The ANZAC Tree by Christina Booth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tania McCartney’s Passionate Spirit Shines

imageAs we grow up and experience a variety of things that life has to offer, we become attuned to our own identity and sense of self. We develop tastes, interests, abilities, likes and dislikes, individual quirks, and future aspirations. We are all unique and special in our own little ways. One such individual who is truly one of a kind is the multi-talented, all-round exceptional lady; author, illustrator, editor, presenter and Kids’ Book Review founder, Tania McCartney. It has been an absolute pleasure learning more about her writerly life, exciting upcoming events and inspiration behind her latest striking release, Peas in a Pod (see review).    

Congratulations on your most recent release ‘Peas in a Pod’! How did you celebrate its launch?  
I was actually in Singapore for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content, and well … when in Singapore, launch a book! We celebrated the launch during a morning tea break at the festival. I presented on the creation of the book, talked about Tina Snerling’s amazing illustrations, and then had a book signing. It was lots of fun.
See Tania’s write up of her launch experience in Singapore here: http://taniamccartney.blogspot.com.au/2015/06/peas-in-pod-book-launch-singapore.html?m=1

What was the inspiration behind this story? 
I tend to write my books intuitively, without overt inspiration. Characters pop onto my head and a story quickly follows; I just write it down! But if I think about it, the Peas story is perhaps a subconscious desire to promote diversity which is a hot topic in PBs worldwide at the moment. The movement was initiated in the United States, perhaps as a counterpoint to the myriad PBs that tell kids ‘we are all the same! everyone is equal! you’re all winners!’ The thing is, Real Life is not same-same and is certainly not equal. We need to teach kids they will sometimes win and sometimes lose and that being ourselves or standing out in any way as an individual is a fine thing indeed. I’m a strong advocate for teaching kids to never compromise their uniqueness … and to let no one dull their shine.  

‘Peas in a Pod’ is a wonderful celebration of individuality, accepting each others’ unique qualities, and realising one’s dreams. We’ve seen these themes in some of your other books, including ‘This is Captain Cook’, ‘Tottie and Dot’ and ‘An Aussie Year’. Was this your intention when writing these books?
Not consciously. I was at a talk recently where some famous author was quoted as saying that all books are in some way autobiographical, ie: there’s a little part of us in everything we write. I’ve never been a conformist or someone who needs to belong to a group. I’m all for quirks and points of difference and the stretching (or obliteration) of stereotypes. So my little Peas in a Pod, and many of my other characters just seem to morph into people with a solid sense of self. I believe one of the greatest gifts we can teach children is to honour their own sense of self—and to trust it.  

What message do you hope for readers to gain from reading ‘Peas in a Pod’?
First and foremost, I want them to find the story entertaining. Entertain first. Educate second (preferably imperceptibly when it comes to fictional picture books). I want it to charm them mentally and then resonate with them emotionally, even if they don’t know why. Beyond that, I hope they come away from the story knowing that yes, while we all eat, drink, breathe (suck our thumbs, in the cased of the Peas!) and have the same coloured blood, we are, each and every one of us, different to the point of kooky.  

imageWhat is your favourite part of the story? Why? 
My favourite part is the page with the girls on the swings. It’s just so poignant. It’s at a point in the story where the ‘sameness’ has clearly broken their spirits, and the image is so emotional for me. Swings are meant to be swung on, with little legs high in the air, but here, they are stationary. It’s a perfect image in terms of visual literacy. My other favourite part is the last page, but I can’t say what happens there because it will spoil the story!  

What’s your most unique quality? 
I love your questions! Probably my ability to ‘see’ words when I write. It’s hard to explain but I’m a visual writer in a literal sense—I see colours and shapes and characters and tones and patterns and themes that help shape the words that emerge. I’ll often storyboard or layout books I’m writing so I can ‘see’ how things are unfolding. This has made it a lot easier to transition into illustrating, too, which I’m doing for the first time this year.  

