Review: Anger Is a Gift by Mark Oshiro

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Anger is a Gift by Mark Oshiro is an incredibly powerful and needed book. It’s also so completely applicable for 2018, the kind of book everyone needs to read because these things are happening right now. And I think this book does an excellent job at bringing awareness to #BlackLivesMatter but also encouraging kids who are going through this. It’s also so well written with amazing characters and it just sucks you right in so you’re there, experiencing this horribly unfair and frightening world of police brutality and racism…and also strong friendships and love.

This is Moss’ story, about how his father was murdered by a police officer and Moss has had to live with the anxiety, the grief, and the life-changing fear that comes with that. There was no justice for his father and Moss is just struggling to stay afloat while he battles terrible panic attacks and also a school that’s (quite literally) falling apart around him due to terrible funding. When Moss and his friends decided to do something about their school — starting with a peaceful walk-out protest — things escalate wildly. The kids get hit with unspeakable brutality, like random and rough locker and body searches + a horrible metal detector + and police stalking on campus to intimidate them in the halls. It’s hard enough to get up in the morning let alone fight this, but Moss can’t sit back this time. And even when things turn nightmarish with friends and loved ones getting brutalised, Moss puts his anger to use and fights.

Moss was such an amazing narrator! It’s written from a super personal 3rd person perspective and you really get into Moss’ head for his journey. He starts off this super anxious kid with panic attacks and he shuts down if he sees a cop. He can’t imagine a life where he won’t be ruined like this, but he also has a super supportive mum and friends. He also meets a super-cute-boy on the subway who he might have some serious feelings for. If he can trust himself to express them. But things are spiralling at school and you just ache for Moss as he watches his friends’ brutalised and knows that he could very well be next.

Also just seeing the school falling apart around them was so devastating. These kids just want to learn and do their best, but how do they stand a chance when their textbooks are photocopied and colleges overlook them instantly for submissions. And the police violence on campus was insane and mindblowing.

This book is about horrible things happening to good people and it will make your heart pound with how unfair it is.

I particularly enjoyed the close-knit relationships this book featured! Moss and his mum are so so close! It’s the sweetest thing ever, plus she supports him through his anxiety and has no qualms at all about him being gay. She supports him and Javier immediately (and absolutely teases him too, like good family should when their son catches a cutie’s eye). Moss also has a huge expanse of friends at school, and I loved the diversity of their group. There was representation from nonbinary, immigrant, black and brown kids, and also disabilities and queer kids.

Moss and Javier are also just too cute for words! You’ll absolutely ship them in a matter of seconds. They fit so well together and want to understand each other, not change each other. Plus Javier is a dork and Moss is super anxious and this is the quality kind of couple you want to read about.

It doesn’t hold back from the heartbreak either. Because this book is nothing if not showing you the non-sugar-coated version of parts of the world people often want to overlook. It does balance uplifting hope with devastation and heartbreak, though, but ohhhh if my heart wasn’t in a puddle half the time.

Don’t miss Anger Is A Gift, alright!? It’s an excellently written masterpiece that should sit right alongside books like The Hate U Give and Dear Martin! I’m glad books like this exist and hope it is another spark that will help change the world.

Review: Tyler Johnson Was Here by Jay Coles

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Tyler Johnson Was Here by Jay Coles is such a heart-wrenching (and important) read. It definitely hits hard and it’s such a vital book for everyone to be reading, especially in this day and age, where police brutality and racism are huge topics in the USA. It’s the type of story that needs to be told again and again until the world changes. Possibly stock up on some tissues and chocolate before you start though.

The story follows Marvin Johnson, who’s brother Tyler goes missing after a fateful party that neither of them would usually attend. Marvin is ruined with worry for his brother, who’d been pulling away in the weeks earlier and not sharing everything with his twin like he used to. And when the cops aren’t interested in helping much, Marvin takes the search into his own hands. With police brutality being a terrifying theme in his life, Marvin fears for the worst…and then a video is leaked online showing his brother being murdered by a cop. Tyler isn’t missing: he’s dead. And no one cares about justice unless Marvin fights tooth and nail for it.

