Mother’s Day is Child’s Play – Picture Book Reviews

Mother’s Day – a day to celebrate the efforts of mothers and mother figures in our lives. Affirming one’s love and appreciation is the best way to the deepest part of her heart, and this can be shown in many ways. One special way to create and savour those deliciously tender moments is to share stories. A kiss, a cuddle, sharing of fond memories, or making new ones, can all develop from the source of a beautiful book, or a few. Start here with these gorgeous picture books specially for mums and grandmas.

imageMummies are Lovely, Meredith Costain (author), Polona Lovsin (illus.), Scholastic Koala Books, 2016.

Combining once again is the superb duo that brought us Daddies are Awesome/Great! is Meredith Costain and Polona Lovsin with Mummies are Lovely.

Beautifully lyrical yet simple canter leads the path to your heart as this delightful read shows cat mothers in a string of sentimental moments. Furry feline mums and kittens grace each page spread with their adorably realistic and energetic prominence. Readers, being both young children and adults, will appreciate all the amazingly loving attributes that mothers so willingly pour over their young. Soothing their troubles, cheering their mood, fearlessly and fiercely protecting them. And there’s no better way to end a busy, active day than to settle down with a tender, squeezy hug and the affirmations of this unconditional love.

Mummies are Lovely, with its all-round playful sweetness that is sure to generate all kinds of warm and fuzzies, is a purr-fectly soothing way to embrace your mother-child relationship this Mother’s Day.

imageGrandma Wombat, Jackie French (author), Bruce Whatley (illus.), Angus&Robertson, 2016.

Mums aren’t the only significant female figures in a child’s life. Those fortunate enough to spend time with their grandmas will certainly reap the benefits of their care. And of course, to Grandma, their little angel can never do wrong.

That is certainly the case in this adorable sequel to the ‘Wombat’ series by the unequivocal talents of Jackie French and Bruce Whatley. A witty story of untold truths relating to cheeky child behaviour and grandparent bias, Grandma Wombat is simply delicious.

Prim and proper (as far as wombats go) is the matriarch, Grandma Wombat. Her babysitting duties are divinely simple and pleasurable (besides the rude disturbances by bounding kangaroos). Just the like the crisp language, her daily schedule is uncomplicated and (usually) straightforward. Whilst Grandma naps, she is blissfully unaware of the happenings behind the scenes. Let’s just say, between heedless bounding kangaroos and high flying stunts, baby grandson bids more of a wild adventure than Grandma Wombat would even care to dream of!

With its suitably boisterous and whimsical illustrations, Grandma Wombat certainly packs a punch in the humour department but also treasures the endearing qualities of a special bond and a grandparent’s love. Delightful to share with preschool-aged children at any time of the day.

imageOnesie Mumsie!, Alice Rex (author), Amanda Francey (illus.), New Frontier Publishing, 2015.

The joys of the bedtime routine are gorgeously represented in this frisky tale, suitably fashioning the precious relationship between a little girl and her mumsie. Mum plays along with all the ‘onesie’ characters that her daughter becomes as she, not so inadvertingly, delays the inevitable. The ever-so-patient parent sneaks opportunities of affection between the drama and the outfits; a nibble on the crocodile, a tickle of the tiger, swinging of the penguin, and a squeezy cuddle with the bear. And when it’s finally time to tuck in for the night, who is waiting with a ‘tall’ surprise?!

Rex’s narrative flows smoothly and repetitively for a pleasurable read for little ones to follow and try to predict what animal comes next. Amanda Francey’s exuberant illustrations spill imagination and spirit, with the added lightly-shaded softness for those tender moments.

imageOnesie Mumsie is a charming book to wear out your little ones at the end of your fun-filled Mother’s Day. It is also the perfect companion to Francey’s latest book, Take Ted Instead (text by Cassandra Webb), reviewed amongst others by Dimity here.

Happy Mother’s (and Grandmother’s) Day to all the cheery, thoughtful, playful, and biased mums and grandmas!  

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Review – Cyclone

CycloneI was but a babe in arms when Cyclone Althea swept across Townsville on the eve of Christmas in 1971 however, I will never forget the noise of it; the warning sirens, the howling winds, the pelting rain. We were hushed into submissive silence by the storm screaming to get through our walls; muted by the all-consuming blackness, the sheer force of it. And then afterwards, struck again with incredulousness; our roof still over our heads whilst every other in the street lay shorn off, twisted and deformed in backyards where they didn’t belong.

Images like these are hard to erase. A few years later, another cyclone, this one by the name of Tracy struck at a similar time of year, blighting a similar town, producing similar indelible memories for the survivors.

Bruce Whatley and Jackie French45 years on, powerful storytelling duo, Jackie French and Bruce Whatley mark this event with their new picture book, Cyclone. It’s hard to ignore the images of this beautiful work, as well.

Following in the same potent spirit of their Flood and Fire collaborations, Cyclone focuses primarily on a single tragic natural disaster, which had cataclysmic consequences for not only the community it affected but also many others across Australia. The results are profound and moving, yet also hopeful.

A storm brewed out at sea on the 24th of December 1974, yet the residents of Darwin hunkered down, unconcerned, too preoccupied with the imminent arrival of Santa Claus to worry about a fairly normal occurrence for them. When Cyclone Tracy unexpectedly swung and hit Darwin full in the face, she did so with such vehemence and force that the township was taken unawares. As the BOM quoted, ‘The entire fabric of life in Darwin was catastrophically disrupted, with the majority of buildings being totally destroyed or badly damaged, and very few escaping unscathed.’

