2018 CBCA Shortlisted Books for Younger & Older Readers by Bren MacDibble/Cally Black

Bren MacDibble/Cally Black has blasted onto the Australian literary scene for youth with How to Bee for younger readers and In the Dark Spaces for YA. She is a fresh, authoritative talent; writing outside the mould.

-about the books and some ideas on sharing them with young readers –

by Bren MacDibble (Allen & Unwin)

How to Bee won the Patricia Wrightson Prize – NSW Premier’s Literary Awards & was shortlisted for the Griffith University Children’s Book Award (Qld) and Children’s Literature Award – Adelaide Festival Awards. Read a synopsis and the NSWPLA judges’ report here.

The novel circles around the importance of bees, children and community. The title is a pun with a double meaning. Some of the characters’ names reflect the almost-idyllic country setting where the story begins: Peony, Magnolia, Applejoy, Pomegranate …

The writing is sensory where it describes white cockatoos, fruit, a ‘face puckered like a burr on a tree trunk’ and Peony’s flawed Ma as a lemon, ‘You think it’s gotta be good coz it’s so big and has perfect skin but when you cut it in half you find out its skin is so thick there’s just a tiny bit of pulp inside and that it just ain’t got enough juice to go around’.

Students could write about other characters or people in their own families, describing them as fruit in lyrical style.

Themes & Issues

  • Domestic violence, making this novel most appropriate for mature, older children.
  • Wealth, deriving not from money but from loving people and family and living in community – a concern also of In the Dark Spaces
  • Hive/bees/pollination – another concern of In the Dark Spaces

Pollination/Bees/Honey is a potent theme.

Students could view the Behind the News (ABC TV) episode about the threat to bees in Australia http://www.abc.net.au/btn/story/s4291976.htm

There are also related teacher notes about bees http://www.abc.net.au/btn/resources/teacher/episode/20140729-beeproblems.pdf

Families or schools could investigate setting up a bee hive, particularly with native stingless bees. Compare the taste of commercially and local, unrefined and unheated honey.

Cycles There are a range of cycles within the tale: ‘the farm’s full of circles. Bees, flowers, fruit … all overlapping circles.’; seasons, places (from which characters leave and return); and a death is replaced by a new baby.

Concrete Poetry: Circle Shape Poem Children could write a Circle Shape poem about one of these or another cycle, where each line has an extra word, then decreases to make a circle shape.

In the Dark Spaces by Cally Black (Hardie Grant Egmont)

In the Dark Spaces has been longlisted for the Inkies award, highly commended by the Victorian Premiers Literary Prize, won an Aurealis Award, has been shortlisted for the Ditmars and shortlisted for the Ethel Turner Prize in the NSW Premiers Awards,

It is a sci-fi thriller/ hostage drama set in future space. Tamara lives in hiding on one of the intergalactic freighters. These are named after songs e.g. Lucy in the Sky, Jolene, My Sharona and Delilah. Her freighter is attacked by Crowpeople/Garuwa and she is kidnapped after witnessing mass murder because she is able to communicate with the Crowpeople. Through Tamara, we learn to understand the Crowpeople, who only take the resources they need to nurture the hives in their ships, which in return feed the inhabitants. Unlike humans who sell excess for profit.

Cally Black’s voice here is original  – raw, strong and captivating.

Dinkus When I interviewed eminent Australia author Isobelle Carmody recently, I was excited to learn about the ‘dinkus’.

The simplest way to indicate a section break within a chapter is to leave a blank space between paragraphs, but designers often prefer to use a symbol or glyph. These are often three horizontally placed asterisks but asterisks can be replaced with other symbols.

Crowpeople in In the Dark Spaces have three ‘shiny talons’ (page 41) sticking out from their boots. This symbol is used as a dinkus in the novel e.g. on pages 183,270.

Students find the talon dinkus in In the Dark Spaces, and then look for symbols or glyphs in other novels.

https://www.grammarly.com/blog/eight-uncommon-typography-and-punctuation-marks/

http://books.google.co.uk/books?…

Lightgraff Art (or lightgraffiti) is drawing or writing with light. It combines photography and calligraphy. It can be a live performance or recorded on video or time-lapse photographic stills. It is often used to embellish settings by highlighting or enhancing elements of the scene with colour, line, shape or script (using light).

Examples can be seen by searching online for ‘lightgraff images’.

An example of lightgraff art in Australia is by Karim Jabbari. http://www.theaustralian.com.au/arts/review/art-initiative-form-nurtures-culture-and-creativity-in-wa/news-story/db06452f0d39222bd246062a9c22e0f1

In small groups, students create lightgraff art based on a scene or setting in the novel, In the Dark Spaces. These could include

‘weapon-fire snaps and sizzles the ceiling and walls’, page 44; ‘a blast cracks the air’, page 46; bolts of light’, page 295- (rockets); and other battle scenes.

The following suggestions could stimulate or scaffold students’ ideas:

  • Light sources (such as a torch, lamp, lantern or spotlight) can be used to highlight features against a dark setting.
  • Silhouettes of characters could be juxtaposed against light-embellished settings.
  • Gunfire could be represented as light in lines or flashes (if appropriate).
  • Words could be drawn with light (possibly using sparklers or a torch). These words could represent themes from the novel such as ‘space battles’, ‘hive’, ‘protection’, ‘greed’ and ‘Crowpeople’.

A Little Piece of Australiana – Picture Book Reviews

Paying acknowledgement to our ‘great southern land’ today on Australia Day with a few true blue Aussie picture books, their dinky-di characters and beaut landscapes. There is a lot to love about this unique nation. What does Australia mean to you?

imageRow, Row, Row Your Boat, Scholastic Australia (text), Matt Shanks (illus.), Scholastic Australia, 2016.

Putting a spin on the old classic nursery rhyme, with the gorgeous integration of some of our favourite wildlife animals, is the Aussie version ofRow, Row, Row Your Boat. Charmly illustrated by Matthew Shanks, this short and sweet story takes its enthusiastic preschool readers on a river ride adventure full of excitement and surprise.

Life is certainly a dream rowing your boat gently down the serene, native-laced stream. With each stroke, we are greeted by another animal doing their characteristically natural thing in their landscape. A sleeping koala, a squeaking bandicoot, a sword-wielding piratey platypus, and a laughing kookaburra all feature in the fun rhyme. But it is the entertaining illustrations that really tell the story. Look out for the inconspicuous crocodile throughout, as well as the funny story taking place in (and out of) the boat!

Row, Row, Row Your Boat is an endearing and energetic Aussie-flavoured book that will have its audience captured from start to finish, over and over again.

imageDon’t Call Me Bear, Aaron Blabey (author, illus.), Scholastic Australia, 2016.

Here’s a little piece of Australiana that us locals all know about…right?! For poor Warren, it seems like a serious case of mistaken identity. You see, Warren is a koala, not a ‘bear’, and he goes to every length to justify himself.

True to the authentic Blabey-style, here is a sarcastic and cringe-worthy yet surreptitiously loveable rhyming tale that is full of energy and laugh-out-loud moments. Warren explains how it all started with the stupidity of Captain Cook and his pioneers claiming to have found a ‘bear’, but in fact, he is a member of the common marsupial family (see the very scientific chart). Actual bears from around the globe are examined, and when Warren thinks he’s finally broken through, it is his own Aussie counterparts who still don’t quite ‘get it’.

Don’t Call Me Bear is a colourful book of a colourful character, and through its quirkiness and craziness, could be a great opener for studies on history of The First Fleet and the biology of Australian animals. ‘Bear-iffic’ for children from age four.

imageWhy is that Emu Wearing One Red Shoe?, John Field (author and lyrics), David Legge (illus.), Scholastic Australia, 2016.

Written and performed on the bonus CD by John Field, and with digitally mastered illustrations by David Legge is the farcical performance of an emu on a mission; Why is that Emu Wearing One Red Shoe?.

Listening to the music certainly makes for a lively experience, but reading the story aloud is just as exuberant. With each rollicking verse, another group of creatures join the parade as they follow and wonder “why was that emu wearing one red shoe?”. Soon enough the media become involved, and after a bustling train ride and some questionable speculations, the answer is finally disclosed, and it’s really not as complicated as made out in this huge hullabaloo.

The textural and life-like quality of the mixed media illustrations perfectly suit the energy and movement of the fast pace and the feel that this is a live, broadcast event. Why is that Emu Wearing One Red Shoe is an action-packed comedy that will have preschoolers hopping and bouncing and jiving from head to shoe.

imageColours of Australia, Bronwyn Bancroft (author, illus.), Little Hare Books, 2016.

Colouring our sensory world with all the shades of the rainbow is the beautifully transcendening Colours of Australia.

Bronwyn Bancroft, member of the Bundjalung Nation, spoils us with her outstanding talents as she leads us through a bright, texturally and lyrically entrancing venture across the land. From white diamonds spilling across the sky, to an explosion of red sunrise and vivid dances, orange ochre shapes protruding from ancient foundations, orbs of sun light and green velvet cloaks of hills, and finally, blue fingers of sky drawing the day to an indigo close.

Bancroft brilliantly incorporates the beauty of trademark landscapes and features of Australia’s stunning earth, with her equally poetic-style narrative and mesmerising Indigenous-quality illustrations, that all literally dance off the pages. Colours of Australia; wonderfully whimsical and evocative to connect readers with our astonishing country, and to reinforce sustainability and the highest respect to the Aboriginal people and their culture.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

See Dimity‘s lists of great Australian books here and here.

