Review – New Year Surprise!

New Year SurpriseYou’ve finally found a spot for all those new toys. You’ve organised your post-Christmas reading pile. You’ve dutifully noted your New Year’s resolutions. Time to relax. Well, SURPRISE! There’s more. It’s New Year’s all over again; a time to celebrate, rejoice and welcome new beginnings, this time with the flair of Asia.

Stunning new picture book, New Year Surprise! by award-winning author, Christopher Cheng and fine artist, Di Wu joins the informative raft of entertaining and insightful children’s books depicting the Asian cultural tradition (namely Chinese) of celebrating the Spring Festival.

The Race for the Chinese ZodiacI have many favourites on this topic, which bring back fantastic childhood memories of feasting, lion dancing and of course, receiving those coveted ‘ tau hongbau’ red money packets. Titles like Long Long’s New Year by Catherine Gower, Sally Rippin’s Fang Fang’s Chinese New Year, Gabrielle Wang’s, exquisite The Race for the Chinese Zodiac, and to a less celebratory degree, The Magic Brush by Kat Yeh introduce young readers to a celebration steeped in tradition and spellbinding superstition.

New Year Surprise! focuses less on the legend of Nian – the original monster who used to terrorise Chinese villagers annually until they learned ways to thwart his evilness and scare him away (with red paper and irritating fireworks). This charming picture book takes place in a traditional rural northern Chinese village where life still follows an ancient and simple route and festivals such as Chinese New Year shape and colour family and community life.

New Year Surprise Illo spread # 2The prospect of the imminent festival excites Little Brother and he craves to be involved with the preparations. His brothers, father, and friends tell him he is too small to be of any use though; he is not strong enough to hold a dragon pole, he cannot reach to hang the lanterns, he has already helped serve tea and light the firecrackers. So what could the ‘special job’ be that his father promises he can do?

New Year Surprise illo spread # 1Over the week, Little Brother’s relatives arrive and celebrate with sumptuous feasts and Grandfather’s timeless stories. The atmosphere is rich with colour, joy, and positive expectations for a prosperous and lucky year ahead. Yet Little Brother remains at a loss as to his particular role in the festivities. It is not until the climax of the festival, the mesmerising dance of the serpentine dragon, that Father finally reveals Little Brother’s most significant role.

Christopher ChengCheng’s first person narrative places readers firmly within the snug folds of Little Brother’s padded jacket so that rather than feel the chill of his snow-covered home, we sympathise with his frustrated longing to contribute. Cheng infuses just the right amount of Chinese heritage and terminology to establish authenticity without swamping little minds with too much unfamiliar culture, although I wager most people will instantly recognise the Gong Xi Fa Cai! New Year salutation without too much difficulty.

Di WuAs evocative as the scent of incense wafting on a breeze, Di Wu’s illustrations are painted using traditional Chinese brushes on rice paper and are exquisitely faithful to the traditional colours and textures of Chinese paintings. New Year Surprise! is a merger of art, words, and culture that works as well as dumplings and tea.

As with many National Library publications, the joy of the reading experience extends after the story has ended with explanatory notes on this and on other festivals in China, some familiar, others an exotic new revelation. A marvellous way to embrace and honour a fascinating culture for early primary schoolers and above.

To experience a taste of one of the most significant festivals on the Chinese calendar (normally occurring in February or March) grab yourself a copy of New Year Surprise!, here. This Chinese New Year will be the Year of the Monkey and officially is celebrated on the 8th of February with festivities spanning from the 7th to the 22nd February.

Gong Xi Fa Cai!Year of the Monkey

National Library Australia February 2016

 

 

Brilliant Brisbane Writers Festival 2015

The BWF shone again. Jon Ronson’s opening address wooed everyone and we bought a copy of The Psychopath Test on the spot. What a funny, clever man.

CollinsI realised on opening night that this was my 10th consecutive year moderating sessions at the BWF. What a privilege to have conversed with writers such as Booker shortlisted authors Abdulrazak Gurnah and Michael Collins over the years.

Another past highlight was when I chaired the phenomenal Andy Griffiths speaking to an adult audience. He morphed into Vincent Price and Struwwelpeter. I’ve never seen him as funny. I chaired a couple of sessions with Boy in the Striped Pyjamas author, John Boyne the same year, and he got to share the electricity of the stage with Andy for that memorable panel. John’s upcoming Boy at the Top of the Mountain is incredible, by the way. It will be published in October.Mountain

Other years it was a privilege to speak with Hungarian holocaust survivor Peter Lantos, and to listen to Gabrielle Carey and Linda Neil share how they grieved for their mothers.

