Dim’s Christmas Cracker List # 5 – Meaningful Christmas Tales

The tinsel is hung, the carols are sung. Tchaikovsky’s, The Nutcracker courses merrily in the background and hope hovers amidst every batch of gingerbread cookies. There’s no doubt, Christmas is well and truly upon us. However, if you are still in search of a meaningful Christmas tale to share with your young ones, consider these. They are all full of heart and soul and more than just a little good old-fashioned Christmas magic.

Dim’s Pick of the Season

The Girl Who Saved Christmas by Matt Haig and Chris Mould

If you are ever in need of a little magic, if you ever find yourself questioning reason, if your festive spirit is ever waning, hope is here, with Matt Haig. This is superb storytelling for midgrade readers all the way through to 99-year-olds. Following on from Haig and Mould’s first collaboration, A Boy Called Christmas, this tale works so well at suspending belief and infusing hope, you’d be forgiven for feeling you’ve already met Father Christmas. Maybe you have. Haig takes what we have already been led to believe and crystallizes it into one big fat tangible beautiful believable Christmas miracle. Mould’s illustrations enhance an already magical tale with strokes of Dickenson brilliance. A Christmas must read – every year. Sublime to read aloud to little people or to cherish alone as you would the last fruit mince pie. Read, A Boy Called Christmas first to truly fortify your Christmas spirit, then Father Christmas and Me.

A & U Canongate November 2016

Continue reading Dim’s Christmas Cracker List # 5 – Meaningful Christmas Tales

Review: American Street by Ibi Zoboi

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American Street by Ibi Zoboi was so good and also a little bit like running face-first into a brick wall of emotions. I’n not even sure what to do with myself right now. It’s a really powerful story of immigration and poverty and family. It’s brutal and messy and the ending left me reeling.

It follows the story of Fabiola who’s immigrated from Haiti to be with her cousins in America. Her mother gets detained at customs and then sent to a detention centre while Fabiola, born in America, is allowed to proceed. She’s absolutely freaked out for her mother, but slowly has to make a life for herself with her extended family. She attends school and ends up caught up with a boy who truly wants to make her happy. However the street they live on isn’t the clean and safe haven Fabiola always imagined. She quickly gets caught up in drug rings and loan sharks and maybe will have to compromise her own safety to work with the police so they’ll help get her mother back. But if that means betraying people she loves, would she do it?

The emphasis on family was the best. This is not a “nice” family particularly, but I loved how complex they all were! Fabiola is basically just THROWN into American culture and I felt for her so much. Her three cousins are all around her age, and they immediately just adopt her as their 4th sister. But they do live in a poor part of town and they’re mixed up in a lot of stuff. Donna’s boyfriend is like Such Bad News and hits her and Pri is closet queer and Chantal has stuff going on and like their aunt is usually “sick” or hidden away in her room. Fabiola is attending school and trying to figure out how the American life works, plus find a way to help get her mother free.

Fabiola is also really precious and sweet! I was worried she’d be a passive character because of that but she’s not. I also loved how she really wanted to make America her home, But she didn’t give up her Haitian heritage. There’s a bit of magic in the book, because she firmly believes in Vodou and her culture is woven into everything she does. It’s so good!! (Also the author’s note says this is all out of her own experiences too! It makes a book so special and true when you know the experiences behind it are woven with an #ownvoices narrative.) I really loved that Fabiola wasn’t going to be pushed around, but at the same time voiced her insecurities and definitely didn’t always make good decisions.

I basically couldn’t stop reading! And the story just got more brutal and twisted as it went along. Like the plot is really tight and I loved how it woven things together at the end. It’s definitely the kind of book you’re going to want to put aside a full afternoon to just devour…constantly. Until it’s done and you’re a bit of a wide-eyed mess.

American Street is purely excellent #ownvoices story that doesn’t shy away from showing how complicated and brutal life can be. It’s not an “easy” read (although it is quite fast!) and there were so many times I was raging with Fabiola. Her situation is often a trainwreck but I loved her character arc and also her love of her culture. Definite recommend!

Review: Ramona Blue by Julie Murphy

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RAMONA BLUE by Julie Murphy is a heartfelt and beautiful coming-of-age story. It’s about growing up, discovering your sexuality, and swimming and eating a lot of delicious food. (Particularly different ways to eat your eggs, which is quality content.) I think it touched on a lot of applicable and poignant themes that a lot of teens will struggle with or relate to. And the character cast was so excellent it just took the story from being on a flat 2D page to exploding into real life.

The story follows Ramona Laroux, who is quite poor and quite unusual. She has blue hair and is super tall and she lives in a trailer park and she honestly can’t see her life ever going anywhere. Her older teen sister is pregnant and Ramona has no money for college. She wants to leave town but…she doesn’t. She has some great friends here and she honestly is too scared to want more. Then her old childhood friend, Freddie, returns to town. Ramona is still exploring a label for her sexuality, unsure if she’s lesbian or bi or pan, and as chemistry sparks between her and Freddie it opens up a lot of discussions about the fluidity of sexuality. But ultimately: is Ramona going to take charge of her own life or just let it take her?

