrast.
As always, I create character profiles and collages for my major characters. Doing this helps me get beneath my characters’ skin and know them as well as they know themselves.
What values or qualities are important to your characters?
That varies, depending on the character and the story. For Robbie, his sense of right and wrong was important, as was his honesty and courage. Hope was vital too.
Actually all my characters have buckets of courage and hope – they need it survive the turmoil I make them face!
It’s also important to for me to understand their motivations – from Robbie to his friends, to his grandmother – I need to know why they behave as they do. That helps me be more compassionate, especially when the overwhelming urge to slap them (Nan!!) is hard to control…and I am the least violent person!
Your writing is clear and engaging. Do you work to achieve this clarity or is it your natural style?
Oh, gosh, thank you.
My husband’s grandmother had an expression I love – talks as her guts guide her.
Well, I think that’s me. I write as my gut, or heart, guides me. I get it down then edit, edit, edit, and pare back as much as I can. I’m so lucky to have worked with and continue to work with incredibly supportive editors and publishers – Karen Tayleur, Maryann Ballantyne, Andrew Kelly and Helen Chamberlin especially – who trawl through the quagmire and find the essence of what I am trying to say. Sometimes they get it way before I do!
You’ve written many books. Could you tell us about some, including After, which is one of my favourites?
Thank you! I love Callum and After. He is possibly one of my favourite characters…but then Pan is so damaged, and what about Dare You‘s Khaden?
All my books explore how young people cope in horrid situations, usually every day, situations. I love exploring that time when we discover who we truly are, and find the courage to be true to that. Pretty sure I’m still working on it.
After deals with a boy who had it all – popular, legend status at a big, city school etc, etc, but one incident changes his life forever. After was sparked by a 100 word newspaper report about a horrific incident, which I can’t detail without giving away the book. It started me thinking about how a young person ever came to terms with what had happened.
Pan’s Whisper was sparked when I started wondering why two people can live the same experience but remember it so differently. And what role does age play in the recall?
You Don’t Even Know is about judgements and stereotypes, fitting in, grief and courage. That Alex!
Yes, I do become very attached to my characters!
All of my books start with a question, or series of questions and develop from there.
Apart from writing, how else do you spend your time?
I work part-time for Bay FM, the Geelong commercial station. I was a radio announcer in a past life, as well as a teacher! The radio job is so much fun, and I get to do a book review and interview my talented friends!
I love to hang out with my husband and daughter and friends, read (surprise!) and watch movies. I have a serious stationery addiction, (the gorgeous staff in our Kiki K know me by name…I know!! It’s tragic!) and being at the beach.
Which books would you like for Christmas?
Right, strap yourself in!
The Strays – Emily Britto…I know, I haven’t read it yet!!!
The Eye of the Sheep – Sofie Laguna – I read it a while ago and LOVED it. That Ned! He is unforgettable. I need to read it again…slowly and savour each bit.
The next Game of Thrones…for the love of God, George Martin…hurry up!!!!
Like one of those demtel ads, there is more, but that will do. Notice there aren’t many YA novels on the list? I buy them straight away. Just finished Vikki Wakefield‘s new one. Man, she is one hell of a writer!
Thanks for talking to Boomerang Books about The Peony Lantern, Frances.
It’s my pleasure.
Where are you based and how involved are you in the world of children’s and YA lit?
I’m based in Sydney. I’ve been involved in the children’s lit world for many years now, through membership of the Children’s Book Council of Australia NSW, IBBY and the Australian Society of Authors – and of course I love the opportunity to meet authors, illustrators, teachers, librarians, booksellers and (most importantly) the readers – i.e. kids – at festivals, libraries and schools. I’m new to YA lit, with my first YA book (The Raven’s Wingreviewed here) published last year, and I’ve been really inspired by the passion, commitment and support of the YA community for each other and the genre. The #LoveOzYa movement is a great example of this. (And it’s introduced me to some great books!) I’m also involved with Books in Homes (as a Role Model) and the Reading Hour.
What is the significance of your title, The Peony Lantern?
‘The Peony Lantern’ (ABC Books, HarperCollins) is actually the title of a traditional Japanese ghost story; Japan has a rich tradition of ghost stories which I drew on in the writing of The Peony Lantern. I can’t say much more than that without spoiling a big twist!
How did you create the Japanese historical setting?
I began by reading about the historical period – the book is set in 1857, which was a particularly tumultuous time in Edo (now called Tokyo) – to establish the social and political background for the book, before gradually narrowing my focus down to the specifics of setting: a samurai mansion in Edo, an inn in the remote Kiso Valley. Then I moved on to dress, architecture, cuisine, culture. What I really want to convey – because it is what I am interested in myself – is the daily life of the characters. Once I had a general idea of the main settings, I then travelled to Japan and visited the places I intended to write about. That gave me a richness of detail; the scent of the trees in the Kiso Valley and the number of steps to the village shrine, local legends and culinary specialties…In Tokyo there are a few museums that recreate the streets and buildings of the Edo period, so visiting them was invaluable. The research is one of my favourite parts of writing historical fiction. I’m completely obsessed with Japan now!
How did you create the character of Kasumi?
I wanted a character who was observant and to put her in a situation in which she was a ‘fish out of water’ as it were – in this case, a girl from a humble background who finds herself living in a samurai mansion. So she is in a position to observe differences in class as well as the differences between urban and rural lifestyles.
How important is writing about girls for you?
