Author Roadshow: Felice Arena, Belinda Murrell and more

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Laugh Your Head Off Again

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

Meg McKinlay answers my questions (and makes me laugh out loud):

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

I’m not sure where my sense of humour comes from but I do think all families are funny in their own way. Mine has recently developed a habit of replacing photos in other family members’ houses with pictures of Russian President Vladimir Putin and seeing how long it takes them to notice. I find this pretty amusing.

 What’s something funny about you?

It takes me an average of 78 days to notice that a photo of a cherished family member has been replaced with a shot of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

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

I’ve published thirteen books, ranging from picture books all the way through to a poetry collection for adults. Some of my best-known books are No Bears, Duck for a Day, and A Single Stone.

One of my favourite funny moments is in Definitely No Ducks! – the sequel to Duck for a Day – when Max the duck disguises himself as a penguin in order to take part in a class assembly, and things go chaotically wrong.

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

I once drove past someone sitting at a bus stop and – due to their long limbs and black clothing – briefly mistook them for a speed camera. I turned this into a poem called ‘Walter’, about a boy with ‘unnatural angles’ who deliberately sets out to trick motorists. As for how I did so, I just let my brain think the weirdest thoughts imaginable and ran with them. I consider this to be a very sound policy at all times.

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

My story is called “Corn Chip Belieber”. It’s about two boys who find a corn chip that looks like Justin Bieber and come up with a get-rich-quick scheme, only to be thwarted by a kamikaze seagull. It was a ridiculous amount of fun to write but has complicated my love of corn chips.

Thanks very much Meg and all the best with this new book and your other work. stone

Curiously Good Books from Around the World

TimelineGecko Press in New Zealand plays a phenomenal role in discovering, and then making accessible, outstanding children’s books from around the world. Their 2016 publications are from countries as diverse as Sweden, Mexico, Japan and Portugal.

One of the most impressive books I’ve seen for a long time is Timeline: A Visual History of Our World by Peter Goes (Belgium). It is appropriately oversized and I felt a frisson of recollection and excitement when I opened many of the pages, remembering my first encounters with aspects of ancient history all over again. Beginning life, dinosaurs, first people and settlements merge into fascinating cameos of Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, Rome and the Byzantine Empire. Ottoman, Chinese, Inca and North American histories are also covered. Modern history and world wars bring us to the present day. Australia’s claim to fame is the band ACDC.

France-based Stephanie Blake returns with the bold, bright colours and clear lines of her popular rabbit, Simon in Super Rabbit.

Don't CrossPortugal shines with Isabel Minhos Martins and Bernardo P. Carvalho’s Don’t Cross the Line! This is an exceptional, innovative postmodern (mainly) visual representation of people who aren’t allowed to cross the line onto the next page due to a pointless rule. It is a telling fable.

What Dog Knows is a cleverly constructed mixture of fact and fiction by Sylvia Vanden Heede and Marije Tolman from the Netherlands, translated by Bill Nagelkerke. It is structured into four sections: Mummies and skeletons; Robots, knights and pirates; Dinosaurs and dragons; and Rockets and the moon.

The delightfully flawed but kind, Detective Gordon, a cake-loving frog, returns in Swedish creators Ulf Nilsson and Gitte Spee’s A Complicated Case. As we are reminded in the detective’s Book of Law, ‘It is permitted to be nice but forbidden to be nasty’.

DaniAlso from Sweden is the poignant story of Dani in Life According to Dani by Rose Lagercrantz and Eva Eriksson, both highly awarded children’s book creators. This chapter book continues Dani’s realistic life, here dealing with her response to her father’s new girlfriend.

From Mexico is Paula Bossio’s board book, The Pencil (also called The Line). Deliberate smudges create texture and dimension alongside the fascinating pencil line followed by a young girl.

Yours Sincerely, Giraffe is a heartwarming, yet edgy tale of new friendships from Japan by Megumi Iwasa and Jun Takabatake. It’s unpredictable yet highly satisfying.