French depicts this wholesale devastation with lilting verse that pays homage to the intensity of the storm as well as infusing the tragedy with a personal touch. The narrator, presumably a small expectant child waiting for Santa but faced instead with a wild beast who consumes their town overnight, is shown huddling with their family in their brick barbecue amidst a sea of destruction.

FloodThe poignancy of the situation and the degree of loss is beautifully rendered by Whatley’s pencil and acrylic wash illustrations. As with its two predecessors, I believe Whatley executed Cyclone’s drawings with his left (non-dominant) hand producing exquisite expressions of infinite detail and fluidity. Streaks, smears and runs feature in every landscape representing the force and chaos of the storm and later the pervading sense of new life, slowly seeping back, where ‘houses grow…day by day’ – my daughter’s favourite spread. The washed-out appearance and toned-down hues do indeed reflect the tone and look of a feature film reel likely to have existed in the 70s. The whole effect is goose bump raising.

Cyclone is an ode of sorts to the man at the end of the phone line French happened to answer one fateful day following the catastrophe of Cyclone Tracy as she manned the Information Section of the Department of Urban and Regional Development. She will never forget his despair, nor his tenacious courage to rebuild and move on.

FireLike Flood and Fire, and Cyclone Tracy itself, Cyclone is a telling testimony to the legacy of good that can emerge from ravaged lives and homes. It cites that humans are ultimately survivors, capable of adapting and ‘inventing ways to live with whatever challenges the planet throws at them.’ We are reminded to respect the forces of nature and learn from our mistakes; a significant observation for those who have endured a natural disaster and for those of our more recent generations who have not. Highly recommended.

Scholastic Press February 2016

Winning Pets – Picture Books of Animals

From egotistical and obnoxious, to intelligent and in desperate need of affection (and food), our furry pals have differing needs and talents but we just love them no matter what! The following picture books are bound to surprise and delight your little ones with their humorous, sweet and heart-warming antics that only our beloved animals can offer.

imageRemarkably Rexy, Craig Smith (author, illus.), Allen & Unwin, 2015.

Rex is the proudest, most majestic and self-absorbed cat in town. For years he’s owned the streets – well, Serengeti Street. His incessantly groomed appearance, captivating dance steps and poses have been the biggest attraction amongst the kids passing by. That is, until Pretty Pamela steals his thunder with her elegant prancing. What follows for Rex is just like a series of unfortunate events that leaves him looking a bit less than perfect. Has he come to the realisation that maybe the fuss isn’t worth all the effort?

Craig Smith‘s watercolour and pen illustrations are characteristically warm and hilariously energetic. And in his debut as an author, he also successfully brings us a charming and skittish story. There’s something very visceral and real about this vain yet likeable cat, and the other irritable animals, that makes this book so relatable.

‘Remarkably Rexy’ is a fun, delightfully comical and engaging story that preschoolers will be giving prominence to over and over again.

imageOur Dog Knows Words, Peter Gouldthorpe (author), Lucy Gouldthorpe (illus.), Lothian Children’s Books, 2015.

Some pets are brilliant and shine in their own way. From cats to dogs, in ‘Our Dog Knows Words’ this clever family pet can definitely impress. From simple commands like ‘sit’, ‘shake hands’, ‘stay’ and ‘come’, to more complex tricks like ‘roll over’ and ‘scratch’, this playpul pup always obeys. Well, maybe not always! I love how this dog is such a loved and integral part of this household. From bed jumping to car rides, cat chasing and beach time frolics, this pup is having a ball.

This is a beautifully simple, and ‘waggish’ story of a word- and fun-loving canine companion. The equally endearing and uncomplicated line drawings and coloured patterns make ‘Our Dog Knows Words’ a clear, light-hearted book. It’s also terrific for encouraging young children to value and appreciate our faithful furry friends.

imageWombat Wins, Jackie French (author), Bruce Whatley (illus.), Angus&Robertson, 2015.

Speaking of champions, two in the children’s literature field are the superlative Jackie French and the prolific illustrator, Bruce Whatley. They have teamed up again for the next winning wombat book in the series; it’s ‘Wombat Wins’.

While Mothball is up to her usual cheeky capers of wanting (and demanding) carrots, she also happens to be competing with a group of small, athletic humans to be the first to reach her prize. This determined, robust character takes us through an energetic, fast-paced and amusing romp. I love how she speeds across the uncluttered landscape pages in her characteristically melodramatic style. The simple, punchy language is the perfect match for this fiesty but adorable creature.

Preschool aged children will no doubt be racing to savour ‘Wombat Wins’ as much as humanely (or wombately) possible. It really is a winner!

imageI Need a Hug, Aaron Blabey (author, illus.), Scholastic Australia, 2015.

From winning wombats to winning hearts, Aaron Blabey once again seduces us with his charming story and its theatrical satire. Although not your common type of pet, this sweet little hedgehog starving for a cuddle is certainly irresistible. Unfortunately, this is not true for Lou the rabbit, Ken the moose and Moe the bear who don’t fair kindly to this poor, prickly creature. But when hedgehog feels all hope is lost, the story closes in a satisfying way…with a bit of a twist!

Blabey presents this story with his typically expressive rhyming couplets, farcical scenes, tongue-in-cheek humour and intense-looking characters. Always a winning combination throughout his books.

‘I Need a Hug’ oozes tenderness and kindness. It shows us literally (check the endpapers) that negative feelings can be turned into positive ones by perhaps taking a risk and offering a gesture of peace. Even towards the most unlikely of friends. It’s an adorable book of learning compassion and receptiveness in a cute and funny way, as well as being the perfect bedtime story when you can steal a few extra hugs and kisses!

And for more reviews on amazing animals check out Dimity‘s recent line up of picture books here.

