I confess, I am not impressive with a bat or ball. Playing sports has never really been my thing. What I have discovered however, is that reading about sports is far more satisfying for me and if even if you don’t have a footy-mad under nine-year-old or even a book-crazy child, the following sports books may be just the ticket to igniting an appreciation for both, this Christmas.
This is an alphabet picture book with a lovely difference – it appeals to footy fanatical boys and girls who love AFL but also enjoy the thrill and anticipation of team play. Superb alliteration and spirited illustrations take readers from A to Z, through a wet and wonderful day on the field. I love the exaggerated use of letter repetition used to reinforce and introduce new word sounds. Sensational squelchy fun.
This is a gorgeous pretty in pink story about prima ballerina, Michaela DePrince. Abandoned in a Sierra Leone orphanage, then adopted by the DePrinces, it tells of Michaela’s rise from poverty and despair to attaining her dream of dancing on her toes and flying through the air after seeing a picture of a woman with pink shoes on her feet on a magazine cover. Poignant and gently inspirational. Highly recommended for those with a dancing dream of their own.
Uncomplicated text and a sizzling storyline make these tales of friendship perfect for early primary readers. There are a few titles in this series about twin brothers, Thomas and Cooper, which will claim the attention of little lads but the premise of these identical troublemakers pulling pranks wherever and whenever they can has universal appeal.
Thanks to Alison Green from Pantera Press for talking to Boomerang Books today, and sharing your Christmas picks with us. First, let’s find out a little more about you and some of the books you’ve been working on.
You’re the CEO & co-founder of Pantera Press, what does your job entail?
As a boutique publishing house, we have a small dedicated team. We are all extremely passionate, and often it is all hands on deck! On a day-to-day I work closely with our authors as well as the Pantera Press submissions, marketing, publicity, digital, editorial, design, financial and rights, teams and agencies. I also have a strong focus on our strategic development.
But I’d really say that my job is about making dreams come true. The dreams of our readers, storylovers – who love to get swept up into different fictional worlds. The dreams of our authors – our storytellers who live for writing fabulous tales and getting those stories to their fans. And the great philanthropic works we do in and around literacy and the joys of reading.
How did you get this job?
I co-founded the company in 2008. My background was in psychology and business strategy, and I have always been an avid reader. We created Pantera Press as a response to what we felt was a void in the industry – a home that not only welcomes but also actively seeks previously unpublished authors with best-seller writing potential.
What is different/special about Pantera Press?
Many things! Pantera Press introduced an innovative business model into the Australian publishing industry. We explicitly embraced a fresh strategy to be better support to Australia’s storytellers and storylovers, via an innovative, author-friendlier model with a strong curatorial culture. We designed this so that we could take a great, and longer-term risk in backing new authors. From day one, Pantera Press dedicated itself to discovering new, previously unpublished authors. Writers of great stories that are well written and would appeal to a wide audience of dedicated readers. We also have a strong ‘profits for philanthropy’ foundation that we call ‘good books doing good things’, where we invest in programs and projects around Australia that help close the literacy gap and encourage the joy of reading. If that’s not enough, I should mention that our boardroom table is actually a Ping-Pong table. So if you find yourself in the Pantera Press office, you may be up for a battle.
(Brilliant, I love table tennis!) I suspect you love all the books you work on, but could you tell us about some that you are particularly proud of?
Great question. I do LOVE all of the books that we publish, and in part… that is actually a set criteria for any story we consider for publication (seriously). Be it a latest story from one of our existing authors, or a story from a brand new author there are many things we will consider when choosing a story to publish. Our authors are talented writers who we have handpicked, because we think they are absolutely amazing and see big potential for them. One of the many criteria we have is “even if you are not the target audience for this story, did you love it? And did you want to keep reading”. So I do indeed love all of the books we work on.
Killing Adonis by J.M. Donellan is a book I’m particularly proud of. It’s a really quirky ride, and we’ve had an overwhelming amount of media compare this story to the stylings of Wes Anderson (Writer and Director of The Grand Budapest Hotel). Donellan’s story is a tragicomic tale about love, delusion, corporate greed… and the hazards of using pineapple cutters while hallucinating. This story is for people who enjoy complex storylines that verge on the absurd, who love the scrumptious extravagance of Wes Anderson movies, and who marvel at the moral-driven layers of Roald Dahl. On top of being a GREAT story, the cover of the book is very unique and was created to mimic a leather bound book. It has the look and feel, and it’s certainly something special to hold onto, and to display on your bookshelf.