The characters are definitely the shining glory of the book! It’s very very character driven and has quite a huge cast that all leap off the page with diversity and personality. Most of the secondary characters are queer too and the love interest, Freddie, is black. At first I was a little overwhelmed by the amount of secondary characters but they quickly became real and solid people in my mind and I enjoyed the banter and the escapades. (They literally steal into someone’s backyard to swim at some stage.) I must admit I love Saul who’s favourite audience to his shenanigans was….himself.

I think the discussion on sexuality was very important! Ramona identifies as queer but not quite sure what label she has. She kisses and loves girls but she also is fiercely attracted to Freddie. I loved their romance and also the fact that Ramona isn’t going to stop loving girls or “straighten out” because of Freddie. I think it’s an important thing to discuss fluidity and I feel the book does it respectfully.

I also highly appreciated all the food in the book since wow do these characters have excellent taste buds and enjoy their delicious snacks.

The book also takes us to a large variety of settings which was exciting and fun! Ramona and Freddie start swimming at the local pool and there’s plenty of visiting houses and cities and delicious diners. I think it’s important in contemporaries to showcase a variety of settings to keep the plot moving. And the pacing was a bit on the slow side, but still captivating, with how strongly the characters lead the plot.

RAMONA BLUE is a summery story that deals with a lot of deep issues. It has real and honest conversations and it’s poignant and well written with characters you can root for and no black-and-white answers to all of life’s questions. You have to discover them for yourself!

Meaningful Moments in Picture Books

Nearly every single picture book I read holds meaningful moments for me, some sliver of specialness or hug-full of hope that can empower and illuminate. These next few examples exhibit strong messages using memorable characters in ways young children can easily interpret and appreciate. A few words about each hardly do them justice, so please look these ones up to enjoy them for yourself.

Reena’s Rainbow by Dee White and Tracie Grimwood

Subtle, sweet and oozing with that sort of sophisticated simplicity that makes you love a story when you are not even sure why. Reena and Brown Dog feel a little outside of normal, not quite the same as everyone else. Reena is deaf but not oblivious to the world around her. Brown Dog is homeless but not without a need to love and protect. Together they find their true worth and meaning and along the way, lasting friendship. Gracefully told and delicately illustrated, Reena’s Rainbow will fill your heart with colour. Highly recommended.

EK Books September 2017

La La La A Story of Hope by Kate DiCamillo and Jamie Kim

An eloquently told, almost wordless symphony of colour, light and sound reverberating the liberating quality of hope. It’s about making a call, daring to speak out, and enduring the quiet moments in between waiting for a response with grace and patience. As Kate proclaims, ‘it is a story about singing your song and the world answering you back…a story that needs intimate reflection’. I encourage you to do so.

Walker Books Australia October 2017

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Review: Teeth by Hannah Moskowitz

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Teeth by Hannah Moskowitz is a story about suffering, healing, loneliness and magical gay fish. Which is not a combination you find very often…or any time really. As a bookworm who devours hundreds of books every year, finding something unique and original is absolutely exciting! And on top of that, Teeth was so heart-wrenching and raw that I simply couldn’t put it down. This is the kind of book written with so much soul and heart you can feel the emotions on every page. Even if (like me) you have a rather cold dead heart. This book is 10/10 guaranteed to melt it.

The story basically follows Rudy who’s moved to a bitter cold and grey island with his family because the local fish are rumoured to cure illness. Rudy’s 5-year-old little brother, Dylan, is dying of a lung disease and his parents are desperate for these fish to be the cure they long for. But for Rudy it means isolation and loneliness as his parents are consumed with his brother and Rudy’s left his entire life behind. He’s not even sure who he is anymore, since he was a rather bad friend to his schoolmates and no one even misses him. Instead he finds a girl in a mansion on the hill who never leaves her house, but seems to be full of secrets. And he finds a boy who’s half fish, half human, swimming in the sea. The boy is tortured by the local fisherman and begs everyone to stop eating the fish which are his family. Rudy’s torn: the fish are saving his brother, but this fishboy is stealing his heart. If he can’t have both, who is he going to leave to suffer?

I don’t find a lot of mermaid books, so this was particularly special! Although technically Teeth is a fish, not a merman. But it was still exciting to find an incredibly well-written book staring someone who is part of the sea like this. #MermaidAppreciation The book also features Teeth’s extreme hate of humans and his struggle to even accept he’s part human. He claims he’s a fish at every opportunity, but being around Rudy maybe is starting to make him realise not all humans are evil.

The setting was so absolutely vivid. They all live on this cold and damp and barren island, and it was grey and bitter and I just felt that in all the descriptions! The fish are luring people there, with their promise of a cure, but everyone still seems sick and worried and miserable on the island. The fisherman are cruel and the locals are silent and secretive. The detail is sparse but so very vivid. I also loved the contrast of having a book featuring a place so depressing, but that offered hope of survival. It was very well done!