I almost swooned when invited to facilitate the session with the brilliant Margo Lanagan and Marianne de Pierres. And Morris Gleitzman and Gabrielle Wang were another unforgettable pairing.

The incomparable Michael Morpurgo (War Horse) was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to speak one-on-one with an author I have admired greatly for years. He was such a gentleman. NZ writer Kate di Goldi was delightful and, last year, Nick Earls was a load of laughs. Mem Fox (Possum Magic) was the very first author I chaired at the BWF, back in the days of tents. There have been many, many special sessions, a number of which I was called in to chair at late notice and had to wing.

A final past highlight was ‘African Stories’ with Caine Prize winners EC Esondo Waiting, and Kenyan Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor. This session was recorded by ABC Radio National http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/bookshow/brisbane-writers-festival-african-stories/2973532

RosieThe 2015 sessions were right up there too. I was thrilled to moderate three separate sessions with one author in each, beginning with the inimitable Graeme Simsion talking about The Rosie Effect. Graeme delighted in his audience and met many of them in the queue beforehand and then in the auditorium before the session began. He even beat me to it and jumped on stage to introduce me! I loved how he answered the questions with clarity and stayed on topic. I won’t give away his excellent tips on how to write comedy. The Rosie Effect also deals with big issues. The audience loved him. So did I.

Forever YoungMy second session was with 2014 PM Literary Award co-winner Steven Carroll. I was quaking because his new novel Forever Young is the best literary fiction I’ve read this year and he is such an eminent author (see *below) but we hit it off straight away with a shared interest in art and music (even though I disgraced myself on stage with an innocent question about the song Please Please Me. Unfortunately Steven wouldn’t sing the Dylan version of Forever Young but in every other way he exceeded expectations with his answers to my questions. This was a session of profound insights as well as lots of laughs. I’m now reading through the rest of his stunning Glenroy series.

ShiningMy last session was with Somali refugee Abdi Aden. Abdi enthralled the audience with his powerful story in Shining: The Story of a Lucky Man, which tells how he escaped from soldiers in Somali and his torturous journey to a refugee camp in Kenya and then to Romania, Germany and Australia. I have never seen an audience with such anguish in their faces as they listened to Abdi speak about what it’s like to be a refugee. Abdi recognises the generosity of the Australian people in giving him the opportunity to shine here.

 

Other authors I admire and had a moment to speak with in passing were Cass Moriarty, Briony Stewart, Felicity Plunkett and Christine Bongers (too quickly!) and I know I have forgotten to mention some – apologies.

I also met Richard Glover when I inadvertently mistook him for an *eminent writer of literary fiction. I’ll be hearing Richard speak about Flesh Wounds soon and know he will be hilarious.

Thank you to the wonderful publicists from the publishing companies and the staff and volunteers of the BWF who looked after us all so well. Our minds are now wide open!

G Simsion

Australian YA: Soon by Morris Gleitzman

SoonOn my recent bookshop tour of London there were more books by Morris Gleitzman on the shelves than copies of The Book Thief. This is not to detract from Marcus Zusak’s famous and well-stocked literary export but means that there were many, many Gleitzmans on display, a fantastic achievement for our popular Australian children’s and YA writer.

I moderated a session with Morris and the beautiful Gabrielle Wang  several years ago at the Brisbane Writers’ Festival. The children in the audience were spellbound by the words of both authors and Gabrielle didn’t have enough hands for all the little girls who wanted to hold hers. Fortunately Morris gave me some warning about how the session would end. He jumped up and sprinted for the door to beat the kids to the signing table. I had to try to stop them running out after him. Luckily I had spent a number of years as a teacher so was able to summon my latent teacher authority. His queue then and now rivals that of Andy Griffiths‘.

Gleitzman prefers to describe his books about the holocaust, which begin with Once (Viking, Penguin), as a ‘family’ rather than ‘series’ of books. When Once was published in 2005 I wrote teacher notes about it here. http://www1.curriculum.edu.au/rel/history/book.php?catrelid=1877 Once

Each book is characterised by an inimitable structure where every chapter begins with the book’s title, such as ‘Once’, ‘Then’, ‘After’, ‘Now’ and ‘Soon’ and each book also begins and ends with this word. Now breaks the chronological pattern by being set in present-day Australia with Felix as an old man.

I reviewed After for the Weekend Australian in 2012 and said: ‘After takes the reader back to Felix’s trials during the war, at first to the underground hole which was his home for the past two years. When Felix leaves it to rescue his benefactor, Gabriek, what dangers will threaten him? … The effect of war and trauma on children and young people can be horrific and should not be underestimated. Stories about these issues can provide opportunities for characters such as Felix … to play out their roles and show readers how goodness can be kept alive to help mend broken places and people. Damaged young figures move forward with hope in books of this calibre and, ideally, will not remain broken.’After

Most of the books show Felix as a boy evading the Nazis. In the latest title, Soonhe is 13-years-old and the war is over. But it’s not. Many people are still treating others without compassion; injuring and killing them in ways they wouldn’t treat animals.