I also have to mention Sulari Gentill’s award-winning Rowland Sinclair Mystery series. Her series has been nominated and shortlisted for several awards, and won the Davitt Award for best crime fiction. Her latest novel in the series, A Murder Unmentioned has topped several Australia bookseller best-seller lists. And it’s a phenomally engaging and charming series that appeals to men and women of all ages. I’m thrilled that we discovered Sulari and have just released her 9th book in 4 years (yes, she is seriously impressive!).
What is your secret reading pleasure?
As much as I might wish for it… I’m clearly no longer a young adult. However, I take secret joy in reading Young Adult fiction and finding myself in strange new worlds. Wanda Wiltshire’s Betrothed series is a favourite. Her writing is beautiful, and the first book in the series (Betrothed) had me dreaming every night about receiving my invitation to the Faery world of Faera. Wanda explores beautiful themes of friendship, self-discovery and finding ones place in the world. As well as romance, darkness… and how to fly!
I’d also love to tell you about a top-secret Pantera Press book (shhh), it is not yet released – but is coming really soon (February 2015). Akarnae by Lynette Noni, the first book in the 5 book Medoran Chronicles. Akarnae is Harry Potter, X-Men and Narnia rolled into one wonderful story. Believable characters, in an unbelievable world: with Akarnae you must embrace the wonder!
What are your must-reads over Christmas? (What’s on your bedside table to read over the holidays?) There are many. As you can imagine there is a big pile of books, awaiting me for my summer staycation (and I can’t wait). To mention a couple: Tempting Fate by Jane Green (not a relation). Most people seem to assume that my reading list would predominantly contain serious literary fiction, however in high school – fun and romantic stories were what made me the avid reader I am today. I would read 3-4 books a week, easily. And that voracious love of reading is partially what excited me about becoming involved in the book publishing industry. Jane Green was always a favourite. I’ve read every single one of her books at least once, so I’m looking forward to her latest summer read.
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Chemo by Luke Ryan. I recently met Luke and heard him speak with one of our own Pantera Press authors, J.M. Donellan, at the National Young Writers’ Festival in Newcastle. He was hilarious, and I’m looking forward to reading his memoir.
John M. Green you are co-founder of Pantera Press with Alison and author of Nowhere Man, The Trusted & Born To Run. What are your must-reads this Christmas? I want to read Wally Lamb‘s latest novel We are Water over the holidays. He creates characters and relationships, especially difficult ones, so convincingly that I can cry – and often have.
Money: Master the Game by Tony Robbins is a plain English book about money and investing that is 700 pages and costs $30 (with all profits going to Feeding America). Here’s my investment advice: read the book and you’ll probably make your $30 back.
Finally, I’ll be reading Here Come the Dogs by Omar Musa over the holidays. Omar is a slam poet from Queanbeyan that did a Ted talk and I met him while he was doing promos for his debut novel and he’s a super cool guy.
Thanks very much for speaking with us, Alison and Merry Christmas!
Thanks to Anna O’Grady for talking to Boomerang Books today, and sharing your Christmas picks with us. First, let’s find out more about you and some of the books you’ve been working on.
You’re the Marketing and Publicity Manager at Simon & Schuster. What does your job entail?
How much time do we have? I like describing it as ‘parenting’ a book and making sure that I find the best possible home for it. It all starts by understanding who would enjoy the particular title, and then the fun part of thinking of the best means of reaching that audience. Nowadays there are so many different ways that this can be achieved.
In the last few months I’ve worked on creating online trailers and ads, organized blog tours, pitched titles to festivals, events and media and talked to our book loving community over various social media channels.
How did you get this job?
I am the third generation working in the book world from a family of booksellers and publishers. For the better part of my life I have been lucky enough to continue our family tradition across six different countries. However, bookselling is rapidly changing and for a few years I have wanted to try my hand in a publishing house. All the stars aligned really well this year and I ended up with the amazing team at Simon & Schuster Australia. I have learnt a tremendous amount but it also has been a lot of fun.
What is different/special about Simon & Schuster?
One of the things I really like about Simon & Schuster is that it is a small publishing house. There are just over 20 people in the office and that means that there are opportunities to try different things in different areas of the book business. For example, even though my official role is within the marketing and publicity department, I am also part of the acquisition team – so I have a chance to read new manuscripts and contribute to the decision on publishing these.
I also really love the staff’s passion for books we publish within the Simon & Schuster program. A lot of larger houses release so many books that it is physically impossible for everybody to be familiar with all titles. Our publishing program is small enough that almost everybody in-house can read all the books we publish and be able to meet all the authors in person. I really love being in an office where everybody reads and where books are celebrated every day.