Sweet Dreams, Little Ones – Picture Book Reviews

Amongst the themes of bedtime routines and playful antics are ones of sentimentality, unconditional love and guidance. Each striking in their own visual and lyrical ways, the following picture books perfectly set the tone for engaging and soothing shared reading experiences before the lights go out.

imageCounting Through the Day, Margaret Hamilton (author), Anna Pignataro (illus.), Little Hare Books, June 2016.

Here’s to making every little one count. Because this book gives us the warm fuzzies just like our own special ones do. Each number from one to millions is dedicated its own page with gorgeously combined pencil, watercolour and fabric collage illustrations. And to add to the gentle and soothing tone, a beautiful lyrical rhythm unfolds with every turn. The rhyming couplets take us through a fun and reassuring day with teddy, pets, favourite toys and loving parents and grandparents to share and protect the little girl.

Counting Through the Day is a comforting vision of a peaceful routine and the beauty of nature. It presents a seamless integration of time from morning to night, and number awareness from one to twelve and larger figures including twenty, hundreds, thousands and millions.

With immeasurable sweetness to devour, toddlers and preschoolers will lap up every precious moment shared reading this book with their loved ones.

imageI Just Couldn’t Wait to Meet You, Kate Ritchie (author), Hannah Sommerville (illus.), Penguin Random House Australia, March 2016.

From the get-go, this book brings a sentimental light and a sparkling twinkle to every mother’s eye. The endpapers are laced with precious milestones from early pregnancy scans to growing bellies and baby shower invitations, and completed with snippets of the baby’s development. Ritchie tells a poetic love story to her little one about her every thought, hope and dream that soon becomes a wonderful reality when baby enters the world. The calming watercolours in pastel yellows, greens and pinks deliver this affectionate tale as parents prepare for their bundle of joy to arrive. The illustrations exquisitely give meaning to the words, with mum’s imagination presented in delicate thought bubbles.

I Just Couldn’t Wait to Meet You is a book that both parents and their babies will treasure, enlightening bonds as they share their own loving stories of the journey into being.

imageQuick as a Wink, Fairy Pink, Lesley Gibbes (author), Sara Acton (illus.), Working Title Press, August 2016.

What better way to soothe young ones at the end of the day than with a sprinkle of mischief and a dusting of spirit from five little flutter fairies in all their lighthearted glory as they set off to bed! As Fairy Blue, Green, Gold and Red fairy-step their way from teeth brushing, bathing, dressing, and reading into fairy-dreamland, one cheeky flutter fairy is playing a sneaky hiding game around the house. Enchantingly engaging us, amongst the rollicking rhythm, with the repetitive phrase is “But someone’s playing hide and seek. Can you see her? Take a peek. Quick as a wink, find Fairy Pink!” After all the frolicsome fun, I wonder who falls asleep first?!

Clearly defined, bright colours and varied page spreads allow readers to identify each fairy and their actions. The illustrations further provide an interactive experience to complement the text with their adorably energetic line drawings and hidden details, such as locating the whereabouts of the naughty pink fairy.

Quick as a Wink, Fairy Pink is suitably the most fairy-licious read to get your little ones to hop, wriggle and flutter their way to bed every night. My three year old daughter highly recommends it!

imageNoisy Nights, Fleur McDonald (author), Annie White (illus.), New Frontier Publishing, August 2016.

It’s quite a predicament when one is unable to sleep with a terribly noisy racket outside your window! This is the case for poor Farmer Hayden. His menagerie of animals, plus a clattering train, are chirping, moo-ing, maa-ing, nickering and howling through the night. And no matter how loud he shouts, the volume is far too high to even hear him. So what’s a sleep-deprived farmer to do? Count sheep, of course!

A story of continuous laughter, and a touch of empathy, with its whimsical illustrations, Noisy Nights is loveable and entertaining. Preschoolers will certainly appreciate the silence after this read to ease them into a peaceful slumber.

imageDream Little One, Dream, Sally Morgan (author), Ambelin Kwaymullina (illus.), Viking Penguin Random House Australia, May 2016.

Vibrantly painted with line, pattern and bold colours, and told in a lyrically gentle tone, this title by much-loved Indigenous team sets such a joyous and endearing mood. A collection of popular Australian animal parents guide their babies to develop strength, skill and safety through nature’s most beautiful occurrences. Bushes bloom and roos bound, seas sigh and dolphins glide, insects buzz a story of the earth and snakes slide into the peace of a loveable land.

The visuals and the visual literacy blend flawlessly, and are both stunning to see and listen to. Dream Little One, Dream will transport preschool-aged children to another world where only the most transcendent of dreams can take flight.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

A Pair of Bear Books – Picture Book Reviews

I’ve found the perfect ‘snuggle-up-and-settle-down-for-bed’ books! My three and a half year old just adores them and although they’ve been on repeat every night, the fun surprises at the end never lose their novelty. Tuck in for a good night’s sleep with these two adorable ‘bear’ books to help with the bedtime routine.

imageWhere is Bear?, Jonathan Bentley (author, illus.), Little Hare Books, 2016.

A ginormous bear is obscured from visibility as a little boy searches around the house for his Bear. But only to the untrained eye, that is! Preschoolers will take HUGE delight in pointing out the ‘hidden’ bear that follows the seemingly-unaware boy on his mission.

With a clever integration of prepositional language, the boy looks in drawers, on the shelf, in the bathroom, on the table, under the sofa, in the car and so on. And even more cleverly, this encourages our young readers to shout out exactly where they can see the bear hiding. Continually asking ‘Where is Bear?’ combined with the bear’s concealment in the pictures makes for a hilarious, interactive reading and language experience. But wait until you reach the finale…it’ll literally have you in flabbergasting fits of disbelief!

Jonathan Bentley does an awesome job with this simple, engaging text that keeps its readers’ eyes and ears peeled at all times. The vibrant, frolicsome illustrations further enhance the enjoyment with their watercolour and pencil textures and detail that the most discerning viewers will appreciate.

Where is Bear?’ touches on themes of loyalty and friendship, but mostly appeals to children from age three because of its fun, humorous and surprising antics that so often go hand in hand with the bedtime routine. Highly recommended.

imageTake Ted Instead, Cassandra Webb (author), Amanda Francey (illus.), New Frontier Publishing, 2016.

More secret hiding places to delay the inevitable bedtime in this gorgeously funny story by author Cassandra Webb and illustrator Amanda Francey.

In Take Ted Instead’, a small boy refuses his mum’s consistent requests to go to bed. The persistent child attempts to mask his whereabouts whilst making his own demands to ‘take RED instead’ (the dog). At each page turn, he finds living and non-living things to be taken instead, each rhyming with mum’s label of ‘sleepy head’. From his cat FRED to his big brother JEDD and the elderly neighbour NED, there’s no giving in. Finally, a gentle persuasive nudge from mum convinces the boy to go with TED. But what surprises are found in the bed when they get there?!

Webb’s repetitive and humorous phrasing perfectly suits the tenacious and cheeky nature of our main character, as well as being wonderfully engaging for its young audience. Francey’s soft, colourful palette is beautifully gentle yet her joyous illustrations are an ideal accompaniment to the bubbly energy of the text.

Full of familiarity, wittiness and spirit,Take Ted Instead’ makes for a fun and relevant read aloud experience for preschoolers and adults, alike. Now you have plenty of reasons to snuggle into bed at night!

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Curious Concepts – Concept picture book reviews

Concept picture books play a huge part in shaping a young person’s perceptions. They are capable of unlocking an inquisitiveness that hopefully sticks around for life and are crucial for developing critical thinking, reasoning, and logic. However, important educational concepts need not be strictly didactic and dull as these entertaining picture books clearly display.

Garden FriendsGarden Friends by Natalie Marshall is a Touch and Feel board book, sturdy and bright in appearance in the same vein as the That’s not my… series. This one directs 0 – 3-year-olds to experience their tactile investigations within a garden setting using short verb orientated phrases – ‘Duck is quacking!’ It’s joyous and sensual and a nice shift from the usual ‘touch and feel’ concept.

The Five Mile Press March 2016

Counting Through the DayCounting Through the Day by Margaret Hamilton and Anna Pignataro escorts pre-schoolers through a typical day from sunrise, to breakfast, to visits with Nanna and finally back off to bed. Along the way, our young protagonist gently encounters many fascinating objects and situations from two sturdy feet to five broody hens and even ‘thousands of raindrops falling from the sky’. And as children are wont to do, they count each and every one of them.

Hamilton’s gently rhyming verse and affecting choice of counting objects harness a child’s every day pleasures, highlighting the world around them: their toys, meals, the weather and so on. Numbers 1 – 11 are shown numerically and in words while Pignataro’s combination of drawn, painted, and collage illustrations are simply marvellous. The end pages alone will provide hours of delight and interest.

Counting Through the Day is as much about story as it is about learning to count. I love that readers are taken past the obligatory ‘10’, and are introduced to 11, 20, hundreds and even millions, exposing young minds to a universe of infinite possibilities. Easy to grasp and absolutely beautiful to enjoy.

Little Hare Books imprint HGE 2016

For someone whose spatial awareness is not as sharp as it could be, the next two picture books are a real boon. They encourage an understanding of the relationship of objects to oneself and in ones world in a clever and entertaining way that ensures high levels of reader investment and interest.

