Double Dipping – Meaningful Mindfulness

Mindfulness feels like the new catch cry. Its sudden appearance on school curricula and in children’s literature gives one the sense it’s a new concept but of course this is not one hundred per cent accurate. It’s more of a case of nudging empathy and caring within our next generations into a more prominent light, one that is accessible to them. Literature is one such way to improve accessibility and these two examples show how cleverly it can be done.

Ella Saw the Tree by Robert Vescio and Cheri Hughes

Picture books on mindfulness abound. This picture book by Big Sky Publishing is particularly special because of its gentle quality and strong connection with the everyday child. There is no overt preaching to relay the suggestion to pause for thought and take time to look around and notice the world. Hughes illustrations glow. Vescio’s narrative flows with an easy grace, reflecting the soul of this story, to remain calm and thoughtful.

Ella loves her backyard and fills her days playing in it but she overlooks the most obvious things at times, like the giant tree in the corner of her garden until one day, as the wind showers her with the tree’s falling leaves, she gets the impression it is crying. Despite reassurance to the contrary from her mother and Ella’s attempts to stem the downpour of falling leaves, nothing can alter nature.

Ella’s mother then teaches her daughter to see things in a different light by learning to sit still, observe, feel and ultimately recognise and appreciate all the many splendours, whether large or minuscule of the world. And this allows Ella to enjoy her world much, much more.

Ella Saw the Tree is a beautiful picture book to share, to keep and refer back to when needed. Whilst it focuses on an individual’s discovery of self-awareness, the implication that we should be more observant and empathetic towards our friends is also present amongst the swirling leaves of Ella’s tree.

Read Romi’s in-depth review of Ella Saw the Tree, here. For more insight into the story behind this story, read my interview with author, Robert Vescio, here.

Big Sky Publishing 2017

Too Many Friends by Katheryn Apel

This lilting junior novel is so on point with readers in this age bracket (6 – 8 years), it’s alarming. Apel reaches deep into the playground psyche of Grade 2s and extracts genuine emotion with the feather touch of verse.

The dilemma of having too many friends and those friends not all liking each other truly does germinate in the junior school years, quickly sprouting into an all-encompassing crisis, at least it can in the eyes of a seven year old. It’s a problem that often continues throughout the primary years as children’s social webs widen and become entangled by their developing emotions.

This eloquent verse novel more than ably addresses this social predicament from the point of view of Tahnee, whose pond of playmates is full to overflowing. How she works on retaining her bonds with friends she already has whilst inviting others she wants to befriend is skin-tingling touching and will no doubt strike a chord with many other children her age.

This third verse novel by Apel has a slightly younger, more playful feel about it than the previous, Bully on the Bus and On Track, which again suits the topic well. Tahnee is a warm, likeable character who epitosmises the concept of a mindful child. She shares her friendship woes with us in a series of short, elegant chapters that almost feel like standalone poems, perfect for readers to spend time with by themselves or as a sensitive shared reading experience.

Too Many Friends positively celebrates mindfulness and friendship for lower primary aged readers, demonstrating the power and beauty of these two concepts through the discerning use of verse. Highly recommended.

UQP May 2017

#byaustralianbuyaustralian

Forces of Nature – Picture Book Reviews

The scent of Spring is in the air. But that’s not all that’s lifting us up. From the tiny details to the wider world, our environment has so much to offer. For different reasons, these following picture books discover beauty and how the elements of nature can capture our hearts and strengthen our human kindness.  

imageHow the Sun Got to Coco’s House, Bob Graham (author, illus.), Walker Books, 2015.  

I patiently awaited its arrival. Now I’ve had my fix, and… it was worth the wait. This one effectively enlightened all my senses. With Bob Graham‘s natural poetic writing style, philosophical touch and emotive images, ‘How the Sun Got to Coco’s House’ is another classic to soothe the soul.  

In a consecutive movement, similar to the styles of ‘Vanilla Ice Cream’ and ‘Silver Buttons’, the story takes us on a journey with the sun around the globe. Starting from behind a snow-capped mountain, the sun begins to rise, giddily skidding across waters, catching glimpses in eyes, footsteps, aeroplane wings and over cities. In and out of proximity, the sun’s rays meet a vast array, from individuals, to small villages, and whole countries. Until, it barges in through Coco’s window. The sun becomes one with her family and friends, bringing with it a sense of togetherness, comfort and warmth.  