The book focuses on police brutality, but it also delves into the “everyday” parts of racism in the USA. I cannot comprehend how it would be to live like these black teens have to live. When Marvin is going to a protest his mother literally says don’t have anything in your pockets, not even a phone, so he can’t be mistaken for being armed. And another time, Marvin and his friends are nearly arrested for buying food at a store, just because they’re black and the clerk thought they might shoplift. Being Australian, this is mind-boggling to me and a good eye-opener for what life is like for other people. I felt the devastation on every page of this book about kids who don’t deserve this blatant racism. You can really feel the author’s heart and emotions in the writing.

It does mix hope with the sadness though. I’m glad that’s in there. I can imagine this book will be so important to so many, and it’s important that it has room to cry and be angry and be encouraged. It also features a boy, Marvin, who is not afraid to cry and will be emotional…and that’s such a good dialogue to open up in YA too!

The story features so many other great things! There’s a cast of interesting and complex characters, including Marvin’s friends and a girl he meets, Faith, who helps him try to find Tyler and sticks with him when things grow dark. Marvin is also trying to get into a good college while all this is happening, and there’s a lot of talk about mental health and grief and learning to move through sadness and not lay down and give up.

Tyler Johnson Was Here is definitely the book that will leave you thinking, which is exactly what books are supposed to do. Start discussions and spark fires in people! This is a book with a tumultuous and heartbreaking journey, told in a raw and emotional voice.

Review: Let’s Talk About Love by Claire Kann

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Let’s Talk About Love by Claire Kann is the kind of adorable and cute book you need to brighten your life. I’ll go ahead and call it the CUTEST thing, proved by the fact that the protagonist, Alice, actually rates things on a cute scale! I mean it doesn’t get better than that. (Also it could be accused of being adorkable too.) It’s all about growing up and striking out on your own in those last years of being a teen while  you tackle college. It’s about coming-out and discovery and not being ashamed of who  you are. So wholesome and heart-filling!

The story follows Alice who’s in college and completely unsure what to do with her life. For more than one reason. For starters, she’s asexual and her ex-girlfriend just dumped her with accusations that Alice couldn’t really feel love. (Alice is so enraged at this lie.) And also Alice is under huge pressure from her parents to be a lawyer but…she really doesn’t want that. Then to top off the stress, her best friends are getting married and slowly forgetting about her and she just met this super-cute-boy at the library but how can she tell him her feelings?! After what her ex said, isn’t it better if Alice doesn’t let anyone know she’s asexual and just skips the pain of rejection?

I love how  the book deeply tackled the topic of asexuality, which is hugely underrepresented in media. Alice doesn’t want sex, but she does love romance — the cute and cliche kind too! She wants cuddles and roses and romantic walks and kisses, but she knows for most people that isn’t enough. Her asexuality is something she’s hiding, something she has to own. I think the book did a good job of discussing the fears and complications of coming out and it also dismantled a lot of horrible stereotypes and untruths people have about asexuality meaning you have no interest in romance. For some people that might be true, but it wasn’t for Alice.

The romance is definitely a huge feature in the book! Alice meets Takumi while working at the library and her cute-meter immediately explodes. She’s  scared to take it past friendship though, but these two (!!) you will absolutely root for their slowburn romance. Yes, they start off with insta-attraction and sparks, but the actual growth of their relationship is lovely and slow. Takumi himself is a total gift to this universe with how sweet and kind he is. He’s practically perfect and he fits so well with Alice…except for the part where they don’t tell each other the full truths all the time.

Seeing the world from Alice’s perspective was an adorable cuteness explosion. She is such a real and relatable character. She loves Pinterest and watching TV shows, she says “squee” and mentions tumblr. Her anxiety has her blurt out regrettable things and she believes food will cure all heartache. There is literally ONLY things to love about her.

There’s also a huge emphasis on friendship. I’m all heart eyes for friendship too, and the bond of Alice + her two BFF’s, Feenie and Ryan, will make your heart sing. too. Although  there is strife amongst these three as Feenie and Ryan are preparing to marry and Alice feels pushed out. But when Alice starts spending extra time with Takumi…Feenie and Ryan feel she’s shutting them down. Their friendships are complex and intricately woven and the dynamics just leap off  the page and make you wish you could watch a TV series with them and eat Chinese late at night.