The writing was so brilliantly raw. Rudy narrates in 1st person and feeling his loneliness and angst and fears on the page was so vivid. He’s terrified that he doesn’t love his little brother enough and he feels like he’s becoming a nothing in the wake of everyone forgetting about him. The story is also fairly violent and gritty and brutal, featuring the abuse Teeth reaps from the local evil fisherman (since Teeth frees all the fish he can from their nets and they punish him for it) and the secret darkness of the locals. The book basically rips out your heart with fishhooks. It’s nice like that.

I absolutely fell in love with Teeth and Rudy! These two characters totally stole my heart, although I wouldn’t call either of them totally likeable. But they felt real! And complex! And that’s what I want wen reading a book. I particularly adored Teeth, the bruised and damaged merman. He is absolutely sarcastic and snarky and bitter…but also quite naive and desperate for a friend. He has severe PTSD and some warped hero-complexes going on, and while we didn’t explore his psychology in too much depth because it’s not his narration — I still appreciated the brutal and realistic look at the effects of living a tortured life. The book doesn’t brush over anything. It also freaking breaks my heart!

If you are looking for a story of darkness and magic and small miracles and tears and breaking: read TeethIt gets all the stars from me for being so amazingly written!

Perception – The Power of Picture Book Point of View

Picture books have an immense power and ability to relay subject matter in a range of perspectives. How young developing minds perceive the world around them helps them make sense of themselves as well as those living in worlds different from theirs. The following picture books all support themes of perception in the most tender and winsome ways.

The Cloudspotter by Tom McLaughlin

A young boy seeks solace in spotting clouds and the adventures they enshroud. His imaginative blue-sky sojourns stave loneliness until he encounters The Scruffy Dog whom he feels is after his cloud sanctuaries for herself. He plots to remove her but when she is no longer beside him, realises that both she and he had been searching for something else all along.

A beautifully illustrated succinct look at imagination, friendship and viewing things from a different point of view. A must read.

Bloomsbury June 2015

Ollie’s Treasures by Lynn Jenkins & Kirrili Lonergan Continue reading Perception – The Power of Picture Book Point of View

Review: When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

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When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon is definitely one of the cutest books I’ve had the pleasure of reading in 2017. It’s totally nerdy and full of adorkable socially awkward characters and so much delicious food. It features the absolute best romance that I couldn’t help but ship!

The story follows both Dimple and Rishi’s storylines as they head off to a program to develop an app — and discover their parents have set them up for an arranged marriage. Well, Rishi knew. And he assumed Dimple was on board. Their first meeting ends up with Dimple throwing an iced coffee in Rishi’s face and running away. #Awkward But the two end up becoming tentative friends (although future marriage is STRICTLY not on, in Dimple’s opinion) and team up to enter this app competition. It’s 6 weeks of design and discussion and development…with the two realising they maybe do have feelings for each other after all. Which is exactly the opposite of what Dimple wanted.

My favourite thing was how both Dimple and Rishi were huge nerds! Dimple is into coding and computers and Rishi is (in denial though) a huge comic book artist. Aren’t they the perfect pair!? And to top it off, they were written so complexly with so many dimensions that I couldn’t help but feel totally sucked in by the story and dissolved into their vibrant and emotional world. Their character arcs were just amazing and relatable! And the book isn’t just about two teens coding an app — they eat delicious food (like, so so much…you will get hungry reading this) and there is intense gelato appreciation; plus the end up dancing in a contest which is rather hysterical; and there may or may not be an adorable star-gazing scene.

I also really liked how it was a positive story about arranged marriage for Indian cultures! Generally I see it portrayed as very negative, so it’s nice to get this perspective. Plus both sets of parents were lovely, kind, and wanted the best for their children. It’s always refreshing to see parents in YA books not casted as the villains. Plus it was full of rich Indian culture, which I totally loved being immersed in. Dimple is pretty adamant about being a “normal American” but Rishi is fiercely proud of his Indian heritage and his comics feature Indian folklore. He’s proud of where he came from and he doesn’t want to lose touch with that, which was wonderful to read about.

I really loved their voices and the fact it was written in 3rd person! That’s my favourite perspective and it really connected me to the story instantly. I’m also glad it split up to tell both perspectives, because they really both were precious cinnamon rolls and I loved every chapter!

I thoroughly enjoyed When Dimple Met Rishi and it was full of squishy happiness and true appreciation for nerds of all kinds. The geek levels were intensely awesome, with a science-interested girl and an art-interested boy. The writing had me hooked on every chapter and I truly cared for the characters. All the praise for this adorable and sweet story!

Review: The Inexplicable Logic of My Life by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

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The Inexplicable Logic of My Life by Benjamin Alire Sáenz was a beautiful story of family and friendship and tacos. Plus just look at that cover! It is beyond gorgeous and just promises such good things of this book. Listen to the cover. Heed it. I also utterly adored Sáenz’s other book, Aristotle And Dante Discover The Secrets of the Universe, so I’m really glad his latest novel lived up to my expectations!