A gentle story of life, responsibility and peace, this book is adorned with Bob Graham’s characteristically whimsical and magical illustrative style, with a beautiful lolloping pace. ‘How the Sun Got to Coco’s House’ is a valuable asset aimed to inspire young readers to explore global environmental and social issues, as well as one that will simply light up their world! Once again, Bob Graham…brilliant!  

imageSeagull, Danny Snell (author, illus.), Working Title Press, 2015.  

Danny Snell brings us a heartwarming story of humanity and freedom, making clear our responsibility for appreciating the natural world around us.  

Beautifully descriptive yet simple language and serene backdrops allow its readers an intimate experience as a seagull tries to free herself from a tangled fishing line. Unable to loosen it herself, Seagull initiates help from the other creatures around the beach, but to no avail. The further she tarries, the heavier her load becomes as she catches a manner of litter in the line. Finally, it is the silent observer that enables Seagull’s wings to spread, and her heart to sing once more.  

Snell has cleverly and effectively used mixed media to differentiate between the elements of natural versus man-made / fragile versus harmful with paint for the scenery and animals, and colourless scanned images for the items of rubbish. His artwork is stunningly textured with varying sky hues to represent the passing of the day and the exhaustion, and eventual freedom, of the defenceless bird.  

‘Seagull’ is a gentle and significant story for primary school aged children to be aware of environmental issues and aims to empower control, kindness and compassion for our planet and our future. Definitely one that will pull on your heartstrings.  

imageOllie and the Wind, Ronojoy Ghosh (author, illus.), Random House Australia, 2015.  

Here’s a cheeky story of one force of nature; the wind. Treating the gust as an anthropomorphic, invisible being, young Ollie interacts with it in creative ways, hoping to be reunited with the hat and scarf that were snatched from him. Upon discovering that the wind is not naughty, but in fact playful, Ollie gestures some of his favourite toys. A nighttime kite-flying romp sees Ollie and the wind form a special bond, which, by the looks of the final image, seemed to put the wind in high spirits.  

The text is full with depth and life, and is accompanied by vibrant, textured and jovial illustrations. Ghosh‘s fine line drawings, minimal colour palette of bold greens and golds with statements of red, and cartoonesque style qualify for a unique and captivating reading experience.  

‘Ollie and the Wind’ will capture more than just your heart. It will encourage preschoolers to look at the world with a fresh perspective, investigate studies of meteorology, and explore friendships on another level.

Trace Balla’s Time to Shine

IMG_7630Up-and-comer author illustrator, Trace Balla, has quickly hit the scene with the recent success of Rivertime, being both shortlisted in the 2015 Children’s Book Council of Australia Picture Book of the Year Awards, and winning this year’s Readings Children’s Book Prize. Her work stems from a background in art therapy, animations and community involvement, with a strong focus on environmental themes. Let’s enter the magical tales of nature, love and loss with her two books, Rivertimeand ‘Shine’.  

9781743316337Rivertime, published by Allen & Unwin in 2014.  

You know a book’s going to be special when the front cover is graced with both an entrancing illustration and a testimonial by acclaimed environmentalist, David Suzuki, telling us about the delight and magic that awaits inside. I’m already loving the endpapers that greet us with a wonderfully hand-drawn menagerie of native birds at the front, and other flora and fauna at the back, all ready to be spotted along our river journey.

Rivertime book image2Boxed vignettes, speech bubbles of handwritten dialogue and endearing pencil drawings form the visual and sensational adventure that we embark on with characters, ten year old Clancy and his Uncle Egg. When number-loving Clancy is finally big enough, his bird-loving uncle plans a ten-day (or 240-hour, or 14,400-minute) paddling trip along the Glenelg River, minus all the technological gadgets. At first, Clancy is grumpy, but as the days pass, so does his temperamental attitude. The pair encounter beautiful wildlife, serene views and fascinating people of the land. Clancy learns to appreciate the beauty of nature and its creatures, a few camping skills, and particularly, to conquer the jetty exit! I just adore the tranquility, including scenes of ‘timelessness’; of gentle, seemingly-infinite rivertime drifting and star gazing on double page spreads. Final pages include a map of the canoe trip on Bochara (the Glenelg River), and the author’s inspiration for the story following her own river journey, away from the modern world.

Rivertime is a calming influence on what is normally a chaotic lifestyle for most of us. It lets us take a breath, or a few, and enjoy the Australian river ride, encouraging its readers to connect with, and hopefully strive to sustain, our unique and wonderful natural environment. Paddling up this river is a true delight; ‘oar-some’ to be explored independently and as part of a class discussion.  