Stocking Stuffer Suggestions # 3 – Perennial Christmas Crackers

So, you’re torn between traditional sensible titles and contemporary crazy reads to fill your under 12 year-olds’ stockings. Why not splash out on both and please everyone. Here are some more stocking stuffers to complement the rollicking fun ones Romi featured in her Christmas inspired picture book round up. Time to get your Santa on.

We Wish you a Ripper ChristmasAnd what a Santa we have first up. Colin Buchanan and Greg Champion shine again in We Wish You a Ripper Christmas. Sing-a-long to this Aussie bushed inspired slice of summer fun. Santa Wombat is all in a fuddle after losing his delivery list. As he streaks across a burnished outback sky in search of his all-important catalogue for kids, he encounters the bush inhabitants madly making merry in readiness for Christmas day; koalas hanging tinsel, galahs rockin’ on, dingos wrapping thongs – well of course. But will he find his list in time? Choice watercolour illustrations by Roland Harvey, link-arms, sing-a-long tunes included on a CD and a surprise ending make this the perfect picture book gift for international visitors or your own tribe in here in Oz.

Scholastic Australia 2013

What does Santa Do when it's not Christmas What does Santa do When it’s not Christmas? is the question author illustrator Heath McKenzie puzzles in his Chrimbo-themed picture book released last year. McKenzie’s meticulously detailed illustrations glitter with festive cheer long after the last gift is delivered. Readers embark on a thrilling behind the scenes tour of the North Pole like never before where we are privy to the machinations of the Christmas Tree Angel aka gift trendsetter and planner, the Sleigh Pit Crew, the tireless Elves and the grunt and muscle of the Sleigh pulling team aka Santa’s Reindeer. Bubbling with fun and enigmatic suggestions, we never really truly find out exactly what Santa gets up to but can be sure that he’s always somewhere close by. Wink wink, say no more. Highly recommended fun for lower primary schoolers.

Scholastic Australia 2014

Santa's SecretI think Mike Dumbleton and Tom Jellett may have uncovered the truth with Santa’s Secret. This splendid little picture book allows Santa one day to recover after a rather intense night of labour (2 billion pit stops no less) before he sets off on a flight to balmier climes. Forsaking fur-trimmed coat and winter jocks for a pair of boardies, straw hat and obligatory Hawaiian shirt – push pineapple if you please! – Santa lobs up at an old Aussie beach shack. He stashes the reindeer round the back, then…gets out, and cuts some cranking waves aka surfs, until the sun sets. True to his nature however, Santa doesn’t just leave with surfboard in hand, oh no. Ho ho ho! Delectable Aussie flavour ripples throughout this jaunty Christmas tale. You’ll love it and so will the kids.

Random House 2012

Christmas at Grandad's FarmI love jingling my bells at Christmas time, who doesn’t? Claire Saxby and Janine Dawson have given young readers and me all the excuse they need to ‘jingle all the way…’ with Christmas at Grandad’s Farm. Loud, bold, bouncy rhythmic verse catapults this familiar tune to new heights as we visit Grandad’s Farm for some festive fun. The whole family is there, busting for a swim in the country creek and scoffing the Christmas treats before collapsing in the obligatory heap on the couch. Good old-fashioned Aussie festive fun. Some things never change. Only a CD would make this classic better.

The Five Mile Press 2013

Queen Victoria's ChristmasSpeaking of classics, ever wondered how some of our most endearing Christmas traditions came into being? Jackie French and Bruce Whatley’s Queen Vitoria’s Christmas endeavours to disclose a few historical truths in this must-have Christmas classic. Portrayed from the royal canines’ point of view in loping verse and muzzle-high perspective, the mysterious behind door going ons in the palace home of Queen Vic and Al and their five children are eventually explained but more mystery ensues following the disappearance of the Christmas turkey. Jolly and droll, this is history served up with all the best bits included.

HarperCollins Australia 2012

A very Sparkly ChristmasLittle readers who revel in sparkles and flickering lights, sugar plum fairies and stars shining bright will adore this look and find book by Anna Pignataro, Princess and Fairy A Very Sparkly Christmas. Festooned with more glitter than a winter wonderland morning this follows the quest of bunny friends, Princess and Fairy. They are paw-deep in pre-noel preparations when they suddenly receive notification from the Keepers of Christmas that they are in charge of decorating the tree this year. They hop to the challenge in search of the various baubles, treasures, and delights described on their list. And let me tell you, locating these objects so cleverly secreted within Pignataro’s sweeter than sweet illustrations is no sloppy challenge. I’m sure pre-schoolers will have more success than I did and be thoroughly rewarded in glitter and good cheer for their efforts. Crafty, clever, and cute beyond measure, it’ll keep them busy for hours. It did me.

Scholastic Australia 2008

Stick around for Suggestion # 4 where I will introduce you to some hot off the press gift ideas, soon.

Check out the Kids’ Reading Guide 2015 – Picture Book lists here, in the meanwhile.

 

Struggling Book Children

BirrungSome thought-provoking Australian novels for children have appeared recently. Standouts include New Boy by Nick Earls (Puffin), Run, Pip, Run by J.C. Jones (Allen & Unwin), Dropping In by Geoff Havel (Fremantle Press), Birrung the Secret Friend by Children’s Laureate, Jackie French (Angus & Robertson) and Plenty by Ananda Braxton-Smith (Black Dog Books, Walker Books).

Nick Earls uses some of his own experiences as an Irish boy moving to Australia in one of his best works for children so far, New Boy.

New Boy

Earls’ character, Herschelle moves to Australia and has to deal with bullying and racism as a white South African who speaks English. His teacher looks Chinese but speaks with an Australian accent. Herschelle was popular and sporty but is now paired with Max, who looks like a nerd. Humour, and embarrassment, is derived from misunderstanding of Australian slang and idioms, such as ‘bring a plate’. This book is a very clever twist on the usual refugee story. Displacement comes in many forms.