The Shape of My HeartThe Shape of My Heart by Mark Sperring Illustrated by Alys Paterson is a board book sized banquet of colour, shapes, and rhymes; images guaranteed to captivate 0 – 5-year-olds. This is no ordinary ‘this shape is a…’ book. It expands the notion of appearance and form by depicting the most obvious shape to start with – you and me. From there, readers are shown the various shape of parts of our anatomy (eyes, mouth, feet) the environment in which they live (sun, houses) and those shapes that inhabit the world with them (birds, vehicles, creatures in the zoo) and so on. I love how the shape you can hear with (ears for instance) leads to a myriad of other shapes that make up our existence. Sounds confusing to describe but not to behold and read thanks to Paterson’s cheerful and shapely illustrations. Reminiscent of Mem Fox’s Where is the Green Sheep? in parts, The Shape of My Heart combines visual literacy, introduction of sounds, and rousing vocabulary whilst neatly implying that everything that shapes our lives fits within our hearts and you can’t get any more spatial than that. Highly recommended.

Bloomsbury for Children February 2016

What Could it BeWhat Could it Be? by Sally Fawcett is a fascinating picture book initiative combining the best bits of storytelling, creative stimulation, and subliminal learning. Displayed in complementing double page spreads, Fawcett gently introduces young readers to some well-known geometric shapes and colours. Pre-schoolers and early primary schoolers may already be loosely familiar with shapes such as circles, ovals, and even octagons. They are probably discovering the mysteries of an artist’s palette, as well but in What Could it Be?, they are challenged to delve deeper, look more closely and investigate the world of possibilities surrounding them.

With the help of, a young boy named Max, readers are prompted to answer the ‘what if’ inspired notion to think outside of the box and tap into their creative souls. Each page of story is gloriously illustrated by Fawcett who cleverly secretes dozens upon dozens of obviously hidden aspects in each scene to be discovered by roving little eyes. I say obvious because this picture book adventure serves to show that every conceivable form, colour and object in our worlds are there for us to find if we just look hard enough and perhaps use a little imagination.

Children will delight in the seek and find quality of What Could it Be?. In addition, this book has far-reaching usefulness in homes, schools, and early learning centres. I see a future for it in home schooling, too as it fosters a genuine exploration and appreciation of the world around us. At the book’s conclusion, children are invited to go one-step further and are encouraged to think, experiment, create, and share for themselves.

Unleash your child’s creativity with this one!

EK Books June 2016

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#BooksCreate

 

 

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Getting Serious about Series # 4 – Ripper Reads for Girls

Lola's Toybox Patchwork PicnicI don’t usually like to categorise reads into which gender they might appeal to better. I believe every child is individual and will find a story to fit their unique reading tastes no matter how pink the cover or how boyish the hero. To say that boys should be directed to sports orientated titles and little girls to books about bunnies is pre-historic thinking and infers we (little girls) don’t like puppy dogs’ tails and snails. Simply not true! However, there can be no denying that certain reads will attract certain readers more powerfully than others. This luscious collection of chapter books and mid-graders will undoubtedly appeal to the sweet-toothed predilections of little misses given they are choking with cuteness and gee gees and unicorns.

Lola’s Toy Box by Danny Parker Illustrated by Guy Shield

This is a perfectly placed first-time-chapter-book series for little readers just putting their A B Cs together. These books provide useful stepping-stones in Lola's Toybox On Story Seathe crossover from readers to more exciting chapter books, each with a softly delivered message and each peppered with adventure. Anyone with an animated imagination and insatiable love for their toys will adore Lola’s Toy Box series. Lola and her toy clown Buddy, chance upon a portal – an old toy box, which transports them time after time to the varied lands of The Kingdom where they experience toy-filled adventures beyond their wildest dreams.

The Patchwork Picnic is the first of this series so far. Other exciting toy-land destinations include The Plastic Palace, On the Story Sea, and The Treasure Trove. The Timberfield Talent Show is the very latest release. Wild and whimsical, just what five to seven-year-old emerging readers need.

Hardie Grant Egmont 2015 – February 2016

Pine Valley Ponies The Forbidden TrailPine Valley Ponies by Kate Welshman Illustrated by Heath McKenzie

Pint-sized people from six years of age who love ponies, have ponies, ride ponies or want to ride ponies will fall over themselves with this new pony series. McKenzie’s tummy tickling drawings  (his horse characters are darling!) ably romp alongside short, easy-to-read chapters about Maddy and her pony, Snowy and their induction into the Pine Valley Riding ranch.

It’s not all smooth cantering for Maddy however, as she attempts to fit in amongst the fancy-pantsed, equine experienced girls of her class. However, the call of adventure soon overrides difficulties and cements her love of Pine Valley Ponies The Pony Showhorse riding, as it will for those absorbed in her antics. Start with The Forbidden Trail and move onto The Runaway Foal then prepare yourself for The Pony Show.

There is much for horse-orientated kids to love here, from the bright pastel and foil covers, enticing page layouts, pony profiles, nifty horsey Q & A and loads more besides. Well recommended.

Scholastic Press October 2015 – March 2016

Ruby Wishfingers illoRuby Wishfingers by Deborah Kelly Illustrated by Leigh Hedstrom

Ruby Wishfingers is an absolute crack up of a series. I loved the first instalment, Skydancer’s Escape and can’t wait to get into Toady-ally Magic. Suitable for slightly older primary aged readers, this tantalising new series still features terrific line drawings and easy to digest chapters but it’s the humour infused story line, flavoured with more than a hint of magic that truly makes Ruby irresistible.

Ruby Wishfingers Toadlly MagicShe’s your run of the mill ordinary girl with a peculiar name who one day awakens with a weird tingling sensation in her fingertips. She soon realises it’s a force to be reckoned with and that you should be careful what you wish for.

Loaded with lovable characters, talking pocket-sized unicorns, indignant felines, jellybean rain and magic, Ruby Wishfingers books will not disappoint those who love adventure and fast zany reads. My pick of the crop.

Wombat Books March 2016

Keeper of the Crystals Runaway UnicornKeeper of the Crystals by Jess Black Illustrated by Celeste Hulme

The things you’ll notice first about this adventure fantasy series are the brilliant covers and sparkly titles. Each of this four part series about Eve and her unlikely companion, Oscar lures young readers in like fish to wriggling worms. It begins when the pair unwittingly unleash the power of the crystals after they open a forbidden wooden box in Eve’s Nan’s attic.

The initial crystal is of a small unicorn, which is a portal into a mysterious fantastical far away land, Panthor. Suggestions of environmental instability and political oppression in each of the strange new worlds Eve and Oscar are transported to resonate throughout these tales albeit all disguised with action, myth, and fantasy for the young reader.

Keeper of the Crystal Eve and the Last DragonAn attractive series that would suit readers seven years and above and those with a penchant for the surreal.

New Frontier Publishing June 2015 – March 2016

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Books with Bite – YA and MG reviews

Young Adult and Mid-grade novels are being gobbled up by kids and young adults almost faster than they can be cooked up. The exhilarating storylines and make-you-laugh-hate-cry predicaments I discover between the covers of YA and junior novels are repeatedly rewarding, and contrary to the views of some of my adult-only reading friends, capable of imparting deep satisfaction with tales of intense emotion and believable fantasy. These novels tell it like it is, with a no hold bars attitude and formidable spunk that instantly cements our dislike or admiration for the heroes within. They are quick and honest reads to invest in, which is why they are so perennially popular. Here are some you might like to eat up, if you can wrest them off your teenager’s bookshelf.

Mid-Upper Primary Reads

The Vanilla Slice KidThe Vanilla Slice Kid takes the custard-pie-in-the-face gag to a death defying new level. Chockers with slap stick humour and oozing with more pink spew than you can catch in a wheelbarrow, this midgrade novel is sure to crack a smile on the dials of 6 – 11 year-olds. Archie is a kid with envious abilities; he can shoot sweet sticky treats from the palms of his hands. Only trouble is he hates cakes and has a set of parents and one hysterically insane General bent on exploiting his super talent. As the General’s domination of the world draws closer and Archie’s own life hangs in a gooey mess of trifle and fruitcake, Archie must rapidly decide who to trust and what to eat. Deliciously good fun, Adam Wallace and Jack Wodhams know how to whet young appetites. Liberally sprinkled with wacky line drawings by Tom Gittus, The Vanilla Slice Kid is one satisfying read.

Ford Street Publishing October 2015

CrossingCrossing by Catherine Norton had me engrossed from start to finish. This softly dystopian drama is an interesting reflective exploration of the corruption and discord that can develop in human society no matter how long we spend on this planet and an interesting suggestion that history is ever capable of repeating itself. Echoes of WWII communistic control reverberate throughout with the most obvious similarity being the Wall, which separates 12 year-old Cara’s reality from a future she has never dared think about before let alone attempt to strive for. Norton’s gripping narrative echoes with prophetic what ifs, encourages individualism, and reminds us to never ‘let them wall your mind.’