Download a handy pocket bird-watching guide to accompany Rivertime here.
And, look out for Trace Balla’s sequel to ‘Rivertime’; ‘Rock-hopping’.  

9781743316344Shine; a story about saying goodbye, published by Allen & Unwin in 2015.  

From an intensely raw place in her heart, Trace Balla wrote ‘Shine’ for her sister’s children after the sudden passing of their father. From the dedication page, this book takes the reader on an emotional journey, even for those who haven’t experienced loss of great magnitude.

With its heavenly, Indigenous-look line and dot paintings, and equally sentimental Dreamtime essence in the words, we are introduced to a shimmering light amongst the golden stars; a young horse called Shine. As the planets align, he meets the lovely Glitter, and together they are blessed with two little sparkles, Shimmer and Sparky. When Shine has to return to his star, the family weep golden tears that form a huge golden ocean. But this is the part that really got me… As they climb the steepest of mountains to reflect upon its beauty, Glitter explains that its vastness represents the endless and enduring love they have for Shine and for each other. Finally, it’s the brightest, most special star of all amongst the twinkling night sky that allows them a deep and beautiful sleep.

Shine book image ‘Shine’ is a touching story that sensitively deals with ‘saying goodbye’ in a simple, yet profound way. Trace Balla cleverly uses yellow and blue hues not only to represent the shine amongst the dark, but also as the hope and love amongst the tragedy of loss.

A metaphorical beauty for young children, with the power of everlasting love at its core.  

Both these stories inspire an appreciation for every moment spent with the things that matter most in this world, and far beyond it…  

Katrina Germein Dances Up A Thunderstorm

photo-on-26-02-14-at-9-53-amKatrina Germein is a well-loved children’s best selling author and early childhood teacher. She has received Highly Commended and Notable Book Commendation awards in the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards and from the Children’s Book Council of Australia. Three of her books have also featured on the popular children’s programme, Play School.  Some of her titles include the acclaimed ‘Big Rain Coming’, the hilarious series, ‘My Dad Thinks He’s Funny’, ‘My Dad Still Thinks He’s Funny’ and ‘My Mum Says the Strangest Things’, as well as beauties like ‘Somebody’s House’ and ‘Littledog’.
Already a hit in our household, her latest book, with illustrations by Judy Watson, is a sheer whirlwind of energy; it’s  ‘Thunderstorm Dancing’.    

pages-from-thunderstorm-dancingA family day at the beach suddenly turns bleak, and a little girl makes a quick dash for cover. While the thunderstorm charges outside, it is inside where the riot is raging. The girl hides whilst her daddy and brothers whizz and howl like the wind, puff like the clouds and zap like the lightening. Poppy thumps as loud as the thunder, and Mummy is the pounding rain. It’s a romping, swinging and rumbling commotion…
Until Granny’s piano music shines a gleaming ray of sunlight. What could the little girl be once the storm has settled?
 

‘Thunderstorm Dancing’ is beautifully rhythmic, with the perfect blend of rollicking onomatopoeia. Every word takes the reader into each lively scene. You can’t help but feel the beat, and it will most certainly get you to your feet! Katrina Germein says as a child she enjoyed acting out stories through dance…
”I felt as though part of me was there again as I was writing ‘Thunderstorm Dancing’.
Her language is dynamic, and text perfectly placed to reflect the movement of the story and pictures. Judy Watson’s mixed media, including inks, washes, pencils and digital media, and varied perspectives create for a visual festivity on every page. She also cleverly utilises a mix of orange and blue colour tones that depict the vibes of chaos and calm.
 

This whole book is just breathtaking…literally. The sweeping illustrations by Judy Watson really pull us along for the ride, and Katrina’s text sings and dances off the page; getting us marching and stomping and clapping along. It has huge teaching and learning potential in the areas of the arts and environmental studies. ‘Thunderstorm Dancing’ is fast paced, delightful and energetic. Preschool children will be roaring for more.  
Allen & Unwin 2015.

I’m absolutely delighted to have had the opportunity to delve into Katrina Germein‘s writerly mind, and discover more about the wonderful ‘Thunderstorm Dancing’.

thunderstorm-dancing-cover-lores-1Congratulations on the release of your newest title, ‘Thunderstorm Dancing’! What was the inspiration behind this story?  
This story has been a long time becoming a book but the text was written in a frenzy over a couple of days. The rhythm grew in my head and verse by verse I scribbled down the pages as they came to me. I remember writing some of it at the service station and some of it on a café napkin. I’m not sure of the exact inspiration but as I wrote it, I was holding a memory of music classes at primary school. Our teacher, Mrs Vaughn, used to play the piano and call out a story while we romped around the room and danced our own actions.  