And we finish in Israel with Michal Shalev’s hilarious How to Be Famous. FamousThe pigeon is completely oblivious to her true level of fame.

Thanks for making these astounding books available to a wide readership, Gecko Books.

2015 Kids’ Reading Guide Released – Great Christmas Gift Ideas for Kids

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The annual Kids’ Reading Guide has been released!

Handpicked and reviewed by Australia’s leading booksellers, the Kids’ Reading Guide showcases all the very best recent-release, in-stock books for kids.

It’s a fantastic guide for Christmas Gifts!

Follow the links below to order your books from Boomerang Books today:
Use the promo code krg15 to receive FREE shipping on your order!
Kids Reading Guide 2015 – Baby & Toddler

 

Kids Reading Guide 2015 – Picture Book
Kids Reading Guide 2015 – Older Picture Book
Kids Reading Guide 2015 – Junior Fiction
Kids Reading Guide 2015 – Junior Fiction Next in Series
Kids Reading Guide 2015 – Middle Fiction
Kids Reading Guide 2015 – Middle Fiction Next in Series
Kids Reading Guide 2015 – Crosssover Fiction
Kids Reading Guide 2015 – Young Adult
Kids Reading Guide 2015 – Young Adult Next in Series
Kids Reading Guide 2015 – Stuff To Do
Kids Reading Guide 2015 – Information
Kids Reading Guide 2015 – Gift
Kids Reading Guide 2015 – Australian Stories 

 

Queensland Literary Awards 2015 – still time to vote

After its recent tumultuous history, the Qld Literary Awards are growing from strength to strength under the banner of the State Library of Queensland and a bevy of eminent sponsors.

The 2015 shortlists have just been announced and the winners will be revealed at the Awards Ceremony on Friday 9th October in Brisbane.

Some categories showcase Queensland authors. These include the Queensland Premier’s Award for a Work of State Significance

Shortlisted authors are:Heat and light

The impressive Ellen van Neerven  for Heat and Light  (University of Queensland Press)

Zoe Boccabella  Joe’s Fruit Shop and Milk Bar  (Harper Collins Publishers)

Mark Bahnisch  Queensland; Everything you ever wanted to know, but were afraid to ask  (NewSouth Publishing)

Anna Bligh  Through the Wall: Reflections on Leadership, Love and Survival  (Harper Collins Publishers)

Libby Connors  Warrior  (Allen & Unwin)

Emerging Queensland Writer – Manuscript Award

Imogen Smith  Araluen

Elizabeth Kasmer  Aurora

W. George Sargasso

Kate Elkington  Wool Spin Burn

 Queensland Premier’s Young Publishers and Writers Awards

Andrew McMillen

Megan McGrath, Program Coordinator at the Brisbane Writers Festival

Michelle Law

Rebecca Jessen

Sam George-Allen

It is impressive how these state awards nurture and promote Qld authors.

The Qld Literary Awards are also notable for their support of Indigenous authors with the David Unaipon Award for Unpublished Indigenous Writer –

Andrew Booth  The First Octoroon or Report of an Experimental Child

Mayrah Yarragah Dreise  Social Consciousness Series

Patricia Lees with Adam C. Lees  A Question of Colour

Other categories celebrate the finest Australian writers (and some illustrators) across the country.

These include the

Griffith University Children’s Book AwardNew Boy

Meg McKinlay  A Single Stone  (Walker Books Australia)

Tasmin Janu  Figgy in the World  (Omnibus Books)

David Mackintosh  Lucky  (Harper Collins Publishers)

Nick Earls New Boy (Penguin)

Rebecca Young and Matt Ottley Teacup (Scholastic Australia)

There was a strong selection of novels, picture books and others to whittle down into a shortlist this year.

Griffith University Young Adult Book AwardAre You Seeing Me

Darren Groth  Are You Seeing Me?  (Random House Australia)

Justine Larbalestier  Razorhurst  (Allen & Unwin) This won the Aurealis spec fiction award for Horror Novel.