Run Pip RunRun, Pip, Run by newcomer J.C. Jones is quite a hard-hitting story about a 10-year-old girl who lives with an old man and tries to manage alone when he is taken to hospital. Her teacher, Mr Blair, is intuitive and tries to help her, endangering his own position. Pip is an engaging, resourceful character. This novel makes important points about child welfare and children at risk.

 

I loved the humour in Geoff Havel’s The Real Facts of Life when I read it years ago. He has created more appealing characters in his latest novel for children, Dropping In.Dropping In

Stick and Ranga are adventurous and include new boy, James, who has cerebral palsy, in their stunts. A girl, Jess, also joins their group, and Stick isn’t quite sure how he should act around her.

Jackie French has begun a new series for younger readers with Birrung the Secret Friend.

Sydney’s early European colony is brought to life through the eyes of Barney who is welcomed into the home of clergyman, Richard Johnson and his wife when he is starving. Aboriginal girl, Birrung, also lives there. Johnson’s love and care, even at the risk of his own health, for the people around him is told through the likable lens of Barney’s eyes and voice.

 

PlentyAnd Ananda Braxton-Smith’s story, Plenty about 10-year-old Maddy who has to move to the country is a stunner. Maddy loved her home and friends but gradually falls under the spell of her Nana’s indigenous orchids and learns what home and sanctuary really are from Sudanese refugee girl, Grace. The writing and imagery is first-rate.

 

Review – Fire by Jackie French and Bruce Whatley

Fire, Jackie French (author), Bruce Whatley (illus.), Scholastic Press, 2014.  

fireHarsh weather conditions are terrifying enough at the best of times, but what about when Mother Nature plays a hand in the wild and extreme that gamble with actual lives?
Award-winning author and Australian Laureate, Jackie French, together with the unequivocally talented illustrator, Bruce Whatley, have joined forces in producing a gripping and stunningly haunting book of adversity; ‘Fire’. Just like their previous book, ‘Flood’; depicting the horrendous Queensland floods in 2011, ‘Fire’ is another efficacious story of courage and strength in the face of a natural disaster.

Throughout the book are amazing, succinct verses that take your breath away with every word. The story begins with a serene outback set amongst golden hills and limp gum tree leaves. Upon turning the page, we are faced with the sudden impact of ferocious orange flames and black smoke, sending a once peaceful cockatoo fleeing for its life. Ramifications advance, affecting the people who live amongst the burning trees as the fire engulfs the land in a thunderous, cackling roar. Pretty soon, whole page spreads bleed with blood-red paint across the atmosphere, and thick grey ash that forces inhabitants to quickly escape the “gulping smoke and singed debris.”
Fire book imageNext, a gut-wrenching image of the oven swallowing houses, trees, the land. What about the aftermath? Loss, grief, disbelief. But the bravery of the firefighters and the safety of loved ones is what is appreciated most. From pain comes the strength of the Australian spirit, as we see the CFA tending to sick animals, and read of those friends who give love and help rebuild a world burnt bare. And eventually, the Earth is reborn once again.  

The final page details Jackie French‘s personal experiences with fighting bushfires and its effects on the land, and how best to manage its dangers. Bruce Whatley also gives appreciation for the courage of those dealing with these terrors, and his account of his illustration process. It is fascinating that he felt the erratic nature of the fire was the hardest thing to capture, because looking at his daubs, flicks, bleeding outlines, reds and yellows amongst their surrounding darks certainly creates intensely evocative and impactful imagery in my eyes.  

‘Fire’ is a powerful, poignant and moving story of real life truths; a devastingly beautiful, poetic rendition of a tough facet of nature. It is a book about life, love, friendship, hope and the human spirit that is so brilliantly captured in its words and images. ‘Fire’ is suited to primary school children, and is deservingly shortlisted in the CBCA’s 2015 Picture Book of the Year awards. Just phenomenal.

Interesting background information on Jackie French and Bruce Whatley, as well as fantastic teaching ideas based on the book, ‘Fire’, can be downloaded from Scholastic here:
http://resource.scholastic.com.au/resourceFiles/8219103_8176.doc

Doodles and Drafts – Waltzing with Bruce Whatley

 

In just a couple more months, Australia commemorates the Centenary of the ANZAC landing at Gallipoli. Dozens of new titles are already marching forward to mark the occasion with heart-rending renditions of tales about ‘bloodshed, death, ruin, and heartbreak.’ This is how singer/songwriter, Eric Bogle views the futility of war.

And the Band Played Waltzing MatildaIt’s a timely message that fortunately more and more schoolchildren are gaining a deeper respect and understanding for through historic picture books like this one, And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda.

Bogle’s iconic lyrics make your chest heave with anguish at the awful waste of life, yet rippling beneath the waves of depression, is an undercurrent of pride and admiration, perhaps borne from a determination to never ever let this happen again; and yet we do.

One wonders how so beautiful and wrenching a tale could be visually resurrected to deliver the kind of visceral impact young people will appreciate and gain from. Easy, you get a master with the surest of touches and the purest of hearts to illustrate it. You allow his colours to bleed across images that tumble across the pages, injured and torn, dirty and forlorn. You watch until your skin prickles with emotion and your eyes burn with tears.

Today, I am honoured to have that master at our draft table. Please welcome, Bruce Whatley. Here’s what he had to say.

Who is Bruce Whatley? Tell us one thing about yourself we are not likely to find on a web site.

If it wasn’t for my Mum I would not have the use of my right arm. Injured at birth, the damage to my right shoulder was such that she was told it would whither and be useless. Fortunately she refused to believe it and after nearly three years of massaging I held a spoon in my right hand for the first time. Since then I think I’ve held a brush as that’s the hand I’ve made my living with.

