Valentines Reading – Picture Books with Heart

Whether it’s about love unrequited, lost loves or welcoming new love into your heart, this collection of new children’s book releases are sure to melt your Valentines resolve.

Unrequited Love

I Love You Stick Insect by Chris Naylor-Ballesteros

Side-splinteringly silly, this jocularly illustrated romance features Stick (a stick insect) and his infatuation with the most beautiful stick insect he has ever laid eyes on. He immediately launches into a reverie of what ifs with his newfound love despite Butterfly’s repeated proclamations that it’s ‘just a stick’. Readers merrily hurtle along with Stick and his runaway imagination until he finally twigs his embarrassing mistake. Eye-catching candy that will tickle the funny bones of 2 – 5 year-olds.

Bloomsbury January 2018

Valensteins by Ethan Long

Valentine’s Day may seem an unlikely celebration for monsters and ghouls yet young Fran has other notions. He sets his heart on creating a pretty, pink paper heart for which he receives cutting ridicule. His vampish friends fear that Fran might be in love, that icky, gross, mushy, kiss-on-the-lips emotion that they frankly all find ‘terrifying’! Fortunately, for Fran, he turns the other bolted cheek and remains true to his real feelings. Despite its monochromatic overtones and comically Goth characters, Valensteins oozes charm and meaning, showing young readers that real love is about what you feel in your real heart. This is a lovely expression of being true to your feelings and creating meaningful relationships.

Bloomsbury January 2018

Continue reading Valentines Reading – Picture Books with Heart

Review – James Munkers Super Freak

Lindsey LittleAuthor, Lindsey Little likes looking at things from great heights. Me too. It is how I choose my rugs, for one. Allowing yourself a chance to gain a different view of a situation or object can afford you a very different perspective of it. And having a different perspective can be very rewarding indeed. As I discovered when reading Little’s, debut YA novel, James Munkers Super Freak.

The slightly ominous cover, whilst indicative of the story, belies a strong and captivating narrative, which happily, I was reluctant to walk away from.

James MunkersJames Munkers is a weedy, non-descript, slightly whiny teenager tumbling along in a large blended family when suddenly out of the blue, he is forced to adapt to a new town, new school, and disturbingly new powers.

Turns out, James is intrinsically entwined in a plot to destroy the world. Desperate to assimilate as inconspicuously as he can into his new surroundings, he is instead thrust head first into a destiny he’d rather forget.

Disappearing fathers, alarming bright blue, havoc-wreaking critters, and inter-dimensional communication conundrums gives James repeated headaches and plenty of reasons to want to run and hide. Did I mention the local school thug who won’t let up on him and a headmaster who is keen to suck the life power out of him? Instead of cowering, he throws up a lot whilst slowly coming to turns with saving the world. As improbable as all that may sound and in spite of a few convenient plot quick fixes, Little peppers the narrative with plenty of believable sardonic humour and characters as vibrant and varied as those found in a certain school of witchcraft and wizardry.

James’s inherent nerve lies forever just inches beneath a veneer of teen sass and cynicism. Thankfully, Little’s (aka James’s) solid and convincing voice allows us plenty of glimpses at James’s vulnerability so that you really want to rally beside him along with his mate, Jem and an assortment of other all-for-one, one-for-all Guardians.

James Munkers Cover spreadFast-paced and witty, this punchy fantasy winds up well while leaving several big questions unanswered, thus paving the way for further James Munkers adventures.

Young teens (boys in particular) will have little trouble tuning into James Munkers’s ‘human-dimensional power’ trip.

IP Kidz April 2014

Review – No Matter Who We’re With

No matter who we're withIt’s heartening to see the partner publishing arm of the kids publishing industry is not only thriving but consistently providing ways for rising Aussie authors to produce their work. IP Kidz, an imprint of Interactive Publications, is one such entity and Robert Vescio is one such author. His new picture book, No Matter Who We’re With was released just last month.

The title immediately suggests a topic slightly left of field, yet the cover depicts a family relaxed, joyful and at ease with each other. Or so we think…I do so love the juxtaposition of ideas a picture book can present like this even before you open it.

We soon discover that the protagonists of the story, two young siblings, spend time with both mum and dad who live apart. The cause of the parents’ separation is not dwelt on and in spite of this physical inconvenience, the children love both mum and dad unconditionally because ‘they take very good care’ of them. The parents’ love is no less understated and reciprocal.