Diana Sweeney  The Minnow  (Text Publishing) This was a CBCA Honour Book.

John Larkin  The Pause  (Random House Australia)

Jeri Kroll  Vanishing Point  (Puncher and Wattman)

I have read these except for Vanishing Point and so am now keen to read this also. It’s great to see a publisher I know for its poetry publishing YA.

University of Queensland Fiction Book AwardSnow Kimono

Amanda Lohrey  A Short History of Richard Kline  (Black Inc)

Joan London  The Golden Age  (Random House Australia) Reviewed here

Mark Henshaw  The Snow Kimono  (Text Publishing) Reviewed here

Malcolm Knox  The Wonder Lover  (Allen & Unwin)

Rohan Wilson  To Name Those Lost  (Allen & Unwin)

University of Queensland Non-fiction Book Award

Brenda Niall  Mannix  (Text Publishing)

Don Watson  The Bush: Travels in the Heart of Australia  (Penguin)

Anne Manne  The Life of I: The New Culture of Narcissism  (Melbourne University Press)

Annabel Crabb  The Wife Drought  (Random House Australia)

Karen Lamb  Thea Astley: Inventing Her Own Weather  (University of Queensland Press)

University of Southern Queensland History Book AwardCyclone

Carolyn Holbrook  ANZAC, The Unauthorised Biography  (NewSouth Publishing)

Angela Woollacott  Settler Society in the Australian Colonies: Self-Government and Imperial Culture  (Oxford University Press)

Christine Kenneally  The Invisible History of the Human Race  (Black Inc)

Agnieszka Sobocinska  Visiting the Neighbours: Australians in Asia  (NewSouth Publishing)

Sophie Cunningham  Warning: The Story of Cyclone Tracy  (Text Publishing)

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

Nic Low  Arms Race and Other Stories  (Text Publishing)

Nick Jose  Bapo  (Giramondo)

Ellen van Neerven  Heat and Light  (University of Queensland Press)

Christos Tsiolkas  Merciless Gods  (Allen & Unwin)

J.M. Coetzee  Three Stories  (Text Publishing

State Library of Queensland Poetry Collection – Judith Wright Calanthe Award

Susan Bradley Smith  Beds for All Who Come  (Five Islands Press)

Robert Adamson  Net Needle  (Black Inc)

David Brooks  Open House  (University of Queensland Press)

Lucy Dougan  The Guardians  (Giramondo)

Les Murray  Waiting for the Past  (Black Inc)

Thanks to the State Library of Queensland and supporters, including those who sponsor and give their names to specific awards.

And vote now until 5pm Friday 18 September 2015 for

The Courier-Mail 2015 People’s Choice Queensland Book of the YearNavigatio

 Nick Earls Analogue Men

Patrick Holland Navigatio

Inga Simpson Nest

Kari Gislason The Ash Burner

Zoe Boccabella Joe’s Fruit Shop and Milk Bar

John Ahern On the Road…With the Kids

David Murray The Murder of Allison Baden-Clay

Mary Lou Simpson From Convict to Politician

Gothic Tales for Christmas

Withering-by-SeaThree gothic novels by Australian authors will intrigue primary-school aged (and slightly older) readers who enjoy reading about danger cloaked in mystique and how children can overcome this.

Withering-by-Sea (ABC Books) is written and illustrated by Judith Rossell, whose talent is really taking wings. She has also illustrated picture books, which include Ten Little Circus Mice and Too Tight, Benito and she wrote and illustrated Ruby and Leonard. Withering-by-Sea is the first of the ‘A Stella Montgomery Intrigue’ series – what a fascinating name for a series. Stella lives in the Hotel Majestic at Withering-by-Sea with her formidable aunts. The scene is set for skullduggery when Stella witnesses new guest, Mr Filbert, bury something in the conservatory, the lush garden Stella regards as her Amazon playground. She is thrown into a diabolical situation when she witnesses a burglary and murder.