The plot itself is pretty quiet and calm. It’s not a high-racing heart-pounding book…and it’s quite mellow and focuses solely on the characters. I loved reading the day-to-day things and just being truly Alice for 300 pages.

Let’s Talk About Love is the cute-fest you’ve been waiting for. It’s light and fluffy, but still talks about relatable and more serious topics, like pleasing your family, heavy expectations, and being true to yourself.

YA Books About Artists (Part 2)

Being a bookworm, I have a huge appreciation for art. After all, books are definitely a heartfelt kind of art! But I also do enjoy the physical drawing, painting, and textile kind of artistry, which is why books featuring artists are some of my favourites. Also probably because my drawing looks like a drunk chicken scratching lines with a teaspoon. But fine. I will come to books for my art fix.

Last year I did a list of YA books with artists, so welcome to Part 2! You can never have enough of books on your TBR pile after all.


THE DANGEROUS ART OF BLENDING IN BY ANGELO SURMELIS

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This is a recent new favourite of mine and features a closeted Greek boy just trying to make his way in the world and avoid confrontation with his terrible abusive mother. He’s torn between wanting to please her, to be loved, and to be true to himself and not ashamed of being gay.

He uses art as an escape from his torturous life and I loved how his notebooks were so precious to him. They were truly his favourite belongings and if he wanted you to know his heart, he’d let you see his work. Such a beautiful reminder of how an artist is part of their art.

 

IT LOOKS LIKE THIS BY RAFI MITTLEFEHLDT

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This is also about a closeted boy who’s 14 and only just discovering his attraction to boys. Mike is honestly one of the most soft and sweet people, but his life is about being quiet and not causing waves in his uber-religious family. After a move from his childhood home, he has to fit into a new school…something he dreads until he meets Sean, a basketball star who takes a quiet interest in Mike. They end up working on a French project together and sparks begin. But it definitely doesn’t go down well with either family. Mike also loves to draw and the cover is actually a nod to the sunset he draws as his favourite memory with Sean.

YOU’RE WELCOME UNIVERSE BY WHITNEY GARDNER

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This is a slightly different look at the traditional artist because…hello to graffiti art! The book is about Julia, who’s super passionate about using her voice through graffiti. She’s also deaf and struggling in a new school where people treat her differently because of her disability. Since graffiti is one of her only releases in a stressful situation, she really takes pride in what she does: until someone else starts “fixing” her work. How infuriating can you get?! She has to track down the vandal to her vandalism before it turns into graffiti war.

 

STARFISH BY AKEMI DAWN BOWEN

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This is one of my absolute favourite contemporaries, which deals with abuse and art and heartbreak. Honestly, it’ll make your feels ache for what Kiko has to go through. Her parents have divorced and her dad is off with his “new family” while Kiko is left with two brothers who ignore her and a mother who systematically emotionally abuses her. Kiko is also biracial and Japanese, and her mother is white, and the constant barbs and disgust at Kiko’s Japanese side from her own mother is really detrimental to Kiko’s life. She’s super anxious and constantly feels abandoned. Her art is her pride and joy and all she wants is to get into an amazing art school, escape, and truly live. But then her childhood sweetheart, Jamie, returns home and possibly offers Kiko a way out.

This one is so heartfelt and perfect! The art is on every page and there are snippets of Kiko’s art described before each chapter.

Everyone Belongs – Harmony Day Picture Books

Today, Harmony Day, is a day of celebration, marking the significance of community inclusion, diversity, respect and belonging. As my kids went off to school in their orange attire and stocked with their cultural lunch, they are amongst the nation representing a position of peace, togetherness and harmony. To follow on this auspicious day, we will be reading some inspiring and poignant books, a few of which are listed here.

This hauntingly stunning picture book by Margaret Wild, with stirring illustrations by Freya Blackwood, will have readers gasping with bated breath at its tainted beauty. The Feather, a symbol of redemption and hope, floats with its message of how one object can be so powerful in bringing people together, and also how quickly that faith can be lost. But with that inner light and love, it can not only be restored but also prospered.