Felix is surviving in a hideout with his former rescuer Gabriek. He is forced to confront more atrocities of war and its after-effects despite his work as a child doctor, innate goodness and belief in humanity. Soon is a strong anti-war cry. It is so harrowing that I would recommend it for young adults rather than primary school children. It is dedicated to ‘the children who had no hope’. Gleitzman alerts us to evil but ultimately does give us hope in these important books.

Christmas Classics You’ve Read to your Kids – Gabrielle Wang

Gabrielle WangNot everyone may have kids, but all of us unavoidably were kids, once. A fair chunk of my childhood centered around books; reading them and collecting them. Certain stories only ever experienced one reading over 30 years ago, but for reasons inexplicable, remain unforgettably potent and as vivid to me as if I’d read them yesterday. They may not be defined as classics but they remain with me, stuck on my classic-memories-bookshelf for all time and that makes them special. Romancing stories and treasuring them is a habit that started long before I had children of my own, and one, amongst many other multi-cultural traits, I share with shockingly talented children’s author, Gabrielle Wang. The Wish Bird

Today we invite Gabrielle to revisit her bookshelf memories as she unveils some of her ‘classic’ favourites. Perhaps you know some already. Visit Gabrielle’s tremendous selection of books here. There is something beautiful for every child in your life or child still in your heart. Picture books, early readers, YA; it’s cornucopia for the literary soul.

A moment with Gabrielle

I began collecting picture books in my early twenties well before my children were born. I was a graphic designer then and bought the books for their beautiful illustrations. I’m glad I did as many of the titles later became my children’s favourites.

Paddy Porks Holiday Shrewbettina’s Birthday and Paddy Pork’s Holiday by John S Goodall. These wordless picture books with their lovely old-fashioned illustrations were much loved by my daughter when she was learning to speak. They are perfect for that age. In fact they are perfect for any age.

IMG_3209 There’s a Dinosaur in the Park by Rodney Martin, illustrated by John Siow is a picture book about a boy with a big imagination. The illustrations are glorious and it’s a great read-aloud book with very simple text.

Harry the Dirty Dog Harry the Dirty Dog by Gene Zion, illustrated by Margaret Bloy Graham is a classic and one of my children’s all time favourites. Who can resist the loveable Harry series?

Pig Tale by Helen Oxenbury is a picture book written in verse about Bertha and Briggs who are two bored little pigs. One day they dig up treasure, leaving the peace of the countryside to head to the big city.

World Tales World Tales subtitled The Extraordinary Coincidence of Stories Told in All Times, in All Places is a book of 65 folk tales collected by Idries Shah from around the world. The collection shows how different cultures had remarkably similar folk stories. For example the Algonquin Native American Indian Cinderella story.

The Bunyip of Berkeley's Creek The Bunyip of Berkeley’s Creek by Jenny Wagner, illustrated by Ron Brooks is another timeless picture book. Ron Brooks is an illustrator who always surprises me with his art by pushing the boundaries. After each read my children would sing out, ‘What am I? What am I? What do I look like?’ And I would call back, ‘You look just like me.’

Because deep down we all do… Thanks Gabrielle!

Stay tuned for more Christmas Classics, from the boys next time.

OUR AUSTRALIAN GIRL – POPPY

MEET POPPY’S CREATOR – GABRIELLE WANG

Gabrielle Wang is the author of the four Our Australian Girl Poppy series featuring Poppy, a Chinese-Aboriginal girl growing up on the goldfields in  the 1860s. Gabrielle is fourth generation Chinese Australian and her maternal great-grandfather came over to the Victorian Goldfields from Guangdong, China in the 1850s.

Gabrielle is visiting Kids’ Book Capers today to talk about Poppy’s journey and her creation.

Gabrielle talks us through the research process for Poppy’s story

As Poppy is part Aboriginal and part Chinese the first thing I needed to do was to contact someone who was Aboriginal. I contacted FATSIL (The Federation of Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Languages and Culture Corporation) and The Koorie Heritage Trust in Melbourne, and they put me in touch with Koorie elder, Uncle John Sandy Atkinson.

Uncle Sandy is a well-known and respected Elder of the Koorie community and also an actively involved member of the Bangerang community. Because my story is set along the Murray River, land of the Bangerang people, he was the perfect person to be introduced to.