I suspect you love all the books you work on, but could you tell us about some that you are particularly proud of?
It has been quite a year for me, and I often feel in awe of the amazing authors that I have been taking care of. I will highlight two – only because they are so completely different. The first one was my campaign for debut author Ellie O’Neill’s book Reluctantly Charmed. Debuts are notoriously difficult to break out, but I felt special pressure on this one because everybody at Simon & Schuster loved this book. In the end we had a great campaign that was embraced by a major sponsor – Tourism Ireland – and also created a lot of buzz in the book blogging community. I am already looking forward to the second book from Ellie coming next year.
The other campaign that will probably stay in mind for a very long time was A Thousand Shards of Glass by Michael Katakis. Although Michael is a world class photographer, an overseer of the intellectual property of Hemingway and an author of very thought provoking books, he is very little known in Australia. We decided to bring him here for a tour and I had the task of arranging events and media for his tour. This took several months and many, many phone calls and emails to organize. Because Michael is relatively unknown some event organizers took some persuasion and were hesitant to the last moment. In the end the response to Michael’s tour was exceptional and well worth all our efforts. I have never seen such an emotional reader–writer reaction, with many people moved to tears at events, and many readers calling and sending emails – and in one instance hand delivering a letter of thank you to our offices. There is nothing more special than seeing that connection in front of my eyes and knowing that I helped make it happen.
What do you see as the way forward in the book industry?
I have been watching the book industry very carefully for at least 20 years now and I find some changes painful, but I also see a lot of great things on the horizon. I think that we might be experiencing a new golden age of storytelling. There are more people reading than ever before, and they access books in many formats and ways. But what is even more exciting is that readers have more to say, and the means to say it, than ever before. The future of the publishing industry is in deepening the connection to readers and embracing new ways of telling and experiencing stories. I have no doubt that great books and storytellers will always find their audience.
What is your secret reading pleasure?
I really enjoy many YA novels, love a good mystery, and have a fascination with horror fiction. For me some of the great horror and crime writers are amongst the best at the craft of writing – although critics often disregard them.
Thanks very much for speaking with us, Anna. You’re most welcome, it’s been a pleasure.
All righty, you’ve noted what others are reading this Christmas. You are possibly getting a little woozy from a department store diet of flashy titles and quick fixes but you still haven’t managed to locate that special literary treasure for the younger person or young at heart person in your life.
The following list is by no means definitive or complete but it includes some of the past year’s most inspiring, evocative and memorable reads for me. It’s a composition of glorious, emotion packed picture books, laugh-out-loud midgrade readers, and heart stopping YA thrillers. In short, a real mixed bag of goodies, mostly Australian, many of which I’ve been fortunate enough to review this year. Use it as a reminder of some of the more notable releases of 2014 (and beyond) and a springboard into the vast, ever expanding reservoir of Kids’ Lit. Here we go:
Top 25 Cracking Reads (in no particular order)
The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein – An extraordinary uniquely told story of good versus evil, the essence of power and knowledge and the meaning of true conviction. It’s ultimately also a tale about the strength of love at every level; portrayed through the eyes and thoughts of Enzo, the family dog, with exceptional reality and heart. Written with uncompromising warmth and wit, this is a novel I could easily pick up and start all over again for the sheer sense of freedom it stirred up and the wonderful realities it forced me, as a mere human, to take stock of.
Figgy in the World by Tamsin Janu – Gorgeous tale of courage, tenacity and humility and an outstanding example of simplicity that truly impacts, set in Africa’s heartland. Ideal for idealistic 7 + year olds.
The Duck and the Darklings by Glenda Millard and Stephen Michael King – A whimsical journey of despair, discovery, renewal and hope that is indeed a little bit strange, a little bit dark and a little bit different. It is also a lot of wonderful. Click on the title for full review of this devastatingly brilliant picture book.
Are You Seeing Me? by Darren Groth – Utterly utterly utterly deserving of the investment of your time and heart. Searingly beautiful and funny and sad and real. Like life itself.
Smooch and Rose by Samantha Wheeler – A tale of one girl’s courageous and staunch attempt to stand up to the big guns of development in hope of keeping at least part of a local koalas’ habitat intact told with moving conviction.
Weir Do series by Anh Do – A heavily illustrated cartoon-like, side-splittingly humorous series of novels that will cause kids to smash open their piggy banks. A real rib tickling and surprisingly tender look at today’s social diversity, family make-up, and how little kids with unfortunate names fit into the mix.
Oliver by Judith Rossell – Superb. Clear, clever clarity. Oliver is everyone’s younger brother, kid next door, beguiling 6 year old, and he is perfect. I wanna go jet packing with him for ever. Because every one wants to fly.