Wild’s poetic, visual narrative is as soft, light and silky as the regal feather it represents, conjuring deep reflection and emotion within its harrowingly dark, war-torn setting. Blackwood beautifully does the same with her expert use of light and shade, highlighting the glimmers of hope amongst the grey and ghostly village. And with the strength of two inspiring children as the central characters to help signify the sense of safety, warmth and optimism with the clean feather, overcoming its muddied, spoiled shadow of life, is a brilliant concept that this superb pairing have perfected.

The Feather is a striking reminder of the importance of community and living together in harmony to reach a common goal of peace, happiness and a fighting spirit. Meaningful, majestic and masterful for primary aged children.

Little Hare Books, February 2018.

In association with Amnesty International UK, and a special foreword note by Yoko Ono Lennon, this heart rending rendition of John Lennon’s 1971 hit song, Imagine, feels poignant and powerful, empowering and inspirational. It is a beautiful book to share with every generation every day, and particularly on a day like today’s Harmony Day.

The pigeon, or dove (symbol of peace) in the book takes its readers / listeners on a journey over the waters and across the world, welcoming a colourful and varied array of birds to join him. The lyrics relay the message of living in peace without restrictions of borders, predujices against religions and cultures, or material things. Hence the wording, “Imagine there’s no countries. It isn’t hard to do. Nothing to kill or die for, and no religion too. Imagine all the people living life in peace.”

Jean Jullien is a perfectly suited illustrator for this book with his bold black line and brightly coloured drawings; simple, charismatic and impactful. His images are joyous and energetic and heartwarmingly represent how “the world will live as one.”

Our younger generation of preschool and primary school children will hopefully carry forth this valuable mission of human rights; of equality, safety, belonging and love, in helping to Imagine and ‘make the world a better place.’

Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, September 2017.

Hello!, illustrated by Tony Flowers, is a playful and exotic blend of cultures following twelve children from different backgrounds. We meet kids from Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander communities, to Asian and European heritage. Each section introduces a child and describes some special qualities and traditions like cuisine, clothing, language, recreation and holidays. The book is complete with guides on pronunciation of terms from each language and photographs adopted from various resources.

Flowers casts a wonderful representation of diversity and energy with his detailed pencil and watercolour illustrations.

Hello! is a terrific resource to have in every early childhood and primary school setting. This book certainly acknowledges, represents and celebrates our wide mix of multiculturalism in our country to encourage the value that ‘everyone belongs’.

NLA, April 2016.

Happy Harmony Day!

Review: The Dangerous Art of Blending In by Angelo Surmelis

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The Dangerous Art of Blending In by Angelo Surmelis was equal parts heartbreaking, hopeful, and brutal. I knew it was going to be an emotional one from the start, but it really has you feeling all of the things from the very first page. It’s so heartfelt that I couldn’t even put it down while I watched Evan’s complicated and ruined life unfold. This isn’t easy or lighthearted YA, but it’s so so needful. It’s full of art and abuse and the agony of hiding your true self from the world after people who should love you prove they don’t. Get yourself some chocolate before reading this, trust me.

The story centres around Evan Panos: son of Greek parents, artist, anxious and shy nerd, and very gay. Which is completely unacceptable to his family. He can’t even show them his art, let alone tell them he likes boys, and his life is a maze of trying to avoid confrontation with his abusive mother and his father who won’t step in. It’s all Evan can do to stay afloat, even though the boy he’s always loved could help him. Or ruin him if things got out. Either Evan loses the truest and best parts of himself in an effort to appease his terrible mother, or he finds a way to fight back.

The domestic violence parts are so heartbreaking, but very well written. Evan’s mother engages in a lot of psychological abuse too, leaving Evan feeling worthless as she calls him “wicked and sinful” for doing anything from not being the perfect Greek son, to doing art, to having his hair wrong. He truly does believe he’s unworthy and ugly and evil…until he gets a friend who refuses to let Evan think like that. Which I think is really important! The book steered away from any “love cures and saves” tropes, but it did underline the importance of being told again and again that you are worth something and that’s crucial for Evan believing in himself enough to fight back.