I met with Uncle Sandy over the course of five months while I was planning the books. He was so very generous with his time, and the person who gave Poppy and Gus their Aboriginal names of Kalinya and Moyhu. With each book, I also worked closely with Maxine Briggs, the Koorie liaison officer at the State Library of Victoria. Maxine read through each manuscript providing invaluable insights into Aboriginal culture as well as advising me when I was touching on sensitive issues.

I could not have written the Poppy books without Uncle Sandy and Maxine’s help, and I cannot thank them enough. This part of the research process was hard but thoroughly enjoyable.

I also visited the State Library of Victoria and worked for many hours under the beautiful dome in the Latrobe Reading Room. Reading old newspapers stored on microfilm I would too often find myself being sidetracked by an intriguing story that was completely irrelevant to my research. The easiest research was done from home on Google, what a joy that search engine is! I also bought reference books sourced from all over Australia. Once the basic research was completed it was time to begin writing. But this is where the tricky part begins.

There was so much interesting material, I wanted to put it all in. But one of the basic rules of writing for young people is branded onto my brain – if it doesn’t move the story forward, then it has to go.

Apart from meeting Uncle Sandy and Maxine, I really enjoyed making a weekend trip to Beechworth and Wahgunyah.

What did it feel like to walk in Poppy’s shoes?

Poppy’s journey takes place along the Murray River between Echuca to Wahgunyah then on to Beechworth. This was the country my great grandfather travelled during the 1880’s when he cleared land for the pastorialists. So this became almost a personal journey for me.

What was the most inspiring thing you discovered about your character?

There were many surprises. Once I had brought Poppy to life she more or less took control of the story. I didn’t expect Poppy to be so moralistic or so confident. I wanted her to be a little less brave but she wouldn’t have it. I’d find her standing up for herself when I would have expected her to give up. She was very strong.

How do you think you would have survived living in Poppy’s era?

People in the 1800’s were tough, especially women on the goldfields. They endured all kinds of hardships and most lost children. That’s why they had so many to make sure some would survive. I don’t think I would have done very well in those times.

What significant historical events are covered in Poppy’s books?

The rapid decline of the Aboriginal tribes through murder, disease and starvation. The rounding up and putting into missions the remaining Aborigines. The rush for gold which brought thousands of foreigners to Australia. The beginning of the railroads in Victoria and the demise of the paddlesteamers and bullockies.

A REVIEW OF POPPY’S STORIES

Poppy is a gold rush girl who dreams of a better life. Her aboriginal name, Kalinya means ‘pretty one’ but Poppy also has Chinese heritage in her blood.

In book one, MEET POPPY, it’s 1864 and Poppy is living at Bird Creek Mission near Echuca. She hates the mission, especially now that her brother, Gus has run away in search of gold.

When eleven-year-old Poppy discovers she is going to be sent away to Sydney Town, she knows she has to do something. If she goes, how will Gus ever find her?

Poppy decided to escape from the mission but there are so many dangers out in the bush for a young girl. To minimise the risk, Poppy disguises herself as a boy, but all the while worries that her secret will be discovered.

She escapes the mission and embarks on a dangerous journey in search of her brother encountering bushrangers and other perils along the way. She also has to feed herself out in the bush. If only she had been born a boy and taught bush craft to aid her survival?

Poppy will need all her courage and endeavour to survive. She is helped on her journey by a dog called Fisher who becomes her constant companion.

In book 2, POPPY AT SUMMERHILL, Poppy is caught in a dingo trap and found by an aboriginal, Tom who works at Summerhill. He takes the injured Poppy there and she makes a new friend, Noni.

But Noni’s twin brother, Joe seems to have taken an instant dislike to her and believes she is hiding something. Joe is constantly snooping and Poppy wonders how long she is going to be able to keep her secret safe. What will happen if Joe finds out she is a girl?

When Joe tricks her into riding Gideon, the horse that throws everybody, Poppy, who has never ridden before, thinks her life will be over.

Her dream of finding her brother Gus, and living in a magnificent house together seems to be slipping away.

Poppy’s story is set at a time when life could be brutal, particularly for an orphaned Koori girl with nobody but a faithful dog to protect her.

Author, Gabrielle Wang is fourth generation Chinese and the character of Jimmy  Ah Kew is based on her mother’s grandfather.

Young readers will be captivated by Poppy’s story and will keep following  her journey, hoping that she finds the better life she dreams of.

ENTER THE OUR AUSTRALIAN GIRL/KIDS BOOK CAPERS COMPETITION TO WIN ONE OF FOUR GREAT BOOKS!


 

 

 

OUR AUSTRALIAN GIRL SERIES – FROM THE BEGINNING

Today is the start of a fabulous Our Australian Girl week at Kids’ Book Capers. We have some great interviews and reviews planned and there are opportunities to win a copy of one of the fabulous Our Australian Girl books from Penguin Australia.