It’s extremely important to me; in writing about girls from different times and places – whether it’s Claudia from Rome 19BC in The Raven’s Wing, Kasumi in The Peony Lantern or even Tommy from my junior fiction series ‘Sword Girl’, set in a medieval castle – I’m hoping to inspire readers to consider the position of girls and women in our own society.
Ikebana is a feature of Kasumi and Misaki’s time. Can you do it?
I’m afraid to say my attempts were rather embarrassing! I did a class at a famous ikebana school in Tokyo. I love flowers, so I was rather hoping I might display some hitherto-undiscovered flair, but…no. It was definitely a useful experience, though; it turns out that Kasumi’s own efforts at flower-arranging also lack that essential refinement!
Tell us about your other books.
I began my writing career with picture books (including Kisses for Daddy and Parsley Rabbit’s Book about Books, illustrated by David Legge, and Goodnight, Mice!, illustrated by Judy Watson). [Frances modestly hasn’t mentioned that Goodnight, Mice! won the 2012 Prime Minister’s Literary Award for Children’s Fiction. Her other books have also won awards.] I then started writing junior fiction (such as the Sword Girl series), also extending the storytelling to upper primary (with the Gerander trilogy), and now I’m writing YA historical fiction. I’m still writing in each of these genres – I love them all – so I’m covering from birth to young adult. I sometimes joke that my motto should be: Grow up! with Frances Watts.
How else do you spend your time?
It probably won’t surprise you if I say reading. I also love travelling, cooking and running.
What have you enjoyed reading?
Fiona Wood’s new book, Cloudwish. Tegan Bennett Daylight’s Six Bedrooms(reviewed here). And I’m currently devouring Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan quartet. I’ve just started the third book, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, and I am completely in its thrall.
All the best with The Peony Lantern, Frances. I feel like reading it all over again after hearing your responses.
Pieces of Sky(Allen & Unwin) is your first published YA novel. How did you get published –an agent or through the slush pile?
I got my deal through my agent.
What is the significance of your title, Pieces of Sky?
In the novel the idea of sky represents something to reach for out of the grief and the story is a somewhat fractured look at that.
The characters seem very real as if based on experience or young adults you know or have observed. How did you give your characters this verisimilitude?
Thank you. I tried to instil them with as much truth as I could—whether it was my truth or someone else’s. If I could work out what each of them wanted—small or big—it helped them become more alive for me.
Who do you hope reads your book?
Everybody haha. People who are searching and feel stretched thin by the world, those who want beauty and an escape. Those who are up at 3am developing obsessions for things most people have never considered. Photo of Trinity Doyle (credit Farrah Allen)
One of the characters writes snatches of poetry. Do you write poetry or song lyrics?
I’ve tried my hand at song lyrics. I was in a band once and did some writing—not much of a singer though so I just spoke gruffly into the microphone haha. I had an intense period of journalling when I was 19 and that was mostly poetry. I tried to be all Anne Sexton over my lack of boyfriend 😉
You included some really interesting bands in the novel? Why did you pick these?
Some, like The Jezebels, had a lot of impact for me in the early writing of the book while others became important to me later. I tried to make each mention count, it had to have the appropriate feel for the scene and also be someone I thought the character would’ve actually listened to. I had a lot of fun with Evan’s more obscure taste.
Why did you choose Pennant Hills in Sydney as the place Evan grew up?
haha! Because I wanted him to come from somewhere a bit well off but not too much. It’s also outside the city, which I liked, I like him being an outsider. Truthfully though it’s just what came to mind. I had some friends who grew up there.
Where are you based and how involved in the Australian book world are you?
I’m based in Newcastle, NSW. I think I’m somewhat involved in our book world—I think it’s the best book world going. I’m a part of our local CBCA group, the Australian Society of Authors and the brilliant #LoveOzYA campaign.
How else do you spend your time?
I work as a graphic designer, hang out with my 4yo daughter and hubby, cook—I love food and am passionate about health. I garden a bit though I tend to lose interest when things die or are overcome by weeds. One day I’d like to have a tiny farm—gotta get better at keeping the backyard alive first though.
In an unprecedented achievement, illustrator Freya Blackwood has won three of the five categories in the 2015 Children’s Book Council of Australia awards. In the past few years Freya has generally been shortlisted two or three times but this year all of her shortlisted books are winners.
Her partnership with incomparable children’s writer, Libby Gleeson resulted in two winners: The Cleo Stories: The Necklace and The Present(Allen & Unwin) for Younger Readers and Go to Sleep, Jessie!(Little Hare, Hardie Grant Egmont) for Early Childhood. Freya won best Picture Book with Irene Kobald for My Two Blankets(Little Hare, Hardie Grant Egmont). This is a powerful refugee story with symbolic touches. Gleeson and Blackwood have had award success with their other books, including Banjo and Ruby Red, which was a 2014 Honour Book.
Freya Blackwood previously won the prestigious international Kate Greenaway Award, with Margaret Wild, for Harry and Hopper and has another gem coming later this year, Perfect, which I wrote about here.
Other 2015 winners are the amazing Claire Zorn for The Protected(UQP) in the Older Readers category, which I reviewed in the Weekend Australian here. Claire’s debut novel, The Sky So Heavy, was an Honour Book last year, so she is a rising talent, and a lovely person.