‘Peas in a Pod’ is written in a simple, whimsical sense with that gorgeous repetition that keeps readers engaged. How do you decide which writing style best suits your stories? Does this decision come naturally or it is a conscious effort to strive for perfection? Do you have a preferred style of writing?
Again, I think it’s intuitive. I know my audience for each book, so I write with that audience in mind, using appropriate language and word usage. Having said that, I don’t believe in patronizing the reader, and will still use relatively sophisticated text whenever I can. Context and association is powerful, even at a very young age. That’s how kids learn delicious words!  

My favourite style of writing, you’ve already mentioned—whimsical. I adore magical realism. I love rhyme (but it has to be infallible) and although picture books are my obsession, the books I enjoy writing the most are junior fiction because they allow me so much more wordage (I have three WIP junior fiction novels).  

I think repetition should be used achingly sparingly, and should only be used for the very young. It has to be rhythmic and succinct and it has to stop soon after it starts. A book with endless repetition is my idea of hell. The only person in the world who’s ever done it right is Dr Seuss, and even then, enough is enough!  

I’m also a strong believer in minimal text picture books, as I feel the images should do most of the talking. That’s why they’re ‘picture’ books.  

imageYou’ve had tremendous success working with illustrator, Tina Snerling, including collaborations on the award-winning ‘An Aussie Year’, and ‘Tottie and Dot’. Her pictures in ‘Peas in a Pod’ perfectly compliment the sweet, colourful nature of the story. What do you like about her artistic style? How much illustrative detail do you normally provide, and how much is left to her imagination?
I love that she blends stylish modern with heartfelt whimsy so seamlessly. Her sense of colour is unparalleled, and beautiful colour is HUGE for me. I love that her artistic repertoire is vast—she can switch from fine art to cartoon in a nanosecond. And I love her penchant for detail. She never fails to astound me with the tiny little bits and pieces that make any picture book great.  

The more books we do together, the more creative license Tina has because she understands what I write. Along the way, I might make comment on something tiny that would better support text, but other than that, she comes up with all the characters on her own (I always love them) and also adds ‘extra’ ideas and elements that enhance my words.  

Tina and I are really lucky to work closely on our books—not something all creators enjoy. This brings the books that extra ‘something’ that can only come from open collaboration. The end result is more seamless, more cohesive, more plump with meaning.  

You are an inspirational literacy advocate and supporter of children’s book creators with your many roles; author, illustrator, editor, speaker, reviewer and founder of the reputable ‘Kids’ Book Review’ literature site and the 52-Week Illustration Challenge. How is your working life managed? Which of these roles do you feel most established? Is there a particular one you wish you had more time for? 
It’s interesting because as my career has developed, I’ve found a much greater need for focus, which means dropping a few of those roles, particularly in the last six months. I actually found I was no longer managing to ‘do it all’—at least not without compromising my health and sanity.  

I genuinely love helping others, promoting other works and sharing all I’ve learned—and of course, I’ll never stop beating children over the head with books books books! But I’ve had to take a big step back of late, to focus on my own journey, which is undergoing a lot of change. After a 25+ year hiatus, I’m re-entering the world of illustration with my first author/illustrator contract, so it’s been interesting watching that side of myself develop.  

I‘ve been writing professionally for 27 years now, in varying genres, so that side of my career is well-established, as is my speaking and presenting. Illustration, while it’s always been a part of my life, is brand new in a professional/career sense. So that’s what I’ll be dedicating more time to these coming years. Notice I said ‘dedicating’ and not ‘wishing’. We all need to stop wishing and just dedicate. It’s so important.  

What do you love about writing children’s books? 
Everything. The initial concept, the research and development, the illustration process, the editing, design, layout—everything. Then there’s the reaction from kids. That’s just the best. To see kids resonate with or learn from you work … to see them scurry into a corner and sit with my books and devour every page. It’s insanely rewarding.  