You’ve penned and illustrated many children’s stories. What aspect of children’s book creation do you prefer? Which do you regard yourself more proficient at and why?

When I write and illustrate it isn’t as if I write first then think ‘How am I going to illustrate this?’ It comes together like a movie in my head and I don’t really separate the text from the images. That’s why the text and images are so reliant on each other in my books, they compliment and bounce off one another to tell a more complex story.

I guess I think of myself as a better illustrator than writer because that is my background but I am enjoying writing more and more and as I get more confident am working on longer manuscripts. Doing both means if I hit the equivalent of writer’s block when illustrating I can put down the brushes and write for a while.

Can you name one title you feel exemplifies your work the best? Is it the title you are most proud of, or is that yet to come?

The book I’m working on now I am most proud of. This is the book I would give up all others to have published. It is a story I’ve written and though the illustrations use the simplest of mediums – the medium I am most comfortable with – lead pencil – they comprise extensive use of 3d programs to create a unique world and environment. This book will have no compromises. This will be the best I can do. ‘Ruben’ approx. 120 page picture book.

Bruce Whatley and Jackie FrenchRecent picture book collaborations with Jackie French have focussed on dramatic occurrences such as natural disasters. And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda, is no less powerful. What attracted you to take on and to fulfil a project of this emotional magnitude?Wombat

Because they were of such emotional magnitude. Success with wombats and ugly dogs had the potential to pigeon-hole me as a particular type of storyteller. I am always looking at ways of growing as an illustrator, looking for new ways of expressing the narratives. These books also enabled me to explore what I had discovered using my left hand. That I produce far more expressive and emotional images drawing with my other hand. Matilda is by far the most emotional book I have illustrated.

Did you ever feel emotionally challenged at any point of this book’s production (because of its heartrending subject matter)? If so why?

I based my illustrations on original photographs taken in Gallipoli at the time. Even though I needed to adapt what I was looking at I wanted the images to be based on reality as much as possible. When using photos this way especially when drawing details it is a bit like those ‘spot the difference’ puzzles you get in newspapers and magazines – you flick your eyes from one to the other to spot the differences. Similarly when you are copying an image you flick from the photograph to your drawing to make sure you are getting the right shape and size etc. It’s not so much about what you are drawing you are concentrating on lines, shapes and position.

I was doing this on one of the illustrations. It wasn’t until I completed the piece I realised what I thought was a rock was the hand of a dead soldier. I lost it at that point.

Matilda illo spread 2This was symbolic to me as it highlighted that we look without seeing. We watch the old veterans march and wear their medals. Old men. But we don’t see the 19 year old that watched their mates get their legs blown off. We do forget. And we still send our children to war.

You are enviably competent in a number of illustrative mediums and styles. Describe those you used and incorporated into Matilda.

As I said I’m always looking for new ways to illustrate. Matilda was done with my left hand – which has a mind of its own!!! I can’t write with my left hand and really I have very little dexterity when I use it – but depending on your definition I draw better with my left than with my right. I used a waterproof felt tip pen for the line work then an acrylic wash over the top. Using acrylics instead of watercolours meant I could work in layers without dragging the colour from underneath.

The predominant colour scheme throughout this book is one of solemn sepia hues stained with splashes of red. What mood are you trying to convey with this palette choice?

I guess it was influenced by how we normally see this period but also I wanted to reflect the mud and despair. Bright colours suggest hope and laughter – I don’t think there was much of that.

Waltzing Matilda 4-5Your use of perspective at the start and end of this tale is both visually arresting and choking with emotional impact. Was this your intention? How do close up views influence the feel of a picture book story when compared to flowing landscape illustrations?

Faces are amazing things and I often have my characters looking directly out at the reader. They say the eyes are the windows to the soul. I think that last close up opens that window a bit. (Interestingly I could not have achieved that intensity with my right hand.) Being so close also means it’s in your face literally. After watching from a distance suddenly you are confronted with the reality of the consequences.

What’s on the draft table for Bruce Whatley?

Ruben is my main focus but there are more books coming out soon I’ve written with my wife Rosie and illustrated with my son Ben. And there are always wombats waiting in the wings.

Just for fun question – You illustrate with both hands. Have you or would you ever consider or attempt to illustrate with your feet?

I haven’t but would if need be. The question would be ‘Which?’ Left or right???

Bruce & RubenIndeed. A hundred thanks Bruce!

I could wax lyrical all day about And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda, but urge you to experience this amazing story for yourselves. Read it. Sing it. Share it. Do not forget.

Allen & Unwin January 2015

 

Holidays – the chance to read: short fiction, poetry, YA …

Only the AnimalsThe Christmas holidays are most likely your best chance in the year to read. If your family or close friends aren’t as keen as you, send them off on other pursuits – the Sydney Festival if you’re in NSW (or even if not); bush walks, tennis or whitewater rafting; the beach; the movies, especially moonlit ones … Or better still, join them doing those fun things but make sure they also have a book to read when you just can’t keep yourself out of one for a minute longer.

I am about to read some more short fiction – there are so many great collections around at the moment – starting with Springtime by Michelle de Kretser and then The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher by Hilary Mantel and The Strange Library by Huraki Murakami. I was fortunate to go to a launch of Only the Animals by South-African born, Australian author, Ceridwen Dovey (Hamish Hamilton, Penguin Books) earlier in the year and so have already read this original work which is exceptional across short and long fiction. The conceit of telling each short story from the viewpoint of animal souls and their engagement with important times in history as well as with significant writers, such as Franz Kafka, J.M Coetzee, Virginia Woolf and Julian Barnes, is inspired. And the writing is brilliant. Ceridwen is a star and her book cover is the best of the year.A Rightful Place

In non-fiction, Noel Pearson’s Quarterly Essay, A Rightful Place (Black Inc) is my standout. In fact, it’s essential reading to glean some understanding of our original peoples, written by one of their representatives who understands the problems as well as possible ways forward. Pearson is also revered by a broad cross-section of Australians, particularly after his speech at Gough Whitlam’s funeral. Although divisive, many would regard him as a statesman.

