Original books for all ages from NZ

changeoverThere is an incredible depth of literary talent in New Zealand ranging from Booker Prize winner Eleanor Catton to Kate di Goldi, Lloyd Jones, Janet Frame and the incomparable Margaret Mahy. NZ is also the base for amazing publisher Gecko Press, which publishes books from around the world for children.

We should keep an eye on what NZ is publishing because it is so close to us here in Australia and, as in many areas; it punches above its weight.

Some of Gecko Press’s most outstanding recent books are The Big Book of Animals of the World, an oversized board book by Swedish/German author-illustrator Ole Konnecke.Bert

This creator also pops up with You Can Do It, Bert! Children will wonder what Bert is trying to do. Most of the action happens in the illustrations and the text is minimal.

Help! The Wolf is Coming! by French author Cedric Ramadier and illustrator Vincent Bourgeau is a very appealing, interactive story which will scare children as the wolf approaches but also empower them because they can tilt and shake the book to ward the wolf off.

Another fascinating book for young readers about animals is Line Up, Please! by Japanese author/illustrator Tomoko Ohmura. Fifty animals join a queue but the surprise is where they are queuing. The numerals are written, as well as the animals’ names, such as ‘giraffe’.

International best-seller Stephanie Blake’s rabbit reappears in I Want Spaghetti. How can the little rabbit be tempted to eat something else? The bold, clear colours and design are a visual lure.

When I am happiestWhen I am Happiest by Swedish author Rose Lagercrantz, illustrated in black and white by Eva Eriksson, is a heartwarming early chapter book about Dani who always tries to be happy despite having lost her mother at a young age. When her father is hit by a car, she has to summon more courage.

Dani has two hamsters, and a hamster is the larger-than-life protagonist of Travels of an Extraordinary Hamster by Astrid Desbordes and Pauline Martin. This self-absorbed hamster features in the many short stories that make up this brightly coloured book.

Very short, but profound, stories also form the structure of The King and the Sea by Heinz Janisch and Wolf Erlbruch. This book is inventive and uses a restrained, perfectly calibrated mixture of collage.

Finding Monkey Moon isn’t published by Gecko Press but is written by NZ author Elizabeth Pulford and illustrated by Kate Wilkinson (Walker Books). It is a picture book that tells the story of Michael who can’t find his toy monkey. His father is a patient, loving man.

BakehouseNZ legend Joy Cowley’s latest book is The Bakehouse (Gecko Press). It is an introspective novel about war and some of its effects in NZ. My favourite recent Cowley is Speed of Lightwhich I reviewed here.

Elizabeth Knox is another standout NZ writer. Previous works are The Vintner’s Luck, The Dreamhunter Duet and Mortal Fire, which I reviewed here. Her recent book Wake is adults-only and is an addictive horror/sci-fi set in a NZ town where most of the inhabitants are killed. Only fourteen people survive and they must try to keep community and civilization alive, as well as themselves. Not for the faint-hearted.

In Wake, like other books mentioned here, we can expect NZ creators and publishers to give us something out of the ordinary.

What I’m reading this Christmas: Claire Smith, Walker Books

Thanks for talking to Boomerang Books, Claire Smith. Spark

You’re the marketing assistant at Walker Books, Australia, and you’re going to share your Christmas picks with us. But first let’s find out about you and some books you’ve been working with.

Walker Books  (based in Sydney)  is known for its children’s and YA books. Which do you work on/prefer?

Being in marketing and publicity, I’m lucky enough to get to work on most books that we publish. Children’s publishing is one of those great industries where you really do see a variety of work from a wide variety of people. We often have to stop in meetings and ask “Are we really having this intense discussion about a book on the history of poo?” It really does make for some good stories when people ask what you do. From a reading perspective, I really get into our dystopian YA like Rachael Craw’s Spark, but I also love a beautiful picture book and am a big Jon Klassen fan.

This is not my HatYou’re a marketing assistant – what does a marketing assistant do?

A marketing assistant is really a team all-rounder. I get to liaise with our international offices in London and Boston which allows me a sneak peek at some of the great international titles we sell. I’m also lucky enough to work on our community partnerships and get to donate our books to amazing causes and help to get our authors out to smaller community festivals and charity events. The children’s book industry is so incredible and supportive, it is amazing to be a part of and to keep meeting so many great people in the industry.

How did you get this job?

In 2012 I completed a Masters of Publishing at Sydney Uni. This involved getting to know the business and allowed me to complete an internship as part of my studies. I interned for a few months in the publicity department at Hachette and fell in love with the hustle and bustle of being part of a marketing and publicity team. That experience helped me get the job at Walker, which I am incredibly grateful for. For anyone looking to work in publishing, an internship really is the way to get your foot in the door and find out if this industry is one you can see yourself in.

I suspect you love all the books you promote, but could you tell us about some that you are particularly proud of.

I do love all the books we promote! I am especially proud of Spark by Rachael Craw. It was one we all loved as soon as we got our hands on the manuscript. After some incredible work by our editorial team, it was even more spectacular. And my friend Amy did an amazing cover for it that everyone raves about. We met with Rachael and talked about what we can do for her marketing wise, but also what she can do for herself. She took like a duck to water with social media and has been winning fans left, right and centre. We are all really proud of how well Spark and Rachael have done, and so excited for the next book in the series!

What is different/special about Walker Books? 

Where to start with what is special about Walker?!? It is honestly one of the most inclusive and joyous places to be. The people are hard-working, funny, kind and above all so passionate about what they do and the children’s book industry. It is these wonderful people that really help to make the books what they are – their creativity, their eye for quality and their drive to produce the best children’s books available. We are all grateful for the opportunity to work and learn at Walker, and even if we sometimes feel tired or busy, we will all strive to do the best work we can. It really is an awesome place to work, especially for someone just starting out in the industry – getting to learn from these people every day is so wonderful. And getting to be friends with them? Cherry on top!

What are some awards Walker has won that have particular significance for you?

I recently got to attend the KOALA Awards with Bob Graham who won Honour Book for A Bus Called Heaven. It was so A Bus Called Heavenexciting to attend an awards ceremony in a hall full of kids who had been reading all year and who had voted for their favourite books. That really is why we do what we do – so kids can continue to read quality books. It was also really exciting to get to spend time with Bob Graham – who is an absolute master at what he does and one of the sweetest people you will ever meet.

What do you see as the way forward in the book industry?

I think the book industry – especially the children’s industry – has a bright future ahead. Seeing how hard authors, illustrators and publishers work can only mean good things for the industry in general and great things for readers. The children’s industry is also so well connected that everyone who is a part of it is constantly doing their part to make it vibrant, inclusive and fun to be a part of.

What are some must-reads over Christmas?

Christmas reading for me is always those big tomes that were a little too daunting earlier in the year. Last Christmas I managed to get through The Luminaries before the new year started – it’s great to be able to give all your attention to a book without anything else getting in the way.

The LuminariesWhat is your secret reading pleasure?

At the moment I’ve become a little obsessed with crime fiction. I flew through all three Gillian Flynn novels, including Gone Girl, and am now reading anything I can get my hands on by the wonderful Irish author Tana French. Her prose is fantastic and I love anything with a good twist at the end. I don’t know that much about Ireland, but her novels are great regardless.

Thanks very much for speaking with us, Claire. The Secret Place

 

 

 

A Snapshot of Australian YA and Fiction in the USA

The Book ThiefI’ve just returned from visiting some major cities in the USA. It was illuminating to see which Australian literature is stocked in their (mostly) indie bookstores. This is anecdotal but shows which Australian books browsers are seeing, raising the profile of our literature.

Marcus Zusak’s The Book Thief was the most prominent Australian book. I didn’t go to one shop where it wasn’t stocked.

The ABIA (Australian Book Industry) 2014 overall award winner, The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion was also popular. And a close third was Shaun Tan’s inimical Rules of Summer, which has recently won a prestigious Boston Globe-Horn Book picture book honour award. Some stores had copies in stacks.

http://www.hbook.com/2014/05/news/boston-globe-horn-book-awards/picture-book-reviews-2014-boston-globe-horn-book-award-winner-honor-books/#_

I noticed a few other Tans shelved in ‘graphic novels’, including his seminal work, The Arrival – which is newly available in paperback.

All the birds singing

One large store had an Oceania section, where Eleanor Catton’s Man-Booker winner, The Luminaries rubbed shoulders with an up-to-date selection of Australian novels. These included hot-off-the-press Miles Franklin winner All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld and Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites, plus expected big-names – Tim Winton with Eyrie, Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North and works by Thomas Keneally and David Malouf. Less expected but very welcome was Patrick Holland.I chaired a session with Patrick at the Brisbane Writers’ Festival a few years ago and particularly like his short stories Riding the Trains in Japan.

Australian literary fiction I found in other stores included Kirsten Tranter’s A Common Loss, Patrick White’s The Hanging Garden and some Peter Carey.

One NY children’s/YA specialist was particularly enthusiastic about Australian writers. Her store had hosted Gus Gordon to promote his picture book, Herman and Rosie, a CBCA honour book, which is set in New York City. They also stocked Melina Marchetta’s Looking for Alibrandi and Saving Francesca, John Marsden, David McRobbie’s Wayne series (also a TV series), Catherine Jinks’ Genius Squad (How to Catch a Bogle was available elsewhere) and some of Jaclyn Moriarty’s YA. One of my three top YA books for 2013, The Midnight Dress by Karen Foxlee was available in HB with a stunning cover and Foxlee’s children’s novel Ophelia and the Marvellous Boy was promoted as part of the Summer Holidays Reading Guide.

The children of the king

Elsewhere I spied Margo Lanagan’s The Brides of Rollrock Island, published as Sea Hearts here (the Australian edition has the best cover); Lian Tanner’s Keepers trilogy; John Flanagan’s Ranger’s Apprentice and Sonya Hartnett’s The Children of the King. These are excellent books that we are proud to claim as Australian.

For a debut this book is just astonishing

9781847081391Book Review – The Rehearsal by Eleanor Catton

After reading The Luminaries there was no way I wasn’t going to go back and read Eleanor Catton’s first novel. Book covers are often filled with blurbs (some more than others) and there is often a lot of hyperbole flying around. However after reading this book there are no exaggerations with the blurbs on the front and back of The Rehearsal.

For a debut this book is just astonishing. This is a book that challenges you as a reader and Catton has taken a number of risks. Risks I think many accomplished authors would be hesitant to take. And risks that pay off in spades.

Central to the novel is a sex scandal at a high school between a male music teacher and a female student. But it is the way Catton tells this story which will truly amaze you. The story is not told in a linear fashion. Catton jumps around a number of different perspectives as well as different points in time. While this can be confusing and requires a bit more concentration it has a profound effect on the story. Like any scandal, especially one in a school, the story is spread my many different people, in many different ways and the truth of what really happened gets blurred, discarded and picked up by others. Catton demonstrates this by exploring the story in the way she does.

The two main perspectives of the book alternate between girls’ lessons with a saxophone teacher and a first year student at a local drama college. The student characters of the novel are all in a state of rehearsal. Recital rehearsal, drama rehearsal, life rehearsal. But Catton shows a number of other rehearsals that continue to go one. The other clever device she uses is never to name the adults of the novel. The teacher involved in the sex scandal is named but the other teachers are always referred to by their teaching subjects never by name. This contributes to the sense of rehearsal, the roles of teachers are interchangeable, a part to be played.

Eleanor Catton is a writer like no other. She has the courage and skill to not only challenge you as a reader but also intrigue you and compel you to read more. Like with The Luminaries Catton doesn’t give you all the answers at the end of the book. It is up to you to digest what you have read, absorb it and make up your own mind which only some of the great books and authors ever pull off. And Eleanor Catton must surely be counted as a great writer even though her career is only really beginning.

Buy the book here…

A joy to read. Pure reading heaven. I miss it already!

9781847088765

Review – The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton

This was such a joy to read. It is pure reading heaven. It is richly detailed yet highly readable and features a large cast of characters who are each flawed in all the many ways people can be. It is also an intricate mystery, a puzzle that each character (and you the reader) are trying to get to the bottom of.

The Luminaries is a monster of a book. The size of the book may put you off but don’t be! I stupidly let this sit on my shelf for months. I didn’t want to commit to a book so big. However, literally after the first page, I was so glad that this was a huge book because I just wanted to read and read. You honestly don’t want this book to end. When I did finish I instantly began to miss it and all it’s characters.

Eleanor Catton loses you in the story and, like the characters of the novel, sucks you in to the puzzle. Catton’s style and talent defy her years. Each chapter begins with a brilliantly penned synopsis, which I must admit I’d read at the end of the previous chapter like a ‘next time on The Luminaries‘. These synopses brilliant capture the mood and tone of the story and are just one of many hooks.

The story is set in the New Zealand Goldfields and involves a murder, an attempted suicide, a missing man and a pile of gold whose ownership is far from clear. The mystery unfolds from the perspective of 13 men who are each involved in the story in different ways. Each of these men piece together their stories but the truth is hiding behind miscommunication, misinterpretation and each person’s own intentions and stake in the events.

The Luminaries is totally absorbing, utterly original and a must for The Booker Prize! I am going to have an absolute nightmare putting together my top 10 of the year now (a good nightmare). Eleanor Catton is such an amazing writer (I already have The Rehearsal sitting in my ‘to read’ pile). Even without The Booker this is a book that deserves to be read, enjoyed, celebrated and read again.

Buy the book here…