Which books did you enjoy reading as a child? Have any of these influenced your writing style?
Like anyone born from the ‘50s to the ‘70s, I adored Enid Blyton, Roald Dahl, Eric Carle and Dr Seuss. Yes, I think they have influenced both my style and content—magical realism and wonder. I remember being particularly struck by James and the Giant Peach. It blew my mind. CS Lewis and the Chronicles of Narnia similarly reconfigured my internal world, and I do think this has affected the way I write as an adult.  

imageWith all your knowledge and experience gained over the past 25+ years in mind, what piece of advice could you share with aspiring writers in the children’s literature industry?
Never stop learning and growing your skillset. Watch The Gap by Ira Glass (search for it on YouTube) and be really self-effacing with what you’re producing. I’ve lost count of the people who’ve said to me ‘I’ve decided I want to write children’s books. How do I get published?’ My response? ‘Dedicate the next ten years to daily writing. Then ask me that same question.’  

The best writers and illustrators know they can always improve, and do not take offence when critiqued or rejected. They just keep honing their craft, and keep themselves current.  

Also, write from the heart and write what you love. I don’t agree that we should write for kids or publishers. I think we should write what WE want, what WE love, and do it in a voice that will appeal to our target market. Or better yet, just write it and then assess the target market at the end! We need to love what we write. We need to be overcome with passion and adoration for the stories tumbling onto our blank pages. THAT is how we end up with contracts.  

imageWhat’s next for Tania McCartney? What can we look forward to seeing from you in the near future?
September 2015 sees the release of a new book for the National Library, illustrated by the superlative Andrew Joyner—Australian Kids Through the Years. At the same time, two follow-up books to An Aussie Year will be released in the UK (with a small print run here)—An English Year and A Scottish Year. These will be followed in 2016 by two more international titles in the series. So excited about these, but you’ll have to wait and see where they’ll be set!  
In 2016, I have a picture book—Smile Cry—coming out, illustrated by Jess Racklyeft who I met through my 52-Week Illustration Challenge. It’s really different and I can’t wait to see the response to it. Jess’s illustrations are so gorgeous.  

imageIn either 2016 or 2017, my next National Library book will be out—a follow-on to This is Captain Cook, with my dear friend Christina Booth. It’s about one of my favourite historical figures of all time—and book three is on another favourite (this time a woman).  
But the most exciting news of all is my first author/illustrator contract. It’s going to be a high-page-count book and will take me nearly a year to complete. It’s a little overwhelming making this career transition, and a little scary, but our industry is so inclusive and warm—I know I’ll have some supportive hands holding me up!

Thank you so much for answering my questions, Tania!
I LOVE THEM! Thank you SO much, Romi. xxx  

Find more information about Tania, her books, and initiatives at the following links:
www.taniamccartney.com
www.kids-bookreview.com
52-Week Illustration Challenge:
https://www.facebook.com/groups/418616991575037/ 

To purchase her invaluable ebook resource for writers and illustrators; The Fantastical Flying Creator, please follow this link:
http://taniamccartney.blogspot.com.au/2014/11/the-fantastic-flying-creator-e-workshop.html?m=1

Review – This is Captain Cook

This is Captain CookHistory can be a hard pill to swallow. It’s easy to choke on a diet of dried up, dusty old facts about dried up, dusty old people. Trouble is, what those folk did in our not so distant pasts was often fascinating and ground-breaking and well worth exploring. So how do you find the right sweetener to tempt young people to try a nibble of the past? You dish it up as a school play, garnish it with luscious imagery, and call it a picture book, of course!

This is Captain Cook by Tania McCartney and Christina Booth, is exactly how I like my history served up and, as it turns out, how my Miss 9 likes it too. The fact that she was able to recognise that these adventurous events occurred, ‘way before you were born Mummy’ at the time when the First Fleet began arriving, indicated that this fact-based picture book struck accord with her and her current class room learning.

Tania Mc McCartney skilfully navigates the reader through a carefully considered chronology of James Cook’s life. Miss 9 was keen to point out that the opening act is clear and clever, introducing us to Cook’s beginnings and the start of the school play in which his life is being portrayed.