Omnibus Books May 2014

Upper Primary – 14+ Reads

Talk UnderwaterTalk Under Water by Kathryn Lomer is a breezy light-hearted read about a couple of teenagers facing not so breezy light-hearted experiences. Seems talking under water is easier than you think (especially if you are deaf), but talking above it about your innermost desires and trepidations is not quite as smooth sailing.  Life in the teenage world can be ‘as simple and as complicated as that’ accordingly to Will who is wrest from his mainland home to Tasmania on the whim of his disillusioned divorced dad. When he meets Summer, his world begins to brighten, however her reluctance to share her deafness with him for fear of thwarting their budding relationship creates confusion and misunderstanding deeper than the Bass Strait. Written in an expository and introspective style, Talk Under Water is a beautiful observation of being young and being deaf, literally giving diversity a face and voice.

UQP August 2015

OneOne by Sarah Crossan is searingly beautiful. I’m almost lost for words. Poignant, painful and playful, Crossan invites us to spend the end of summer and beyond with conjoined twins, Tippi and Grace. It’s an experience you are not likely to forget in a hurry. Explicit yet elegant, this verse novel has the power to move you effortlessly from mirth to heartbreak with a solitary syllable. Written with sensitivity and extraordinary candour, One is one of the more ‘grown up’ verse novels I’ve read yet possesses all the succinct expressive precision I’ve come to expect and enjoy of them. Crossan examines the one question: what does it mean to want and have a soul mate? Is the battle for identity and dignity worth the loss of sisterhood love? Unequivocally compelling and wrenching and highly recommended.

Bloomsbury Children’s September 2015

YA – New Adult Reads

The FlywheelFurther embracing the notion of diversity is Erin Gough’s *The Flywheel. This upper high school read is LOL funny and tummy turning cringe-worthy (Not because of the writing – Gough’s narrative is prose perfect. More because of the excruciatingly embarrassing and difficult situations 17 year-old Delilah must struggle her way through.)       I had not expected The Flywheel to delve head first into the impenetrable tangles of unwanted responsibility, sexual identity, social expectations and love with such wild abandon nor so entertainingly. Thoroughly absorbing characters, snappy wordplay and enough fraught situations coupled with realistic downers kept me guessing how life was ever going to pan out for Dancing Queen Del. The Flywheel (café) is the type of place I’d like to return to. Definitely worth a visit.

Hardie Grant Egmont February 2015

The Rest of Us Just Live HereIt is near impossible to put into words just how ingenious Patrick Ness’s The Rest of Us Just Live Here is. Ness writes with such acerbic wit and abandon in such an incredibly controlled, dagger-precise way, it actually becomes a sheer joy to be caught in the swirling angst of so many pre-grad teenagers. This is the penultimate tale of the underdog finessed with consummate care and at times an irreverence you cannot help but admire. Ness’s mixed posse of Unchosen Ones led by Mr McOrdinary, Mikey barely have to whisper for attention yet are heard with stinging clarity. They banally attempt to get on with their lives and graduate however, the Chosen Ones’ inability to deal with the Big Bad continually claims their attention. Explosively wicked, you must experience this (Ness) for yourself.

Walker Books August 2015

*You’ll note a fair whack of these terrific reads are by Aussie authors and for some, this is their first novel, made possible by such incentives as The Ampersand Project. When you purchase and read an Aussie title, you are not only supporting the further creation of more awesome stories but you are in no small way ensuring the survival of a distinctly unique and vital Australian industry. Read all about Boomerang Books commitment to #ByAustralianBuyAustralian here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Aussies – We salute! Reads to enjoy around the barbie

As the mercury level rises and your pool swells with screaming kids, it might be time to reach out for a reason to remember why you love summer, and kids, and Australia! Here is a real mixed swag of reads full of the flavour of Australia Day.

Australians Let Us B B Q!Australian’s Let Us Barbecue! I featured this one just before Christmas but it’s still worth popping on the bonus CD by Colin Buchanan and Greg Champion for that extra dollop of Oz. Along with the iconic illustrations of, Glen Singleton, every bit of Aussie swank and summer backyard tradition have been merged into the tune of our Australian National Anthem. Throw your thongs in the air and enjoy the rousing recital and sing-along. It’s not just all about burnt black snags on the barbie. The lads take us over rugged mountain ranges, across scorching desert plains, around the Rock, through the Whitsundays and back again. I am on that sailboat and in that Kombi thanks to Singleton’s dynamite depictions. An exemplary example of an Aussie summertime that must be experienced by everyone. Quintessentially, unashamedly Aussie.

Scholastic Australia November 2015

The Little Book of Australian Big ThingsNow that everyone’s levels of Aussie-rama are peaking higher than the midday sun, grab The Little Book of Australia’s Big Things by Samone Bos and Alice Oehr. This nifty little hard back features an amazing assortment of Australia’s BIG things from bananas, lobsters and trout to guitars and bushrangers. Fun, informative, and loaded with cheek and colour, this guided-tour-around-Australia-collection has a charming retro feel with dozens of activities, recipes, and pop-out pages for little ones to Big thingscraft their own big things. The dust jacket forms part of the fun too, folding out into a big Australian panoramic scene. Too true! It’s enough to make me want to jump in the Kombi again and track these all down for the heck of it. Highly recommended.

Chirpy Bird imprint of Hardie Grant Egmont 2015

Speaking Bad Nedof bushrangers, check out a really bad story by Dean Lahn. Actually, his picture book, Bad Ned isn’t all that bad – that’s just the subtitle. The bad face, explosively bold text and cartoon-esque styled illustrations are comically quirky and a pleasing parody of a little boy’s imaginative day. Bad boy Ned models himself on the notorious bushranger, Ned Kelly but at the end of the day, his naughtiness becomes unstuck, literally. More entertaining than expected however the sudden ending may require explanation for young readers not familiar with our bush-rangering lore.

Omnibus Books imprint of Scholastic May 2015

ABC DreamingIndigenous author, Warren Brim hails from Far North Queensland, as do I, so it was a marvellous treat experiencing ABC Dreaming. Unlike some learn-the-alphabet books, ABC Dreaming depicts a unique array of Aussie (rainforest) characters, fruits, and flora. The stunning x-ray line, dot artwork paints each subject against a vibrant background that best accentuates its unique features. From Red-eyed green tree frogs, mozzies and nutmeg pigeons to yabbies and xanthorrhoeas (blackboys or grasstrees), this is a beautiful and stimulating way for little Aussies to learn their ABCs.

Magabala Books November 2015

An English Year front cover (800x770)But of course, little Aussies take on all shapes and forms. If you’d like to spend Aussie day appreciating your family’s diversity and background or the culture of others who make up our great society, cast an eye over Tania McCartney’s and Tina Snerling’s latest additions to their Twelve Months in the Life of Kids series. An English Year and A Scottish Year are as good as actually being there. I encourage you to visit this awesome series of picture books that allows Aussie kids better beautiful contact with kids outside their ‘norm’ of experience. Lavishly illustrated, meticulously thought out and superbly accurate, An English Year invites you to experience the English isle, its inhabitants, and rituals without the need of a passport. Better than a bacon buttie. Exploring the highlands and lowlands of Scotland is just as fun as well. You’ll be visiting this one time and time again if nothing more than to practice pronouncing the Celtic mouthfuls of place names, traditional fare and annual events.

A Scottish Year front cover (800x770)Fun and informative. Breezy yet substantial. I have to say, I’m a little bit in love with this series. Potentially so useful in the classroom and home. Of course, if it’s Aussie flavour you’re after, An Aussie Year is the non-fiction picture book choice.

EK Books imprint of Exisle Publishing September 2015

The Big Book of Australian History 2I embrace the digital dexterity of our young generation however confess that I sometimes get a lot more joy from thumbing over pages of facts and images rather than endlessly scrolling and clicking. There’s something so organically satisfying and enriching reading an old tome style encyclopaedia. Renowned history and science writer, Peter Macinnis has created a sensational collection of historic events for primary and high school students in, The Big Book of Australian History that I am delighted to thumb through.

From the time Gondwana broke up to when strangers arrived in the 1600s to our present day milestone-makers, this is a truly superlative treasure trove of highlights, did-you-knows, ancient discoveries and of course stunning images, photographs and maps. As stated by the National Library of Australia, The Big Book of Australian History (shortly to be followed by The Big Book of Indigenous History) ‘is a book to dip into and savour’, an ‘enthusiastic retelling of Australia’s story that is infectious’. Informative text is presented in a non-over whelming way and broken up into logical chapter chunks flowing chronologically from the Dreamtime to modern day, finally entreating readers with the proposition that they are tomorrow’s history makers. Bloody marvellous, if you’ll pardon my Aussie vernacular. But then of course, it is time to salute our Aussieness!

National Library Australia May 2015

Enjoy and Happy Australia Day!

 

 

 

 

 

 
 

 

 

Freya Blackwood’s Books Make the Perfect Gift

It’s true. You can’t deny it. Freya Blackwood‘s art is so exquisite that whether it’s for a Christmas or birthday gift, or a ‘just because I want it’ gift, every household should own a piece of her talent. And of course, coupling with superb artists of writing makes purchasing decisions all that much easier. Two of the many books on this year’s Kids’ Reading Guide list are ‘The Cleo Stories: A Friend and a Pet’ and ‘Perfect’, both illustrated by Freya Blackwood.  

imageThe collaboration between Freya Blackwood and Libby Gleeson continuously impresses, with previous winning titles including ‘Clancy and Millie and the Very Fine House’, ‘Banjo and Ruby Red’ and ‘Amy and Louis’. Also on the awards list is ‘The Cleo Stories: The Necklace and the Present’ (review) with its success for Younger Readers in the 2015 Children’s Book Council Awards. Following on with another beauty is the second in the series; ‘The Cleo Stories: A Friend and a Pet’.  