Australian poetry is flourishing. I can only begin to list the 2014 crop but a few include Earth Hour by David Malouf (UQP), Sack by John Kinsella (Fremantle Press) and Poems 1957-2013 by Geoffrey Lehmann (UWAP) – reviewed here.

Cracks in the KingdomMy favourite young adult novels of the year include The Protected by Claire Zorn (UQP), Laurinda by Alice Pung (Black Inc), The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl by Melissa Keil (Hardie Grant Egmont) and Nona and Me by Clare Atkins (Black Inc). Jackie French in To Love a Sunburnt Country (HarperCollins) has opened my eyes again to an unknown part of Australia’s history. Incidentally, her novel for middle school (upper primary – junior secondary), Refuge recently co-won the children’s category of the Qld Literary Awards with Shaun Tan’s illustrated Rules of Summer.

And The Cracks in the Kingdom by Jaclyn Moriarty, which is the second in the ‘Colours of Madeleine’ trilogy and won the YA category of the Qld Literary Awards, is another of my 2014 Australian favourites.

Springtime

Qld Literary Awards vs Prime Minister’s Literary Awards

Coal CreekThe winners of the Qld Literary Awards and the PM Literary Awards are being announced on the same evening – Monday 8th December. You can follow the PM announcements live at ‪#PMLitAwards  or tune into ‪@APAC_ch648  at 7:15pm ‪http://on.fb.me/1pPELkt .

It is fantastic that both these awards exist. They include outstanding Australian books and their shortlists promote these titles as well as our valuable book industry. Their prize money is very different, with the PM winners receiving $80,000 each and the shortlisted authors receiving $5,000 – the amount the winners of the QLA receive.

These two awards also have some shortlisted books in common (keep in mind that the awards have different eligible voting periods, causing some books to be shortlisted in different years).

The books shortlisted in both awards are:

Fiction

The Narrow Road to the Deep North, Richard Flanagan (Vintage Australia)

Coal Creek, Alex Miller (Allen & Unwin)

Children’s Fiction ROS

Rules of Summer, Shaun Tan (Hachette)

 

Young Adult Fiction

The Incredible Here and Now, Felicity Castagna (Giramondo)

History

Broken Nation: Australians in the Great War, Joan Beaumont (Allen & Unwin)

The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka, Clare Wright (Text Publishing)

There are no overlaps in the non-fiction and poetry categories, with strong, diverse contenders in both.

The Qld Literary Awards has some extra categories:

University of Southern Queensland Australian Short Story Collection – Steele Rudd Award

Letters to George Clooney, Debra Adelaide (Pan Macmillan Australia)

The Promise, Tony Birch (UQP)

An Elegant Young Man, Luke Carman (Giramondo Publishing)

Only the Animals, Ceridwen Dovey (Penguin Australia)

Holiday in Cambodia, Laura Jean McKay (Black Inc. Books)

Letter to George Clooney

Unpublished Indigenous Writer – David Unaipon Award

There is no shortlist for this category; the winner of the award will be announced at the Awards Ceremony on Monday 8 December.

Emerging Queensland Writer – Manuscript Award

3 for a Wedding, Julie Kearney

We Come From Saltwater People, Cathy McLennan

Open Cut, Leanne Nolan

And the People’s Choice Awards …

As a judge of the Griffith University Children’s Book Award, I would like to particularly mention our shortlist

Big Red KangarooRefuge, Jackie French (Harper Collins Publishers)

The Ratcatcher’s Daughter, Pamela Rushby (Harper Collins Publishers)

Nature Storybooks: The Big Red Kangaroo, Claire Saxby and Graham Byrne (Walker Books Australia)

Rules of Summer, Shaun Tan (Hachette Australia)

Smooch and Rose, Samantha Wheeler (UQP)

As it turned out, our top books are a combination of novels and illustrated works; from Qld, national, established and emerging creators; and include a non-fiction book, The Big Red Kangaroo, which is also a work of art.

The YA judges have also produced an excellent list

Griffith University Young Adult Book Award

Zac & Mia, A.J Betts (Text Publishing)

The Incredible Here and Now, Felicity Castagna (Giramondo Publishing)

The Accident, Kate Hendrick (Text Publishing)

Tigerfish, David Metzenthen (Penguin Australia)

The Cracks in the Kingdom, Jaclyn Moriarty (Pan Macmillan Australia)

The 2014 Prime Minister’s Literary Awards shortlists in full are at http://arts.gov.au/shortlists

And I’ve previously written more about the PM awards at http://blog.boomerangbooks.com.au/more-about-the-2014-prime-ministers-literary-awards/2014/10

Staff from the State Library of Queensland (also the venue hub of the BWF)  have taken over the administration of the QLA awards for the first time this year and have done a brilliant job. The awards had been coordinated by an extraordinary committee of volunteers for the past few years since the Qld Premier’s Literary Awards were axed by Campbell Newman’s government. The SLQ has also sponsored the poetry award and some Qld Universities such as the University of Queensland, Griffith University and the University of Southern Queensland, have also stepped in to sponsor awards. Enormous thanks to them all.

Congratulations to all of the shortlisted authors and to the winners of both these awards. We will know the outcome soon!