Christina Booth 2Rather like a one-take shoot on a film set, This is Captain Cook retains the same illustrative perspective throughout the book. The reader has (second) row seats in the audience and is thus privy to not only the terrific parallel visual narrative of the audience members, but of every action that takes place on stage too. You may think this would have the potential to dissolve into dreariness but it definitely does not thanks to McCartney’s spirited narrative and Booth’s charming drawings.

Captain Cook illo spreadIf Miss 9 had more thumbs, she would hoist them as high as a top sail because she enjoyed the lively comedy used to gently reveal Cook’s personality (as it may have been) and his penchant for shiny buttons rather than just focusing on his noteworthy exploits and achievements. She found the latter much easier to ingest because of the humanisation of his story. Sitting through another telling of the ‘show’ was not problem either although she is quick to add that perhaps a life at sea would not be for her as it seems Cook was never ever able to have a pet dog; at least not in this particular production! An ubiquitous chook and comical cast of other avian members however, make a delightful reoccurring appearance throughout the performance, earning a standing ovation from me too.

Captain Cook illo 2There is a raft of exquisite subtle details in this tale about one of the most accomplished mariners and adventurers of our time all served up with just the right amount of frivolity and wit guaranteed to keep youngsters 3 – 8 years old and beyond tucking in. And, just like eating a bowl of vegies in the guise of Spaghetti Bolognese, they will hardly even realise that it’s good for them.

Before you get to the utterly endearing end pages (Bok Bok!), walk through Cook’s Gallery to view some of the real pictures and maps sections of this story are based around. You are invited to discover more through links by the National Library of Australia who announces that this picture book is not so much about ‘the questionable outcomes of exploration and settlement for indigenous peoples’ rather a focus on ‘the life of Captain James Cook as a mariner, father and adventurer.’

With the help of one cheeky chook, and McCartney and Booth, I think this objective has been admirably achieved. Somebody give these chooks a bouquet of flowers. Brava!

NLA March 2015 Available here, now.

This review was kindly supplemented by Miss 9 Powell, who surprisingly now likes history.

 

 

 

On My Bedside Table – # 3

Bedside Table books-lamp-diyBack by popular demand, the bedside table revelations of our literary heroes and heroines or as some of us like to address the towers of teetering titles yet to be tackled, the TBR List – To Be Read List. Be it on the bookshelf, coffee table, lounge room floor or humble little bedside cube like mine; where ever you stash your next-in-line-to-read reads, have a look through these. You might just have to make another pile.

Today we ask the burning question: Do illustrators make time to read? If so, who is it that these arty types curl up with and why…the answers are illuminating.

Sarah Davis SARAH DAVIS Multiple award winning children’s book illustrator who is as much at home drawing ghosts as bulldogs and is half the creative heart of the divine Violet Mackerel. A multitasking legend!

 Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, which is gripping – I can’t quite work out what her magic trick is for making her characters and situations so vivid and immediate.

Middlemarch by George Eliot for the third time, because I’d been thinking a lot about Mr Casaubon and Dorothea recently and wanted to go visit them again.

 Hiding in Plain Sight – Confessions of a Sociopath by M. E. Thomas, because I’m interested in abnormal psychology.Confessions of a sociopath

 Shriek by Jeff Vandermeer – set in the freaky crumbling surreal city of Ambergris beneath which lurk sentient fungi. (My upstairs book for when I take lunchbreaks)

I’m reading a chapter of To Kill A Mockingbird aloud to the kids every night, and usually listening to Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita on audio book while I work, although I’ll occasionally take a break to listen to podcasts.

I’ve got a story by Isobelle Carmody all lined up to listen to while I paint tomorrow.

And am dipping in and out of Pablo Neruda’s Residence on Earth.

When I’m stuck on the train or in a queue with nothing to read, I’m getting through The Count of Monte Cristo on my iPhone.

I don’t know what I’ll read after all that… I’ll just see what jumps off the shelf at me, I suppose. Whatever it is, hopefully it doesn’t hit me on the head.