Evan is honestly the sweetest boy too. He’s an artist, but has a very low opinion of his work, and he always draws back from attention. But he’s just so unfailingly sweet and kind and the way he lights up when people are nice to him is beyond heartbreaking. I told you. Prepare to have your feels ruined. Also it’s really important that the book also showed the effects of a lifetime of abuse for Evan. He’s anxious and depressed and has PTSD and the book really highlights those aspects.

Evan’s relationship with Henry is also super sweet. Slow at first! And then tumbling into something faster. I do wish Henry had just had a little more deepness as a character, because we’re introduced to him as Evan’s childhood BFF, so they have history and we don’t “learn” as much about Henry as I’d have liked. But they were supportive and great together. Bless.

Also I appreciated the delving into Greek culture. The author is Greek and you can really tell as the writing covers Greek food and religion and family dynamics.

The pacing isn’t super fast, but in a good way! You can get see Evan’s life and it makes you feel like you’re in the story — from visiting his school to getting donuts with his dad, to the heart-in-the-mouth feeling of watching Evan try to avoid a run in with his unstable and horrible mother.

Basically The Dangerous Art of Blending In is an excellent story you really need to get your clammy paws on. It takes a very personal and #ownvoices look at what it’s like to be a closeted gay Greek teenager and it’s full of brittle agony and fragile hope.

Valentines Reading – Picture Books with Heart

Whether it’s about love unrequited, lost loves or welcoming new love into your heart, this collection of new children’s book releases are sure to melt your Valentines resolve.

Unrequited Love

I Love You Stick Insect by Chris Naylor-Ballesteros

Side-splinteringly silly, this jocularly illustrated romance features Stick (a stick insect) and his infatuation with the most beautiful stick insect he has ever laid eyes on. He immediately launches into a reverie of what ifs with his newfound love despite Butterfly’s repeated proclamations that it’s ‘just a stick’. Readers merrily hurtle along with Stick and his runaway imagination until he finally twigs his embarrassing mistake. Eye-catching candy that will tickle the funny bones of 2 – 5 year-olds.

Bloomsbury January 2018

Valensteins by Ethan Long

Valentine’s Day may seem an unlikely celebration for monsters and ghouls yet young Fran has other notions. He sets his heart on creating a pretty, pink paper heart for which he receives cutting ridicule. His vampish friends fear that Fran might be in love, that icky, gross, mushy, kiss-on-the-lips emotion that they frankly all find ‘terrifying’! Fortunately, for Fran, he turns the other bolted cheek and remains true to his real feelings. Despite its monochromatic overtones and comically Goth characters, Valensteins oozes charm and meaning, showing young readers that real love is about what you feel in your real heart. This is a lovely expression of being true to your feelings and creating meaningful relationships.

Bloomsbury January 2018

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Review: The Edge Of The Universe by Shaun David Hutchinson

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The Edge of the Universe by Shaun David Hutchinson is such a unique book and I couldn’t stop reading it! I want to say “couldn’t put it down” but I actually read the audiobook, and I thoroughly recommend that too because the narration was awesome. But it was so addictive because it spun so many questions with a hint of a sci-fi flavour. The whole time I had no idea if things were real or not and the book crafted and handled the story so well!

The story is centred around Ozzie who believes the universe is shrinking after his boyfriend disappeared. And not “ran away”…his boyfriend is 100% gone from the town, from everyone’s memories, and from Ozzie’s entire life. Even his journal entries are rewriting themselves to cut out Tommy’s entire existence. Obviously this is devastating for Ozzie because not only is he facing the heartbreak of his best friend and boyfriend disappearing — no one believes him. Plus he’s graduating school and stuck working on a project with the class’s most messed up kid, Calvin, who most definitely has deep problems going on. And Ozzie knows the universe is shrinking because as the galaxies disappear everyone denies they ever existed. The real question: what the heck is going on? And how can he get Tommy back?

Honestly I’ve never read a book or premise like this! I was captured from the very first page because I wanted to know if the universe was shrinking, or was Ozzie having a mental breakdown? Did Tommy ever exist or did Ozzie make him up to deal with the stress of his parents’ divorce, his brother entering the army, and his best friend Lua leaving town to carve a life without Ozzie in it. Ozzie ended up going to a ton of therapists and, since no one believed him about the universe shrinking or his missing boyfriend, I am a bit surprised he wasn’t being diagnosed as delusional. But he managed to keep his life together by a few threads while trying to figure out what was going on.