The story is about Sal and his last year of highschool. It’s a quiet story and it focuses on relationships and characters that end up seeming so real, you wouldn’t be surprised if you met them on the street. It’s about loss and love and also about prejudice and discovering who you are and what you’re meant to do. Sal’s white and has been adopted by his loving Mexican gay father, and he’s never wanted for any other family. But he does have questions. And he realises how intensely loved he is as his best friend Sam loses her mother and he has to support her through a rough time. It’s a precious story and full of humour and relatable thoughts that all teens have. Also the amount of tacos is glorious and you will be hungry after reading it. Be ye warned.

“But, see, it’s not where I come from that matters — it’s where I’m going.”

I was actually really impressed that it had no romance! Sal is best friends with Sam, but they stay that way: best friends. It was sweet and precious and a much needed reminder that girls and guys can be just friends. It’s equally important to remember that not everyone meets the love of their life in highschool!

I really loved Sal and Sam’s friendship. They make fun of each other and joke around and protect each other fiercely. Sam is pretty judgemental at the start and often says things that hurt Sal without realising it. Her character development is A+ as she matures.

I appreciated the glorious representation of so much diversity too. It’s set in Mexico and almost the entire cast are people of colour, with many featuring LGBT characters too.

Sal’s father is also one of the most perfect parents a YA book has ever seen! He really loves and cares for his son and is a huge influence in his life. He basically ends up adopting Sam too, and if he finds a kid who is down and out…he plays Rescue Father. He teaches the kids what it is to be a good person, and I loved this aspect of the story so much.

Dad always said that there was nothing wrong with crying and that if people did more of it, well then, the world would be a better place.

The Inexplicable Logic of My Life was a fantastically amazing story and I couldn’t love it more! It features positive parent role models, emphasizes the importance of friendship and acceptance, and talks about breaking stereotypes and being unapologetically yourself. It tackles serious topics like racism, death, fear, and feeling lost. And I think it’s intensely relatable, especially the part where Sal got sick and missed out on Thanksgiving dinner and was very disappointed. #relatable The friendship levels were pure golden and the writing was everything. A book I definitely recommend!

Review: Timekeeper by Tara Sim

9781510706187Timekeeper by Tara Sim was an absolutely magical and adorable steampunk fantasy! And I most empthatically loved it. I’m quite excited over that too, becasue I’ve not found a good steampunk I loved until now. Timekeeper goes firmly on the “favourites” list for including all the glorious things a book should have: great plot, relatable and sympathetic characters, tea and scones, very adorable clocks, and explosions. There is literally so much win here.

Timekeeper is set in an alternate Victorian London, where Danny Hart is a clock mechanic who’s survived a tragic accident and is now reeling from PTSD and severe anxiety. In his world, clocks control lives. And if one Stops? People will be forever trapped inside a minute. Mechanics must maintain clocks and keep the world together. And they must not fall in love with the clock spirits who reside in the towers. Cue Danny meeting the adorable, naive, and winning clock spirit named Colton. And if that doesn’t complicate his life (he doesn’t want to get fired?!) there’s also someone sabotaging all the clocks in England which could permenently kill everyone. Nice.

I loved how the book heavily featured clocks! I’m actually a complete clock nerd and am obsessed with time so (yes I’m the person who knows when it’s 2:32 because that is a huge difference to 2:30, of course) and the fact that there were clock spirits (aka time was personified!) absolutely intrigued me. I wanted to know more immediately! I love books centring around anything that vaguely resembles ghosts or spirits who are nice and just want to live a happy life. Precious darlings.

The charactesr were amazingly complex. Danny was an entirely winning protagonist. I thought his portrayal of anxiety and PTSD was amazingly done, and I really appreciated reading a book that dealt accurately with mental illness — while still having an exploding, mystery, stabby, exciting plot line. Danny is very driven and persistent and yet every time he crumbled, I kind of wanted to scoop him off the floor and feed him a cookie. I also adored his relationship with his best friend, Cassie, who’s a kickass car-mechanic. #SquadGoals

The romance was absolutely delightful too. I loved Colton, the clock spirit! Their relationship is slowburn and very complicated…considering, well, Colton isn’t really human. I love how they related through fairy tale stories and Greek mythology. They both were tragic in their own ways (Danny suffering from his accident and Colton being forever trapped in his clock tower) and it was an all round well written romance that you can’t help but root for.

Plus the plot was exciting and full-on. Between Danny’s baggage and his budding romance with Colton — we also have that little teeny tiny problem of someone trying to destroy the world. Danny has lots of competition as a mechanic and people who’ll make life hard for him because he’s the youngest Mechanic ever. There’s a good dose of Greek Mythology going on too, with gods I hadn’t heard of before so that was interesting.

Timekeeper was a thorough win for me. Good plot. Good characters. Good romance. Cute clocks. What more could you want? The representation of mental illness was spot on. And I loved the engaging high-stake story, the family elements, and the aesthetics of a London run on clocks and steam.