James Foley  JAMES FOLEY Writer, illustrator, cartoonist, and part time Viking. A man with multiple awards to his name as well and a disparaging multiple-pile problem.

More Than This by Patrick Ness. Like the Chaos Walking Trilogy and A Monster Calls, this is incredibly suspenseful storytelling. Mr Ness strings you along, throwing questions at you but only giving the barest slivers of answers each chapter. The ending felt unfinished and under defined, but I guess that’s par for the course in a book about the (possible) afterlife.

I got some great left-field comics for my birthday, both from Nobrow Comics: Adventures of A Japanese Businessman by Jose Domingo and Dockwood by Jon McNaught.Adventures of a Japanese Businessman

I also topped up my Hellboy collection with a new trade paperback, The Midnight Circus by Mike Mignola, Duncan Fegredo and Dave Stewart – there’s some insanely good pen and wash technique in there.

One Soul by Ray Fawkes – The best graphic novel I’ve read this year – 18 separate characters living in different time periods have their life stories told in parallel. Each double page spread is arranged into 18 panels (6×3), with each character having their own panel.

But wait, there’s more! My recent picture book acquisitions: My Two Blankets by Irena Kobald and Freya Blackwood; I am Cow Hear Me Moo by Jill Esbaum and Gus Gordon.

Skullduggery Pleasant: Dying of the Light by Derek Landy; my current read.

There, done! Ooh! Ooh! On one of my bedside reading piles is Deb Fitzpatrick’s new one, The Break – it just came out last week

Christina Booth CHRISTINA BOOTH Enviable author illustrator whose latest picture book Welcome Home has just picked up the 2014 Environment Award for Children’s Literature. She hails from a small island to the south of Australia known as Tasmania and has a larger pile problem than James.

Christian explains: Well, to start with there are none on my table, you see, the pile became so large that I moved a big bookcase into my bedroom and that is where they now reside; my reading-to-do-pile, ever increasing,  those read and those in progress.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows highly recommended. As an author, I loved the banter between author and publisher and fans, and I learnt a lot about Guernsey, especially how they were occupied by the Germans during the Second World War.

My Place Nadia Wheatley & Donna Rawlins This picture book is part of my apprenticeship in writing a time line PB.The People Smuggler

The People Smuggler by Robin de Crespigny, following the life and journey of a man accused in Australia as a People Smuggler and how he was used as an example in the courts at great cost to the country only to be found innocent. Robin is an award winning script writer and this book is her first written as a biography but using the first person approach. It is a good read, though it is emotionally charged.

I have attempted to read Rohan Wilson’s The Roving Party, which seems to be a great story set in my home state of Tasmania. Alas, what does my head in is the lack of speech marks in the text. It requires more concentration to sort out who is saying what for my tired brain to deal with at present. It sits there, waiting….

Every night I (also) read my Bible, so much to contemplate along with words of wisdom from C.S. Lewis, and some other writers who refer to the passages I read. This is the most read of my books.

Maus is always close by as well by Art Spiegelman. Re-visited, browsed and remembered. One of the books that has changed me…. (Wonderfully tactile in hard cover with fabric spine).

There is a manuscript in varying stages in a folder that I review and reread, it’s almost there now; I’m starting to dream it instead.

On my ‘to get to ASAP’ list is Morris Gleitzman’s Loyal CreaturesJohn Green’s The Fault In Our Stars, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot is next for book club. The Roald Dahl Biography and also one on Michael Morpurgo await my attention. They are so patient with me, I want to read them all right now but alas, time isn’t my friend.

Phew! Is there anything they are NOT reading?! So it turns out, illustrators are just as voracious readers as the next bibliophile. Makes my pile of seventeen or so pale in comparison under the amber glow of my bedside lamp. Do any of these feature on your bedside table? So many books, not enough nights to get through them all…

Be further inspired. More great titles you may not have thought about adding to you pile from more great authors and illustrators.

Visit here and here.