Text and illustrations once again work harmoniously, beautifully connecting emotion, energy, playfulness and a sense of familiarity and everyday life. The colourful, pencil sketches throughout this hardback chapter book are delightfully engaging and appealing to its intended audience; perfectly relatable as a read-alone or read-aloud experience.  

In A Friend, Cleo has nothing to do on a rainy day, and cleaning her room just doesn’t appeal. But her parents’ patience with her food-splattering, mascara-splashing ways are wearing thin. Cleo is a fun-loving, creative and resourceful little girl with a big imagination. How will she overcome her boredom? In A Pet, Cleo’s friend Nick, and the rest of her class (almost) have a pet. But not Cleo, and she is desperate to have one. When her parents refuse Cleo is disappointed, but her inquisitive and rational nature leads to a win-win solution for all.  

imageThe authenticity of the conversations and actions in the stories effectively translate through Freya’s illustrations. When Peanuts the puppy pees on Cleo’s dress, you can see that real shift from gentle comforting to true frustration (and the puppy’s confusion), all drawn with spot-on body language and perfect line placement. Genius!

‘A Friend and a Pet’ is a book packed with genuinely heartfelt, and humorous moments, encouraging readers from age six to explore their own imaginative and creative sides, just like the loveable Cleo.  

Allen & Unwin 2015.  

image‘Perfect’, written by Danny Parker, explores a wonderfully carefree Summer day for three little children and their cat. This picture book, aimed at the early childhood age group, oozes beauty and tranquility, radiance and tenderness.  

With Danny Parker‘s expressive, poetic verse, accompanied by Freya Blackwood‘s soothing, soft shades of blues and yellows, you can’t help but feel a sense of transcendence wash over you with each page turn. Sunshine and baking, construction and balancing, fresh air and cool shade, windy skies and ‘one great big day’. We are taken on this joyous path as the children wander and explore the beautiful seaside beside their lush green country town, and then settle for a snuggle and a night-time dream.  

imageI adore Freya’s magical pencil and acrylic illustrations that enlighten all the senses, and her beautiful way of capturing light and movement through sequences, texture, depth and perspective.

A ‘Perfect’ resemblance of the spirit of childhood, the warmth of togetherness and the refreshment of a cool breeze on a balmy Summer’s day.    

Little Hare Books 2015.

Far out Fathers – Picture books to share with Dad

I bet your dad is not like other dads. It might be nice to remember this on Father’s Day – yes it’s just around the corner, but with fab picture books like these celebrating the quirks and qualities of fatherhood available now, why wait.

My Amazing Dad My Amazing Dad by the very amazing Ezekiel Kwaymullina and Tom Jellett team is a robustly illustrated, no nonsense close –up look at all of the pluses and minuses that are the sum total of fathers everywhere. And by ‘no nonsense’, I mean, hilarious. This picture book is rather like a collective expose of truths. Kwaymullina might well have spied on my own husband to gain these insights; the narrative rings so true!

For two children, a boy and a girl, their dad is not the best plumber, baker or time keep in the world but he can turn everyday normal into extraordinary exciting, simply by being himself and loving them; a trait unique to dads around the world. You’ll be laughing and nodding in agreement all the way to the end.

Little Hare Books – imprint of HE 2015

Time for Bed DaddyTime for Bed, Daddy by author illustrator Dave (Cartoon Dave) Hackett, is not as benign a bedtime story as the title suggests. For one, Daddy is behaving like petulant child and is painfully reluctant to perform the designated bed-time rituals required of him; having a bath, brushing teeth, changing into his jarmies and so on. It’s enough to test the patience of a saint let alone one little girl determined to get the job done.

Hackett’s turnaround tale and brilliant cartoon-esque illustrations are seriously kid friendly and provide plenty of comic spoof for parents as well. A rip-roaring read creatively flipping the cajoling and convincing routine that takes place at bedtime. Good to whip out when things are not quite going your way – or your child’s way! Pure enjoyment!

UQP August 2015

Fearless with DadDads can make you feel invincible. It’s possibly the best gift they pass onto their offspring. Fearless with Dad by Cori Brooks and Giuseppe Poli, is a beautiful affirmation of this notion.

A little boy’s world abounds with a strong sense of optimism and adventure based on the can-do relationship he shares with his father. Together they ‘travel to the moon and back’, ‘can do anything and be anything’ simply because of their instilled shared belief in themselves.

Poli’s illustrations are as stirringly positive as the evocative text. I was especially struck by the contrasting balance between pages with lots of white space denoting realisation and those of full glorious colour depicting actualisation of all the boy’s wondrous feats.

Fearless with Dad is a picture book about self-awareness, resilience, and endless possibilities with love at its core.

New Frontier Publishing July 2015

The very Noisy BearNot all dads are space heroes or saints, however. In fact, some can be downright cranky – like a bear. If you know one like this, why not offer him this little bit of fun, or perhaps slip it under his bedroom door on Father’s Day then run like crazy.

Nick Bland’s Bear is back, this time as The Very Noisy Bear. His old mates Moose, Zebra, Lion and Sheep and their rather loud jungle music, prematurely awaken bear one day. Some fathers will be familiar with this experience. Rather than risk raising Bear’s ire, they invite him to join them. Bear swaps his pillow for drums, then guitar, then the trumpet but playing instruments with any aplomb is not really Bear’s forte. The band mates decide to capitalise on Bear’s ‘awfully strong lungs’ in order for him to save face and them their sanity.

Perfect for reading aloud and sharing with sensitively souled, outwardly vexed fathers searching for their true inner voices.

Scholastic Press July 2015

My Pop is a PirateAnd just because nannas and dads shouldn’t have all the fun, make way for the laugh-out-loud second picture book by Damon Young and Peter Carnavas, My Pop is a Pirate.

As left of field as Young’s former exploration of grandparenthood, My Nanna is a Ninja; Pirate Pop celebrates a little girl’s relationship with her grandfather and his swash-buckling standout differences from other pops.

He may be peg-legged, one-eye and prone to shark attacks but he shares the same love and devotion for his granddaughter as any other pop.

Carnavas’s pop portrayals are sensationally silly; echoing the refreshing absurdity of Young’s playful rhyming text.

Ninja Nanna even makes a furtive cameo appearance. Rollicking good fun and a perfect gift to get grandad grinning.

UQP March 2015Cranky Bear

Happy Father’s Day dads!

Cartoon Dave and Cori Brooke will be launching their books this month at Where the Wild Things Are in Brisbane. For info, dates and bookings visit their site.

 

 

 

‘Perfect’: Freya Blackwood and Danny Parker

ParachuteYesterday I was fortunate to hear about upcoming releases from Hardie Grant Egmont at their roadshow. Kate Brown, marketing manager, opened by informing us that there has been an 81.58% growth in the children’s book market since 2003. When comparing this with the 8.84% growth in adult fiction and 6.55% decline in adult non-fiction, the importance of children’s books is obvious.

One of the highlights of the event was hearing children’s publisher Margrete Lamond interview Freya Blackwood and Danny Parker about their first picture book collaboration, Perfect (from the Little Hare imprint). Even though it won’t be available until the end of September it did sound ‘perfect’, relaying a simple, idyllic outdoors childhood.

Both these creators already have a strong body of work behind them. Danny’s is not as extensive as Freya’s but includes one of my favourite picture books, Parachute, which was sublimely illustrated by Matt Ottley, and Tree, also illustrated by Ottley. Parachute was CBCA shortlisted last year.

Maudie and BearFreya Blackwood is one of my absolute favourite illustrators. She created the inimitable design, illustrations and print fragment collage in The Treasure Box, written by Margaret Wild, which was shortlisted in the Qld Literary Awards and CBCA. She has also collaborated with Libby Gleeson in a number of titles, including Banjo and Ruby Red and Look, a Book! One of my other personal favourites is Maudie and Bear, written by Jan Ormerod, where Freya experimented brilliantly with panels as doorways. This won the CBCA early childhood award.

Little Hare has a history of excellent books, including The Swap by Jan Ormerod and Andrew Joyner and the Audrey of the Outback junior novels, written by Christine Harris, illustrated by Ann James.Audrey

Danny also spoke about his upcoming series called Lola’s Toy Box. It wasn’t just Danny’s entertaining talk or his juggling that grabbed my attention. This series looks very special. It’s about a human girl whose problems and issues are addressed when she goes inside the toy box and interacts with the forgotten toys in different scenarios. Danny uses intertextuality from We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, Where the Wild Things Are and other well-known books. Realism bookends fantasy in his plots.

Debut author, Zanni Louise spoke about her upcoming picture book Too Busy Sleeping. This is illustrated by Anna Pignatoro.  Fascinatingly, Zanni was discovered through her blog.

Another debut author, Patrick Guest, was inspired by his son’s battle with terminal illness to write That’s What Wings Are For. It looks like another special title from Little Hare.

And one of my favourite YA authors, Melissa Keil, is published by Hardie Grant Egmont. Seek out Life in Outer Space and The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl.

Banjo

Review – A House of Her Own

A House of Her OwnFive something-year-olds can be delightfully brutal and unsparing with their observations and subsequent proclamations on life. Audrey is one such five year-old. She may be younger or slightly older; but one thing’s for certain, she does look bigger than she did yesterday, which is why she announces to her father that, ‘your house is getting too small for me’. What Audrey needs is a house of her own.

