A Little Taste of Australiana – Picture Books to Whet Your Aussie Appetite

There are so many aspects that make our country great. From our exotic wildlife to our amazing landscapes and landmarks, and also our inspirational national treasures that become icons all over the world. With Australia Day fast approaching, it is a wonderful opportunity to not only research the past and celebrate the present, but also for our younger generation to think about their role in shaping a great, successful future. Here are little teasers of hugely beautiful picture books to honour the joys, wonders and beauties of Australia and all this country has to offer.

Yes, our country is great. But there are certainly ways to make it even better. Beck and Robin Feiner propose this ideology to our children; empowering them to build a vision for our future with their newest picture book, If I Was Prime Minister. This inspiring tale gives readers the opportunity to hear other kids’ ideas as they introduce themselves with concepts they’re passionate about. For example, Ziggy would hold NO CAR DAYS for scooters, bikes and skateboards. Each page encourages further thought and discussion into the benefits and practicalities over the long term. Illustrations are bright and bold, simple and straightforward, and brilliantly represent the narrative’s messages of multiculturalism, compassion, empathy, care and kindness towards each other and our sustainability. Imaginative, fun, insightful and powerful, a highly recommended resource for all our Aussie students to consider.

ABC Books, June 2018.

Joanne O’Callaghan and Kori Song are a dynamic author – illustrator pair from Hong Kong inspired by the beautiful and fascinating city of Melbourne. In Found in Melbourne, two children explore well-known, and not-so-well-known, must-visit places by counting and rhyming their way through the city and beyond. From ONE giant mouth at Luna Park to TWO people singing and dancing at the Princess Theatre, THREE trams past the Shrine, and so on. They reach TWELVE fancy cakes at Hopetoun Tea Rooms in Collins Street, 100 butterflies at the zoo, 1000 triangles in Federation Square, and 1,000,000 stories in the State Library. All sights are explained in the back of the book, which is lusciously illustrated with fine detail and sublime accuracy. A wonderful resource for young Melbournites to explore their own city, as well as visitors looking for superb culture, history and beauty of this vibrant city.

Allen & Unwin, March 2018.

Speaking of loving the place you’re in, The Gum Family Finds Home in this unique and remarkable Aussie tale by Tania McCartney and Christina Booth. The endpapers immediately draw the reader in with illustrated ‘photographs’ of proud and cheeky koalas enjoying their adventures in magnificent locations around Australia (Uluru, Karlu Karlu, The Bungle Bungle Range, just to name a few). McCartney’s language is just as magical with her lulling descriptions and whimsical phrasing, sweeping us up on the journey to find a safer, more suitable home for the Gum family – as opposed to the scarce, wind-swept tree they currently reside. Here is a gorgeous geological trip full to the brim with amazing facts, contemporary knick-knacks and stunningly illustrated landscapes with ancient ancestry. And all the while weaving in the characters’ conundrum, with a marvellous twist and ‘rock-solid’ ending to settle any questions regarding the perfect place to belong. Couldn’t be more exciting, interesting, informative and heartwarming than this!

NLA Publishing, August 2018.

Another book, which is absolutely gorgeous – a piece of art – by Tania McCartney, is Mamie; based on the upbringing of and celebrating the iconic May Gibbs and 100 years of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie fame. From the imaginative perspective of a little girl, Mamie lives and breathes fairies and pixies, singing, dancing and painting, until she is transported into another strange world across the sea to ‘creeks and dusty plains and the hottest of suns in high blue skies.’ But magic for Mamie is not far away and her dreams of reuniting with her beloved fairies and pixies becomes a reality, in the most amazing way possible. Together with the biography on May Gibbs, the gentle, inspiring tale and beautifully visual and playful illustrations, Mamie is an incredible culmination of fact and fiction and Australian native flavour. McCartney is the perfect choice to represent the supreme talent of this honoured creator and her legacy.

Angus&Robertson, November 2018.

Following picture books, The Singing Seal and Kung-Fu Kangaroo, third in the whimsical ‘True Animal Tales’ series by Merv Lamington and Allison Langton is the tenacious, Quite a Clever Quokka. Based on real life stories with value-based messages and featuring Australian wildlife, these fun rhyming tales always expose readers to a taste of the Australian landscape and our unique native animals. This one, set on Rottnest Island in W.A, circles around themes of chasing your dreams with Leonardo da Quokko, who becomes a famous artist and Archibald Winner, despite missing his home and friends. Clever by nature, clever by illustration, Quite a Clever Quokka certainly impresses with its energy, and ability to entertain, inform and capture the hearts and souls of any age reader.

Affirm Press, November 2018.

Happy Australia Day! 🙂


HarperCollins Trials Print and E-Book Bundling with Boomerang Books


Boomerang Books, in partnership with Harper Collins Australia and Kobo, are trialling the bundling together of print books and ebooks.

From today until the end of January Boomerang Books customers will have the opportunity to buy a selection of bestselling Harper Collins titles that will include a copy of the ebook.

The bundled books contain an unique code that can be used to download the ebook from Kobo.

Bundling is a great idea when it comes to books. Unlike music and DVD, it is next to impossible to digitize a print book. Given some of the limitations that surround eBooks giving readers the opportunity to buy both formats together adds to readers’ convenience and gives them a handy backup for their digital library.The bundling of print books and ebooks opens a lot of doors currently closed by ebooks. People can easily gift a bundled book without fear of what device (if any) someone reads on. The rise of ebooks has eroded to some extent the art of sharing a book with friends and loved ones, bundling print books and ebooks overcomes this and reaffirms the physical book as the premier book format. An ebook reader can also have a physical copy to get signed by the author or to put on their shelf and a print book reader has a digital copy easily accessible from a computer, tablet, smartphone or ereader.

The books part of the bundling trial are:

Cleanskin Cowgirls by Rachael Treasure
Ghost House by Alexandra Adornetti
Kerry Stokes: The Boy from Nowhere by Andrew Rule
Last Woman Hanged by Caroline Overington
The Menzies Era by John Howard

The books are available now here…


Review – Christmas Wombat

We all know and love Jackie French’s iconic Wombat – Mothball – and in this gorgeous festive book, featuring illustrator Bruce Whatley in serious bells-and-bauble mode, is pure escapism, for big and little kids alike.

It’s Christmas Eve and Mothball is lounging around doing what he does best. Scratching. Lazing. Scratching a bit more. Until he smells . . . da da de daaa . . . carrots! Yes, that’s right.

Though, why on earth anyone would want to plate up some carrots and just leave them there, awaiting some fantastical creature to come along and nibble them? Perhaps a creature starved and thirsty after flying through the night to the point of exhaustion . . . No mind! Mothball is happy to oblige and take care of any required nibbling.

But what’s this?

The appearance of some strange creatures with antlers and bells, angling for a nibble? Don’t like the look of these stately beasts. No, no. Walk off in a huff. Feeling tired. Ahhh . . . Here is a nook, in the bottom of this cumbersome, sleigh-like vehicle . . . perfect for a nap as it takes off into the heavens en-route to who-knows-where . . .

The nonchalance. The dry voice. The gentle humour. The priceless illustrations that make you want to reach out and squish and squeeze that adorable wombat . . . it’s all there in yet another Jackie French winner.

Christmas Wombat is a festive must-have for any Aussie child. Be sure to read it Christmas Eve . . . with a closely-guarded stash of carrots for errant wombats.

Christmas Wombat is published by HarperCollins.



Dance Academy, Learning to Fly

Based on the major new ABC tv series, Dance Academy, Learning to Fly tells the story of 16yo Tara, the daughter of sheep farmers who soon discovers that being in Dance Academy is not quite the dream come true she thought it would be.

She has to cope with back stabbing ballerinas, a teacher who seems to have taken a dislike to her and her own feelings for a boy who seems to have no interest in her.

Once of the things I loved about this book is that the characters were so well rounded. Heroine Tara was of course extremely talented, but she also had flaws which did more to endear her to me rather than detract from her appeal. Conversely, Abby, ‘the baddie’ had redeeming features that made the reader empathise with her even though she is trying to bring Tara down.

Learning to Fly handles real issues for kids this age in this kind of situation and the authenticity of the characters, dialogue and setting will appeal to teen readers.

Learning to Fly has themes of friendship choices, first love and finding your place in the world and would provide a useful discussion focus for any high school classroom.

Learning to Fly is published by ABC Books and Harper Collins

Meredith Costain Talks About Writing Learning to Fly

What inspired you to write this book?

Learning to Fly was commissioned by the publisher. It’s based on the TV show Dance Academy, currently screening on the ABC. They sent me the scripts and rough cut DVDs for 13 episodes and asked me to write a novel based on them. So the characters and the storylines belong to the scriptwriters rather than me. It’s a very different way of working.

Why will kids like it?

It’s based on a TV show that’s been very popular. Learning to Fly sold out its first print run in three weeks, so I guess kids do like it.  🙂

But also, dance is very big at the moment. Shows like So You Think You Can Dance, Glee – even Dancing with Galahs!

Can you tell me about the main character and what you like/dislike about him/her?

Tara is a very complex character, which made her much more interesting to write about than a two-dimensional clichéd ‘bunhead’. I didn’t invent her, but I had to be careful to make sure I included scenes in the book that display who she is, by her dialogue and actions. She’s over-sensitive, which means she takes things to heart too much. She’s also devastatingly honest and wears her heart on her sleeve – which gets her into embarrassing situations with the guy she falls for. She has a dream, and she’s determined to achieve it, no matter what it takes. As one of the lines from the background material says, she’s ‘nobody’s doormat. Push her too hard and she’ll come back fighting.’

Are there any teacher’s notes, associated activities with the book?

There’s a fantastic website at http://www.abc.net.au/abc3/danceacademy

Is there something that sets this book apart from others?

It’s a novelisation of a TV show, so a different way of working. But it goes beyond being just a blow by blow recount of everything that happens in the show. There’s room for the character to reflect on what’s happening to her – the reader can get inside her head and she what she’s thinking, as well as seeing her actions and hearing what she says.

What did you enjoy most about writing this book?

The scripts were wonderful and the production standards were very high. It made my job much easier when the raw material was so good. You could tell the kids in the acting roles – who were all fabulous dancers as well as actors – really enjoyed themselves making the show. The setting – Sydney Harbour – was so vivid it almost became one of the characters.

What was the hardest thing about writing this book?

Distilling so much material (13 episodes) into one book of 25,000 words. I had to plot everything out very carefully to work out which scenes had to go in and which could be left out. Not just for ‘my’ character though. Four books following the lives of the other main characters were being written by other people at the same time, and I had to be careful not to ‘steal’ too much of the storylines that concerned them. So there needed to be a few ‘sweeping paragraphs’ that moved the story along so that what happened next to my character made sense.

The deadline was also very tight as the producers wanted the books out at the same time the show went to air. I had the DVD playing in one corner of my computer screen, a script in another, and my text in the middle. Plus masses of scribbled notes all over the desk. The rewind function got a really good workout too, as I’d play a scene over and over to set it in my mind so I could describe it accurately, or pick up on dialogue that had changed since the script had been written.

Thanks for visiting Kids’ Book Capers this week, Meredith. It has been great to hear about your new releases and how you wrote them.

Next week on Kids’ Book Capers, Sue Whiting is here to talk about her gripping new novel Get A Grip, Cooper Jones.