The other category that Freya Blackwood didn’t win – I haven’t ever seen a non-fiction book illustrated by her – is the Eve Pownall Award for Information Books. Text Publishing had another scoop here, winning with the impressive coffee table book, A – Z of Convicts in Van Diemen’s Landby Simon Barnard. Honour Books are the exquisite Tea and Sugar Christmas by Jane Jolley and the superlative Robert Ingpen (National Library of Australia) and Audacity: Stories of Heroic Australians in Wartime by Carlie Walker (Department of Veteran Affairs).
Honour Books in Early Childhood are Scary Night by Lesley Gibbes and Stephen Michael King (Working Title Press) and Noni the Pony Goes to the Beach by Alison Lester (Allen & Unwin). Honour Books for Younger Readers are Two Wolves by Tristan Bancks (Random House Australia) (which I’ve reviewed for Boomerang here) and Withering-by-Sea by Judith Rossell (ABC Books, HarperCollins Publishers). Honour Books in the Picture Book category are The Stone Lion by Ritva Voutila and Margaret Wild (Little Hare, Hardie Grant Egmont) and One Minute’s Silence by David Metzenthen and David Camilleri (Allen & Unwin). Camilleri also won the Crichton Award for debut illustrators.
Congratulations to the winners, as well as all the shortlisted authors and illustrators, and their publishers. It is great to see so many small publishers recognised in these awards.
I’ve also written about the 2015 CBCA shortlisted books for Boomerang Books here.
Some of the most beguiling writing for adults features young characters. I touched on this when I reviewed Joan London’s The Golden Agein January. http://blog.boomerangbooks.com.au/the-golden-age-where-children-are-gold/2015/01 This book has recently been awarded the 2015 Kibble Award. Yann Martel’s The Life of Pi also has a young adult protagonist, as does Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch and Eimear McBride’s winner of the Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction and other prestigious awards, A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing. Many other well-regarded adult books focus on young characters.
It is, however, of concern that some industry professionals and others have a lesser view of YA and children’s books than of those from the adult list. I addressed this in my interview with James Patterson (who has the opposite view) for Magpies Magazine https://www.magpies.net.au/current-issue/ (July 2015):
‘Adult books often receive bigger prize money for book awards than children’s books; adult books are positioned at the front of bookstores while the children’s bookshelves are at the back (there are some exceptions); and publicists from publishing companies tend to accompany adult authors at writers’ festivals (once again, there are exceptions), while most children’s authors and illustrators are expected to fend for themselves, which they do very capably. And, even though blogging about books is growing, there is generally diminishing space in the mainstream media to report on children’s book news and review children’s books, although we must acknowledge those few journalist, editor and media heroes who support children’s literature and literacy.’
It was affirming to view ABC TV’s The Book Club in June where guest Alan Cumming selected Enid Blyton’s Famous Five: Five on a Treasure Islandas the classic book of the month. The discussion was animated, with the panel in positive agreement and revealing surprising depths in this book. So a children’s book was one of The Book Club’s high points. And the writing quality of much children’s and YA literature has improved exponentially since Blyton’s time. http://www.abc.net.au/tv/firsttuesday/s4229132.htm
Two new Australian titles for adults feature young Australians. In Antonia Hayes’s novel, Relativity (Penguin/Viking), Ethan is navigating the end of childhood and adolescence. It is more difficult for him than most due to anomalies in his personality and mind. He is absorbed by science and ostracised by his peers. Although he resembles his father in many ways, they have not seen each other for years until Mark returns to Sydney from WA to see his own father on his deathbed. Something happened in Ethan’s infancy to rupture this family.
Tegan Bennett Daylight’s, Six Bedrooms(Vintage, Random House) is an absorbing volume of short stories. Like Relativity, it also touches on estranged families. The writing is fresh and vulnerable, raising the often-forgotten experiences and memories from youth into crystallised vignettes.
Some sophisticated Australian YA which matches (or exceeds) the quality of our fiction for adults include Girl Defective by Simmone Howell, The Three Loves of Persimmon by Cassandra Golds, The Golden Day by Ursula Dubosarsky, This is Shyness by Leanne Hall, Into White Silence by Anthony Eaton, Wildlife by Fiona Wood, Liar by Justine Larbelestier, The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl by Melissa Keil, The Dead I Know by Scott Gardner, The Betrayal of Bindy Mackenzie by Jaclyn Moriarty, Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley and The Midnight Dress by Karen Foxlee. These are a mere sample of our YA treasures (and I dread to think what’s I’ve missed after listing these off the top of my head).
To find more of our best recent YA, explore the 2015 CBCA winners and honour books, which are announced on Friday 21st August at midday. The Books for Older Readers are a phenomenally strong group this year .
This year’s Children’s Book Council of Australia (CBCA) Eve Pownall Award for Information Books forms an impressive list. Four of the six titles focus on an aspect of Australian history.
Emu(one of the ‘Nature Storybooks’ series from Walker Books) is natural history, however, and upholds the quality of last year’s Crichton and Queensland Literary awarded Big Red Kangaroo. It is written by Claire Saxby, illustrated by Graham Byrne and combines literary and factual texts in an engaging package for young readers.
The other title that isn’t historical is for the opposite end of the age spectrum – mature secondary, although chapters could be used for younger readers in high school. Coming of Age: Growing Up Muslim in Australiais edited by Amra Pajalic & Demet Divaroren (Allen & Unwin) and a number of its contributors have appeared on ABC TV’s Q&A. The contributors write about their experiences growing up as a Muslim. An important feature is the diversity within Muslim groups, also based on the country the writers or their parents are from.