This book is such a fun, active story that is perfect for promoting dance and dramatic play. As a teacher, do you have any other great teaching and learning ideas for children to engage further with ‘Thunderstorm Dancing’?  
I’m glad you said that Romi because I do feel that it lends itself to creative expression and like I said, it played out like a performance in my mind as I drafted it. I think most teachers and students will be able to springboard into their own ideas. There are connections to creating music with household items and children could easily act out their own actions for each of the storm elements, or even choose music that they think represents the different pages.  

Clapping and body percussion is always fun. The children in this clip use basic percussion instruments to illustrate the weather with music. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6DYEucGZTF0 Rainbow ribbons and scarves would work well too.  It’s all about allowing the children to experiment and express themselves with music, art and drama. I guess I’m hoping that students can have fun with the language and rhyme, as well as appreciate the emotion of the story and engage with the sensory themes – maybe some messy art, like foamy storm clouds.  

Storms are a great way to get children talking too. Everyone has a storm story they can share through discussion or writing, drawing and other art. I’ve been collating art ideas on my pinterest board here. https://www.pinterest.com/KatrinaGermein/thunderstorm-dancing-by-katrina-germein/ (And Judy Watson shares some of her original sketches here https://www.pinterest.com/judywatson98284/judy-watson-thunderstorm-dancing/)  

Family is another theme that could be explored.    

You’ve written ‘Thunderstorm Dancing’ in exuberant poetic prose, different to the jokes and funny phrases seen in ‘My Mum Says the Strangest Things’ and ‘My Dad Thinks He’s Funny’. Did you find one style more challenging than the other? Do you have a preferred style of writing?  
Different stories lend themselves to different styles. I enjoy experimenting with various approaches within the picture book genre. Thunderstorm Dancing is my third rhyming book and I love rhyme. I also like simple prose.  

dad-and-mitch-10-alt-1Judy Watson’s illustrations perfectly compliment the rollicking nature of the text. How did you find the collaborative process with her?  
Judy’s artwork is amazing. I have had so much fun seeing the story grow into a beautiful picture book.  

You’ve been paired with a number of amazing illustrators, including Tom Jellett, Bronwyn Bancroft and Judy Watson, amongst others. Have any of these artists really surprised you with how they’ve represented your words?  
No major surprises. You never know how an illustrator will approach a text and watching the illustrations materialize is all part of the fun. I guess there are little surprises along the way but I’ve never been completely flabbergasted or anything shocking like that.  

Somebody’s House’, ‘Littledog’ and ‘Big Rain Coming’ have all been featured on Play School. How did the producers approach you and what was your reaction to the news?  
Having books read on Play School is the absolute best. The show is well respected because it is created with children in mind – it’s about the kids. Early childhood professionals choose the books and consideration is given to what children will enjoy and engage with. So it’s about as good as an endorsement as any children’s author can hope for. (It also means people send you lovely exciting messages every time the episode is repeated and they catch it with their children.)  

What is it about writing stories for children that makes you happy?  
Writing makes me happy and I seem to write for children. I don’t know. It’s just what I do.  

What advice can you offer emerging writers wanting to succeed in producing great picture books?  
If you want to write picture books then your time is best spend reading and writing picture books. Read lots and lots of contemporary picture books (not the ones you remember from childhood). Read them out loud and read them to children if you can. I think you’re best off reading picture books themselves, rather than books and articles on how to write books – although sometimes that can be helpful too. Write and write and write. Be prepared to reflect and redraft. Not everything will work but the more you write the more chance you have of writing something great.  

What’s next for Katrina Germein? What can your fans look forward to seeing from you in the near future?  
(Fans! I’m not sure that I have any of them but thanks for suggesting that I do.) I have a few projects up my sleeve but I’m always reluctant to share too much unless I have the signed contract in my drawer and right now I don’t. I’ll be sure to post the news on Facebook when I can share. For now, I’m just excited about having a beautiful, new, book about to hit the shelves. Yay!  