[purchase here]

Review: Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

9781447299318Carry On by Rainbow Rowell is definitely one of my new favourite bookish creations. I was mildly nervous because I’d heard it had a very strong Harry Potter influence and I’m loyal to the original Potter stories. But, after an initial Harry Potter-ish bginning…Carry On stood on it’s own so easily as an original and equisitely written magical book!

It’s basically about Simon Snow (the Chosen One) and his “evil” roommate, Baz, and how they put aside their lifelong hatred of each other to defeat evil…and perhaps accidentally fall in love in the process.

It’s also a sort of “companion novel” to Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl. In Fangirl, the protagonist (Cath) writes fanfiction of Simon Snow. And in Carry On, Rowell actually writes the Simon Snow book! So it’s like a book within a book. COOL, RIGHT?! You don’t need to have read Fangirl first, however. Carry On stands fine on its own!

I was also very impressed at how well and easily Rainbow Rowell made this book sound British! I just read another book by an American author trying to incorporate British culture and — ugh. It failed. But Carry On?! It had slang and culture down pat and felt QUITE British please and thank you.

The characters are definitely the heartbeat of the story though. I. have. so. many. feels. They were original and unique and totally dimensional in just a few chapters. I fell entirely in love with Simon’s gaunt stammers and quiet mannerisms — and also Baz’s suave, snappy, fiery temper and hidden feelings about Simon. The characters leapt off the page with their realness and relatabilty.

Plus Baz’s real name is Tyrannus Basilton Grimm-Pitch and that is about the best thing I’ve ever heard.

And I definitely rooted for Simon and Baz to get together! Their relationship is slow and adorable and fiery and complex. They hate each other sure, but that’s just to cover up that they love each other. I didn’t find it too angsty or irritating at all. Bonus!

The writing was really addictive and just gorgeous. The first 30% mark felt a bit thick and had a lot of info-dumps…but after that I did not want to ever stop read it. 

“You have to pretend you get an endgame. You have to carry on like you will; otherwise, you can’t carry on at all.”

After all my initial hesitations and grumpiness, I have to admit I’m surprised at how much I adored it. BUT NO REGRETS. I could hug this book forever, basically. It’s original (!!) and clever and complex and had just the right amount of terror and happiness to make it a satisfying but engaging read. I want to just fall into the pages and become friends with these amazing characters on their magical adventures. Also there were so many food descriptions. The scones and butter and jam and cream were basically leaping off the page. (Warning: prepare snacks before reading this book.)

 

“You were the sun, and I was crashing into you. I’d wake up every morning and think, ‘This will end in flames.”

 

[PURCHASE HERE]

Books & Christmas with James Moloney

Meet James Moloney, author of The Beauty is in the Walking

(Angus&Robertson, HarperCollins)

James Moloney is a statesman in the world of Australian YA and children’s books.  The hilarious Black Taxi and Kill the Possum for YA and Dougy, Swashbuckler and Buzzard Breath and Brains  for children are among my favourites of his books. I store his novels behind glass in my special cabinet for revered Australian authors.

Black Taxi

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.

What is the significance of the title of your new novel, The Beauty is in the Walking?Beauty is in the Walking

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?Buzzard

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.

bridge to Wiseman's cove‘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.

All the best with The Beauty is in the Walking (which I’ve reviewed here) and thanks very much, James.Book of Lies

 

 

Books of Australia – For Kids

January 26th marks the date in which Australians reflect upon our cultural history and celebrate the accomplishments since the first fleet landed on Sydney’s shores in 1788. Here are a select few picture books aimed at providing children with some background knowledge of our beautiful land, flora, fauna and multicultural diversity. There is plenty of scope for teaching and learning opportunities under the Australian curriculum, and respectful inclusions of Aboriginal traditions.  

9781921966248An Aussie Year; Twelve Months in the Life of Australian Kids, Tania McCartney (author), Tina Snerling (illus.), EK Books, 2013.  

What a joyous celebration of all things Australiana, all encompassed in one gorgeous book; An Aussie Year. From January through to December, with every season in between, from Melbourne to Sydney’s City to Surf and the Great Barrier Reef, we get a taste of Australian life for five young individual children of different cultural backgrounds. Ned, Zoe, Lily, Kirra and Matilda provide us with snippets of their typical ethnic traditions, seasonal activities, food, terminology and special events that occur throughout the year. From icy poles, cricket, swimming and Australia Day in January, to back-to-school, Valentine’s Day and Chinese New Year in February. April brings Easter, Anzac Day and the Antipodes Festival, and creepy-crawlies and Mother’s Day breakfast are common occurrences in May.
Tania McCartney’s Aussie culmination continues with plenty more fun and interesting experiences as told by the kids, beautifully capturing our wonderful multicultural nation. The pictures by Tina Snerling illustrate that diversity perfectly; they are colourful, creative, rich and varied in what they portray, and very sweet.
An Aussie Year is a wonderful learning resource for primary aged children, as well as an engaging and delightful book just to peruse and reflect upon for both young and old.  

9781921504402Jeremy, Chris Faille (author), Danny Snell (illus.), Working Title Press, 2013.  