I loved the secondary character cast too!! Calvin is a complex and absolutely adorable darling, who has some seriously dark secrets about abuse in his life and is very wary to let anyone in. His and Ozzie’s friendship isn’t smooth and isn’t always healthy, but I thought it was super realistic.

I also loved Lua, Ozzie’s genderfluid BFF, who’s an amazing rock singer looking to make it big after highschool. Lua was seriously dynamic and I liked how the story showed their insecurities as well as highs.

Also shout out to how diverse it was! This is an #ownvoices book for Ozzie’s lgbt narration, and there’s also genderfluid and asexual and people of different races making up the strong supporting cast. It’s always so refreshing when books acknowledge the whole world and give minorities a voice!

There is also a lot of serious topics dealt with in this book. So don’t go in expecting a light fluffy read. It’s pretty confronting and at times devastating, but I think all the series issues were handled with care and respect.

I did like the style too! The writing was simple and clear and I did wish it had a bit more emotion, but Ozzie was a fabulous narrator to share the journey with. He was super selfish at times, but I loved his arc and how he grew over the course of the book.

The Edge of the Universe is such an interesting story, stuffed with questions and theories. I’m so here for this contemporary / sci-fi mashup and I’d love to read more books like this! Calvin was the light of the book, honestly, and I loved how Ozzie matured. And the ending?! I will say no more: but it was pretty satisfying.

Review: Love, Hate And Other Filters by Samira Ahmed

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Love, Hate And Other Filters by Samira Ahmed is combination of a cute fluffy romance and a very personal look at racism and hate crimes. The book really discusses a lot of issues going on in today’s world, especially the blind aggression and hate immigrants and Muslims can receive when they’re just trying to live their lives! It’s also an #ownvoices story, which means you can really feel the author pouring their heart and experiences into the story. It definitely pays off!

The story follows Maya Aziz who is a Muslim Indian-American teen who loves documentaries and film and deeply wants to study it in college. Only problem: her parents have other plans. Most of which include finding a good Indian husband and studying law or to be a doctor. Maya’s dreams keep conflicting with their plans and, to make matters more tense in the family, she also has a very deep and secret crush on a boy at school — who’s decidedly not one her parents would ever approve of. She gets caught up going on an approved date with Kareem, who honestly is really nice…but, her heart is still with Phil. And when their causal hangouts turn into him really caring about her and her dreams…which side is she supposed to pick?

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A big part of Maya’s life, and also the plot, is a discussion on the repercussions on terrorist attacks. When a really terrible attack happens in a nearby city, Maya’s Muslim family receives a ton of hate and it’s super scary and really makes you think as you read. And while the plot is absolutely tackling heavy topics, it does balance it out with Maya’s romantic indecision and her movie and film references as she pursues her passion.

I’m not a huge movie buff, so admittedly a lot of the references were lost on me. But I loved that Maya HAD a goal and was definitely going to pursue it! It made her a really driven character and totally admirable. Also I haven’t read many books with characters who love being behind a camera, so this was new!

Maya herself was complex and interesting! She was definitely very torn between wishing her parents were happy with her, but hating the life they’d planned out. (She can’t handle tons of jewellery and high heels and the idea of being a lawyer. Nooo. Leave her with her movies please.) There’s a lot of tension and problems between her and her parents too.

The peek into Indian-American culture was amazing!  I love how the writing utilised the 5-senes to make the scenes really pop off the page. The food was so good I practically wanted to eat my copy.

The story itself is also pretty short and sweet. Like a cupcake! It has some brief scenes from the terrorist’s perspective too, which keeps you guessing and also keeps an ominous presence in the background.

Love Hate And Other Filters is definitely an important and topical discussion that’s really good to read and think about! It’s cute and mushy at times and also discusses the ripple effect of hate crimes and how deeply it can change and shake innocent people’s lives.

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

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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

Continue reading Meaningful Moments in Picture Books

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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