Incredible Here and Now

What I’m reading this Christmas: Amanda Diaz, HarperCollins Publishers

Thanks for talking to Boomerang Books, Amanda Diaz.

Thank you for having me!

You’re a publicist at HarperCollins Publishers and you’re going to share your Christmas picks with us. But first let’s find out about you and some books you’ve been working on.

HarperCollins Australia (based in Sydney) is known for its children’s/YA books as well as its adult list. Which do you work on/prefer?

I’m the publicity manager for HarperCollins Children’s Books, which for me is a dream job as I absolutely love kids and YA books.

You’re a publicist – what does a publicist do? AD pic

Basically the job is about creating exposure for books in order to drive awareness and sales. That’s not a very sexy way to put it, but that’s the bare bones. It requires being very calm, patient and organised.

A publicist works to get attention for books through social media, blogs and websites, festivals, signings, conventions and school visits as well as newspapers, magazines, TV and radio. Media exposure can come in a number of forms – from giveaways and extracts to reviews and interviews.

How did you get this job?

While I was interning in the HarperCollins editorial department during my last semester of uni, I was in the right place at the right time to be hired for an admin assistant role in publishing operations. My dream was to work in the children’s team though, so when the publicist role came up, I went for it.

I suspect you love all the books you promote, but could you tell us about some that you are particularly proud of.

I’m very proud to have worked with Children’s Laureate Jackie French on ten books so far. All her work is so excellent, it’s a privilege to be involved in a small way. It’s also been very exciting to work on Veronica Roth’s Divergent series – especially with the recent release of the movie.

Touring with George RR Martin in November last year was also absolutely unforgettable. He is a literary rockstar and so lovely and gracious to boot.

What is different/special about HarperCollins? 

In a business-sense, we have a fantastic mix of commercial and literary stories. There’s truly something for every reader. On a personal level, I’m lucky enough to work with the best team ever at HarperCollins Children’s Books. Everyone is so smart, passionate, hilarious, open and creative. Sometimes we have to pretend not to be having as much fun as we really are, lest others think we’re not actually working.

All the truth that's in meWhat are some awards HarperCollins has won that have particular significance for you?

The Australian Centre for Youth Literature runs the annual Inky Awards – where teen judges and readers decide on their favourite local and international YA titles – and this year, the Silver Inky was won by All the Truth That’s in Me by Julie Berry. This is a book that was very special to everyone in house and to see it receive such fantastic recognition from readers was so wonderful and affirming.

What do you see as the way forward in the book industry?

We have to work smarter in competing for people’s attention spans, but the key to doing this is always going to be finding really excellent stories.

If you’re in a book club, what book have you enjoyed discussing?

I’m not in a book club – I’ve tried it out a couple of times, but I always get too impatient with how long it takes for the other members to finish reading the book! But I do run our YA Twitter account – @HarperCollinsYA and love talking to our followers but the books we’re all reading.

Once Upon an AlphabetWhat are some must-reads over Christmas?

Young kids – and their parents and grandparents – will absolutely fall in love with both Once Upon an Alphabet and Count my Christmas Kisses, while cheeky youngsters will adore There is a Monster Under my Christmas Tree Who Farts.

Withering-by-Sea is a fantastic middle-grade Victorian fantasy adventure that young girls will NEED. (It’s the prettiest book you’ve ever seen.)

(See my post on it here)

My YA summer favourites are A Thousand Pieces of You by Claudia Gray and Jessica Shirvington’s Disruption duology. You can’t go past these picks for action-packed reads with a dash of swoonworthy romance.

The ultimate must-read though is Jackie French’s stunning WWII epic To Love a Sunburnt Country (available 1st December). This is the best thing Jackie has ever written. You won’t be able to put it down, you’ll probably cry and you’ll certainly never forget it.

What is your secret reading pleasure?

My secret reading pleasure is definitely re-reading. You’d be embarrassed for me if I revealed how many times I’ve re-read favourite books like Harry Potter, The Hunger Games and Pride and Prejudice.Disruption

Thanks very much for speaking with us, Amanda.

It was a pleasure. Thank you for having me.

Withering-by-Sea

 

 

Brisbane Writers Festival Dazzles

Analogue MenThe  2014 Brisbane Writers Festival had an inspiring launch on Thursday night when author/publisher Dave Eggers (A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, What is the What – about the lost boys of Sudan) told a full tent  about the genesis of McSweeney’s publishing company and its 826 Valencia Writing Centres. The tutoring behind these pirate, superhero and other themed storefronts has helped countless children with their writing. Groups doing similar work in Australia are Sydney’s Story Factory with its Martian Embassy, Melbourne’s 100 Story Building, and Book Links in Queensland is working towards its own centre.

My next session was ‘Dangerous Allies’ where Robert Manne interviewed Malcolm Fraser in front of a capacity crowd. The insights about Australia’s alliance with the US were provocative and chilling.

‘Zen and the Art of Tea’ was a light-hearted exploration of tea by Morris Gleitzman and Josephine Moon. Josephine’s tip about brewing lavender, garlic or basil to make teas sounds worth trying and Morris – a literary Geoffrey Rush – was hilarious. He personified coffee as a bully, and tea as a whispering lover.

David Hunt was in fine form discussing his Indies Book winner, Girt which is a retelling of Australian history with a comedic eye.

It was fun to cross paths with David Malouf (for the second time in two weeks), Jennifer Byrne, Will Kostakis, Pamela Rushby and Tristan Bancks. If only there was more time for more sessions … I would have loved to see YA writers such as A.J. Betts, Isobelle Carmody and Jackie French but they were either offsite or clashed with my events. Andy Griffiths was so popular he had his own signing area after the other children’s writers’ part of the program had finished. Chairing Andy and John Boyne (Boy in the Striped Pyjamas) a few years ago was one of the funniest times of my life.