Word Hunters Trilogy by Nick Earls and Terry Whidborne – Ingenious, action packed trilogy oddly but most effectively centering on the etymology of English. A tour of history clothed in modern day witticism. Loved it. Exhilarating and gripping. Lovers of words, history and adventure will revere this series.
The Croc and the Platypus by Jackie Hosking and Marjorie Crosby-Fairall – An ingenious retelling of a childhood classic, The Owl and the Pussycat however, much more loose and flowing and bizarrely, even easier to read than the original. A great picture book to include on your classics shelf with heavy accent on Australiana.
Awesome Aussie Things to Do with Mum by Ed Allen and Simon Williams – A lovely little (hardcover) book full of lovely little things to share with mum, especially if you are in need of a creative, recreational past-time other than looming. Some old fashioned fun favourites to share with your kids (like Knuckle Bones!) with the underlying message that the most awesome thing of all that you can do for mum is…’to let her do absolutely nothing at all.’ There’s a Dads’ version too.
PS Who Stole Santa’s Mail? by Dimity Powell (How did that get in here?) Quite possibly the dinkiest little Christmas mystery you’ll find this side of the Christmas tree packed with more laughs than you’ll find raisons in your fruit mince pies. A must for your stockings!
Jake in Space Series by Candice Lemon-Scott and Celeste Hulme – Galaxies of intergalactic fun. Space-aged adventures mid-primary school kids can really get carried away with – providing they have their space suits on. And there’s six in the series which gives young readers plenty of time and incentive to explore the entire universe! The covers are truly out of this world.
Monster Chef by Nick Bland – Nick Bland has moved on from bears to monsters in this spicy little offering about challenging ones fears and striving to stand out with delicious rhyming verse and illustrations. A kind of Master Chef meets master storyteller.
The Nights before Christmas illustrated by Tony Ross – The penultimate Advent Calendar for bibliophiles and true lovers of Christmas. Click on title for full review. My Christmas pick of the season.
Edward and the Great Discovery by Rebecca McRitchie and Celeste Hulme – A picture book tale about hope and daring gently exposing young readers to the wonders of natural history. Both exciting and touching and a wondrous introduction to scientific discovery whilst fostering a deeper understanding of true friendship.
Vanilla Icecream by Bob Graham – Any list would be incomplete without a Bob Graham offering. Click on title for full review. You will be hard pressed to find a better way to introduce the complex ideals of human rights, fate, and immigration to young ones where a lightness of touch is more readily comprehended than harsh dry facts than with this beautiful picture book.
Violet Mackerel Series by Anna Branford and Sarah Davis Impossibly brilliant seven book series, exquisitely illustrated and divinely humorous and touching. My primary schooler soaks up Violets’ stories with infinite delight. Highly recommended.
Bully on the Bus by Kathryn Apel / Roses are Blue by Sally Murphy Simply must include two in this verse novel listing. Both incredibly poignant and beautifully crafted novels dealing with bullying and loss respectively from two of the best verse authors in the biz. Sustained, moving storytelling that will leave you with wet eyes and an overflowing heart.
Little Chef Big Curse by Tilney Cotton – Possibly one of the most exuberant reads I’ve enjoyed in ages. I’m not sure if it’s because of the foodie in me or the zealous, ribaldry with which Cotton writes but Little Chef, BIG Curse is utterly delectable and insanely moreish. Click on title for full review.
The Boy on the Page by Peter Carnavas – An exceptionally good picture book about a small boy’s life journey as he attempts to fathom that most ponderous of human dilemmas: the meaning of life. Existentialism stripped bare and very beautiful.
Midnight by Mark Greenwood and Frane Lessac / The Horses Didn’t Come Home by Pamela Rushby – Again I must include two titles, one a picture book, one a YA novel, that each focus on the the great First World War campaigns involving the Australian light horse regiments. Each of these books deals with the campaign in the Sinai desert in a way that young readers will resonate with even though the story is over 90 years old. Heart-wrenchingly evocative with strong patriotic and historic appeal.
The Simple Things by Bill Condon In a world that I find increasingly more and more complicated, The Simple Things is a refreshing and realistic breath of fresh air. Click on title for full review. Easy to read and easy to like, it’s ‘smiley face perfect’.
There you have it. Agree or disagree, it doesn’t matter. What matters is the beauty these words and sounds and images create for our children’s worlds. Nurture their imaginations, enrich their knowledge, and embolden their dreams with as many books as you can get your hands on for them this Christmas!