Dad is great at dress-ups. Mum has a ‘splendiferous garden’. Both are pretty good at satisfying the kids’ culinary demands.

Robert VesicoVescio has crafted a quaint, endearing story; fun and straightforward in its delivery; positively instilling comfort and an assurance that families can still thrive and survive despite not living in a coexisting environment. (Interestingly, this theme is just as relevant for families with spouses serving abroad or serving time for example, not just those with divorced parents)

The children narrate the tale themselves which gives the book an uncomplicated, personal and almost childlike touch. Reference to the time before the children’s parents separated is gently repeated throughout; a time they clearly still remember and cling to. But there is little to be maudlin about. The children take delight in every minute spent with either parent. Their reactions represent acceptance of a common family situation. Their behaviour offers reassurance that security, peace and love can be enjoyed no matter what your family circumstance.

Cheri ScholtenCheri Scholten’s cheerful illustrations sustain the atmosphere of unreserved love. They are almost manga in appearance and use colour and perspective effectively to emphasise detail. I especially love the gigantic bowl of Spaghetti Bolognese Dad dishes up after the kids spend the afternoon making cupcakes at Mum’s.

Parents and carers should find No Matter Who We’re With easy to read and share with children regardless of their actual circumstances.

Recommended for 4 – 8 year olds.

IP Kidz March 2013

Stay tuned for my next post featuring another excellent title addressing this theme.


Doodles and Drafts – Peter Allert Part Two

Today we continue to follow exciting new Queensland talent, Peter Allert and have a sqizz at his first published children’s picture book, Long Live Us!Long Live Us PB

Q Where has your work appeared?

My first book was ‘Long Live Us’ written by Edel Wignell and published by IP Kidz in 2011. Since then I have been focussing on my own illustrations and writing my own children’s book. I was part of a SCBWI Illustrators Exhibition at the Brisbane City Library in 2012 exhibiting my illustrations from Long Live Us and other projects.

Over the years I have volunteered my services as an illustrator to gain more experience, this was helpful in building my portfolio.

I have Illustrated Artwork for Aurealis Australian Fantasy & Sci-Fi Magazine This has been exciting as you have to sum up a whole story into one illustration which can be a challenge. But these are the challenges that make being an illustrator worth it for me. Anything that allows you to be creative should be encouraged.

Q What children’s books have you illustrated?

In 2010 I finished illustrating my first children’s book for Interactive Publications, Pty, Ltd. “Long Live Us!” was written by Edel Wignell and published by IP Kidz in 2011.

Q How long did it take to complete your picture book project, “Long Live Us!”?

As I was working fulltime it mostly worked on the weekends and whenever I had spare time, from the character inception, storyboarding, final illustrations and adding colour in was approx. 15 to 18 months.

Peter Allert illoQ I can barely master a stick drawing. Do you like to dabble in the written word and if so, have you consider writing your own children’s book?

Yes, I would encourage any illustrator to attempt this. Apart from it possibly turning out to be a published book, it also gives you insight into the processes of how a book is developed. I am working on several ideas at the moment, I will be happy to share them once they are closer to completion.

Q Which Aussie children’s book illustrator do you admire most and why?

I believe Shaun Tan has opened up a lot of doors for illustrators in Australia and inspired many to pursue their craft. He combines his mastery of painting and illustrating with new perspectives in storytelling. Plus he’s just a nice guy.

Q Name one ‘I’ll never forget that’ moment in your illustrating career so far.

Professionally I’m not surprising anyone by saying that when they send you a copy of the book you have just illustrated or written and you see it the first time with your name, it is one of the best moments in your career. On a personal level though I completed an illustration I was very proud of and still am to this day. I looked back and said ‘did I do this?’ That is also a great moment for illustrators because you know all your long hours and work have paid off.

Q What is on the storyboard for Peter?

This year I will be attending and volunteering for the CYA Conference for the 8th Year in a row. I would encourage anyone considering becoming an illustrator, writer, or both to attend this conference. It gives you a great set of skills and understanding of the industry to start you off. Apart from that I would like to start another book and illustrate some of the photographs I took in Japan or Sweden last year. I am always open for new challenges and will add any of my new work to my website

Have a look at this charming little trailer for Long Live Us! featuring some dubious fairy tale folk and one very hungry troll. (just click on the link)

Long Live Us!


Review – I Love You Book

I totally empathise with the characters in this book by well-loved author Libby Hathorn. Yes, I too love the paper smell and consistently fight the desire to take a bite from a book I truly adore. Yes books are delicious. And yes, they are lovable.

The rustle of the pages. The sound as the book shuts tight. The dreams they conjure, the magical places they take us, the short, hippety-hoppety words and the laughter and the commas, dots and question marks. Libby expresses it all in this book – so perfectly, the reader will nod in appreciation the whole way through.

Told in rhyming text, the book’s illustrations are bright, dynamic, Seussy, delight. Heath McKenzie’s divine talent shines through and he takes a flying leap into the imaginative possibility Libby has penned – and comes up with page after page of beautiful imagery both kids and adults will adore.

I love you, book.

I Love You Book is published by IP Kidz.

Lyli Meets the Stone-Muncher

Lyli Meets the Stone-Muncher is Swiss-born artist and illustrator, Céline Eimann’s first authored and illustrated book.

Céline says, When I was a child my father used to tell me many little stories. I grew up in Switzerland and there we have a saying that If you dig a hole through the planet and throw a stone in it will arrive in China! My father added that the Stone will actually never get to the other side as there is a  green beast called the Stone-Muncher who lives in the centre of the earth that will eat it first.

Lyli is a child with a big imagination and major curiosity, living in the distant planet of Motika, in a city surrounded by great crystal mountains. One day her mother tells her about a great Green Stone-Muncher who ate a path through the mountains.

Lyli knows she should be afraid, but she decides to set out in search of the Stone-Muncher. She takes her cat Tyki with her and finds the secret tunnel and the monster. But what is over the other side of the mountains?

Lyli’s emotions on her journey are clearly expressed and there is humour shown through the antics of Tyki. The big eyes on the monster make it more friendly than scary so young readers will want to go on the journey with Lyli and the Stone-Muncher.

This is an adventure story that also reads a bit like a fable. Lyli Meets the Stone-Muncher is imaginatively illustrated by Celine Eimann in a unique style involving various mediums including pencil, collage and other media.

The pictures are full of interesting detail for the reader to explore and enjoy.

There are a number of themes in the book to discuss with young readers including friendship, bravery, the environment and finding your own path.

Lyli Meets the Stone-Muncher is for children aged 6-10 and is published by IP Kidz.

It is for parents who wish to give their kids great places to seek out, or encourage them to use their imaginations, looking for ‘monsters’ of their own.



Anne Morgan’s Brave Picture Book

Anne Morgan is visiting Kids’ Book Capers today to talk about being an author and the difficult journey she took writing her picture book, The Sky Dreamer, published this year by IP Kidz. Anne is the author of seven children’s books and a book of poetry.

As a teenager I used to read bedtime stories to my young brothers. This suited me well, for I was a studying drama teaching at the time, and reading children’s stories aloud provided the perfect opportunity for me to practise my character voices in front of an appreciative audience. Later, when I had children of my own, I spent countless more hours reading aloud to them. One thing led to another and I was soon writing children’s stories for my children and sending them off to publishers. In 1999, seven years after my first tentative submission to a publisher, I had my first book, The Glow Worm Cave, published by Aboriginal Studies Press.

Anne has worked as a pharmacy assistant; speech and drama tutor; kitchen hand; library assistant; English, Social Science, Mathematics teacher; university tutor in educational philosophy; (all in Tasmania); English as a Second Language teacher (NT and China); professional actor (Queensland and Tasmania); waitress and youth hostel receptionist (Ireland); grape picker (France); community development volunteer (England and Belgium); shop manager (NT, for a week ); public administration officer;  journalist; education officer; staff trainer (all in Tasmania) and academic researcher (Tasmania and WA).

She says her greatest achievement has been winning a university medal in 2009 for her PhD in Writing. At the moment she is working on a musical theatre adaptation of her junior novel, Warts ‘n’ All.


Publishing books is a substantial financial investment. When you ask a publisher to publish your work, you are asking other people to put up thousands of dollars of their money on what is ultimately a gamble in risky financial environment – so try to imagine yourself behind the publisher’s desk before complaining about them not accepting your brilliant manuscripts.

Because publishers have to be ultra-cautious about the manuscripts they accept in order to avoid bankruptcy, it is much harder for an unknown writer to gain a publishing contract than it is for a bestselling author. A new writer, therefore, should aim to produce a manuscript that will, figuratively speaking, leap out of the slush pile and turn summersaults under publishers’ noses, crying,  ‘publish me! I’m going to be the goose that lays golden egg for you! ’

I advise my writing students not to invest too much hope in any one manuscript. Keep writing new manuscripts and polishing old ones until you win that elusive contract. Call it a chook raffle if you like, but having many different manuscripts out there definitely increases your chances of publication.

Do your books have any consistent themes/symbols/locations. If so, what are they?

Boats and the sea are a frequent source of inspiration to me. I can’t explain why – perhaps it has something to do with the fact that my surname, Morgan, means seafarer, and Welsh-Irish ancestors reputedly sailed a vessel named the Morgan Rattler.

You can find out more about Anne and her books at


Anne’s poignant new picture book, The Sky Dreamer is based on personal heartbreak and today Anne is sharing this very special journey.

What inspired you to write this book?

The Sky Dreamer is the book I wish I never had to write, for the story was born out of my own journey of grief after my beautiful 18 year old daughter, Miranda, died in a car accident four years ago. During the harrowing times that followed her loss, I sought comfort in poetry, and discovered ‘Beannacht’ (Blessing) by Irish poet, John O’Donohue. O’Donoghue’s verse, and another poem by Seamus Heaney about a group of meditating monks who see a ship appearing in the air above them (Lightenings: VIII), provided the creative sparks for The Sky Dreamer.

As I was writing The Sky Dreamer, I remembered, too, the dreadful impact the death of our family puppy had on me at the age of seven, and I decided that this would be a story for all children who have suffered grief, regardless of whether they have lost a pet, a friend, a sibling, parent, grandparent, or an acquaintance.

What’s it about?

After Liam’s sister Cassie dies, he spends hours watching the wintry sky, hoping that Cassie is out there somewhere. Just before his birthday, Cassie sails a The Sky Dreamer through the night sky and invites him to climb on board and take the wheel.  Liam sails through thunderstorms and a meteorite shower, and begs Cassie to help him sail the boat – but she is too busy sewing. Liam eventually learns that Cassie will not come to his aid and he must conquer his fears and sail solo. Once he has learned to hold the wheel firmly, his world begins to brighten. When he finds himself at home in his bed again, he feels Cassie’s birthday present around him, and sees the world through different eyes.

What age groups is it for?


Why will kids like it?

The Sky Dreamer is a heartbreakingly beautiful and ultimately comforting fantasy about a grieving child who learns how to take control of his life. The book is brilliantly illustrated by the gifted young Swiss illustrator, Céline Eimann.

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

Liam’s grief is so much like mine. I was paralysed with grief after the death of my daughter, Miranda. About a year after she died, I realised I had to choose whether or not I was going to become permanently disabled by misery. In the end I decided that the only way I could cope with her loss was to make a conscious effort to see, hear and experience my daughter in every beautiful moment this life has to offer me.

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

Check my website for teacher’s notes from March 2011.

Is there something that sets this book apart from others?

There are mythical, philosophical and poetic elements to The Sky Dreamer, for this is a story about a child grappling with the ultimate mysteries of life, death, time and space, and how to live one’s life after the loss of a loved one.

What did you enjoy most about writing this book?

Dealing with my own grief, while trying to provide comfort to children who are also grieving.

What was the hardest thing about writing this book?

Dealing with my own grief, while trying to provide comfort to children who are also grieving.

Thanks Anne for so bravely sharing your experiences with us.


The Sky Dreamer is a touching picture book for readers aged 8 to 12 and I can see this story being a wonderful tool in helping them cope with grief in their life, particularly the sudden loss of a loved one.

When Liam’s sister, Cassie dies, he has to find some way to cope with his grief, and sailing the Sky Dreamer helps him find comfort and take back control of his life.

Colour is an important feature of this book with Liam’s grief shown in the greyness of earlier illustrations that contrast with the bright colours of the rainbow and the world of The Sky Dreamer.

It tackles a difficult subject with sensitivity and imagination. Jack has to weather all sorts of elements while sailing The Sky Dreamer, in much the same way as kids have to navigate the difficulties of life and death. There’s also an astronomical element to the book that will appeal to young readers.

It encourages kids to explore their feelings and find ways to cope.

The Sky Dreamer is published by IP Kidz and the illustrations that effectively complement the text are the work of Céline Eimann.

Readers can meet  Céline tomorrow at Kids’ Book Capers and on Wednesday we’ll be reviewing Lyli Meest the Stone-Muncher which she wrote and illustrated. Hope you can join us then.