Randa Abdel-Fattah (Does My Head Look Big in This?) writes about body image; Hazem El Masri, former rugby league star, among other things, explains a core difference between Islam and Christianity – Muslims don’t believe Jesus was the son of God, died on the cross or was raised from death; Hazem’s wife changed some of her school’s culture by lobbying for the opportunity for Muslims to pray; and former Miss World Australia, Sabrina Houssami, laments that white Australian girls wouldn’t be her friend.
Tea and Sugar Christmasby Jane Jolly and Robert Ingpen (National Library of Australia) is a sumptuous volume, and is also a notable CBCA picture book this year. Robert Ingpen is the only Australian illustrator to have won the prestigious Hans Christian Andersen Medal. All of his books are stunning. This one showcases the train that serviced the settlements along the Nullabor Plains from Port Augusta to Kalgoorlie. Aboriginal and Afghan people helped build and maintain the 1050 km of rail. The book starts as an appealing literary narrative about young Kathleen who is waiting for the first Thursday in December when Father Christmas travels with gifts. This story is followed by information in non-fiction form.
Mary Mackillop was a girl when Victoria became a state and she was twelve during the Eureka Stockade. Pamela Freeman juxtaposes Mary’s life and time caring for the poor and educating children with the years when Australia became a nation in Mary’s Australia: How Mary Mackillop Changed Australia(Black Dog Books, Walker Books).
Audacity: Stories of Heroic Australians in Wartimeby Carlie Walker and illustrated by Brett Hatherly, is another excellent publication from the Department of Veterans’ Affairs. The title comes from a stained-glass window at the Australian War Memorial. Each chapter features a person, including women, and the war they were involved in and also highlights their outstanding attributes, such as courage or leadership.
The A-Z of Convicts in Van Diemen’s Landby Simon Barnard (Text Publishing) is coffee-table size and is set between 1803 and 1853. The research and illustrative processes are intricate and include cut-away pictures of buildings. This book is full of fascinating and gory facts which will intrigue older readers.
The NSW Premier’s Literary Awards, held at the Mitchell Library last night, was an opportunity to recognise some of our literary greats, as well as newcomers to the winners’ stage.
Eminent author/poet, David Malouf, won the Kenneth Slessor Prize for Poetry for Earth Hour (UQP), another award to honour the exquisite writing of this distinguished, generous man.
Jaclyn Moriarty deservedly added to her cache of awards for the second in her ‘Colours of Madeleine’ trilogy, The Cracks in the Kingdom(PanMacmillan) This stunning original fantasy has already won the Queensland Literary YA Award and the Aurealis YA Award, and last night won the Ethel Turner Prize for Young People’s Literature. My review in The Weekend Australian is here. Jaclyn was one of the most engaging speakers on the night; sharing poignant and funny words from her readers that highlighted the importance of books in the lives of young people.
The Patricia Wrightson Prize for Children’s Literature was shared by Tamsin Janu’s debut novel, Figgy in the Worldand Catherine Norton’s, Crossing. Figgy in the World is set in Ghana and relays the tale of eight-year-old Figgy who tries to get to the ‘United Stilts of America’ to buy medicine for her grandmother. Ghana and its people are brought to life in this novel. It is my favourite of the CBCA Book of the Year shortlist for Younger Readers.
Both these books are published by the recently defunct Omnibus Books imprint from Scholastic Australia. Omnibus has published books that have become contemporary children’s classics over the years, so their closure is extremely disappointing.
Some other shortlisted children’s authors/illustrators were in attendance, including the sublimely gifted Stephen Michael King for The Duck and the Darklings(Allen & Unwin), written by Glenda Millard. This is my favourite of this year’s CBCA shortlisted picture books. Trace Balla’s debut picture book, Rivertime (Allen & Unwin) has created an awards buzz, shortlisted here, as well as for the CBCA and Crighton awards. It was interesting to hear some of the inside story of this book. Trace and her partner actually made the ten-day canoe trip that was the catalyst for the book and it seems as though Trace had as much trouble climbing onto jetties as did her child protagonist, Clancy, in the book.
Other highlights of the evening were awards for translation, the Multicultural NSW Award to Black and Proud: The Story of an Iconic AFL Photo by Matthew Klugman and Gary Osmond (NewSouth Books), the Nick Enright Prize for Playwriting to Black Diggers by Tom Wright (Playlab/QTC), Betty Roland Prize for Scriptwriting to The Babadook by Jennifer Kent (Causeway Films) and the UTS Glenda Adams Award for New Writing to Luke Carman’s An Elegant Young Man (Giramondo). Mark Henshaw won the Christina Stead Prize for fiction with his stunning The Snow Kimono(Text) – read my review here – and Don Watson’s The Bush (Hamish Hamilton) emulated his Indies Awards honours by winning both the Douglas Stewart Prize for Non-Fiction and overall Best Book of the Year. He was so flabbergasted by the second award that he confessed to finally being humbled.
David Williamson was deservedly presented with a special award for his distinguished body of work. He generously donated his prize money to an upcoming winning playwright of a competition run by the Ensemble Theatre.
The recent CBCA shortlisted Book of the Year for Younger Readers is an impressive list, not least because of the strength of the books that are Notables but didn’t make the shortlist. Younger Readers is traditionally a category of the awards that receives an enormous number of entries and it is thrilling that the quality is so high this year.