One of the wonderful elements of Australia is our exotic and amazing wildlife. The king of the bush is no exception. In ‘Jeremy’, a heartwarming story is brought to reality with the events of a growing baby kookaburra over the course of several weeks. Starting out as an ugly, featherless chick, Jeremy is brought in by the family cat and cared for by its loving family. Descriptive language allows the reader to learn his behavioural traits and aesthetic characteristics. As the story develops, we also become familiar with his personality; as an endearing and cheeky little bird, who loves to watch television and spy the goldfish for lunch. Stumbles and crashes are all part of learning to fly. But once established, a final kiss goodbye sees Jeremy reunited with his kookaburra family as they fly away into the sunset together.
Based on a true story, ‘Jeremy’ is a beautifully written and engaging information story by author Chris Faille. Illustrator Danny Snell has provided equally soft and detailed acrylic paintings. Preschoolers will adore learning about the kookaburra’s development and fascinating facts, as seen in the endpapers, as well as showing them the need to care for defenceless creatures.  

9780763670757Big Red Kangaroo, Claire Saxby (author), Graham Byrne (illus.), Walker Books, 2013.  

Another native animal to Australia is the symbolic kangaroo, and in ‘Big Red Kangaroo’ by Claire Saxby (author of other Aussie themed books including Meet the Anzacs and Emu), the typical behaviours of these large marsupials is explored in both a storytale and informative format.
‘Red’ is surrounded by his mob, and at nightfall they bound off in search of grasses. Did you know that kangaroos sometimes regurgitate their food to help with digestion? The mob are met by other creatures looking for water in the middle of the dry season. But they cannot settle when other male kangaroos are nearby. Red is the male leader, but is soon challenged by another to take over his mob. A brief fight for dominance sees Red retain his role as king, and he takes his followers to the safe shelter amongst the trees.
A compelling account, written with sophisticated, descriptive language, and enlightening charcoal and digital media illustrations to match. Equipped with an index and plenty of information, ‘Big Red Kangaroo’ is the perfect learning tool for primary school aged children.  

9781922081322Calpepper’s Place, Trudie Trewin (author), Donna Gynell (illus.), Windy Hollow Books, 2014.  

In ‘Calpepper’s Place’ we are taken on a journey with a range of Australian animals around our beautiful continent. It is an adorable story of acceptance, and trying new adventures.
Calpepper is a camel who decides one day that trudging through the hot desert just isn’t exciting enough. He jumps aboard a bus named ‘Adventure Tours to the Unknown’, and in a trialing series of experiences, Calpepper discovers these places are not the places for him after all. Whooshing down chilly ski slopes, being trampled by an avalanche of shoes in the concrete jungle, and tumbling off a wave onto the beach shore are not camely sorts of places. Finally, a little ray of sunshine gives him the comfort he needed and he returns back to plod along with the camel train once again.
A rhythmic story with fun, varied text and expressive language, gorgeously fluid and whimsical watercolour illustrations, make ‘Calpepper’s Place’ a truly engaging way to explore our scenic country and appreciate your own special place to call home.  

9781922179760A is for Australia, Frané Lessac (author / illus.), Walker Books, 2015. (See also Midnight and Ned Kelly and the Green Sash). 

Described as a ”factastic tour of Australia” and a ”celebration of Australian people, places and culture.” Exactly that, Frané Lessac’s ‘A is for Australia’ is a colourful, informative and truly engaging book visiting various locations around our amazing country. With each letter of the alphabet, we are introduced to many of Australia’s fascinating and iconic landmarks, covering every state and territory. From our beautiful beaches, to the dry outback, busy major cities and temperate rainforests, this book provides ample opportunity to get to know more about geographical places and the flora, fauna, people and structures that can be found there. Riveting facts accompany each location, including indigenous and cultural history. For example, the Sydney Opera House, designed by Danish architect Jorn Utzon, took 16 years to build and opened in 1973.
There is plenty to experience with this bright, aesthetically pleasing and engrossing information book about our special continent. It is perfect for families to share (and create) their own memories and experiences, and for primary school children to utilise for their Australian studies.  

So, after travelling through the alphabet, the seasons and across Australia, you’ll be able to say, ‘I’ve been everywhere, man. Here, there, everywhere, man!’

Happy Australia Day, Australia!

Mission Accomplished! Renee Price Launches ‘Digby’s Moon Mission’

New and local indie author, Renee Price, has recently released the growingly popular Digby’s Moon Mission, just in time for Christmas. Fostering children’s natural curiosity and their young imaginations are key elements to creating a successful picture book, and ones that Renee elicits in her picture book.

Bza6SorCYAAMLHqDigby Fixit is a curious boy with a keen interest in a ‘banana-thin’ moon. With his dishevelled appearance and abundance of energy, Digby enlists the help of his friends; creating havoc in his poor mum’s kitchen, to embark on a mission to solve the mystery of the slivered moon. It takes a whole week to concoct the clever plan with a delicious array of gourmet meals, which most surprisingly, are catapulted into the vast atmosphere that is space.
Day after night, Digby measures the moon’s illumination, from starving to full to exploding, until it is a perfectly plump ball bursting with light. But it is also bursting with food! How will the moon react?  

