Animal Antics – Part 2

Well the animals still have it. This week we encounter more of their anthropomorphic antics between the covers of a veritable zooful of picture books.

Our Dog Benji by Pete Carter and James Henderson

Although cute and compact, this picture book features the large and lovely antics of Benji, a robust Labrador looking pooch whose insatiable appetite for anything and everything becomes a catalyst of encouragement for one fussy eater.

Our Dog Benji is an animated account of a day in the life of Benji as told by his young owner. Henderson’s duotone illustrations rate highly for their detail, style, and humour illustrating Carter’s understanding of dogs well and their avaricious ways. This handy little book subtly supports the notion of eating well and exploring more food options for fussy eaters.

EK Books February 2017

Monsieur Chat by Jedda Robaard

This little picture book is oozing with charm and the exact sort of intimacy that young readers adore; they are privy to the outcome even if the story’s characters are not. Monsieur Chat is a cuter than cute little ginger puss living among the city roof tops of a French city.

Continue reading Animal Antics – Part 2

Where do I belong? – Picture books & Place

When penning a narrative or even recording ones past, authors must be aware of a number of aspects that shape a reader’s impression of the story. A sense of place is one such nuance that forms specific reactions and can colour a reader’s entire experience. When fashioned convincingly enough, a sense of place depicts not only where the story’s characters live and interact but can also provide the answer to how they and the reader belong (to the story). Here are a number of picture books that encourage a distinct sense of place.

Hello!Hello! Illustrated by Tony Flowers

‘Hello!’ is an icebreaker most young children are adept at. However, what if a potential friend’s first language is not English? Hello! is a brilliant introduction to 12 other languages commonly used in Australian homes, including three Indigenous languages. Once children learn to say hello, they are then able to share all sorts of things with their new friends, including favourite games, foods and customs, all in that language. Each new introduction includes how to count up to ten, as well.

Hello spreadThis is a fascinating multicultural exploration aimed at pre-school and primary aged youngsters and is nothing short of ingenious. Many children will have already encountered other people in their lives whose backgrounds and languages differ from their own. Hello! is an unobtrusive, inviting way to show differences need not discourage friendships. Flower’s cartoone-sque illustrations gently emphasise meaning whilst a comprehensive pictorial glossary and pronunciation guide at the end aid carers with extended learning. A marvellous go-to book recommended for home and classroom libraries alike.

National Library of Australia April 2016

Granny's PlaceGranny’s Place by Allison Paterson Illustrated by Shane McGrath

As a city girl growing up far away from my grandparents’ Sunshine Coast hinterland property, visits ‘to grandma’s farm’ were always chocka block full of new adventures and sunny memories to treasure. This bewitching sense of belonging echoes throughout Granny’s Place thanks to Paterson’s beautifully unaffected prose and McGrath’s sublime sepia suffused illustrations.

Granny's Place illo spreadA young girl describes her grandparents’ home that is ‘brimming with treasures of the olden days’ and has ‘springy metal beds and shiny hard floors with tasselled mats…’. It’s a place steeped in rich memories and every day opportunities. It is where family gather in large noisy waves and tiny discoveries, too good to share are made every minute. It is quite simply ‘the best place in the world’. A place where children flourish, absolutely. Alas, people and places cannot last forever as our girl learns to accept after the passing of her grandfather. When Granny has to leave the farm and move to a new life in the city, it is hard to appreciate her new place at first. Fortunately, memories are not so easy to forget and Granny’s love prevails.

Granny’s Place is overflowing with gorgeous imagery that will ignite warm recollections for many older readers. It also radiates the spirit of adventure and the changing rhythms of life that most young people will recognise whilst celebrating these childhood memories.

A marvellous homage to Australia’s past identity and a fitting example of creating a special sense of place.

Big Sky Publishing April 2016

Mr Chicken arriva RomaMr Chicken arriva a Roma by Leigh Hobbs

Mr Chicken pays homage to childhood dreams and aspirations personified. It could be argued that the Australian Children’s Laureate for 2016-2017, Leigh Hobbs is living a little vicariously through the rambunctious, irreverent Mr Chook who was a bit different to other boys and girls. As a youngster, ‘instead of playing games’, he dreamt of life abroad.

Fortunately for fans, both grew up, giving us the opportunity to experience an incredibly detailed, hilarious romp through (this time) Italy’s capital city, Rome. It’s a cavort of pure indulgence as the charming and very forgiving city guide, Federica, escorts Mr Chicken aboard her Vespa through Rome’s traffic ensnarled streets, past the Colosseum, to gelatarias, through the Trevi Fountain and even the Vatican. Hobbs leaves no ruin unturned in this whirlwind excursion, revealing stops I had hitherto forgotten about since my European backpacking days.

Mr Chicken Trevi fountainIf you ever consider tackling a trip to the big five European cities with a chicken in tow, Mr Chicken would be the chook to recruit. Unabridged humour told and depicted in the way only Hobbs can. Fantastic fun and insight to lands beyond for pre and early primary schoolers.

Allen & Unwin August 2016

A New York YearTwelve Months in the Life of …A New York Year & A Texas Year by Tania McCartney Illustrated by Tina Snerling

Unlike the other phenomenally successful titles in the Twelve Months in the Life of picture books series, which look at the life of children from other nations including Australia, A New York Year and A Texas Year focus on individual states within the USA.  Even then, the breathtaking diversity of cultures and idiosyncrasies is almost too mind bogging to comprehend. Yet, the McCartney Snerling picture book team convey these elements with aplomb.

Like their forbearers, New York Year and Texas Year kick off with introductions to the five children who will be our guides throughout the year across these states. They are a delightful homogenous mix of Texans and New Yorkers whose obvious differences (in aspirations, cultural ancestry, and appearance) only serve to highlight the sameness they share with kids all around the world. I particularly love Texan Ethan’s ‘when I grow up’ revelation; ‘I want to be a rock star or a palaeontologist’. Classic seven-year-old clarity!

A Texas YearAs the calendar turns, we are taken on a colourful eclectic  parade through each state stopping to observe significant dates, play games endemic to the region, take in the unique flora, fauna and natural wonders, and then, happily, return to the table to feast on local delicacies. It truly is a smorgasbord for the senses.

I love the detail McCartney is able to inject in the meandering text, which is neither excessive nor too sparse. Each fact acts as a signpost that sparks interest and allows children’s eyes to wonder and roam rather than stick to a regimented reading pattern. Snerling’s cute upon cute illustrations offer clean crisp characterisation and support the minutia of facts superbly.

This series is fast becoming a magnificent compendium of fun, fact-fiction picture books, which kiddies from all over the world can use to draw comparisons and conclusions about their international neighbours, supporting tolerance, enhancing awareness and creating as it were, a marvellous sense of place. Highly recommended for 4 – 8 year olds and big people who don’t get out as often as they should.

EK Books August 2016

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

 

 

Review – One Would Think the Deep

One Would Think the DeepIf you thought Claire Zorn’s first two YA novels, The Sky So Heavy and The Protected, were brilliant, you’re going to need double tinted Ray Burns for her latest masterpiece, One Would Think the Deep.

Zorn manages to mould rough edged, grit-encrusted reality into exquisite accomplished prose with the mere flick of her fingers. One Would Think the Deep is a story that surges with emotion, confrontation, and ultimately, hope.

If I were to reflect on Sam’s story too deeply, I’d be overwhelmed with the melancholy of it, of him but this is not a tale of woe and hopelessness, in spite of its gently grim beginning. Its sincerity and swagger from the opening lines swept me along and held me afloat until the very end.

Shortly after one fateful New Year’s Eve, Sam Hudson finds himself suddenly orphaned, teetering on the precipice of shock, grief, graduation and homelessness. My stomach filled with sick ache for him as he called his Aunty Lorraine to inform her of his mother’s premature death.

With nothing more than his skateboard and a collection of 90s something mixed tapes (he listens to Jeff Buckley on his Walkman with the same obsession I did to ABBA), Sam lingers uncomfortably in the small coastal town of Archer Point with his aunty and cousins, Minty and Shane. He is caught in a turbulent no man’s land of past boyhood memories and buried family secrets, incapable of finding his fit. Grief and despair are his most loyal companions, second only to his cousin, Minty with whom he spent a chunk of his childhood.

Minty is the laWavetter day version of Taj Burrows, young, gifted, a surfing legend amongst the local crowds. His laconic life views and ability to work any wave endears Sam to the ocean. But it takes a few months before his newfound surf therapy begins to take effect. Despite the elegant monastic simplicity of ‘a life in the water’, Sam’s life continues its complicated hurtle toward (his) self-destruction. He pines for a past he doesn’t fully understand, yearns for the affections of a girl he can barely speak to and is constantly at crushing odds with most of his family members including, Nana. Sam’s emotional dichotomy of good boy battling the bad within is fascinating and heart wrenching at times. It’s impossible to dislike him because of what you feel for him feeling so much.

Sam’s story of hurt and healing is beautifully rendered. Even the most vicious of emotional situations are depicted with refined tenderness so that I found myself weeping emphatically throughout, not just at the end where you’d expect a need for tissues.

Each character is drawn with knife-edge sharpness. Each speaks with a clarity that never dulls. Every sense is heightened by the wrenching complexity of the lives of this very inconsequential, simple group of ordinary individuals. And it’s not just Sam who is damaged and vunerable. Each is noticeably flawed or at least weighed down by their own limitations to a point of exquisite confusion. I loved them all.

It’s not the surf, time, or chance or even family that ultimately saves Sam in as much as they all conspired to also undo him.  It’s that old chestnut love, which I believe is the true nucleus of One Would Think the Deep (the moments between Gretchen and Sam are incomparable).The ability to surf the ‘glistening wake’ of your leviathan fears and laugh about the results with people who love you is ultimately the key to surviving the ride.

If you are experiencing loss and your soul feels displaced, if you have a passion for the waves or you are still in love with the sounds of the 90s, then you must submerse yourself in this book.  I can almost hear Jeff Buckley crooning Hallelujah

UQP June 2016

Claire ZornStick around…in the coming weeks I’ll be chatting more deeply with Claire about her latest work and how she developed such impressive surfing lingo.  Meantime, you can find all her great reads, here.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Double Dipping – Last minute delights for Dad!

My Dad is a GiraffeMy Dad is a Giraffe

Dads are often described as bears and can be boorish but does yours remind you of a giraffe? If he’s tall and gentle, fast and spotty and good to climb up, chances are he is a giraffe.

My Dad is a Giraffe is the latest technicoloured picture book by genius, Stephen Michael King. I admit, I tend to sway a little when I hear his name, so enraptured by his talents am I. Happily, this new partnership of carefully considered words and whimsical illustrations encased thoughtfully in a blue-for-boys cover does not disappoint.

King uses a candy shop palette of colours and swirls and squiggles to paint one child’s description of their father, a character they are clearly in awe of. I mean, this guy can do really ‘amazing grown-up things like sitting in the big chair with his feet touching the ground.’ Concepts like this one capture the rapture only children can possess before life and logic over take them. Experiencing a Stephen Michael King picture book is exquisite in its own right. Experiencing this one is like holding a bubble between your fingers. It encapsulates the seemingly fragile and temporary yet intrinsically beautiful altruistic relationship young children share with their father figures.

Could not be better for Father’s Day.

Scholastic Press August 2015

Dear Dad I want to be just like YouDear Dad, I Want to Be Just Like You

I know some might be money for old rope, but picture books by interactive picture book team, Ed Allen and Simon Williams are often right on the money. In the same epistolary style as Dear Mum, I Love You, Dear Dad, I want to be Just Like You is a collection of cleverly crafted correspondences by an assortment of critter kiddies in praise of their fathers. And when your dad is as funny, sporty and brave, not to mention a whiz in the kitchen as these dads are, you’ll wish you were just like him, too.

Williams’ full-page portraits plunge readers into the colourful hearts and homes of each animal from King Emperor Penguin to Salt Water Croc. The letters, enveloped in sneaky little fold outs and pull outs are ridiculously cute and funny while the enclosed sentiments will strike a chord with dads everywhere. There is even a referral to FIFO dads or more accurately, SISO dads as told through the eyes of Daddy Humpback. (You work it out!)

Humorous and utterly alluring, Dear Dad, I want to be Just Like You embodies a love of letter writing with the intimacy of daddy-child relationships like no other. A highly recommended fun Father’s Day read.

Scholastic Australia August 2016

For more fantastic Father’s Day reads, have a look at my round up and Romi’s as well.

Double Dipping – Picture book therapy

When medical conditions affect children or the people in their lives, one of the most daunting aspects of their situation is how to cope. The management of a disease or disability is one thing, the understanding why they have it and why others react the way they do is another.

Emily Eases her WheezesPicture books are marvellous non-invasive ways of presenting expositional information on a variety of tricky-to-handle topics in relatable formats for young readers. Here are two hot-off-the press releases that tackle two such ailments yet are still stories of substance and integrity.

Emily Eases her Wheezes by Katrina Roe and Leigh Hedstrom, is a delightful tale about a very energetic elephant, Emily. Always full of energy, Emily loves to scooter, leap, and twirl. Unfortunately, Emily suffers from asthma as approximately 1 in 10 Australian children do.

Being unable to play with her friends and live the active lifestyle she craves frustrates Emily to the point where she is willing to risk wheezes and coughs just to have fun. Such behaviour results in her relying on her puffer more and more until she is relegated to remaining quiet in her room. Her friends are slow to appreciate that ‘you can’t catch asthma’ but miss her friendship so much that they use their 21st century-Generation Z data-retrieving smarts and soon discover an activity they can all do…swimming.

Emily Wheezes illo spreadAs Emily’s lungs grow stronger so too does her chance to race with her team in the summer swimming carnival. Will this plucky little heroin keep her wheezes under control long enough to win the day?

Emily Eases her Wheezes is a delicately sobering tale about a condition with which many younger readers will resonnate. Roe’s crisp contemporary narrative couples easily with Hedstrom’s big bold illustrations. I found the epilogue-style overview of asthma in children at the end of the book interesting as well.

Asthma is a disease I’ve been aware of since childhood, however I can honestly say, this is one of the first books I’ve encountered that has presented its manifestation and control in children in such a clear, simple and entertaining fashion. Well done.

Wombat Books Rhiza Press June 2015

Newspaper Hats Newspaper Hats by Phil Cummings and Owen Swan is an incredibly intelligent and beautifully sensitive look at a family dealing with the challenges of Alzheimer’s disease.

Georgie visits her grandpa’s nursing home regularly with her father. But rather than it being an ominous outing to a place she is fearful of, Georgie looks forward to arriving at the sky-blue door because it is a room ‘full of sunshine’ with stacks of old newspapers as tall as city buildings; her grandpa’s world.

However, Grandpa is becoming more and more vague and forgetful. Georgie is desperate to know if her remembers her, but repeated enquires are met with far away recollections of his youth. With child-like innocence and gentle tenacity, she tries to connect with him through these memories and the photographs on his dresser until, by chance she discovers a simple act that unites not only the rest of the nursing home community but also, the relationship between she and Grandpa.

Cummings’ unrushed narrative pulses gently with visceral images, doors that slide open like curtains; thunderclouds that taste like dust; they leave your heart swooning with emotion until the very last word.

Through using the simple joy of making paper hats and the subtle historical connection to memory with noteworthy newspaper headlines of the 20th century, Newspaper Hats unfolds into a powerful yet immensely touching story of what binds a family together.

Swan’s watercolour and pencil on paper artwork is subdued and mindful of the weightiness of the subject matter lurking just below the surface of the text. It is neither grim nor foreboding, rather the illustrations float across the pages with infinite optimism like a paper hat carried away on the breeze.

Phil Cummings BooksA beautiful book on many levels from a potent teller of poignant tales and my pick for pre-schoolers as a catalyst for caring, sharing, and understanding.

Scholastic Press July 2015

 

Doodles and Drafts – Roses are Blue Blog Tour with Sally Murphy

Roses are BlueI promised myself I wouldn’t cry. Well, maybe a few tears towards the end might be acceptable, but of course, I was dealing with another verse novel by Sally Murphy, so dry eyes were definitely no guarantee.

Sally Murphy with gabriel evans croppedIt’s not just the subject matter of Roses are Blue that tugs at ones heartstrings. Murphy is simply master at massaging sensitive issues into refined, understated yet terrifically moving poetic verse. Her words whisper across the pages with the soft intensity of a mountain breeze. They are beautiful and arresting; a joy to read.

There are no chapters in this novel. The story ebbs and flows organically in a pleasing natural rhythm. Gabriel Evans’ tender ink and painted illustrations cushion the gravity of the story even more allowing the reader to connect with Amber and her world visually as well as emotionally. Youngsters cultivating their reading confidence will appreciate this generous visual reinforcement on nearly every page.

Amber Rose’s world is turned upside down when tragedy strikes her family leaving her mother devastatingly ‘different’. Overnight, everything is altered: there’s a new school, new friends, new home, new secrets and perhaps hardest of all, a new mum to get used to. Amber vacillates between wanting to fit in and appear normal, aching for how things ‘used to be’ and trying to reconnect with her damaged mum.

As Amber’s mother struggles to free herself from her new entrapment, so too does Amber fight to hang onto to their special shared love until, like springtime roses, hope eventually blooms. Roses are Blue addresses the complex issues of normality, family ties, friendships and maternal bonds with gentle emphasis on how all these relationships can span any ethnicity or physical situation.

To celebrate Amber’s story, Sally Murphy joins me at the draft table with a box of tissues and a few more fascinating insights on Roses are Blue. Welcome Sally!

Q. Who is Sally Murphy? Please describe your writerly self.

My writely self? I try hard to think of myself as writerly – but often fail miserably because I think of other writers as amazingly productive, clever , creative people, and myself as someone slightly manic who manages to snatch time to write and is always surprised when it’s good enough to get published.

But seriously, I suppose what I am is someone who writes because it’s my passion and I can’t not do it. I’ve been writing all my life, pretty much always for children, and my first book was published about 18 years ago. Since then I’ve written picture books, chapter books, reading books, educational resource books and, of course, poetry and verse novels.

Q. I find verse novels profoundly powerful. How different are they to write compared to writing in prose? Do you find them more or less difficult to develop?

I think they’re very powerful too. It was the power of the first ones I read (by Margaret Wild) that made me fall in love with the form. But it’s this very power that can make them hard to get right – you have to tap into core emotions and get them on the page whilst still developing a story arc, characters, setting, dialogue and so on.

Are they more or less difficult? I’m not sure. For me I’ve been more successful with verse novels than with prose novels, so maybe they’re easier for me. But it is difficult to write a verse novel that a publisher will publish – because they can be difficult to sell.

Q. How do you think verse novels enhance the appeal and impact of a story for younger readers?

I think they work wonderfully with young readers for a few reasons, which makes them a wonderful classroom tool. The fact that they are poetry gives them white space and also, room for illustration and even sometimes text adornments.

What this means is that for a struggling reader or even a reluctant reader, the verse novel can draw them in because it looks easier, and gives them cues as to where to pause when reading, where the emphasis might be and so on. They will also feel that a verse novel is less challenging because it is shorter – there are less words on the same number of pages because of that white space.

But the verse novel can also attract more advanced readers who recognise it as poetry and thus expect to be challenged, and who can also see the layers of meaning, the poetic techniques and so on. Of course, once they’ve started reading it, the reluctant and struggling reader will also see those things, meaning there is a wonderful opportunity for all the class to feel involved and connected when it’s a class novel, or for peers of different abilities to appreciate a book they share.

Sally & Pearl & TopplingQ. Judging by some of your previous verse titles, Pearl Verses the World and Toppling, you are not afraid to tackle the heftier and occasionally heartbreaking issues children encounter. What compels you to write about these topics and why do so in verse? Do you think a verse novel can convey emotion more convincingly than prose alone?

Afraid? Hah – I laugh in the face of danger! (Sorry, couldn’t help myself). But seriously no, I’m not afraid, because I think these are issues kids want to read about. All kids experience tough times – sometimes it’s the loss of a loved one, or illness, or a tragedy like Mum being sick/injured/absent. Other times it’s a beloved pet dying, or a best friend who suddenly doesn’t want to be friends. Either way, these tough times can feel like the end of the world. I think when children read about tough topics they connect with empathy or sympathy, and thus have the opportunity to experience vicariously something which they may not have. And if they have been through those really tragic tough times, or they do in the future, I hope they’re getting the message that life can be tough but you can get through it. Terrible things happen in the world – but good things do too. It’s really important to me that my stories have happy times too, and even laughs.

For me the verse novel form enables me to convey that emotion, but I don’t think it’s the only way it can be done. If you look at the Kingdom of Silk books by Glenda Millard, for example, you’ll see how brilliantly prose can be used to explore emotional situations.

Q. Many verse novels I have read are in first person. Is this a crucial element of ensuring stories in verse work well or is it something that you fall into naturally?

Off the top of my head I can’t think of any verse novels written solely in third person. There’s no rule that they have to be in first, but I do feel they work best that way for me, although I’m looking forward to experimenting with point of view in a verse novel I’m planning. I think first works so well because it creates an intimacy which the poetic form enhances.

Q. I particularly loved your reference to the Bobby Vinton 1962 hit, Roses are Red. What inspired you to use these lines in Amber’s story?

It’s actually a bit of a nod to Pearl, from Pearl Verses the World, who writes a roses are red poem about her nemesis Prue – but surprisingly no one has asked me about the connection before. I was looking for something for Mum to sing, and there it was. Of course the fact that Mum loves to garden, and their surname is rose means it all ties together nicely.

Gabriel EvansQ. Gabriel Evans’ illustrations are very endearing. How important do you think it is for illustrations to accompany verse stories?

For younger readers, some visual element is essential, and I am delighted with the way Gabriel has interpreted the story. Who couldn’t love his work? Again, the illustrations can help struggling readers connect with the story, but they are also important for all levels of reading ability. Some people are much more visual learners and thinkers than others, and seeing the story really enhances the experience. And gosh, they’re so gorgeous!

Q. What’s on the draft table for Sally Murphy?

A few things. I’m working on a historical novel (prose), several picture books and lots of poetry. I’m also in the early stages of a PhD project in Creative Writing and, as part of this, plan to produce three new works, all poetry of some form, as well as writing about why/how poetry is important.

Just for fun Question, (there is always one!): If you were named after a gem or colour like Amber and her friends, which would you choose and why?

I can choose a name for myself? That IS fun. I was nearly called Imelda when I was born, and (with apologies to the Imeldas of the world) have been forever grateful that my parents changed their minds. Sorry, that doesn’t answer your question. I think if I could name myself after a colour I’d be silly about it and say Aquamarine, because surely then no one else would ever have the same name as me. It’s also a lovely colour, so maybe some of that loveliness would rub off on me and make me lovely too.

Thanks so much for having me visit, Dimity. It’s been fun, and you’ve kept me on my toes!

An absolute pleasure Sally (aka Aquamarine!)

Be sure to discover the magic behind Roses are Blue, available  here now.

Walker Books Australia July 2014

Stick around for the rest of Sally’s beautiful blog tour. Here are some places you can visit.

Tuesday, July 22nd Karen Tyrrell
Wednesday, July 23 Alphabet Soup
Thursday, July 24 Kids’ Book Review
Friday, July 25 Write and read with Dale
Saturday, July 26 Diva Booknerd
Sunday, July 27 Children’s Books Daily
Monday, July 28 Boomerang Books Blog
Tuesday, July 29 Australian Children’s Poetry
Wednesday, July 30 Sally Murphy