Yay, indeed! Thank you so much for answering my questions, Katrina!  
10190497

Katrina Germein’s website is great for finding information on her books, writing tips, teaching notes and her blog:
www.katrinagermein.com
Follow Katrina on Facebook, and view photos of her recent book launch:
www.facebook.com/KatrinaGermein

Follow Katrina’s boards on Pinterest:
https://www.pinterest.com/KatrinaGermein/

Doodles and Drafts – Dreaming and scheming with Andrew King

A week or so ago I rubbed shoulders with some of Kids’ Lit most illuminating talents at the Book Links’ QLD (The Centre for Children’s Literature) third Romancing the Stars event. The objective of these evenings is to meet and listen to as many authors and illustrators wax lyrical about their latest publication as possible in a frenzy of succinct deliveries and rotations – rather like speed dating, but with books and ultimately more satisfying.

Amongst them was, rising star, Andrew King. I first met Andrew and Engibear, both instantly likeable fellows, last year when Andrew and I were amongst the ‘daters’. I confess the first time I laid eyes on his non-typical picture book, I baulked at the complexity of its design and presentation. Perhaps it is the poor mathematician in me, but there seemed too many labels and numbers and graph grids! The detail overwhelmed me and the thought, ‘too much’ flickered through my mind like an wavering light bulb.

Cover_Engibears_DreamBut Andrew’s compelling fervour for his work convinced me to look more closely. So I did, and fell in love with what I saw. Engibear’s Dream is neither too busy nor over-detailed, but rather a masterfully thought out and delivered tale of simplicity and perseverance. Engibear’s life is too full to pursue both his dreams and work. He needs help and being a clever engineer like his creator, sets out to design a Bearbot to help him achieve more. But grand schemes are rarely realised first time round. It takes Engibear several attempts to ‘get it right’ but he never gives up on himself or his Bearbot.

Engibear illos BBT09More than just a cute rhyming counting book about the rigours of planning and design, Engibear’s Dream covers the themes of sustainable living, finding balance in a world of progress and change and being innovative and tenacious in the face of failure. Mighty issues for small minds, but ones they will assimilate as they follow Engibear’s attempts to succeed, all superbly illustrated both schematically and in explosive colour, by qualified architect Benjamin Johnston.

I needed to find out more about the man behind the bear, behind the robot. So this week I have a bona fide, qualified engineer behind the draft table. Here’s what he had to say…

Andrew Engibear Launch AssemblyQ Who is Dr Andrew King? How would you best describe present self?

A 48 year old mixed bag: self, husband, dad, son, brother, relative, friend, engineer, co-worker, band member, aspiring author, committee member, community member, etc…

Fortunately, from my perspective, I have been very lucky and the mix has been good to me – I am trying to be good back.

Q Describe your 10 year old self. Did you have any concept then of what you wanted to do or be when you grew up? If so, what?

A 10 year old mixed bag – just a bit less in the mix – son, brother, relative, friend, school student, footballer, etc…

Fortunately (again) I had a very pleasant and carefree childhood. So carefree that I don’t think I had any real idea of what I wanted to do when I grew up. Interestingly though, I remember that a friend and I were writing and illustrating small books of jokes back in grade 6 and trying to sell them (for about 2 cents each). It has been more than 30 years since I last tried but I am now trying to write and sell books again.

Q Writing for children is not your first chosen occupation. Why take up the challenge now?

Kelly and I have been writing and drawing with our kids for years. We ended up developing characters like Engibear and the Bearbot and writing about their adventures in Munnagong. A few years ago my daughter, Marie-Louise, suggested that we should write a book.

Q Engibear’s Dream is your first picture book for children. What are you trying to impart with this book and why choose the picture book format?

The book started as a way of making engineering more accessible to young children. However, we wanted to make the book something more than an instruction manual. Therefore, we included a storyline (in this case a story about perseverance) and tried to include humour. We have also added numbers so that it can be used as a counting book.

To me drawing is a very powerful communication tool. The combination of words and pictures used in engineering drawings is a particularly useful way to communicate design ideas. The opportunity to include these types of diagrams and images of Engibear and the Bearbot meant that the book had to include pictures.

Q What sets Engibear’s Dream apart from other picture books currently on the shelves?

Engineering – in two ways.

Firstly, having a character that is an engineer, there are very few engineers in children’s literature. To me this is surprising as children seem to be very interested in the things that engineers do. Engibear provides a “friendly face” of engineering and therefore a way to introduce engineering to young children at the right level.