The series took two years and two months to develop and Publisher, Jane Godwin has taken time out from her busy schedule to talk to us about these hugely popular new books and why their 8-11 year old readers are loving them.

Jane, where did the inspiration/idea for the Our Australian Girl series come from?

I had been thinking that a lot of series material available for 8 – 11 year old girls is similar in content and style – tween-orientated, with the story itself often being secondary to the overall package (website, merchandise, sparkles and glitter).This is all fine and good and there is a perfectly legitimate market and desire for this material, but I suppose I kept thinking is this all we can offer our girls?

At the same time, I observed in the young girls around me a sort of lessening in their expectations of what a book could provide.  I’m generalising here, but it appeared that many of them didn’t really expect to have a memorable, rich or meaningful experience with a book. Or perhaps with a contemporary book.  Many have resorted to books from previous eras if they want to read a ‘real’ story.

Meanwhile, parents everywhere appear to be increasingly concerned re young girls having to ‘grow up too fast’ – from department stores selling ‘sexy’ clothing for pre-pubescent girls, to celebrity, fashion and make-up magazines aimed at eight year olds, right through to the fear of the effect on a whole generation of having been exposed too young and too soon to the now ubiquitous nature of pornography.

Therefore I perceived a gap in the market and a need for a different type of book for today’s 8 – 11 year old girls. I also felt a personal responsibility to offer young female readers a rewarding and engaging reading experience. I wanted to make something that would appeal to all types of readers – to cut across social groups and classes, and across reading levels.

There is a series in America (called American Girl) which we were aware of, so some of the inspiration came from learning about that series, although Our Australian Girl has emerged organically as a very different type of series to American Girl.

Your own personal passion for “reading and kids and stories shines through in this series”. Was it hard to find a team that shared these goals?

Well, I was tremendously fortunate and grateful to work with the team that we gathered for OAG.  The four authors (Sofie Laguna, Alison Lloyd, Gabrielle Wang and Sherryl Clark) were fantastic to work with and were also very committed to making their stories the best they could be.  The talented illustrator, Lucia Masciullo, helped to bring the stories and the eras to life with her delicate and beautiful watercolours throughout the books. Davina Bell (series editor), Katie Evans (editor of the Poppy books) Rita Hart (series consultant) and Evi Oetomo (series designer) and I all shared the same creative vision for the series.

It was a small team for so many books and everyone worked incredibly hard to manage every aspect of the series.  Sometimes I think the stars align with groups of people working creatively and I think they aligned for us!

Why do you think the Our Australian Girl series is proving to be so popular?

From the feedback we have had it does seem to have struck a chord with readers themselves, but also with their parents and teachers and other adults in their lives.  I think the kids are loving them because of the quality of the stories and the strength of the characters.  They really are great stories!

Girls are also responding positively to the look of the series, which is very rewarding because so much thought went into the design.  We wanted the books to look pretty but not saccharine pretty, and not like anything else out there in the market place.  Parents are welcoming the fact that these books encourage girls to feel that they can be valued for qualities other than their clothes or their mobile phone – qualities such as strength, resourcefulness, independence, kindness. And teachers can see that the kids are learning about aspects of our history almost without realising it as they read these stories.

How does the Our Australian Girl series complement the school curriculum. Are teacher’s notes available? If so, can you provide a link.

Our Australian Girl taps into so many aspects of the curriculum and can be used widely in Literature Circles, wider reading, history, English, literacy, SOSE, geography, and even in subjects like philosophy as it can be used as a springboard for self reflection and enquiry into one’s own personal history.

And then as the national curriculum kicks in, educators are having a chance to review history teaching in our schools. All this obviously taps into questions of belonging, of identity, of national self esteem, of what it means to be Australian.

We are a culture characterised by diversity and we want our children to grow up celebrating this rather than experiencing cultural and social discord. It feels as if it’s time to provide a fresh angle in interpreting our past for a new generation, and I believe Our Australian Girl is part of this.  And yes, teachers’ notes are available at

Why do you think contemporary readers can relate to Letty, Poppy, Rose and Grace even though the girls lived in a different era?

In many ways the lives of the Our Australian Girls are very different to lives of Australian girls today, but we really wanted young readers to be able to identify with the characters and almost end up seeing them as friends (and remember them in the way that we as adults remember favourite characters from books of our childhood).  The tagline of the series is ‘a girl like me in a time gone by’ and to achieve this we made sure that there were aspects of each character that young readers today could relate to.  Grace loves horses, Letty has a friend who manipulates her, Poppy meets a dog whom she adores, and Rose feels that sometimes the world is unfair and people are not treated equally.