Renee Price’s text delightfully integrates a mix of fun, age-appropriate vocabulary and dialogue with whimsical rhyming prose. Illustrations by Anil Tortop are colourful, humorous and expressive; perfectly suiting the action and wit in the storyline. The smoothness and softness of the drawings and colour palette are also a fine fit with the lush feel of the pages. Digby’s Moon Mission is a ‘super-duper’, charming and imaginative story; exploring teamwork, diversity and plenty of teachable concepts. Children from two years old will enjoy this adventure all the way to the moon and back again, and again, and again!  

renee price head shotI’m excited to talk to Renee Price about her journey to publishing her new book.  

Congratulations on the release of your first picture book, Digby’s Moon Mission!
Thank you, Romi! Wow. “The release of your first picture book.” I think it’s still sinking in! J  

Where did you get your inspiration for this story?
My eldest child. He is always enlightening me with his take on the world. One night, we were looking up at the sky and he noticed that the moon was only a “little” moon. We talked about why the moon may appear this way, and his theories had me fascinated. So, I wrote them down and turned them into a book. I have a long list of notes taken from our wonderful conversations.  

Digby’s Moon Mission contains a beautiful mixture of whimsical phrasing and rollicking rhyme. Is this your preferred style of writing?
Well, it certainly is now after hearing you describe it like that. Thank you! I originally wrote the entire story in rhyme. (I’m a huge fan of Dr Seuss and Julia Donaldson). Although the story worked and the characters and themes were great, the rhyme and rhythm wasn’t (kind of ironic, being a musician!). With the help of my awesome editor, it was re-worked to contain both prose and rhyme. I didn’t want to lose the rhyme element completely, so we structured the story in a way that it felt like it has stylistic sections – like verses and a chorus, perhaps!    

What are the main teaching elements and / or message you would like your readers to gain from reading Digby’s Moon Mission?
I’d like readers to be able to take a variety of messages and themes away with them after reading the story. The importance of working together, diversity, and nurturing one’s imagination are big ones for me. Then there’s the food and science (phases of the moon) elements, the days of the week, plus the introduction of rhyming words.  

What was your favourite part of the story to create?
The ending. I’m such a kid at heart, and humour is how I roll so yes, definitely the ending.  

digby-18-19 The illustrations by Anil Tortop are so humorous, and just adorable. How did you find working with Anil? How much input did you have in the design process?
Anil is brilliant! She is also kind, witty, open-minded and incredibly fun to work with. I remember opening the file of her first sketches and crying because she nailed every single illustration. It’s like she’d stepped into my mind and made detailed notes of how I’d envisaged the story to be shown in picture. I had a lot of input into the design process, but I didn’t really need to ‘input’ much. Anil and Ozan (book designer – Tadaa Book) are both so creative, clever and professional, that most of the time, I was just giving the “A-OK!”  

You funded the publication of this book yourself through a crowdfunding campaign. How did you find organising this process and gaining all the support? What were the biggest challenges?
Crowdfunding was such an amazing experience. It was a creation in itself and I enjoyed every part of the process from uploading my campaign video and profile, to promoting my project far and wide. I was (still am!) completely blown away with the support I received. Everyone really rallied for Digby and I am endlessly grateful to everyone that showed their support. The biggest challenge would definitely be marketing the campaign. Not only promoting it, but how it is promoted. I always ensured positivity in my approach and never wanted to come across ‘over-bearing’ or that I was pestering people for pledges (although it felt like it at times!)  

You’ve recently celebrated your first book launch! What did you have planned for your supporters?
I did! It was a wonderful day. The launch was held as part of a local children’s/family market here, in Newcastle, so there were lots of lovely families stopping by to say hello and learn more about Digby. I had my stall set up with a kids’ activity station where children made Digby placemats, there were two book readings throughout the day and signings too, and I held a raffle for book purchasers where the prize was a gorgeous framed illustration from Digby’s Moon Mission, signed by Anil.  

How have you found people’s responses to Digby’s Moon Mission so far? Have you had any funny or memorable reactions from children (or adults)?
The response has been incredible! It is extremely humbling to hear that children are requesting Digby to be read over and over (sorry parents!). I’ve had three mothers tell me their children can recite the story from memory (one young boy ‘read’ the entire story to his grandmother at a family dinner!) Parents have told me that they love the ‘unexpected’ plot and the best physical reaction I’ve seen from children (and adults) is the final page of the book… it gets lots of giggles. I won’t spoil the ending though!  