Secondly, including detailed engineering drawings. Ben Johnston is an architect who is used to working with engineers. Ben has created loveable characters and has also been able to contrast them with fantastically detailed design drawings of Munnagong, Engibear’s house and workshop, the Bearbot and its working parts. I think this combination of drawing styles allows children to enjoy the characters and the story and then also spend time thinking about how things work and making things (engineering).

Building Bearbots - CoverQ How long from conception to publication did it take to realise Engibear’s Dream?

Building Bearbot was an early family story that is about 10 years old and was the basis for Engibear’s Dream. It sat in the cupboard for a long time. However, once we decided to write a book and chose this story it took about three years to get to publication.

Q It takes Engibear up to 10 types from prototype to final version before he engineers the perfect Bearbot. Does it take engineer Andrew the same number of attempts to design something new before getting it right?

If it is a book, yes – easily!

Building Bearbots - Page 1Depending on the complexity of the project I think engineering design can also take a lot of work. However, engineers have developed systems such as standards, computer modelling and design reviews to help make the design process robust.

Q Engibear’s dream is to have a life less strenuous with more time for enjoying the simple pleasures. What’s the one thing on your non-writing wish-list you’d like to tick off /achieve / produce?

I would like to read more fiction.

Q Do you have other writing dreams you’d like to fulfil?

I have a series of Engibear books planned. Munnagong is a busy place; there is a lot of engineering going on and a lot to write about.

Q Engibear is written in quatrain rhyming verse. As a first time author, did you find this difficult to pull off? Why did you choose to tell the story in this way?

We wrote the book in quatrain rhyming verse because this is how we made up verses when my children were younger – it just seemed to be a natural way to rhyme. However, while this worked for family stories, it was very difficult to do it properly. As an engineer I have some technical writing skills but I had to learn a lot about writing verse. Therefore, I did a course with Dr Virginia Lowe at Create a Kids Book and Virginia then mentored me.

Q You chose to publish your book via a partnership publishing company (Little Steps Publishing). Why? What other publication avenues did you explore if any?

I did contact some traditional publishers and received very polite rejections. I thought that rather than keep going down that route it would be better just to get on with it – self publishing seemed to be the answer.

Q What is on the design board for Andrew? What’s your next ‘writing’ project?

We have been making models of the characters in Engibear’s Dream and we have created a rsk based engineering game. I am also working on the next planned Engibear book “Engibear’s Bridge”. This book is about construction of an iconic “green bridge” near Munnagong State School which will be opened as part of the Munnagong Festival.

Engibear BGT09 specsBrilliant Andrew! You know I can’t wait to meet your new characters and see their designs.

Like the most enthralling kids’ movies, Engibear’s story doesn’t just end with a ‘happily ever after’ moment. Keep page turning and be fascinated by full page project drawings of BBT-10, the Final Version, resplendent with some side-splitting specifications. My young miss could not go past the line drawn end pages detailing Munnagong, home of Engibear either. A fascinating read.

Designed for 3 – 8 year olds. Also riveting for boys, those with inquisitive minds, budding designers and anyone who likes to dream big.

Little Steps Publishing 2012

 

 

Review – The Windy Farm

I’m not big on wind. Of all the meteorological marvels on offer, it’s the least appealing to me, perhaps because I endured a few too many tropical cyclones and missing roofs as a child.

Windy Farm 2So when The Windy Farm blew onto my shelves, I instinctively hunched my shoulders and wondered what on earth could be so appealing about the latest offering by well-liked picture book team, Doug MacLeod and Craig Smith. Turns out a whole Beaufort Scales worth.

Our plucky young narrator lives with her family on the windiest farm on Windy Hill because it’s all they can afford. Their home is buffeted and bullied by incessant katabatic winds. The kind of wind that permanently bends trees into weird angles; the kind powerful enough to blow away young pigs and little girls. No one is safe from its force, no one except Grandpa who, as the illustrations subtly suggest, is so immense and heavy that he will never budge just like his favourite pig, Big Betty.

The family survive undeterred and, as is often the case, necessity becomes the mother of invention. And indeed this is the case; Mum cannily invents heavy metal shoes to anchor them all to the ground. However, in spite of their best efforts, one day they lose half their home to nature’s tempest.