Young readers today are relating to all these aspects of the stories.  And in a broader sense, all the characters are searching for a place where they fit in, they are exploring notions of independence and finding their way in the world, and really those aspects of life haven’t really changed.

I was at the launch of the Our Australian Girl series and it was clear that it had absorbed the lives of everyone involved. Why do you think this series is so important to the creators?

Well, as I mentioned before I do feel a responsibility not only as a publisher but as a mother and as a female and maybe even as a human being (!) to provide young readers with a rich and memorable experience.

I wanted to give them credit rather than patronise them.  I am very concerned about the broader challenges for young girls growing up today, and here was an opportunity to maybe make a small difference to the way girls see themselves and the way they make choices.  And I am working with people who share these concerns and are passionate about making a difference.  We each believe in the goals and ideas behind the project so fervently that I suppose we probably appear a bit evangelical!  But I do feel this in some ways is the most important thing I have contributed (so far!) in my career as a provider of books for children.

Is there an Our Australian Boy series planned?

Yes!  We have had so many people ask us this question and we are in the early stages of developing something for boys.  I won’t say any more about it here except that it will be quite different from Our Australian Girl but still feature great stories and vivid, memorable characters.  And it will link in with Our Australian Girl so that teachers will be able to use the series alongside each other in the classroom.

What are you enjoying most about working on the series?

At the moment I am enjoying seeing the third lot of books (out in July) land on my desk from the printer.  As each lot arrives, we put them all together and just gaze at them lovingly because the design of the books makes them look so appealing all sitting together, either face out or spine out.  We are also just finishing the editing on the last lot of books (book 4, out in October) and we are starting on two new ones for next year,so we’re reading those manuscripts and working on the new covers.

I think at the moment I’m allowing myself just a few minutes (maybe seconds) to feel a sense of satisfaction in what we have achieved – but it’s bittersweet because we are saying goodbye to Grace, Letty, Poppy and Rose (and to the intense and rewarding relationship we have shared with their four authors over the last two years).  It’s also really enjoyable to read the book 4 manuscripts and see how our little girls have grown and changed through their adventures across the four books.

About the Illustrator

Lucia Masciullo, the talent behind the pictures in the Our Australian Girl Books

Each of the Our Australian Girl Books has beautiful illustrations by Lucia Masciullo.

Lucia was born in Italy, but moved to Australia looking for new opportunities. She thinks all Australians keep in their blood a bit of their pioneer heritage, regardless of their own birthplace.

Lucia is visiting us today to talk about her journey and her work.

I work full time as a children’s book illustrator. And I love it.

I was born and bred in Livorno, Italy and I moved to Australia in 2007 with my partner.

In Australia I have seen my first books published. I was lucky enough to meet and collaborate with fantastic people in the children’s book industry. Among them Hardie Grant Egmont (HGE) publishing director Hilary Rogers and Penguin (Australia) publisher Jane Godwin. I am sincerely grateful to them for betting on me and my artistic vision.

I really liked to work on the illustrations for the Our Australian Girl series.

The most challenging thing for me has been to find images that I could use as references.

All the four stories are well set in a specific epoch of Australian history and I needed exactly the objects in use in those years.

And some of the objects are very rare to find nowadays: I spent weeks studying peculiar things like what kind of tools were in use during the gold rush for example or what kind of saddle people used in the first Australian settlement or the look of a car in 1900 (I didn’t even know they had cars in 1900).

I think has been also a nice way for me to approach Australian history: I have to confess Italian schools don’t teach very much about the topic and I have been eager to learn more about the country I’m going to be living in. But I was fortunate enough to have the authors and Davina to my side who helped me and gave me feedback.

This was the first time I worked with black and white illustrations: I am quite confident using colours  but this time I had to focus more on the different tones of gray and strokes instead of using colors as a means of expression. I really enjoyed the process and I am happy with the results.

For the 64 final illustrations I used watercolor and I added details with a black pencil. I painted the images slightly bigger than the size they are printed on the book. This allows the final images to have  plenty of details while not completely losing my eyesight.

So interesting to hear how you work, Lucia. Sometimes people don’t realise how much time and research is involved in illustrating a book.

Over the next four days, the authors who created the Our Australian Girl characters will be dropping into Kids’ Book Capers to share their journeys and talk about their books.

In the meantime, don’t forget to enter the competition happening this week at Kids’ Book Capers. There are four great Our Australian Girl books to be won.