Another atmospheric gothic tale is Ophelia and the Marvellous Boy by Karen Foxlee (Hot Key Books). Foxlee’s debut was a novel for adults, The Anatomy of Wings. She followed that with The Midnight Dress (one of my 2013 best books for young adults) and now she has triumphed with an original story set in a snowy city’s museum. With a countdown to Christmas Eve, Ophelia’s father is Ophelia and the Marvellous Boypreparing a sword exhibition. The museum where he works is a fantastic maze of exhibits and displays: the exhibition of elephants, the pavilion of wolves, an arcade of mirrors, a room full of telephones, a gallery of teaspoons, a checkerboard floor, paintings of girls in party dresses and, most importantly, The Wintertide Clock. The whole building is like an enormous cabinet of curiosities and this is where Ophelia discovers the Marvellous Boy, whose story intersects with that of the evil Snow Queen. Ophelia must race time and winter to save those she loves from the Snow Queen but she is invested with the power to be the defender of goodness and happiness and hope.

N.J. Gemmell’s sequel to The Kensington Reptilarium for both girls and boys, The Icicle Illuminarium, is also structured loosely around Christmas. The Australian Caddy children, who are living in England, are preparing an extravaganza for the Twelfth Night of Christmas when the story begins. But when their father’s health declines, they set off to find the mother who is presumed dead but may actually be alive. Their quest takes them to the mysterious, moth-eaten Icicle Illuminarium.

See more about this book at http://blog.boomerangbooks.com.au/meet-n-j-gemmell-author-of-the-icicle-illuminarium/2014/10.

These three stories are well written and imaginative, with elements of the macabre, but they ultimately reward hope, love and goodness over evil in true Christmas spirit.

Icicle Illuminarium

 

Getting Kids Talking About Books! Our Kids’ Reading Guide:

The annual Kids’ Reading Guide has been released!

Handpicked and reviewed by Australia’s leading booksellers, the Kids’ Reading Guide showcases all the very best recent-release, in-stock books for kids.

It’s a fantastic guide for Christmas Gifts!

Follow the links below to order your books from Boomerang Books today. Use the promo code “krg14” to receive FREE shipping on your order!

Kids Reading Guide 2014 – Audiobooks

Kids Reading Guide 2014 – Baby and Toddler

Kids Reading Guide 2014 – Crossover

Kids Reading Guide 2014 – Fairy Tales Retold

Kids Reading Guide 2014 – Information

Kids Reading Guide 2014 – Junior Fiction

Kids Reading Guide 2014 – Middle Fiction

Kids Reading Guide 2014 – Older Picture Book

Kids Reading Guide 2014 – Picture Book

Kids Reading Guide 2014 – Read the Book, See the Movie

Kids Reading Guide 2014 – Stuff to Do

Kids Reading Guide 2014 – Young Adult

 

Aussie Kids Love Stickers

Aussie kids love stickers, and I’ve pulled together a collection of sticker books to delight all ages. And the best thing? They’ve all been selected from the Boomerang Books Australia’s Top 1000 Bestselling Books list, which means you save 20% off the RRP. Great stuff, hey?Peppa Pig Summer Fun Sticker Activity Book

First up is from the increasingly popular character, Peppa Pig in Peppa Pig: Summer Fun! Sticker Activity Book, which contains lots of puzzles and activities.

For early learners, we have Colours by Roger Priddy, which has over 100 early learning stickers. Author Roger Priddy also has another sticker book in the Top 1000 list called Animals, which contains another 100 early learning stickers to help young children learn about animals.

Ben and Holly’s Little Kingdom Elf School Shiny Sticker Book features elves and fairies in a story where kids use the stickers to complete puzzles and games.

Ultimate Sticker Book- FrozenFor fans of all things Disney, we have two sticker books bound to please, Ultimate Sticker Book: Frozen, which contains more than 60 reusable stickers and Ultimate Sticker Collection: Disney Princess which contains an astounding 1000 reusable stickers and includes the following movies: Aladdin, Cinderella, Tangled and Brave.