Rich Uncle Jeff is no help, pointedly refusing to lend them any of his oil-amassed fortune to help fix the house. They resort to good old fashioned ingenuity and Grandpa’s power tools instead but the ensuing crippling power bill plunges them into despair (who hasn’t felt like this after receiving their electricity bill?)Windy Hill generators

Not easily defeated, Mum comes up with a wily plan; to convert the farm into a sustainable wind farm. Pretty soon things are on the up and up. The farm road is paved in tarmac and truckloads of money from all the electricity they’ve enterprisingly ‘farmed’. Big Betty, the prized pig, returns to a wind-proof sty (she was sold to pay the electricity bills) and although the need to wear heavy metal boots remains, their money worries have been swept away, just like Uncle Jeff who ‘became poor’ after the ill winds of fate blew his way. ‘Never mind,’ Grandpa sanguinely observes; no one really liked him anyway.

Doug MacLeod’s contemporary message about the power of wind and its significance in environmental sustainability drifts delightfully zephyr-like throughout this picture book. Told in a concise, witty style, The Windy Farm exposes young readers to a range of fascinating topics including the harnessing of energy, inventions, problem-solving, sustainability and endurance.Doug MacLeod

No stranger to children’s book illustrating, Craig Smith’s flamboyant, comic-book style pictures and characters are hysterical; from the very top of Windy Hill all the way down to the chooks’ little metal boots. He uses heavier gauche paint to create a deeply detailed yet fluid almost dreamy visual effect that sweeps from page to page. Movement (of the omnipresent wind), is represented magnificently with the use of acrylics. One can see and feel the air swirling through each scene. I found it astounding even though I’m not that big on wind.

Craig SmithSmith and MacLeod include lots of witty references to the use of nuclear power and the need to adopt a clean energy philosophy if we are to enjoy a longer, better existence than poor old Uncle Jeff.

The Windy Farm is not however a heavy prescriptive lesson in world conservation. Rather, it is a light-hearted, fanciful look at ingenuity and tenacity in their purest and funniest forms. My Miss 7 just thinks it’s very cool. Well it would be with all that wind about wouldn’t it?

Breezy, good fun, imaginative with plenty of room for thought. Plus 5s will love it even if they are not big on wind (but most are).

Available now.

Working Title Press February 2013

This Isn’t A Blog About Books

This isn’t a blog about books. It’s a blog about ideas. A festival of ideas, to be specific. I spent two days last week at Brisbane’s Ideas Festival and, frankly, my mind is still reeling from all I saw and heard there.

It reminded me that I in some ways can’t wait to be a retiree who can attend all the writers’ and ideas festivals she can possibly fit into her calendar and hours her butt can stand sitting on hard, fold-up seats. I mean, there’s something so incredibly inspiring sitting in a room listening to someone who’s an expert in their field and whose ideas turn my own on their head.

For this reason I’m breaking out of my usual books-focused blog mould and giving you a small sense of what I encountered there. The first session I lobbed into was McMansion to Micro Mansion: How do you challenge the Great Australian Dream? I can’t recount the session’s brilliance in full, but some highlights include:

  • the inverted sentiment that I want my next house to be more modest than my last one (do I hear an environmental sigh of relief?)
  • our new houses are the largest in the world—even larger than the US’s new houses (I actually emitted an audible sound of shame at hearing this one)
  • we have on average houses that allocate a whopping 83 sqm per person (enough to swing more than a few proverbial cats without touching each other or the walls)
  • by 2026, 60% of Queensland households will comprise just one or two people
  • we have given over an inordinate amount of space to roads and freeways
  • we seem to crave big, spacious homes, but when we’re on holidays we happily camp in cosier, more cramped tents, caravans, and the like (does this tell us that we’re actually good in and enjoy small, warm spaces?)
  • we’re having a ‘Katrina moment’ (as in, a rethink of our homes and practices post-natural disaster)
  • many famous writers wrote in really small, modest spaces, including Martin Heidegger, Roald Dahl, and George Bernard Shaw.

The second session saw me go from not knowing who the speaker was to wanting to finding out as much as is humanly possible about him. Anthony Ryan has carved out an impressive (if that’s the most apt description) career working with homeless and marginalised people, and is known particularly for setting up Eddie’s Street Van. His insights?

  • The key to working with the disempowered is presence: making it clear that when you’re with them, there’s no place you’d rather be.
  • Stereotypes are wrong. We need to get past the romanticism of the poor.
  • We need to develop that sense of carpe diem. All of us are going to be dead in the next 100 years. What are we going to leave as our legacy?

There were more points worthy of coverage, but I didn’t write them down—Ryan reduced everyone in the room to tears with some knock-out stories and I, well, I was kind of distracted ferreting around in my bag for tissues and dabbing my eyes.