A House of Her Own is the latest collaboration between the relatively new picture book pairing of Jenny Hughes and Jonathan Bentley. It’s a partnership that works a treat, gently examining the taste for independence pre-schoolers begin to develop as they become more self-aware.

A House Illo 2Audrey is a young lady with specific tastes however so finding the perfect location to build her dream dwelling takes some time. Eventually she reasons that the tallest tree in the garden is the only site that satisfies her daily ‘growing bigger’ dilemma and instructs Dad to commence construction.

Again, Audrey’s exacting requirements take some time for Dad to fulfil, but with infinite good patience, he builds her a ‘place to play, with a bath tub for snorkelling’ and ‘a blue bed, to keep secrets underneath’; features that would please the most discerning home renovator.

It isn’t until Dad packs up for the night, leaving Audrey to fend for herself in her new abode, that doubt begins to seep in, causing Audrey to question her rash quest for independence. Dad is delightfully indifferent to her growing concerns until he suggests a place she’ll feel safe and warm in, a place where she is always welcome, no matter how much bigger she becomes.

Jenny HughesAs a parent, A House of Her Own made me grin with intuitive understanding and compassion. I mean, who doesn’t want a tree house of their own. Jenny Hughes weaves typical pre-schooler indignity with humorous clarity into a tale singing with emotional insight and warmth. It’s The Block meets Play School, with characters better defined and more recognisable than found in some older-audience aimed works of fiction.Jonathan Bentley

Hughes’ delicate treatment of a comfortably repeating narrative enables the tender relationship of the occasionally irascible Audrey and her single-parenting father to really shine.

Jonathon Bentley’s watercolour and pencilled illustrations lend more than a note of whimsy to the story line. There’s a sunny backyard openness that filters from each page deep into your (childhood) heart. Each illustration explores every perspective and angle of Audrey’s project and emotional quandary, with detailed sensitivity that lures your eye to the page and keeps it there.

A House of Her Own Illo spread A House of Her Own is an anytime story that begs to be read again and again – at least my young miss thought so. It highlights the realisation that fanciful desires don’t always match with a longing for security, but also reaffirms that, making a stance in life need not isolate you from others or those who love you, something many teenagers would do well to accept. A beautiful tale brimming with affection, perfect for anyone with lofty dreams and sky-high expectations.

Little Hare Books imprint of Hardie Grant Egmont September 2014

Doodles and Drafts – How to Get to Rio with Julie Fison

The choices kids are offered in life are often not worth writing about, at least not in their books. ‘Eat your brussel sprouts or go to bed hungry.’ Hardly welcome decision making. Yet understanding action and consequence is vital for building character, strengthening confidence and learning that ‘choice, not chance, determines ones future. Opportunities might come our way by chance, but it’s what we choose to do with them that is important,’ so believes author, Julie Fison.Julie Fison

This sentiment is the crux of a new series of choose-your-own-adventure books providing tween-aged girls with the heady liberation of ‘choice’. I remember books like these from my youth; the thrill of remaining within the book for up to eight stories and the omnipotent joy of choosing my own endings. Happily, they are making a powerful resurgence. This contemporary series is aimed selectively for girls aged 10 – 14 who are farewelling simple chapter books in favour of more complicated life themes about boys, crushes, and friendships.

Today we welcome versatile writer, Julie Fison to the draft table to uncover more about her and her newest release from the Choose Your Own Ever After series, How to Get to Rio.

How to get to Rio from coverKitty MacLean is crushing hopelessly on possibly the cutest boy in the world, Rio Sanchez. She is torn between camping with her besties or pursuing a friendship with popular-girl Persephone at a swanky beachside resort. What she decides to do and whether she ever manages to link up with Rio is all up to the reader!

This story bore all the buzz of a pick-your-own-path book that I expected (and previously enjoyed), but with more modern girlie-smartphone threads woven through it. I especially appreciated the descriptive arrows at the bottom of each page reminding readers which path they are currently following. Without these, I’m not sure where I would have ended up with Kitty! Let’s see how Julie managed it.

Q. Who is Julie Fison? Describe your writerly-self.

I am the author of nine books for children and young adults. These include the Hazard River series – fast-paced adventure stories with an environmental twist, two titles in the Smitten series for teens, and How To Get To Rio – part of the new Choose Your Own Ever After series. I also write travel and parenting stories and offer copious amounts of unsolicited advice to my two teenage sons.

Q. What is the most appealing aspect about writing for children for you?

Blood Money coverI started writing fiction for my own children. We were on holidays on the Noosa River and they teamed up with friends and spent their time exploring sandbanks, dodging stingrays, building bush camps and avoiding snakes. I turned their adventures into the Hazard River series. My sons loved the stories – probably because they were in them! It was very rewarding to have the boys involved in the writing process. They didn’t just inspire me; they also helped with the editing and gave me encouragement along the way. I still borrow snippets of their lives for my stories and value their editorial input.

Q. You’ve covered a variety of genres in kids’ writing. Which one (if any) did you least enjoy writing? Why?

!cid_14F12706-950E-49D5-938C-C08D95DED070I really enjoy the variety of writing for different age groups. A 10,000-word adventure story for 10 year olds, like Shark Frenzy (Hazard River series), and a 50,000-word young adult romance like Tall, Dark and Distant, are very different projects – in terms of plotting, character development, voice and themes. But there is definitely a common thread in my work. They are all essentially a fun read. The characters face danger, but the stories ultimately all end happily. Holiday adventures feature heavily in my stories, and there is a boat scene in virtually everything I write. I spent a lot of time on boats when I was a girl, so they just seem to be an integral part of a story to me.

Q. Do you have any favourites from the titles you’ve written, if so which ones?

That’s a tough question. I like them all for different reasons. But if I had to choose, I’d say Blood Money from the Hazard River series, the young adult romance, Lust and Found, and How To Get To Rio from the Choose Your Own Ever After series.

Blood Money is about a gang of kids who discover a bag of money in the mangroves at Hazard River and have to decide what to do with the cash – leave it where it is, keep it, or take it to the police. I particularly like this one because it’s a fun adventure and a great moral dilemma for the characters. It was inspired by a story I spotted in the newspaper. Two boys found a bag of money while fishing in a quiet creek in northern NSW. They handed the money to the police and when no one claimed it, they got to keep it! When I talk to students about this story the room always goes crazy with excitement. It’s a story that really engages kids.

Lust and Found is another one of my favourites. It’s the story of a uni student, who goes on a physical and personal journey as she travels through Cambodia looking for her lost brother. Sienna is a bit of a princess, and can’t stand Cambodia when she first arrives. But she warms to the place as she explores it with her brother’s flatmate, the maddeningly cute Guillaume. I had a lot of fun writing the story. Sienna’s personality meant there was plenty of scope for tantrums, misadventure and transformation.

My other favourite has to be my newest story, How To Get To Rio. I love the whole premise of this pick-a-path series – that every decision has consequences, and that choice not chance determines our future. In this story, Kitty’s first choice is between going camping with her best friends or going to a beach resort with popular-girl Persephone. Kitty is really torn and I would be too!

Q. Choose Your Own Ever After books have a Ctrl Z / Reset quality about them. Do you think this adds to their likeability or befuddles readers? How does the format enhance the story and characters?

I think kids will love having the chance to make choices throughout the story. It definitely adds to the books’ appeal. I often read a story and think – I’m not sure I would have done that. In the Choose Your Own Ever After series, the reader gets to decide every time there’s an important decision to be made.

Q. Did you find writing Rio, more difficult than writing a straightforward, beginning to ending story?

How To Get To Rio definitely had its challenges. I am not a great planner, but I spent a lot of time working on the pathways and endings with my editor, before I got started on this story. I was concerned that I wasn’t going to be able to come up with enough different threads to offer the reader genuine choices. But once I got writing, the characters took over (as they always do). Pathways evolved, choices emerged and the story came together.

Q. Discuss your approach and process used when writing a-choose-your-own-path adventure.

The key to writing a choose-your-own-path story is getting the set-up chapters right. The threads for all of the pathways start from here. That means the characters have to be established very early – their motivations and the potential for conflict have to be revealed right from the beginning. It’s what I would try to do in any story, but the challenge in How To Get To Rio was to get the threads of seven different stories into the opening chapter! From there I wrote the pathways as I would read them – taking one thread all the way to the end and then going back to the last choice and writing another ending. As there are a series of choices to be made throughout the book, I kept going back to the previous choice and following that to its conclusion. (It was actually easier to write than to explain!) There was a big advantage to writing this style of book. When I got stuck on one storyline, I just moved on to another one.

Q. What’s on the draft table for Julie?

I am working on another book in the Choose Your Own Ever After series that comes out in July. In The Call of The Wild, the main character, nature-loving Phoebe has to choose between going to a party with her best friends or helping at a save-the-orang-utan fundraiser. I am very concerned about the plight of orang-utans in the wild, so that story is close to my heart.

Counterfeit LoveThe other story on my desk is a young adult novel – Counterfeit Love. Lucy Yang is an ambitious television reporter, who gets more than she bargains for as she hunts down a big story in Hong Kong. That book comes out in July, too.

I have a head full of ideas for other stories all fighting for attention, including a travel memoir. But that’s something for the future when I have more time to travel!