Have you always wanted to be a children’s picture book author? What do you love about writing stories for children?
I’ve always wanted to write, but the desire to write for children came about when my youngest brother was born. I’m the eldest of five, so when he entered the world, I was in my final year of school and through my involvement with him, the desire to create, educate and foster children’s development grew. After I enrolled at uni to study early childhood teaching, I began writing stories and songs for children with the hope of one day, being a published author (or the next Justine Clarke!). Since becoming a parent, my writing has become my joy and motivator because I’m writing for them. I love that there are no limits to story-writing. Take an idea, and let it soar. Be the child!  

digby-cover01What’s in store for ‘Digby’ fans in 2015? What can we see from author, Renee Price, in the near future?
I have so many plans. Let’s hope some of them shine through! I’m working on the sequel to Digby’s Moon Mission, which is exciting! I have a couple of other non-Digby stories in the works, and I have written a Digby Fixit theme song so, I’ll try and find somewhere for that to fit… TV series, perhaps?  

Besides celebrating your new book, do you have plans for the holiday season?
Yes, I do. I plan for family time, and loads of it!  

Thank you so much for answering my questions for Boomerang Books, Renee! I hope you and your family have a very special Christmas, and Congratulations again!
It is my absolute pleasure. Thank you, Romi! Many happy returns to you and yours, too!

Digby’s Moon Mission is published with Renee’s brand name, Create It Kids, and can be found at:
Website: www.createitkids.com.au
Facebook: www.facebook.com/DigbyFixit 
Email: [email protected]  

Review and interview by Romi Sharp
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Feathers, Scales, Fur or Skin: Tales of Friendship and Being Yourself

The Lucky Country. That’s Australia. We embrace difference. Celebrate diversity. Stand up for what we believe in. Be ourselves. Show compassion for those in need.  

The following picture books, as chosen for the 2014 Speech Pathology Australia Books of the Year shortlist, all share common themes; diversity, friendship and uniqueness.  

the+short+giraffe The Short Giraffe by Neil Flory, illustrations by Mark Cleary, is a fun, humorous story that highlights the importance of inclusion, especially when one feels like an outcast. Boba the baboon is photographing the tallest animals in the world; the giraffes. But there is a tiny problem, Geri the giraffe is the shortest giraffe ever and is not visible in the camera shot. Instead of excluding Geri, the compassionate, accepting giraffes attempt various creative ways to bring him up to their height, all however leading to disastrous, yet comical circumstances. Finally, it is a tiny caterpillar that points out the most obvious solution; to bend down to Geri’s level, and they capture the perfect photo.  

bea_cover Now, here’s a character who is not embarrassed to be different; it’s Bea, written and illustrated by Christine Sharp. This whimsical story explores diversity of the mind, rather than physical appearance. Whilst the other birds peck at the ground, flock together, build nests, chirrup and hippity hop, Bea is most unusually baking biscuits, disco dancing, travelling the world in a hot air balloon, and bussing through the country. It is until Bea meets her friend, Bernie, then we realise that having ‘unusual’ tastes are not so unusual when they are enjoyed and shared with others. ”A joyful story about being true to yourself and daring to be different.”  

Jonathan Speaking of being ‘daring’, it’s Jonathan!, written by Peter Carnavas and illustrated by Amanda Francey. Engaging rhythm and action in the text, and pictures to reflect the same. Jonathan! is a cute story of a boy who certainly isn’t ‘afraid’ to be his cheeky self, but in a way that he has fun changing his persona with different costumes. As he consistently attempts to scare his family members with frightening voices and ingenious outfits, his efforts prove superfluous. Jonathan unexpectedly meets and befriends a large, teeth-gnashing dinosaur who helps him triumph with his pursuit. That is, until, in a twist of fate, we are surprised by both the dinosaur’s identity and Jonathan’s reaction.  

9780670076765In Starting School by Jane Godwin and illustrations by Anna Walker, we meet more excited children who are keen to have fun and discover new things. Tim, Hannah, Sunita, Joe and Polly are starting their first day of school. In a gentle, informative story we learn about each child and their perspectives on the routines and events that occur as they embark on a huge adventure that is primary school. Throughout the day we observe them organise their belongings, familiarising themselves with their classmates, forming bonds, exploring the school grounds, establishing rules and routines, learning new subjects, and reflecting on the busy day. Godwin makes learning fun with some funny mishaps like spilling juice, fiddling with a girl’s hair and losing a pencil case. Whilst Walker so beautifully ties in all the minute details with her watercolour and collage characters, school related belongings, food, furniture, real life pieces of work, toys and buildings. Starting School is a perfect representation of the importance of accepting others, getting along, individuality, responsibility and resilience.

davy-and-the-ducklingAnother tale of best friends is Margaret Wild‘s Davy & the Duckling, with beautiful illustrations by Julie Vivas. When Davy meets the duckling, they look deep into each other’s eyes. Already smitten, the duckling follows Davy around the farmyard and all the way back home. Davy shows true adoration and cares for the duckling like a baby. We watch as they both grow, and we see not only companionship, but empathy, support, pride and encouragement as Davy achieves special milestones. In a touching moment, an old, achy duck seems to regain some youth when it hears that Davy is to become a father. And it is so sweet to observe a role reversal to complete the story, as the duck now leads baby Molly around the farmyard and all the way back home.  

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