Enter the OUR AUSTRALIAN GIRL COMPETITION here…



 

 

 

 

The Art of Self-Promotion

Authors need to promote their books! A few weeks ago, at a meeting of the Victorian branch of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, a panel of writers (Pauline Luke, Edel Wignell and myself) discussed the topic of promotion. What was evident from the discussion, is that different writers promote in different ways. Some have embraced social media and all forms of electronic promotion, others prefer to stick to more traditional forms such as signings and appearances. Some, like myself, have become promotional sluts, grabbing every conceivable opportunity. But the one thing that everyone agreed on, is how important promotion is to an author’s career.

Inspired by this discussion, I thought a post with some promotion was in order. Relax, I’m not about to try and sell you my books. Instead, I’ve invited five authors to promote themselves in 100 words or less. And so, in alphabetical order, here they are…

Corinne Fenton

Sometimes I think I have this disease called ‘writing’ and no matter what else is going on in my life, I can still get lost in words, words that talk to one another.  A review in Bookseller and Publisher last year said, ‘Corinne Fenton has established a reputation for writing beautiful picture-book histories of animals whose lives have become legendary.’ I hope to keep doing that forever. My next favourite thing is speaking to children and adults about the writing and research behind my books at schools, libraries and bookshops. I have a website, a blog and I use twitter.

[Corinne Fenton’s new website, including blog, was not yet live when this blog was posted. Keep an eye on it as it will be up very soon… www.corinnefenton.com]

Bren MacDibble

“Angsty, wacky, thoughtful and with a lovely sense of black humour” are words that have been used to describe the stories of Bren MacDibble. She has had ten books for children published as well as lots of short stories for all ages. She likes to write accessible science fiction and finds no end to the new and unusual story ideas offered by futuristic themes. Bren’s a Clarion graduate and her passion is YA novels. Thanks to many fine writerly affiliations, Bren’s creativity thrives in Melbourne. You can find her on twitter or visit her website.

Julie Murphy

To date, my books have all been for the education market. The publishers promote those, so I tend to promote myself. I focus on the www — it’s relatively quick, it’s global, and it’s free. In addition to my own website, I keep author pages on Goodreads, JacketFlap, AuthorsDen, Amazon and LinkedIn. The Australian Society of Authors and Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators feature links to my website. Also, whenever I write articles for parents’ or children’s magazines, or my column for the children’s literacy e-mag, Bug News, my web address appears in the byline.

Claire Saxby

I write fiction, non-fiction and poetry for children. My most recent picture book is There Was an Old Sailor, illustrated by Cassandra Allen (Walker Books Australia). I also write for education publishers and have written for Hardie Grant Egmont’s Go Girl! series. Visit my website for more details.

Book promotion is an integral part of my writing and can take many forms. Bookshop and school visits are probably my most common activities, but online promotion is increasing. Websites, blogs, virtual booktours all help to promote my books and me as a writer.

Gabrielle Wang

As a writer I feel it is important to promote yourself. However there is a fine line between having a quiet presence and blatant self-promotion. I have a website that has been set up so I can maintain it myself. This is important. I don’t want to have to wait for my web designer. I have a blog page on my website and write posts fairly regularly. And I have two Facebook pages – one personal, the other public. I’m also on Twitter but I don’t use it as much as FB. All are linked to my website.

George’s bit at the end

So there you have it… a little bit of insight into the promotional activities of five Australian authors. If there are any other authors out there reading this post, feel free to leave a comment with a link to your website, blog or Twitter account.

Tune in next time for an interview with bestselling fantasy author Trudi Canavan.

Catch ya later,  George

PS. Follow me on Twitter… or I’ll promote at ya.

.

BLOGGER OUT AND ABOUT

There was plenty happening on the kid’s book scene in Melbourne this weekend.

Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators

On Saturday, I went to a Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI) seminar in Melbourne where popular kids and YA authors, Pauline Luke, Edel Wignell and George Ivanoff (Boomerang Books blogger at http://content.boomerangbooks.com.au/literary-clutter-blog/) talked about how they spread the word about their latest books.

Our Australian Girl Launch

On Sunday I was at the wonderful Readings bookshop in Hawthorn. It was overflowing with kids and adults there for the launch of Penguin’s Our Australian Girl series.

Creator, Jane Godwin is the Children’s Publisher at Penguin Australia and she spoke about how much hard work has gone into putting the books together and how much they mean to her.

Our Australian Girl is a new 16 part series of novels for readers aged 8-11. It features four inspiring young Australian girls with different cultural heritage and traditional backgrounds, each of whom live in a particular decade of Australia’s early colonial history.


The series is written by four talented Australian authors and beautifully illustrated by Lucia Masciullo.

At the launch, each of the authors had something special to say about their books.

Sherryl Clark – author of Rose’s story

Author, Sherryl Clark

Rose for me has become very real and it has been a pleasure to write her story.