What followed him were two inspiring sessions with the creative directors of Ideo, a kind of design slash consulting agency that’s doing some pretty mind-blowing work with regards to social change.

One session focused on crowdsourcing (although the Ideao guys said they hated that term—it sounds too much like a one-way transaction, when the reality of this action is that you too give something back). The second was on the theme that small multiplied by many equates something really large.

I have too many notes on these ones to include them all, but here’s a wee snapshot:

  • Netflix crowdsourced an improvement to their ‘you might like this’ algorithm by offering $1 million to the person who could improve it by just 10%. The entry that won merged everyone else’s suggestions, effectively.
  • Microsoft thought they had the market sewn up with Encarta ’97. Then came Wikipedia, a crowdsourced site that doesn’t pay its contributors. The result is that Microsoft went from being the cat who got the cream to the company plagued by the blank response: ‘Encarta who?’
  • Crowdsourcing and social media recently helped create a revolution in Iran.
  • Companies have historically used a sort of one-way monologue to communicate with fans and users. These days it’s a two-way conversation.
  • Valuing the journey is as important as valuing the destination—sounds guffy, I know, but their point was that they learnt as much during their research as at the end of it.
  • Everyone has access to ideas—the value is in the execution (said in response to the thousandth ‘Oh I had that idea’).
  • Don’t worry about the world ending today—it’s already tomorrow in Australia (teehee, especially in light of the supposed rapture).
  • Never waste a crisis (might have been espoused by Winston Churchill).
  • The future can’t be designed in Excel. In short: spreadsheets are the enemy.
  • Small x many = big/(simple + tomorrow) = answer.
  • The key is: how small and how quickly can you start?
  • People need simple ways to engage. This could be as small and straightforward as applying a sticker that says ‘fix this’ in their neighbourhood.
  • Connect the littles to become bigs.
  • Somebody has to start leading a different conversation so everyone can point at it and say: ‘That’s what I want’.
  • We’re too often sticking together feathers and hoping to get a duck—you need to have a strategy; you need to know what the answer is.
  • If you care about the solution, you don’t care who comes up with it.

This wasn’t a blog about books, but it was a randomly assembled blog about ideas that inspire books. The Ideas Festival has definitely given me plenty to think about in recent days as well as next year’s festival to look forward to. I think this warrants attending as many festivals in the interim as possible, and commencing my hard-seat-sitting training now…

Australian Online Bookstore goes carbon neutral to tackle ‘greatest moral challenge of our time’

Whilst our political leaders equivocate over the ‘greatest moral challenge of our time’, Australian online bookstore Boomerang Books has pledged to do its part for the environment by becoming ‘carbon neutral’.

Boomerang Books is proud to be Australia’s first carbon neutral online bookstore, independently accredited by the Carbon Reduction Institute (Certification #NC166).

‘Books have a very apparent carbon footprint – they’re made of carbon – so we thought it was important for us to give something back to the environment, to help ensure that future generations can enjoy books the way that we do’, explained Boomerang Books’ managing director and part-owner Clayton Wehner.

From May 2010, Boomerang Books is subject to an annual carbon audit and must purchase carbon credits each quarter to offset the company’s emissions.

Carbon credits are a mechanism that allows organisations to fund and trade climate change actions on an open market. Each carbon credit represents one tonne of carbon dioxide or its greenhouse gas equivalent (CO2-e) reduced or saved from entering the atmosphere.

The cost of offsetting a book is, on average, 1% of the price of the book. Boomerang Books customers have the opportunity to help pay for the environmental footprint of their books by contributing half of that cost (ie. 0.5% of the sale price) when they purchase books on the Boomerang Books website.  For a $30 book, this levy represents an additional cost of only 15c to the customer.

‘Unlike the airlines, we’re not pushing the full carbon offset cost onto the customer.  We’re just asking them to pay half the cost, with Boomerang Books paying the remainder’, Clayton explained.

‘Additionally, customers are not obligated to pay the levy.  They can opt-out, but we’re hopeful that the majority of our customers will contribute.  If they choose not to pay the levy, then Boomerang Books will still offset the full environmental cost of the books’.

‘So, at the end of the day, we’re taking full responsibility for the carbon footprint of our products.’

In addition to its carbon neutrality, Boomerang Books has implemented a host of environmentally-friendly measures to minimise its internal environmental footprint including a recycling program, flexible working policies and the efficient use of electricity and utilities.

Further information about Boomerang Books’ carbon neutral program can be found here: