Vanguard of Debut Children’s Authors

Tiger StoneA surge of debut novels by talented Australians for children and young adults may be on the way. Deryn Mansell’s Tiger Stone  (Black Dog Books), an original, intricate mystery set in fourteenth century Java for upper primary and junior secondary readers and Caro Was Here by Elizabeth Farrelly (Walker Books) are some forerunners.

Caro Was Here is also aimed at upper primary school children. Rather than a historical mystery, it is a cool, contemporary mystery adventure. It’s an addictive, pacey read and is today’s equivalent of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five but better written and with more depth of characterisation (not to detract from Blyton, whose books I, and practically everyone else, relished as a child).

Caro is a fascinating character – a bit over-confident, a bit opinionated and a rule-breaker. The novel begins just before the Easter break when twelve-year-old Caro inadvertently sticks up for ‘poached-egg glasses’-wearing nerd, Nigel Numbnuts on the bus. She’s not sure that it will help her chances of becoming Year Six Winter Captain but she has to do it. Her election speech is eclipsed by new American girl, Ellen Aurelia Dufresne, who later becomes part of the group who wag the last afternoon of term.

Ned, Caro’s younger half-brother, Nigel and Ellen, as well as one of her best friends, Tattie, follow Caro to Sydney Harbour. After Caro makes them put their phones in a locker at Circular Quay to enhance the adventure of their afternoon, they miss the ferry to Cockatoo Island and have to catch the boat to Goat Island instead. Some of the history of the island interests them but is convict Charles Anderson’s fate a foretaste of what might be lying in wait for them? Goat Island

When they miss the last ferry and have to spend the night on the dark island in the rain, they realise that they’re not alone. The author continues in the vein of contemporary adventure to create a deliberately uber-thrilling situation, while adding backstories and depth to the main characters.

The cover is perhaps the only downfall of the book. I assumed it signalled introspective realism because of the stylised images of a hand and matchstick, but these components do make sense when you read the story.

Overall, Caro Was Here, Tiger Stone, and other current works by debut writers, seem to be the vanguard in an exciting new era for children’s literature. And thanks also to the farsighted publishers who are delivering works by new authors.


Janeen Brian – Part Two

Janeen 2Do you have an all time favourite book character you secretly aspire to be more like? Discover Janeen Brian’s

Q Who or what was your favourite book character as a child? If you could incorporate that character into one of your own stories, which would it be and why? How would you adapt that character to suit?

I wanted to be one of the girls in the Enid Blyton’s Famous Five or Secret Seven series, because, having few books in my childhood, I felt as if I personally knew the girls. But as well, they were up front characters who had adventures and were at time, quite gutsy. I liked that! I think many of my girl characters have some of those characteristics!

Q Which Aussie children’s book author do you admire the most and why?

How can any reader or writer answer that! I love the work of my friend and poetry colleague, Lorraine Marwood. Her words sing to me or shake me about. Her work is so real and yet, magical. A bit like her.

Q How long does it take you to develop a children’s story? Does the time vary dependant on the genre: picture book, MG novel, script etc.Eddie Piper

I have recently compiled an anthology of my poems, entitled, As long as a piece of string. That will have to suffice for my answer to that one, because as vague as it is, it’s the truth. Sometimes picture books can take as long to write as a piece of fiction. Of course, you’re not necessarily slogging at it for hours every day, but developing it, shaping it and re-writing it over time.

Q Do you write every day? What is the most enjoyable part of your working day?

It’s rare that I miss a day where I’m not writing, even if it’s just catching up on my diary.

I'm a Dirty DinosaurQ What inspires you to write like nothing else can?

Certain words; strong, emotional situations; a state of tranquillity.

Q Do you have a special spot or routine to make the magic happen or can you write anywhere, any time?

I work mainly in my home office; and each morning I prime myself by responding to emails and getting lots of admin out the way first. It’s also a way of letting my brain know that I’m here and we’re going to do something to do with writing or brainstorming. I do a lot of brainstorming. I don’t tend to start putting anything on the computer until I’ve written enough, using pen on paper, and have a physical feeling that that I’ve captured the voice of the character or that I’m ready to start.

Q What is that one thing that motivates you to keep on writing (for children)?

I love the creativity; the tumble and jumble of words and feelings; the constant astonishment that so much of what happens in your life can become the story for another and the fact children seem to like what I write.

Shirl at the Show JBQ Name one ‘I’ll never forget that’ moment in your writing career thus far.

So many! I think being a writer is full of surprises, but a recent one was winning the Carclew Fellowship in the 2012 Adelaide Festival Awards for Literature. The Fellowship awarded me a sizeable amount of money to further research and develop a three-in-one-project. When the phone call came to say that I’d won, my first reaction was that I was going to be told my application was disallowed because it involved three proposals, not one. But instead, I was told I’d won!

Q What is on the draft table for Janeen?

Three books due for release within the next six months – so, much admin, media promotion and launches to organise. The books are: A picture book for the very young, called I’m a dirty dinosaur. (illustrated by AnnMeet Ned Kelly James and published by Penguin group Australia). An Australian historical picture book for the young called Meet Ned Kelly (illustrated by Matt Adams and published by Random House) and an historical, adventure novel for upper primary, called That boy, Jack.(published by Walker Books) I also have a number of other projects out with my agent or publishers.

My next project will be another picture book. I have vague ideas, but will need to do more research first.

Can hardly wait. For a full list of this year’s releases visit Janeen’s website too.

News – The Famous Five 70th Anniversary

To celebrate the 70th anniversary of Enid Blyton’s much-loved Famous Five series, five of the world’s most illustrious children’s illustrators have teamed up with Hodder Children’s Books to present new special anniversary covers for the first five adventures in the series. Quentin Blake, Oliver Jeffers, Helen Oxenbury, Emma Chichester Clark and Chris Riddell have all turned their hand to illustrating the covers of this wonderful set of books.

Available in this new version of the series (published May 2012) are:

Five on a Treasure Island (Quentin Blake)

Five Go Adventuring Again (Helen Oxenbury)

Five Run Away Together (Emma Chichester Clark)

Five Go to Smuggler’s Top (Oliver Jeffers)

Five Go Off in a Caravan (Chris Riddell)

This wonderful illustration initiative is in support of the House of Illustration charity, the world’s first dedicated home for the art of illustration. Developed by Quentin Blake, the charity puts on exhibitions, runs competitions and organises events with some of the UK’s leading illustrators. It also works in schools and acts as a hub for emerging and established artists. Their ambition remains to create a permanent home to celebrate the past, present and future of illustration.

A percentage of royalties from each of the 70th anniversary edition books will go to the House of Illustration.

How well do you know your Famous Five? Head here to test your knowledge!

The Famous Five series is published by Hodder Children’s.

This Is Why We’re Fat – The Book Version (Part 2)

As I discussed at the end of Part 1, Enid Blyton isn’t the only author to blame for my literary food obsession. I also point the finger at Roald Dahl – he toyed with the hypothalamus part of my brain something chronic. I will admit that there may be a message in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory NOT to eat too much. I mean, think about it – all the greedier kids get their just de[s]serts (and despite your protests to the contrary I assure you there would be little worse than almost-death by chocolate).

Now delve even deeper. In the end, what happens? Charlie wins an ENTIRE CHOCOLATE FACTORY (hoorah)! So, the message is clear….stave off for a little while, and soon enough you’ll be rewarded with more chocolate and lollies than you’ve ever dreamed of.

At least, that’s what I get from it.

What, you get something different?


Well. There’s nothing quite like rediscovering classic novels (like Little Women) during your early teen years. When all you want to do is fit in with everyone else in the P.E. changerooms and attempt to keep slim, there’s descriptions like this to tuck you in at night:

“…when they saw the table, they looked at one another in rapturous amazement. It was like Marmee to get up a little treat for them, but anything so fine as this was unheard of since the departed days of plenty. There was ice cream, actually two dishes of it, pink and white, and cake and fruit and distracting French bonbons and, in the middle of the table, four great bouquets of hot house flowers.”

“Thank you very much, Louisa May Alcott,” I remember thinking viciously at the time. “You are truly a thinspiration.” And then I gorged on a midnight feast of the sticky date pudding mum had made us for dessert earlier on. Awesome.

Sigh. I had hoped that with the disappearance of my childhood and my unpredictable teen hormones (oh wait, I still definitely have some of them left over), my literary food obsession had well and truly passed its expiry date.

Until I read somewhere that The Leopard has one of the most amazing feast scenes EVER.

I promptly bought The Leopard and there it sits on my shelf, tantalising me. I am, quite honestly, afraid to open it lest I absentmindedly gobble an entire packet of Tim-Tams like the food zombie that I am when I’m reading. It’s happened before, and it’ll happen again…

Yet – would you believe it – the very latest temptation comes in the form of what is, deep down at its skeleton, an actual cookbook.

A Platter of Figs, and Other Recipes, by David Tanis is not only filled with scrumptious pictures, but also some pretty great writing. The following is an excerpt from the book (you’ll see why I was tempted):

“ I think food should look natural, not contrived. Plums in a bowl are nothing more than a repetition of shapes: what could be more beautiful? Tender green beans—briefly cooked, dressed with oil, and gently piled on a platter—are beautiful in a way that stacked, squeezed, decorated, gussied-up creations will never be.”

And this:

“Start with a few slices of raw fennel and a plate of olives. Then bring me a beautiful bowl of steaming pasta with garlic and oil. For dessert, a just-ripe pear and some aged Parmigiano…
For breakfast, I don’t crave pancakes, I want tomatoes and fresh white cheese splashed with olive oil… I do like a little something sweet after a meal, but I always prefer light, fresh, elemental, fruit-based desserts and that’s what you’ll find in this book.”

But I thought I was the only one who craved salt rather than pancakes, and had food absorb olive oil like it was an intravenous drip! I had found my food soulmate! So I just had to have it.

[NB: I gagged a little when I saw the price tag, but only a little. The potential hours spent salivating and maybe even making some of these glorious dishes far outweighed the one-book-for-the-price-of-two factor].

Look, when all is said and done, books and food make beautiful music together. It’s a sensory overload, and I shouldn’t beat myself up for being tempted by the result. Provided it’s in moderation, of course. I guess that’s what books are for, right? To make you feel something?

Sometimes though, I wish it wasn’t something I felt so strongly in my stomach.

This Is Why We’re Fat – The Book Version (Part 1)

Aside from the obsession with literary blogs, lifestyle blogs and design blogs, I also adore a good many food blogs. A popular website This Is Why You’re Fat, has the public sending in photo evidence of the fattiest, sugariest treats humans could ever dream of consuming. If gluttony was a crime as well as a sin, Net Nanny would be blacklisting that site faster than I can ask: “Does my butt look big in this?”

Thankfully, we can look at these savage morsels without the repercussions ending up on our bellies, hips, thighs…our tastebuds can tremble, but that’s as far as it goes, and we are saved from at least one guilty pleasure in life. Or so it would seem…

Why is it that certain books feature the most mouth-watering, epic feasts known to mankind?!

I blame Enid Blyton (in part). One of the first books I ever read, a picture book of hers entitled The Little Button Elves, was about several identical little elves who could only be told apart by the amount of buttons on their jackets, and so the numbers became their names (“One”,”Two”,”Seven” etc).

On their adventures in the woods they meet an old dame who has a number of freshly baked pies sitting in a glorious pile on her windowsill. The woman tells the elves not to eat the pies, but of course as soon as she leaves the room the pies are devoured and the elves run off. Turns out, however, that the old dame is a witch and enchanted the pies, knowing that the elves couldn’t help themselves. A little while away, the elves’ bellies full of pie are growing at an alarming rate until the buttons on their jackets begin to pop free! And so they can’t tell one another apart! Distressed and dismayed, they return to the dame’s house filled with remorse, and she is kind enough to sew their buttons back on their jackets (but not without telling them first that all they had to do was count the buttonholes – hah)!

I suppose the moral of the story is DON’T BE GREEDY, but I remember often flicking back through the pages to the picture of the pies on the windowsill, and thinking in my child-mind: “I wouldn’t mind growing fat by enchantment if I could eat one of those pies.” And so it began.
Nosiree, this isn’t where Enid Blyton’s literary food crimes end. I can’t count the number of times I attempted to host a Secret Seven clubhouse in our backyard, roping my mum into providing the scones and homemade lemonade that Janet’s mum seemed to whip up so effortlessly each meeting. And the Famous Five picnics! With ginger beer and those thick slices of ham on heavily buttered bread! The Folk of the Faraway Tree wasn’t doing me any favours either – I could literally feel the flood of honey from Silky’s pop biscuits and smell the deliciously steamy google buns offered by Moonface.

But it was the midnight feast in The Adventures of the Wishing Chair that undid me each and every time- had me begging my parents to go to the nearest grocery outlet in search of treacles and raspberry tarts, chocolate eclairs, marzipan and scotch eggs…I didn’t know what half these things were, but I knew they were disgustingly droolworthy and it ruined shaped my healthy eating habits childhood for a very long time forever. 

Yet as much I would like to place the blame squarely on her, Enid Blyton isn’t the only author sending me subliminal messages to eat, and I intend on outing these literary food criminals in Part 2 of ‘This Is Why We’re Fat – The Book Version’.

CBCA NSW 2010: Libby Gleeson Keynote


Libby Gleeson at the CBCA 65th anniversary dinner

Libby Gleeson is a powerhouse of children’s literature. Don’t believe me? Click here. Her books have helped shaped the world views of so manny Aussie kids, and hers was the keynote address of the CBCA NSW Conference.

 This was my first Libby Gleeson experience, and I loved hearing her speak. As tempted as I am to completely regurgitate her speech, I wouldn’t want to, in case she reusesmaterial with different audiences (I’ll get back to you with a definitive answer after my second Libby Gleeson experience).

In all seriousness, though, she was excellent, and not just because she brought up, and spoke, at length, about the books of my childhood, The Magic Faraway Tree series. She touched on the books’ censorship (Note: William suppresses a rant), and how they left a mark, sometimes good, other times, bad. Her friend found them terrifying as a child. In fact, the very part that I found exciting, the risk the kids took that they may not be able to return to their own world, Libby’s friend found terrifying. Funny how we all react so differently, eh?

Libby also touched on parenting and books, and how we select books for our children. She mentioned nostalgia being a big factor in choosing what to read, and the varying results letting nostalgia govern the books we read to our children achieves. So, I thought I’d pose a question, or a few… Which books left a mark on your childhood? Have you tried reading them to your children? How did it go? Did they have the same experience with the book that you did?