Gabrielle Wang – author of Poppy’s story

What makes history interesting is people’s individual stories like the ones in the Our Australian Girl series.

Sophie Laguna

I got to go to some interesting places. It was a fantastic thing to be able to go back in time.

Alison Lloyd

It was great to write a book for girls where I could work dresses into the story.

The Our Australian Girl series fits with the new National Curriculum and will encourage a new generation to discover our history and cultural diversity.

Other Australian authors out and about at the Our Australia Girl launch

L-R Meredith Costain, Claire Saxby and Bren MacDibble

Author Signings at the Our Australian Girl launch

THE BOOK CUPBOARD

A few weeks back I finished a May Gibbs Fellowship*, a creative time residency organized by the May Gibbs’ Literature Trust. It’s for children’s authors and illustrators, and during the Fellowship you get to spend ONE WHOLE MONTH away from home writing (or illustrating). One whole month without school lunches, sport’s training, dentists, vets, committee meetings, and the list goes on.

Of course I missed my family desperately, but I can’t tell you how wonderful it was to have 16 to 18 hours a day to dream, plot and write – and of course READ!

I managed to finish writing an entire first draft of a new YA novel while I was there, blogged regularly, came up with a new book idea, and a name for another book – and of course READ. I also did eleven workshops at the State Library of Queensland, working with school groups, showing kids from years 5 to 10 how to develop heroes and villains for their stories.

All in all an amazing experience, but there’s more.  May Gibbs Fellows who stay in the apartment, leave at least one of their books behind in a special locked cupboard.

Opening the door was like going into a magical world, going back in time, back to when the authors and illustrators were in this very room creating many of the books that were now in the cupboard. It was inspirational to reflect on their experiences and enjoy reading some of the published works that had resulted from their Fellowships.

The varied collection included:

nudes & nikes by Dyan Blacklock

The Tuckshop Kid by Pat Flynn

By Jingo! by Janeen Brian and Dee Huxley

Hungry Ghosts by Sally Heinrich

A Matter of Cats by Elizabeth Hutchins

Something More by Mo Johnson

Boofheads by Mo Johnson

Outback Countout by Norah Kersh

Muck-Up Day by Ruth Starke

Nips X1 by Ruth Starke

The Garden of Empress Cassia by Gabrielle Wang

Little Paradise by Gabrielle Wang

Coincidentally, Little Paradise was the book that Gabrielle worked on two years ago for her May Gibbs Fellowship, and it was launched the day I started my Fellowship in Brisbane.

Exploring the world and works of these authors made me feel like a small child again, and I wondered if perhaps a book chest, secret book cupboard or even a book treasure hunt might be a way to inspire young readers around the home. It worked for me.

Dee

*Anyone interested in doing a May Gibbs Creative  Time Residency Fellowship can find out more information here: http://maygibbs.org.au/creative-time-fellowships/creative-time-fellowships/

Boomerang congratulates: AUREALIS AWARD WINNERS 2009!

A big congratulations to the Aurealis Award-winners i nthe children’s categories for 2009!

Children’s Illustrated Work / Picture Book
Victor’s Challenge by Pamela Freeman and Kim Gamble

Prince Victor and Valerian want to get married. But Victor, in his own unusual way, must pass three seemingly impossible tests of bravery, endurance and cleverness. He must go back into the Dark Forest of Nevermore to battle a fiery man-eating dragon, retrieve an armband from the peak of a wizard’s glass mountain, and uncover a tail feather from the rarest bird in the world.

Children’s Novel
A Ghost In My Suitcase by Gabrielle Wang

Thirteen-year-old Isabelle has travelled alone to China to visit Por Por her grandmother, and to release her mother’s ashes. Here she meets Ting Ting, an orphan who has been taken in by Por Por, and learns that her grandmother is a ghost-catcher – a gift that she too has inherited…

Young Adult Novel
Leviathan Trilogy: Book One by Scott Westerfeld

It is the beginning of the 20th century, 80 years after Darwin established the foundations of modern biology. But in the world of Leviathan these discoveries changed history more dramatically than in our own. England and France have perfected the the techniques of species fabrication, resulting in a glorious age of Edwardian biotechnology. In this world, Prince Aleksandar is on the run from those who would deny him his inheritance.

Illustrated Book / Graphic Novel
Scarygirl by Nathan Jurevicius

Abandoned on a remote beach, Scarygirl doesn’t know who she is or where she’s come from. Blister, a kind and intelligent giant octopus, wants to keep her safe, but Scarygirl needs answers. Who is the strange man haunting her dreams? Will Bunniguru help her unlock the mysteries of her past? Can she trust the wily forest dwellers? Her journey takes her to the edge, and beyond…Welcome to the world of Scarygirl.