Many of the shortlisted books are aimed at upper primary age children, which is the case most years, although The Cleo Stories:The Necklace and The Present by Libby Gleeson, illustrated by Freya Blackwood (Allen & Unwin) is for much younger readers.
It is surprisingly difficult to find an outstanding junior novel. Books in series, for example, often cater for the seven to nine year-olds, and picture books and simple chapter books cater for even younger children. Libby Gleeson achieved the feat of creating an excellent junior novel years ago with the brilliant Hannah Plus One (which did become a series). In TheCleo Stories (for even younger readers than Hannah), she acknowledges the situations and feelings of a young girl, firstly when she wants to be like the other girls and then when she needs a present for her mother. The character of Cleo and her concerns reminds me of Anna Branford’s lovely Violet Mackerel – one of the titles in the series was a Notable book this year.
Realism novels dominate the 2015 short list. Steven Herrick always does an authentic portrayal of relatable primary school kids and the groups they mix in. Bleakboy and Hunter Stand Out in the Rain (UQP), about a new boy who is bullied, works well in prose rather than the verse novel form he often uses. It also looks at environmental issues.
Ben in Two Wolves by Tristan Bancks (Random House) tries to deny the trauma in his life but is forced to confront the troubles caused by his parents and use his own initiative.
Figgy in the World by Tamsin Janu (Omnibus Books, Scholastic) is quite different from the other shortlisted books, being set in Ghana. Figgy’s grandmother is ill so Figgy is running away to the United States of America to buy medicine. It gives an excellent insight into another world at an appropriate level for primary-aged Australian children.
Withering-by-Sea: a Stella Montgomery Intrigue by Judith Rossell (ABC Books, HarperCollins) is a gothic mystery but the fact that it is the first in the ‘Stella Montgomery Intrigue’, rather than ‘Mystery’ gives an insight into Judith Rossell’s original and quirky style.
Some of the Notable standouts that missed out are Ophelia and the Marvellous Boy by Karen Foxlee, The Ratcatcher’s Daughter by Pamela Rushby, Paper Planes by Allayne L. Webster, The Crossing by Catherine Norton and Kelsey and the Quest of the Porcelain Doll by Rosanne Hawke.
My Dog Doesn’t Like Me (University of Qld Press) resonated with me because I also have a puppy, Floyd (whose middle name is Pink)– a spoodle who is easier to train than Eric’s dog, Ugly, but I have used one of the dog-training tips described in the novel.
Tell us about your dogs.
My family had a string of black and tan mongrels. They were faithful, reliable dogs. We later had a Gordon Setter – and I did most of the training. I was a young teenager and loved the process of training and the reward of having such a responsive and easy to live with pet. Much later my son saw some black and tan pups at our local craft market. The Border Collie/Belgian Shepherd pup grew huge. He was very easy to train and, again, that makes a dog so pleasant to live with.
This is not a typical dog story. It sounds like real life, with Eric having to work hard to keep Ugly. Why do you write contemporary realism for younger readers?
Several aspects of the story are from real life. A young boy once told me his dog didn’t like him – in exactly those words. I instinctively thought that this boy was probably not doing very much for his dog. Children need a lot of reminding to take responsibility for their pets. However, Eric’s tribulations are fictitious; I just used my memories of doggy dramas.
I don’t consciously decide on a particular genre when writing. Ideas just spring to mind. I write about the problems that I’m aware of in a child’s life – from my own experiences and those of children I know – and then I enjoy working towards realistic solutions – and this involves character growth, too.
How do you incorporate humour?
Humour is important to me. I see it as necessary to living life as joyfully as possible, to getting things in perspective and, thus, to coping with tougher times. I enjoy the company of children because their honest and original insights on life are often both true and amusing. Humour in a story gives necessary relief to serious moments. I suppose a writer’s personality comes through in their style. I enjoy laughing, telling funny stories and making others laugh or smile. I’m embarrassing to go to the pictures with to see a comedy because apparently I laugh very loudly – and a lot. This is a balance to a part of me that feels the sadness of life deeply – which I suppose describes most people.
Your writing is a perfectly calibrated mix of story telling, character building and great writing style – writing that gets your books onto literary award lists. How carefully do you create this blend?
I consciously try to craft stories with a recurring pattern of tension followed by some sort of relief. A character goes through this and learns along the way. The style is dictated by the spirit of the story, my intended audience, as well as the personality and age of the protagonist.
The novel jumps straight into the action. How deliberate was this?
I have to give my editor the credit for beginning with the running away episode of the story. In my first draft, this came later in the chapter. I have enormous respect for editors; I appreciate that period where one works alongside someone else to improve a story.
Eric was looking forward to turning 8 and describes 8 as looking like a racetrack. What is your favourite number?
Favourite numbers! I’ve liked the number 3 since childhood. It seemed balanced to me. I also like the number 7 as I’ve heard it has significance in the ancient traditions of the Old Testament. Those numbers pop up in fairy-tales, too.
What have you won awards for?
I’ve had eight novels published. ‘Helicopter Man‘ won the CBCA award for Younger Readers. ‘The Invisible Hero’ (which deals with bullying and finding peaceful resolutions to conflicts) won the Speech Pathologists of Australia Award. The same book was listed as an Ibby Book; when I knew what it stood for I was thrilled – it’s a Swedish collection of international books that contributes to discussion of peace. ‘Goodbye Jamie Boyd‘ (a young adult novella that deals with mental illness) was listed for the Bologna White Raven – another international collection. ‘Miss McAllister’s Ghost‘ was awarded with a CBCA Notable Book. ‘Matty Forever’ was short-listed by the CBCA and its sequel, ‘Bill Rules’, was short-listed for the Queensland Premier’s Award. And one of the Matty books was short-listed for the Psychologists for Peace award. Goodness, looking at this I feel so encouraged – for someone who was first published quite late in life.
It is the time to celebrate the CBCA Books of the Year: a plethora of excellent books. No one will be be surprised that Shaun Tan’s inimitable Rules of Summer has won Picture Book of the Year. From a visual literacy perspective, it excels in composition – what is put where and how distance and depth is created; salience – what is most prominent on the page; juxtaposition – contrasting elements such as light and dark and texture; and symbolism. Congratulations to Bob Graham and Nick Bland for their Honour awards in this category. Graham’s Silver Buttons was always a contender with its consummate celebration of the ‘everyday’ and Bland’s award for King Pig, a fable about selfishness, power and redemption, also reflects his enormous popularity. Such a shame that Margaret Wild and Freya Blackwood’s peerless The Treasure Box wasn’t recognised, and Danny Parker and Matt Ottley’s brilliant Parachute may have fared better in Early Childhood.
The judges got the awards in the Early Childhood category absolutely right. The Swap by Jan Ormerod and Andrew Joyner uses subtle humour and retro illustrations to look at sibling jealousy and love. I’m a Dirty Dinosaur is a rhythmic swamp romp by Janeen Brian, illustrated with pencils and mud by Ann James. Banjo and Ruby Red is a tale of farmyard friendship by Libby Gleeson and Freya Blackwood.
Book of the Year: Younger Readers is an unusual shortlist, particularly because only five of six possible books were shortlisted so a fine book for this important primary age-group was omitted. Catherine Jinks, a well-regarded writer, won the category with her Victorian gothic, A Very Unusual Pursuit. No surprises that the award-scooping My Life as an Alphabet by Barry Jonsberg is an Honour book but less expected is Dianne Wolfer and Brian Simmonds’ Light Horse Boy, which many would have shortlisted in the factual Eve Pownall category. It is disappointing not to see Julie Hunt’s Song for a Scarlet Runner receive an Honour but it has been acclaimed in other awards.
Some of my personal favourites missed out in the Eve Pownall Award for Information Books, particularly the well designed, Meet … Captain Cook by Rae Murdie and Chris Nixon but due regard to winners Christopher Faille and Danny Snell for Jeremy, which explains the life of a kookaburra at a perfect level for very young readers and Honour recipients Peter Gouldthorpe for Ice, Wind, Rock, which tells the important story of Mawson, and the commendable Welcome to My Country by Laklak Burrarrwanga and family, which has also been acknowledged in an outstanding new YA novel, Nona and Me by Clare Atkins.
Wildlife by Fiona Wood is a completely deserving winner of the Older Readers category and Fairytales for Wilde Girls by Allyse Near and The Sky So Heavy by Claire Zorn are meritorious Honour awardees.
(See my previous posts on Older Readers and Eve Pownall)
Today officially heralds the start of the Children’s Book Council of Australia (CBCA) Book Week 2014. This year’s theme: Connect to Reading – Reading to Connect can be interpreted in many ways just as ones connection with art can take place on several levels. I have long purported that the humble picture book is one of our most powerful and meaningful manifestations of art. Why? Because of its ability to entertain, educate, enlighten, and enthral at a level wordless infants and the most mature members of society are able to appreciate.
There are few finer expressions of tenderness, joy, comedy, and pain than the marriage of images and words in a picture book. They represents true art, able to transport anyone, anywhere to other times and worlds with the flick of a page. This selection of picture books aptly illustrates my point. All are artful in their own ways. You will not love them all equally, just as you will not love everything you see on the walls of an art gallery, but therein lies the enigmatic beauty of the picture book.
Lisa Absolutely Loves Art by Sophie Norsa is a brief visit with some of our great artists and their well-known paintings through the eyes of young Lisa as she plunges into the dreamlike world of her local art gallery after her runaway cat, Picasso. Her search for him transports her through the 1800’s, capably combining impressionism and post-impressionism art forms in an on-canvas adventure, only ending once she returns to where she began.
Norsa is a young artist herself whose reproductions and interpretations of the techniques and style used by some of our most recognisable artists are artfully rendered in this unique picture book for pre-primary art lovers and artisans alike. New Frontier Publishing July 2014
Outside by Libby Hathorn and Ritva Voutila is a glorious sensory celebration of what it is to be a child, carefree and at one with nature. The magic of being outdoors, of having grass beneath ones feet and clear bird-filled skies above is something not all young children are able to take for granted. Hawthorn’s poetic, repeating verse centres around the single question – ‘What’s that?’ between a curious young boy and his sister as they venture through their backyard on ‘a summery day’.
This is an unusual picture book, lulling the reader into an almost hypnotic rhythm of straightforward explanation while steering us close to the nonsensical thanks to Voutila’s surreal illustrations: the cat looks almost human, the sky is a tapestry of patterned colour, the sun blazes stylised fleurs-de-lis. I found these digital creations rich and complementary to the text however not all young children will agree. They may find the oversized heads and features of the human characters a little too bizarre to comfortably relate to. A lavish homage to the simple things in life and being young nonetheless. Little Hare Books imprint of HGE August 2014.
Mr Chicken lands on London. The passion one feels towards art, something that monumentally moves and inspires them can be likened to love. This love need not be confined to one line or one picture; it may encompass a whole city and culture just as it did for Leigh Hobbs and Mr Chicken.
I know many adults and youngsters alike who have nibbled their nails down to the quicks in anticipation of the return of Mr Chicken since his flamboyant debut visit to Paris. Thankfully, they do not have to wait a minute longer and neither does Mr Chicken who is returning to his favourite city in the whole wide world, London.
Hobbs, creator of Old Tom, shares his love for London with Mr Chicken in an adroitly accurate, subtly comic, whirlwind tour of some of London’s most iconic landmarks.
Our canary yellow, oversized poultry protagonist cuts a striking contrast amidst the common placed drabness of the city as one by one, he ticks off his must-sees and dos. His encounter with Her Majesty is amusing to the extreme but it is Mr Chicken’s moon lit stroll over Westminster Bridge that truly rings my bells.
A pictorial postcard of London that will resonate with both past visitors and those yet to experience the city’s many allures, not to mention 4 – 7 year olds who love talking, walking drumsticks. And, like fine art, Mr Chicken lands on London is something to savour. Allen & Unwin July 2014
August is an important month for Australian children’s books because the CBCA Book of the Year is announced on 15th and National Literacy and Numeracy Week is held from 25-31 August.
The aim of NLNW website, as stated on their website is:
National Literacy and Numeracy Week represents a collaborative approach by the Australian Government and school communities to highlight the importance of literacy and numeracy skills for all children and young people, with a specific focus on school-aged children.
The Week gives schools the opportunity to be involved in a range of literacy and numeracy activities. The Week aims to recognise locally the achievements of students and the work of teachers, parents and members of the community who support young people to develop stronger literacy and numeracy skills.
One of the literacy activities is Read for Australia. This is a simultaneous read where groups from around Australia read the same book on Friday 29th August at 2pm EST. A video of the book with Auslan for the hearing impaired, captions and a transcript will be released a week before the read.
The book selected for 2014 is Sunday Chutney, a picture book by Aaron Blabey. This book looks at friendship and what it’s like to be different. It was shortlisted for the 2009 Australian Book Industry Awards as well as the CBCA Picture Book of the Year. I was Queensland CBCA judge at that time – and thrilled that it was shortlisted.
Teacher Notes for a range of ages is available on the NLNW website.
I’ve written notes for Years 5-6, which include a focus on the ‘panelling’ (a feature of graphic novels and some picture books) in the illustrations.
The author of Sunday Chutney, Aaron Blabey is a talented man. Some may remember him as the award-winning TV star of the political satire The Damnation of Harvey McHugh. He is a visual artist (much of his work is strictly for adults not children, though!) as well as a respected and popular writer and illustrator of a plethora of children’s picture books.
His most recent release (July 2014) Pig the Pug is published by Scholastic Press. This is a very funny rhyming story about a selfish pug called Pig who won’t share his toys with his flatmate Trevor the sausage dog. This leads to a dire but hilarious comeuppance. Blabey’s illustrations have a distinctive style. His characters frequently have wide, puppet-like faces with popping eyes. He often uses a predominately brown palette, which sets his books apart from the pack – and works! He is a fitting ambassador for NLNW.
The CBCA (Children’s Book Council of Australia) winning and honour books will be announced on Friday 15th August. One of the most eagerly awaited categories (especially for bloggers) is the Book of the Year: Older Readers.
A surprise outcome in the OR category of this year’s shortlist is the appearance of FOUR debut novelists. The future of YA Australian writing seems very safe with this number of debut heavy-hitters.
The majority of the Older Readers’ shortlist is from the genre of contemporary realism, with two from speculative fiction.
Five of the six shortlisted authors are female. Bloggers who monitor the number of awarded female authors must be cheering. (It should be remembered, however, that the CBCA shortlist is judged on literary merit, not the gender of the authors or protagonists. The judges only have a two-year term so it’s hard to accept there may have been a gender prejudice in the recent past.)
Gay best friends or brothers are also punching above their weight in this category.
And a couple of the novels are very place-specific to Sydney and its surrounds.
So I’m obviously thrilled it has been shortlisted. It won the inaugural Hardie Grant Egmont Ampersand award and is contemporary realism, not sci-fi as implied by the title. Sam is an adorkable hero. He cannot believe that popular Camilla could like him. If you can’t wait for Melissa’s next book, The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl (Sept), read Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan.
Another brilliant novel is Fiona Wood’s Wildlife (PanMacmillan). Sybilla is a complex – introverted yet easy-going – character who discovers much about herself and her peers on her extended school camp.
Felicity Castagna continues the realism in The Incredible Here and Now (Giramondo). It is of enormous appeal for anyone who knows Sydney’s west and for teen boys in particular.
Will Kostakis adds humour to the mix in The First Third (Penguin), a contemporary Greek tragi-comedy.
Claire Zorn seamlessly incorporates human rights issues intoThe Sky so Heavy (UQP). This is a fast-paced post-apocalyptic story which begins in the Blue Mountains. Her new novel, The Protected is even better.
Everyone is disappointed when YA books they love aren’t shortlisted. Surprise omissions for me this year are Simmone Howell’s edgy Girl Defective (Pan Macmillan), Amanda Betts’ luminous Zac and Mia (Text) and Jackie French’s Refuge (HarperCollins).
Which Book of the Year: Older Readers do you think should win?
The CBCA (Children’s Book Council of Australia) shortlist is Australia’s most important award for children’s and YA literature. These books are celebrated in Book Week.
The CBCA shortlist generates most sales of awarded books – for children’s books, although perhaps not for YA books – in Australia. The shortlist is used as a buying guide for parents, grandparents and community members. Schools (especially primary schools) use it extensively for the build-up and culmination of Book Week.
These awards are unusual because there is such a long lead-time between the announcement of the 30 shortlisted books (around April) and the announcement of the winning and honour books in Book Week in August – this year on August 15th. The shortlist is possibly even more important than the winners. http://cbca.org.au/ShortList-2014.htm
There are five categories of shortlisted books, each with six books. Four of the categories are fiction and judged by a panel of 8 judges, 1 from each state and territory, who have a two-year judging term. The fiction books are judged on literary merit.
So, what is the Eve Pownall Award? This is not the place to look into the background of the award but its purpose is to judge non-fiction – Information Books. A panel of judges from the one state, as distinct from the fiction judging panel, selects the Eve Pownall shortlist.
The 2014 shortlist is generally aimed at primary age children and has a focus on our Indigenous people:
Jandamarra is in picture book form. It is written by Mark Greenwood and illustrated by Terry Denton (Allen & Unwin) and looks at the conflicted Aboriginal hero or villain, Jandamarra. Welcome to My Country is written by Laklak Burrarrwanga and family (A&U) and is aimed at upper primary and secondary students. We are given an insight into NE Arnhem Land, particularly into ‘Yothu Yindi’ – the relationship between mother and child, people and land, land and land… Meet … Captain Cook by Rae Murdie, illustrated by Chris Nixon (Random House) naturally touches on Australia’s first people. It is an outstanding book in this series for younger readers. The design and stylised illustrations are excellent and the writing is understated and enhanced with humour.
Jeremy, written by Christopher Faille, illustrated by Danny Snell (Working Title Press) is for the youngest readers here. In picture book format it shows what could happen to a baby kookaburra. Ice, Wind, Rock by Peter Gouldthorpe (Lothian) is an evocative picture book about our Antarctica hero, Douglas Mawson. And finally, Yoko’s Diary: The Life of a Young Girl in Hiroshima, edited by Paul Ham (ABC Books) is a heart-breaking first-hand account of Japan in WWII by a twelve-year-old girl.
Which Information Book do you think will win the Eve Pownall award on 15th August?
Family holidays are the stuff many childhood memories are forged from. With just a couple more weeks of summer holidays left, I revisited an old favourite and evoked some happy would-be memories (if mine had been the type of family to embark on seaside camping trips).
The excitement is palpable as Susie’s family head to the beach, car packed to the roof racks. They soon set up camp and immediately immerse themselves into all things seaside: hunting in rock pools, feeding seagulls, swimming the surf, and of course, fishing.
Led by over enthusiastic Dad, Susie, her brothers and cousins begin each day with great expectations, but for Susie, catching fish proves as elusive as keeping waves upon the sand. Her determination however never wanes, not even when her brother Alex taunts and teases her with fake-fish-hope. It’s not until the last day of their holiday that Susie glumly concedes defeat. Not everyone is lucky with fishing. She appears to be that luckless somebody.
Incredibly, Susie’s luck changes. She catches a glimpse of two Southern Right whales off the jetty much to the disbelief and delight of the surrounding crowd. She, her Dad and a dozen fascinated on-lookers, unite as they share a few special moments together watching mother and calf frolic in the waters before them. It’s a holiday memory bigger than any fish her family have caught before and one Susie won’t easily let get away.
Elizabeth Honey’s entrancing sojourn to the beach captures precious familiarity and the exuberance of youth with playful grace. It is a story we can cherish for years to come much like a treasured cowrie shell. Honey’s spirited prose makes me want to kick off my sandals and grab a rod and bucket of bait. Susie’s Dad’s regular morning wake-up calls, addressing his kids as various species of marine-life, caused me to smile often. And who doesn’t delight in a big frothy milk shake from the local beach town café?
Each page drips with Honey’s sparkling watercolour illustrations, capturing the very essence and light of the seaside. Vintage Honey and deserved CBCA Picture Book of the Year.
The CBCA will announce the 2010 list of Notable Books and the Short List for the 2010 Children’s Book of the
Year Awards in Brisbane on March 30. In NSW, they invite all children’s literature lovers to mingle with authors, illustrators, publishers and booksellers to enjoy a day of Professional Development. Join me, and a host of other members of the community as we:
Anticipate! the Short List with our five panelists’ personal choices;
Appreciate! the wonderful array of Australian children’s literature;
Applaud! the authors and illustrators whose books have been chosen for the 2010 Notable Booklist and the Short List.
Keynote Speaker—Dr Kerry White
(Bibliographer, Writer and Reviewer)
A panel of experts from the world of children’s literature will nominate their own Short Lists of children’s books published in 2009. They are:
Early Childhood Dr Sharyn Jameson (Senior Lecturer in English & Literacy, ACU) Younger Readers Rachel Robson (Children’s Books Expert) Older Readers William Kostakis (Award-winning author) Picture Book Dr Robin Morrow (author, publisher, President of IBBY Australia) Eve Pownall Chris Cheng (author, 2009 Lady Cutler Award recipient)
Where? Sydney Room, The Menzies Hotel, George Street, Sydney When? Tuesday 30th March 2010, 8:30am—3.30pm
For more information, visit http://cbca.nsw.org.au or phone (02) 9818 3858.