Just for fun Q. If you could Ctrl Z one thing in your writing career thus far, what would it be?

I wish I had started writing fiction earlier. I had no idea how much I would enjoy it. On the other hand, I don’t produce my best work when I try to force a story. So, I am glad I had that holiday on the Noosa River when I did, otherwise I might still be wondering if I should write a book!

Thank you for having me, Dimity. I look forward to visiting again soon.

Always a pleasure Julie! Stick around and help us trek down more interesting facts on Rio.

Hardie Grant Egmont Books April 2014

Follow Julie’s Blog Tour on How to Get to Rio, here.

Book tour details:

1 April: Sherryl Caulfield http://www.sherrylcaulfield.com/

9 April: Kids’ Book Review http://www.kids-bookreview.com/

15 April: DeeScribewriting http://deescribewriting.wordpress.com/

23 April: Cereal Readers http://www.cerealreaders.blogspot.com.au/

28 April: Boomerang Blog with Dimity Powell

Bug in a Book http://buginabook.org/

Buzz Words http://www.buzzwordsmagazine.com/

The Book Chook http://www.thebookchook.com/

 

Review – The Emu That Laid the Golden Egg

lamingtonsAs I smack down some lamingtons over the Straya Day long weekend, I am reminded of how my first encounter with half of the Aussie Coat of Arms filled me with unaccountable terror. A bristling periscopic neck thrust its way deep into our car’s interior in search of edible morsels as I shrank deep into the rear seat. Being young and unacquainted with the ways our largest flightless bird, I convinced myself their diet must include the tender noses of young innocents. Thankfully I was wrong. And thankfully, the talented team who brought us Town Possum, Outback Possum, Yvonne Morrison and Heath McKenzie, have created a version of Aesop’s well-known fable, The Goose That Laid the Golden Eggs, entertaining enough to salve my terrifying first impression of – the emu.Emu Gold 4

But are all emus as undiscerning and bold enough to lunge for any old scrap? Apparently not, for Emma’s taste requires greater stimulation than the mere leftovers the rest of her flock dines on. Her insatiable appetite leads her far from home until exhausted and starving; she gorges on what she mistakes for kernels of corn. You’d think laying a golden egg would stem your starvation somewhat but it does little to abate her hunger and she soon abandons the glimmering egg.

Enter stage right, the baddies; two rotten scoundrels, keen on stealing whatever they can get their grubby little, pink paws on. Before long, Emma is trapped by their devious plot to become the richest possums this side of the goldfields. Their crafty plan soon unravels thanks to Emma’s gluttony and a certain black beetle. Jammy Emma escapes to reunite with her flock and the realisation that greed gains nothing, and leftovers taste far better than, ‘brass, glass and gold!’ (Which I hasten to point out; is why it is paramount to keep your windows up when driving through wild life reserves featuring roving emus. Tourists confined in cars are nearly always a better option for them than running down bugs.)

This charismatic picture book portraits our oft times misunderstood emu as a hugely likeable misfit who is just after a good feed. I adore Morrison’s trade-mark lilting verse, and really relish a picture book which dares to include vibrant snappy vocabulary; vital for enabling young children to strengthen their literacy muscle. Unforced, clever and chock-full of interesting and evocative words and images, the swaying rhyme is a delight to read out loud.

McKenzie’s bold illustrations bounce off the page with as much zeal and fervour as a hungry emu bounding towards a car full of tourists with an open bag of CCs. Brilliant and fun.Emus

I still harbour one or two reservations about emus. Hard not to when they stalk up close and stare you down with those Delphic, ember-coloured eyes. But I have absolutely no reservations in recommending The Emu That Laid the Golden Egg to anyone who loves a true-blue Aussie yarn, iconic Aussie characters and the odd blowfly or two.

Oi! Oi! Oi!

Published by Little Hare Books 2012

 

Review – Where is Fred?

Fred may be a snowy white fuzzball of a caterpillar but he’s also a master of disguise. When Gerald the Crow gets a little peckish, he’s forced to resort to a series of giggle-inducing, highly camouflaged antics, to save his fuzzy hide.

First it’s the necklace of a stylish passerby. Then it’s the busy white eyebrows of a man on a park bench. Then it’s the princess-like headband of a tea-party hosting girl. And what about the moustachey fuzz on the upper lip of the man selling helium balloons?

Fred certainly knows how to keep Gerald guessing, and what’s even more priceless than his super-creative hiding places, is the look on Gerald’s face as he peers intently at Fred-in-disguise, musing to himself about how extremely familiar these moustaches and necklaces and eyebrows appear.

I’m absolutely loving Ali Pye’s eye-boggling illustrations in Where is Fred? They remarkably skirt the divide between pastel and bright, and her placement of images, including occasional cartoon-strip style layouts, make this book a visual feast.

Creative typography beautifully highlights a somewhat higher-than-average amount of text, that nonetheless flows beautifully and is pocked with enormously entertaining dry wit and lolloping dialogue that’s an absolute pleasure to read.

Great fun for both kids and adults.

Where is Fred? is published by Hardie Grant Egmont.

National Year of Reading – Publisher Profile – Hardie Grant Egmont

KBC warmly welcomes publicist Jennifer Kean with this insight into the world of Hardie Grant Egmont. We hope you enjoy this peek into the world of the people who make the books.

What kind of books do you publish? At Hardie Grant Egmont (HGE) we publish a variety books – beautiful picture books, popular series to engage reluctant readers, fabulous middle-grade and YA fiction – all aimed at capturing the readers imagination.

We publish best-selling and recognised series that include Zac Power, Go Girl and Billie B. Brown. And our YA list is just as strong, with The Phoenix Files series by Chris Morphew and the Gone series by Michael Grant, continuing to grow their fan base of students and teachers alike with each subsequent release.

Through our Little Hare imprint, we also publish a mix of literary and award-winning picture books by some of Australia’s most respected and loved talents. As well as this, we market, sell and distribute the iconic Egmont UK list which features best-loved authors such as Enid Blyton, A.A. Milne and Michael Morpurgo as well as well-known brands like Thomas & Friends, Miffy and Bob the Builder.

What do you love most about your work? I love that there is variety in my role, particularly because of the way our company is structured. I am working across a variety of titles that are both local and UK originated releases, so the publicity requirements for these books and their authors and illustrators differ greatly. I get to work with a variety of media – newspapers, magazines, teacher and librarian journals, industry publications, as well as TV/radio and bloggers – to get review coverage, media coverage and interviews.

I have also been fortunate to make contacts at many bookstores, schools and libraries as well as a number of writing festival committees and publishing industry groups to organise book launches, book signing events and author/illustrator appearances.

I also love the accompanying authors on tour or to instore events where I also get to meet our audience first hand. It’s so great to see the fans reaction (regardless of their age) when they get to meet their favourite author in person. I can relate because I still get that same buzz when I meet a favourite author even as an adult.

What is the hardest thing about promoting books? I guess one of the most frustrating things, especially when promoting children’s picture books, is that they can often be hard to secure review coverage for. Newspapers, for example, don’t always have a designated children’s review section or if they do it is tiny, so terrific avenues such as Kids Book Capers are a godsend.

2012 is The National Year of Reading. Why do you think reading is important for both children and adults? Introducing children to reading at a young age is only going to help them when they are adults. There are practical reasons why reading is important. For example, learning to read as a child will help with tasks such as reading a footy fixture or computer game instructions. Such practical uses also apply when you’re an adult, reading a recipe or flight and travel information. We don’t realise how much we do read every day, and not just books.

Then there is the fun side of reading actual stories. A child who reads develops imagination and I believe this a wonderful thing that stays with you into adulthood. Reading as an adult also provides a wonderful escapism from our busy world. And an adult parent reading to their child is something that both should be able to enjoy together.

Where do you see the children’s book market in five years’ time? Firstly, I think there will always be books, particularly for children. I don’t think they will ever be completely replaced, perhaps only enhanced with technology. I hope kids in five years will still want to collect and display books on their bookcases in their bedrooms, but that they will also be able to appreciate being able to take their entire bookcase with them on an iPad on long road trips.

What is your current submissions process for authors and illustrators? We have submission guidelines on our website www.hardiegrantegmont.com.au

What were some of your favourite HGE book titles from 2011? It’s hard for me to go passed Cat Patrick’s debut YA novel, Forgotten. The whole office fell in love with this manuscript when we read it two years earlier, so when we won the Australian and New Zealand rights to publish it, we couldn’t wait! So, it was a long time coming, but the publicity for this book was fun to do and the book sold really well for us.

The July 2011 release of Bronwyn Bancroft’s Kangaroo and Crocodile was another highlight for me. The main reason being that so much work went into organising the launch with Her Excellency, The Governor General’s office that I was so pleased when it all went off without a hitch!

And of course, Billie B Brown was another big series for us in 2011 with each new release becoming my new favourite (I want her wardrobe!). So much so, I’ve heard whispers that Sally is naming a character Jennifer in one of her upcoming titles.

There are so many more titles to mention, Shift by Em Bailey and Look, a Book! by Libby Gleeson were probably the other two main stand outs for 2011 for me. Shift is Em’s first YA novel and it received great coverage and reviews. And it was such a pleasure to work with Libby Gleeson, Freya Blackwood and Maurice Saxby who officially launched Look, a Book! in the magnificent museum of Sydney University.