For kids a little older, The LEGO Movie Ultimate Sticker Collection, contains over 1,000 colourful and reusable stickers of your favourite characters from the movie, and will be sure to get you humming everything is awesome.

Finally, published in Australia, the Star Wars Sticker Activity Book is sure to excite fans. In this book, readers will race and win the epic podracer game, and then use the stickers (and the force) to repair droids, battle Sith Lords and defeat the evil Empire. Sounds like fun.Star Wars Sticker Book

I remember loving stickers as a child, and it’s one thing that hasn’t changed over time. Despite all of the advances in technology, kids still love to peel and stick stickers on stuff. My wardrobe and dressing table mirror were covered in stickers, some selected with care and some hastily applied. I hope the love of stickers continues on with each generation, and with new books like those I’ve selected above, I’ve no doubt it will.

For those that remain unconvinced, here are some home remedies for removing stickers:
– Eucalyptus or tea tree oil
– Vinegar
– Rubbing alcohol or isopropyl alcohol, usually purchased from the chemist
– Heating the sticker with a hairdryer and then peeling it off.

These remedies should put your mind at ease in the event any stickers end up where they shouldn’t. With prices for these sticker books varying from $3.19 to $11.99, there should be a sticker book to suit every taste and budget.

Review – Once Upon An Alphabet by Oliver Jeffers

9780007514274I am a huge Oliver Jeffers fan but have to admit his last few picture books haven’t hit the mark. That of course excludes the absolutely brilliant The Day The Crayons Quit he did with Drew Daywalt last year which was simply outstanding. Oliver Jeffers illustrations have always been outstanding but it was his stories that seemed to have drifted. Partnering with another writer seemed like a great idea but Jeffers has absolutely knocked it out of the park with his new book, Once Upon An Alphabet: Short Stories For All The Letters.

As the subtitle suggests this is an alphabet book with a difference. Jeffers gives four pages to every letter of the alphabet including a short story about each one. The stories are fabulous and deliciously absurd. Some are interconnected and others stand alone. There are funny stories, sad stories and typically Jeffers-esque morality tales. There are heroes, there is wisdom and best of all illustrations that burst, bubble and run wild over all the pages.

This is vintage Oliver Jeffers and I cannot wait to  share this over and over with my kids as there is so much to explore and enjoy in this marvellous picture book.

Buy the book here…

Vanguard of Debut Children’s Authors

Tiger StoneA surge of debut novels by talented Australians for children and young adults may be on the way. Deryn Mansell’s Tiger Stone  (Black Dog Books), an original, intricate mystery set in fourteenth century Java for upper primary and junior secondary readers and Caro Was Here by Elizabeth Farrelly (Walker Books) are some forerunners.

Caro Was Here is also aimed at upper primary school children. Rather than a historical mystery, it is a cool, contemporary mystery adventure. It’s an addictive, pacey read and is today’s equivalent of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five but better written and with more depth of characterisation (not to detract from Blyton, whose books I, and practically everyone else, relished as a child).

Caro is a fascinating character – a bit over-confident, a bit opinionated and a rule-breaker. The novel begins just before the Easter break when twelve-year-old Caro inadvertently sticks up for ‘poached-egg glasses’-wearing nerd, Nigel Numbnuts on the bus. She’s not sure that it will help her chances of becoming Year Six Winter Captain but she has to do it. Her election speech is eclipsed by new American girl, Ellen Aurelia Dufresne, who later becomes part of the group who wag the last afternoon of term.

Ned, Caro’s younger half-brother, Nigel and Ellen, as well as one of her best friends, Tattie, follow Caro to Sydney Harbour. After Caro makes them put their phones in a locker at Circular Quay to enhance the adventure of their afternoon, they miss the ferry to Cockatoo Island and have to catch the boat to Goat Island instead. Some of the history of the island interests them but is convict Charles Anderson’s fate a foretaste of what might be lying in wait for them? Goat Island

When they miss the last ferry and have to spend the night on the dark island in the rain, they realise that they’re not alone. The author continues in the vein of contemporary adventure to create a deliberately uber-thrilling situation, while adding backstories and depth to the main characters.

The cover is perhaps the only downfall of the book. I assumed it signalled introspective realism because of the stylised images of a hand and matchstick, but these components do make sense when you read the story.

Overall, Caro Was Here, Tiger Stone, and other current works by debut writers, seem to be the vanguard in an exciting new era for children’s literature. And thanks also to the farsighted publishers who are delivering works by new authors.

 

Packed full of the humour and adventure we’ve come to expect from this fantastic series

9781444913989Review – How To Betray a Dragon’s Hero by Cressida Cowell

Having read the first ten books in this series with my daughter over the past three years I was tragically left out when it came to book eleven. In the year between book ten and eleven my daughter’s reading meant she no longer needed to be read aloud and she devoured this book on her own without me (very proud!). Having invested in the first ten books there was no way I was going to miss out so read this book all on my own.

This is the second last book in the series and we are definitely coming to the pointy end of the story. It is now a race between Hiccup and Alvin The Treacherous to get to the island of Tomorrow with the Lost Things (that Hiccup found and Alvin stole) and claim the throne of the King of the WIlderwest. Hiccup and his trusted friends have been in hiding from both Alvin and the dragon Furious, who is hell-bent on ridding the world of humans starting with Hiccup! However Hiccup is brought of hiding to save the life of his cousin (and turncoat) Snotlout. Snotlout’s rescue presents Hiccup with a chance to get the Lost Things back but can he trust his former bully and tormentor? Whose side is Snotlout really on? And who is going to betray our Hero?

Packed full of the humour and adventure we’ve come to expect from this fantastic series Hiccup must learn what it really takes to be a hero and a king…before it’s too late!

Buy the book here…

How To Train Your Dragon Series – like Asterix goes to Hogwarts.

9780340999073

Review – How To Train Your Dragon Series

I began reading the HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON series to my six-year-old daughter two years ago after watching the Dreamworks’ DVD. Apart from character names the books bear little resemblance to the movie but that hasn’t stopped us reading all the books in the series so far. We read them together up until book ten last year. This year having recently turned eight she read book eleven by herself (I read it after her!).

The series follows the adventures of Hiccup Horrendous Haddock the Third who we meet as an 11-year-old (and who is 13 in book 11). Hiccup is learning how to be a Viking, which he is not very good at. His training involves having a dragon as your obedient companion which he must train for hunting and other essential Viking activities such as being a pirate. Hiccup also has to deal with the fact that he is the heir to the Hooligan Tribe as his father, Stoick the Vast, is the chief which puts considerably pressure on Hiccup to be the best possible Viking.

The adventures Hiccup has are truly fantastic and a deeper, larger mystery slowly emerges over the course of the books as bits and pieces Hiccup picks up along the way slowly come together. Cowell combines well-balanced humour (silly and clever) with truly great original stories that even I am addicted to. Hiccup must overcome the odds in a number of different ways usually with the help of his two best friends; Fishlegs, an even more unlikely Viking and Camicazi, a girl from a neighbouring tribe who is the best burglar in the archipelago in which the Vikings inhabit. The best way I can think of to describe the series is that it is like Asterix goes to Hogwarts.

The books are great for reading aloud for a 5-7 year old and suitable for an 8-12 year old reader, boy or girl. And despite the movie baring no resemblance to the books it is pretty good too!

The series in order:

  1. How to Train Your Dragon
  2. How to Be a Pirate
  3. How to Speak Dragonese
  4. How to Cheat a Dragon’s Curse
  5. How to Twist a Dragon’s Tale
  6. A Hero’s Guide to Deadly Dragons
  7. How to Ride a Dragon’s Storm
  8. How to Break a Dragon’s Heart
  9. How to Steal a Dragon’s Sword
  10. How to Seize a Dragon’s Jewel
  11. How to Betray a Dragon’s Hero

Doodles and Drafts – An interview with Peter Allert Part One

I struggle to decipher my own handwriting. I can barely make a stencil look decent and my attempts at creating hangman stick figures always fills my opponents with pitiful glee. This is why I admire anyone who has even an infinitesimal amount of artistic flair.

The process of anything emerging be it writer, illustrator, butterfly, and to a lesser degree, human baby is a beautiful thing and deserves some examination.

Peter Allert IllusOur doodler today is Peter Allert, whose artistic flair, I am happy to announce is anything but insignificant. In fact Peter’s drive and dedication to his craft are so great; they have filled more than one post can cope with alone. So here is Part One of my interview with Peter Allert, illustrator of children’s books (Long Live Us!) and bona fide gentleman to boot.

Q Who is Peter Allert? Describe the illustrator in you and what sets your work apart from other Aussie illustrators.

I was born in South Australia and moved up to Queensland in the 1980’s with my parents, I spent time living in Sydney but have made Queensland my home for the last 13 years. I have always illustrated in one form or another but have become quit driven in my 30’s to discover my potential.

ill-animals-frog3I believe I am an artist at heart who has found I express myself best through illustrating with watercolour pencils and ink. My strength is illustrating animals, capturing their fur or feathers, bringing their eyes to life as if they were looking at me. I am most proud of this work. I have also illustrated a variety of other subjects including fairy tale and children’s book characters and Science Fiction themes.

I think what sets me aside is that I use watercolour pencils rather than straight watercolour paints, therefore I am able to apply the detail I am comfortable with. I also mix my love of photography with my work so I can capture a natural realism in my subjects. I like getting out and about and seeing the world, I feel this helps bring perspective to your illustrations. I am still finding myself as a writer and poet but draw inspiration from my other writers and close friends.Peter Allert Possum

Q What is your favourite colour, why and how does it influence or restrict what you illustrate?

I guess like a lot of illustrators it is hard to choose just one but if I had to it would be green. To me it’s a very nature colour with so many ways it can be applied. It can be applied to illustrations not just as a straight green but also through using other amazing blues, yellows…etc. It influences my work as I like illustrating natural subjects and I find they always have an element of green in them. It may however restrict me if I had a dark subject matter, I would always want to add a brighter colour to inspire hope.

Q When did the coloured pencil drop for you? What, whom persuaded you to illustrate?

When growing up I guess coloured pencils were all around me, in school, at home, they were inexpensive and there was always a colouring book that needed my attention. After seeking feedback about my work I found the straight pencil a little limiting. With water coloured pencils I could enhance and bring the colours to life, with the right paper I could add other dimensions and finishes to my work. It just displayed and continues to display great potential. I also like detail and I can accomplish that with pencils.ill-book-mr-q

Deep inside me, even when I was younger child I wanted to create and be artistic. I didn’t exactly know what it meant for me personally or that you could possibly make a living out of it. But when I decided to make this profession part of my life I was inspired by Shaun Tan, Gregory Rogers, Narelle Oliver, Maurice Sendak, & and many of the illustrated children’s books I grew up with.

Q Are you a natural or have you had to study and suffer for your craft?

I have had some study in art and illustrating over the years but I would have to say I am mostly self-taught. That said, in the beginning I was finding my work lacked some fundamental things and I knew I needed advice and training. I took some basic classes, attended conferences and researched other artists. I started diversifying my subject matter, built my portfolio and over the years improved my craft. I wouldn’t call it suffering I would call it dedicating yourself to long hours of improving your skills and yourself.

Q How do you develop your illustrations? Do digital computer programs feature significantly in what you produce?

If I have a particular idea or theme in mind I will simply start drawing small sketches and exploring ideas. I’ll make notes and over a period of time, this may take days or weeks, I will then start the main illustration. With most of my illustrations I will lightly draw it first with pencil on pressed smooth watercolour paper. I then slowly add layers of colour such as a yellow base, followed by a light green or blue then to add some dimension I will add variations of the same colour. Indigo makes a great darker colour to use when additional shading is required, I will very rarely add black unless there is a reason. Once I feel it is ready I will apply water with a brush, mixing the colours and bringing the illustration to life. I include more layers or shading to add depth, and then use an ink pen if required.

ill-animals-ambrose1I will often note the pencil number and photograph different stages of the illustration to remember how I reached the final stage. A lot can happen in the creation process so if you end up liking the final piece then remembering how you got there is important. Remember that when illustrating a picture book you want the illustrations to be consistent in both colour and appearance. This helps me anyway. I do not use any major software programs as such but I do scan my images and clean them up in order to send on to publishes.

Q Do you draw every day? What is the most enjoyable part of your working day?

To be honest no, but the enthusiasm is there. Like all illustrators who are also working it is a constant juggling act. The best part of my day is the morning; I have been probably stewing on an idea and have all this energy and want to put it down on paper.

Q It’s accepted that writers often scribble ideas on the back of takeaway menus, napkins, bus tickets, whatever they can when ideas strike – is this the same for illustrators? When you get a shot of inspiration and desire to draw, what do you do?

You draw it anyway you can. I once started illustrating on a napkin because I made the mistake of leaving my notebook behind. If you have an idea, write it down, draw it, and make a note of it because it will disappear. Too often have I laid in bed with an idea or two thinking it is such a great idea how could I possible forget it and when the morning comes it’s no longer under my pillow.

Long Live Us troll

Join me again soon for Part Two where we learn a little more about Peter and his work in the fractured fairy-tale, Long Live Us!

A very appy bear called Paddington

Nostalgia reigned as I first shared the new iPad app edition of the 1958 children’s classic Paddington Bear with my son.

I suspect the same would be true for most of you.

A copy of follow-up title Paddington in the Garden is among the favourite children’s books to have survived on my shelves for decades, having inspired me to take ownership of my own little corner of the garden as a child.

The next generation will be no different. I bought a little Paddington toy a year ago for my son, and was touched to find upon reaching my desk one morning that at age 15 months, he’d thoughtfully popped it into my handbag to take to work.

HarperCollins Children’s Books (UK) is the publisher of the new iPad edition of Paddington Bear ($A1.99 from iTunes), having partnered with youth digital specialist Bold Creative on the software, and a fine job they’ve done in putting it together too.

The design is stunning. The digitised RW Alley illustrations are crystal clear, with bright colours and plenty of white space to boost their impact.

There are lots of in-app options: to buy the printed version, to appear in a portrait with Paddington, to record your own reading of the story, to send a message to author Michael Bond (who lives near Paddington Station in London himself, these days), to share news of the app’s arrival via email, Facebook or Twitter, and to be read to or read on your own.

The text appears on each page in a horizontal box that can be dragged off, to leave the illustrations in full view.

The app is full of very cute, yet simple, interactive animations. Touch a pigeon to giggle as it defecates on the footpath. Tap your finger on Paddington as he sits on a cafe table, and watch him fall over on, thus covering himself with, cake. Readers can tap on a London bus to hear a bell, or on a black cab to hear its horn toot.

My son loved all of this, but especially the pigeon animation, which he takes much delight in activating over and over again.

Watching him play with these elements reminded me of the fun he had with books like Spot’s Noisy Car – before he tore the flaps off and wore out the horn button.

The iPad can never replicate the fun of little fingers poking their way through the holes in The Very Hungry Caterpillar, but it has other benefits Eric Carle may never have imagined.

FRIDAY BOOK FEATURE STARTS TOMORROW!

Tomorrow, we start our FRIDAY BOOK FEATURE at Kids’ Book Capers –  and this week, it’s all about streets and ducks.

I can’t wait to talk about some new releases in the wonderful world of kids’ books.

We’re going to be blogging every Friday and greeting new arrivals to the book shelves.

Discover Trudie Trewin’s quirky new picture book Wibbly Wobbly Street which has been beautifully illustrated by Cheryl Orsini.

We’ll also be taking a waddle down the road with Duck for a Day written by Meg McKinlay with gorgeous illustrations by Leila Ridge.

Look forward to seeing you then.

Dee