What titles do you have coming up that you’re really excited about? In April 2012 we’re releasing Cat Patrick’s next YA novel, Revived, so I’m looking forward to publicising this and making lots of YA bloggers really happy. She developing a growing fan base in Australia which is great to watch.

June release Of Poseidon by Anna Banks is creating internet buzz already – mermaids are the new vampires! Here’s hoping…

Then of course in July we’re releasing Silhouette, the debut YA novel from Thalia Kalkipsakis one of our favourite Go Girl authors. We’re all so proud of this book!

Later in the year there are some gorgeous picture books for KBC followers to enjoy – Tree by Danny Parker and illustrated by Matt Ottley and A Hare, a Hound and  Shy Mousey Brown illustrated by Jonathan Bentley is just adorable.

And  I couldn’t go past the world-wide October release of Lemony Snicket’s new series All the Wrong Questions – now that’s going to be like nothing I’ve ever experienced publicising before!

Learn more about Hardie Grant’s books at their website.

FRIDAY BOOK FEATURE – A YEAR IN GIRL HELL

A Year in Girl Hell is Meredith Costain at her entertaining and page turning best. It tells the story of a year in the life of four friends starting high school. Each girl has their own personality, insecurities and special set of problems.

There’s Mia, whose compulsion to look after everyone stems from a tragedy in her past. Then there’s the gorgeous and talented Michi who is mercilessly bullied because she attracts the attention of a boy that one of the popular girl’s covets.

Lexi feels like a loser and she’s coping with a new school, the dissolution of her primary school friendship group and the break up of her parent’s marriage.

Alysha is the pretty one who will do just about anything to attract her parent’s attention and gain entry into the ‘popular group’. It takes her a while to find her feet and work out where she fits into the scheme of things.

A Year in Girl Hell gets right to the heart of issues faced by Year 7 girls everywhere. And the carefully constructed detail in this book brings authenticity to the characters, setting and point of view.

For me, it brought back memories of all the uncertainties and difficulties of starting high school and being thrust into a totally different world where you don’t feel as if you belong.

One of the things I admire most about A Year in Girl Hell is the way the author has seamlessly merged four points of view into a cohesive, gripping story.

It’s a book that teen girls will relate to and while they may love some of the four main characters and hate others, they’ll feel empathy for every single one of them at different times after hearing their personal stories.

I like the way this book shows more than one perspective and reveals to the reader that nobody is all good or all bad and that people have their flaws and insecurities – even the popular ones – The Shinys.

Originally released as four separate books, Crushed, Dumped, Burned and Trashed are now together in a complete compendium. A Year in Girl Hell is published by Hardie Grant Egmont.

BOOKS! BOOKS! BOOKS! August Book Giveaway

This month, Boomerang Books are giving you more chances to win! Alongside our regular monthly giveaway and our Facebook-exclusive giveaway, to celebrate August being the month of the Children’s Book Council Australia’s Book Week, we have a special children’s prize pack to giveaway.

AUGUST MAJOR GIVEAWAY

This month’s prize pack is an eclectic mix set to capture your imagination, touch your heart and tickle your tastebuds. While Judith McNeil paints an unforgettable portrait of Australian life in the 1950s, Angela Valamanesh’s art inspires, and Ben O’Donoghue and Mary Taylor Simeti share recipes that plot you on the path to becoming the Masterchef of your household. The pack includes:

Butterfly by Sonya Hartnett SIGNED
Here is Plum Coyle, on the threshold of adolescence, striving to be new. Her fourteenth birthday is approaching: her old life and her old body will fall away, and she will become graceful, powerful, at ease. The strength in the objects she stores in a briefcase under her bed – a crystal lamb, a yoyo, an antique watch, a penny – will make sure of it.
Over the next couple of weeks, Plum’s life will change. Her beautiful neighbour Maureen will begin to show her how she might fly. The older brothers she adores – the charismatic Justin, the enigmatic Cydar – will court catastrophe in worlds that she barely knows exist. And her friends – her worst enemies – will tease and test, smelling weakness. They will try to lead her on and take her down.
Who ever forgets what happens when you’re fourteen?
Butterfly is a gripping, disquieting, beautifully observed novel that confirms Hartnett as one of Australia’s finest writers.

Outdoor by Ben O’Donoghue (Hardcover) SIGNED
In his first-ever cookbook, Ben brings the wide-sweeping world of barbecuing to your backyard via one of the most stunningly designed books around. No need to walk over hot coals to impress your BBQ guests, these divine recipes will leave a lasting taste in everyone’s mouth.
Try Grilled Lobsters from Norfolk, or Pork Loin With Bay And Balsamic from Italy or even a Thai-inspired dessert of Grilled Pineapple With Rum Ginger And Lemongrass Syrup. Yum! And while you grill, serve guests a Southern Cross Pimm’s barbecue-side. Fresh in every way, this cookbook is a summer staple.

Letters to Leonardo by Dee White
On his fifteenth birthday, Matt receives a card from his mother – the mother he grew up believing was deceased. Feeling betrayed by both his parents, Matt’s identity is in disarray and he begins writing letters to Leonardo da Vinci as a way to sort out the ‘mess’ in his head. Through the connections he makes between his own life and that of Leonardo, Matt unravels the mystery that his life has become and discovers his mother’s secrets and the reasons behind his abandonment.
A unique and powerful story about a fifteen year old boy who tries to deal with his mother’s mental illness by writing letters to Leonardo da Vinci. Ages 12+. 

A True History of the Hula Hoop by Judith Lanigan
A beguiling and utterly original debut novel about two women born centuries apart but joined by the spirit of adventure and a quest for true love.
Catherine is a hula-hooping performance artist, a talented and independent individual plying her trade on the international burlesque stage. Columbina meanwhile is a feisty female clown and a principal in a 16th-century Italian commedia dell’arte troupe.
As Catherine and Columbina struggle to make sense of an increasingly nonsensical world – and to assert their rights as performers and women during times of profound change – their lives, as if by magic, seem to interact.

No One’s Child by Judith McNeil
Judith takes you on a journey back to her childhood – as a ‘railway brat’, growing up in small towns along the tracks while her father worked on the lines. Judith’s life was one of hardship and poverty. The eldest of six children, she soon took on the role of provider and carer, while desperately craving affection from a mother too tired to give it and a father who resented her because she wasn’t a son. Yet there was still joy to be found: in the vibrant Gypsy camp, full of laughter and love in the eyes of Tom, the engine driver who believed in her and fed her thirst for knowledge and in the friendship of Billy, the boy who could see into her soul. No One’s Child is an unforgettable portrait of Australian life in the 1950s. With a vivid cast of characters and set against the backdrop of the ever-changing outback landscape, it will leave you marvelling at the indomitable spirit of one little girl who was determined to forge her own destiny.

Angela Valamanesha: About Being Here by Cath Kenneally (Hardcover)

Sicilian Food: Recipes from Italy’s Abundant Isle by Mary Taylor Simeti

Another Way To Love by Tim Costello and Rode Yule

To go into the draw to win these books, just complete the entry form here. Entries close August 31, 2009.

AUGUST FACEBOOK GIVEAWAY

As always, we have a great prize pack to give away to one of our Facebook Group members, which includes: Letters to Leonardo by Dee White, Shakespeare: The Most Famous Man In London by Tony Thompson, Third Transmission by Jack Heath, A Tale of Two Women by Christina Slade, Samurai Kids: Shaolin Tiger by Sandy Fussell, Another Way To Love by Tim Costello and Rode Yule.

Shakespeare Third Transmission A Tale of Two Women Shaolin Tiger

Boomerang Books is fast becoming one of Australia’s biggest book groups on Facebook, so what are you waiting for? Join Now!

BONUS AUGUST CHILDREN’S GIVEAWAY

Entering this bonus giveaway is easy enough. All you have to do is email me a review of the last children’s book you read. You could’ve read it last night, last year, or even back when you were a kid. The catch? It has to be in 20 words or less. When entering, mention which prize pack you’d like to be in the running for – picture book or fiction for ages 10+. Entries close August 31, 2009.

Section A: ‘Book Safari’-Themed Picture Books: The Little One: The Story of a Red-Tailed Monkey by Kaitie Afrika Litchfield, The Gorilla Book: Born To Be Wild by Dr Carla Litchfield, The Chimpanzee Book: Apes Like Us by Dr Carla Litchfield, The Penguin Book: Birds In Suits by Dr Mark Norman, The Antarctica Book: Living In The Freezer by Dr Mark Norman, The Great Barrier Reef Book: Solar Powered by Dr Mark Norman, When No-one’s Looking: On The Farm by Zana Fraillon and Lucia Masciullo, When No-one’s Looking: At the Zoo by Zana Fraillon and Lucia Masciullo.

The Little One The Chimpanzee Book Penguin Book At The Zoo

Section B: Fiction 10+

Samurai Kids: White Crane (SIGNED), Samurai Kids: Owl Ninja (SIGNED), Samurai Kids: Shaolin Tiger (SIGNED), Samurai Kids: Monkey Fist, Letters to Leonardo by Dee White, The Zoo of Magical and Mythological Creatures by Sam Bowring.

White Crane Owl Ninja Letters to Leonardo The Zoo of Magical and Mythological Creatures

A big thanks to our friends at Acorn Press, Black Dog Books, Exisle Publishing, Hardie Grant Egmont, Pan Macmillan, Picador, Penguin, Wakefield Press and Walker Books for supporting our giveaways this month.