Forgotten Rebels of EurekaThis year I was privileged to moderate sessions with Clare Wright on The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka (Text) and Nick Earls on Analogue Men (Vintage). Clare must be the world’s most informed person in her field of women at Eureka. Her book deservedly won the Stella Prize this year. It is compulsive, engaging reading, notwithstanding its 500+ pages.

Nick was as funny as expected and revealed a secret about Analogue Men. We learned that his favourite Dr Who is Jon Pertwee and his favourite tech device Bluetooth. I explained how I laughed out loud repeatedly over one scene that I read on instant replay and Nick implied that my brain is like that of a goldfish. But no – it really was the skilful writing. It was wonderful to hear the laughing throughout this session and see the animated audiences in both these events.

Many thanks to the authors involved in the Festival, particularly Clare and Nick, and to the incredible BWF staff and volunteers led by Kate Eltham.

What Were Girls Like?

I am JulietThree recent YA historical fiction novels by Australian women (all published by HarperCollins/ABC Books) inhabit times when girls had to bend to the influence of men and were comparatively powerless.

The Raven’s Wing is Frances Watts’s first novel for teens. It is set in Ancient Rome where fifteen year-old Claudia is strategically offered in marriage several times. Making an alliance which can best help her family is paramount. Primarily a romance, the book addresses Claudia’s growing awareness of human rights (here through the fate of slaves) which interferes with her sense of duty and makes her a much more interesting character than the docile cipher she is expected to be.

I am Juliet by Australian Children’s Laureate, Jackie French, is based on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. French’s Juliet is a fleshed-out focal character. Superficially she shares some of Claudia’s privileged lifestyle features: attended by maids who wash and dress her and apply her makeup; elaborate meals; and protection behind high walls. Medicinal and other herbs and plants are a feature of their times; and Juliet and Claudia both face imminent arranged marriage, but are aware of a dark man in shadows. Their stories, also, contain a story within a story.

Jackie French has reinterpreted Shakespeare previously – in her excellent Macbeth and Son which grapples with the nature of truth. She has also addressed the role of women in history, perhaps most notably in A Rose for the ANZAC Boys

Ratcatcher's Daughter Issy, the thirteen-year-old protagonist of Pamela Rushby’s The Ratcatcher’s Daughter, doesn’t share Claudia and Juliet’s privileged backgrounds. Set in a well-drawn Brisbane of 1900, Issy’s father is a ratcatcher during the bubonic plague. Issy is offered a scholarship to become a teacher but her family refuse it due to lack of money. The issue of the poor’s inability to take up opportunities that the rich assume is reiterated throughout the novel.

The Ratcatcher’s Daughter and I am Juliet include background notes about the historical period and other points of interest.

 These three books unite in their exploration of girls who are prepared to defy tradition to control their own lives, where possible, in spite of general lack of female empowerment. I hope that this really was possible and is not just a revisionist interpretation.

It is interesting that this crop of YA historical novels has appeared now. Are these authors finding a story-niche or reflecting current concern? Although surely girls today, particularly in a country such as Australia, are more fortunate in their freedom and choice. The Raven's Wing

 

Aussie Appeal – Picture Book Reviews

Worrisome wombats, bouncing bilbies and even talking gumnuts may not be your de rigueur when it comes to picture book characters. Yet their antics make up a substantial percentage of picture book storylines and provide vital introductions and links between Aussie kids and our rich, endemic Australian flora and fauna.

Look around and you’ll find dozens of titles touching on everything from spoonbills to fruit bats, puggles to possums and jacanas to joeys. Many are by authors you know and trust offering true works of art worthy of coveting and collecting. Here is a tiny selection of some of the more recent releases.

One Woolley Wombat ReadersPerennial author illustrator, Kerry Argent, has a tatty new First Reader series out now tailored for pre-schoolers. Small colour-popping paperbacks perfect for little hands and new readers feature old mate, Woolly Wombat, his bestie, Bandicoot and a swag of other Aussie birds and beasts in easy-to-read adventures. Beautiful introductions to counting, colour, rhythm and language conventions. Scholastic Australia March 2014

The Bush Book ClubBook club nuts along with reluctant readers will adore Margaret Wild’s and Ben Wood’s The Bush Book Club. It has a little bit of brilliance on each page; rhyme, comedy, cuteness, colour and galahs! Bilby sorely needs to slow down and smell the ink but he is too busy and bouncy to read let alone actually enjoy a book until one fateful night he discovers what it’s like for his head to be ‘full of words and stories’. A marvellous look at what it takes to appreciate the wonderment of stories and a must in the classroom and home. Modestly adorable. Omnibus Books March 2014

Possum's Big SurpriseRhyming picture books are not always easy to digest (when produced badly), but done well they glide across our palates as smoothly as birthday cake frosting. So it comes as little surprise that Possum’s Big Surprise by celebrated duo, Colin Buchanan and Nina Rycroft, is a feast for 4 + year-olds and above. Fun, frisky, teasing verse coupled with super-rich, eye-pleasing water-colour illustrations, an Aussie bush backdrop and a perky possum named Flossy, give kids plenty of reasons to keep page turning. Scholastic Australia May 2014

Karana EmuSlightly more serious but quietly impressionable is Karana: the Story of the Father Emu, by Brisbane and Wakka Wakka leader, Uncle Joe Kirk and Sandi Harrold. In spite of the unwieldy title, this cyclical story is written in simple rhyming verse which unfolds easily leaving the reader fulfilled, enlightened and emphatic towards father Emu as he assumes the role of parent, nurturer, and chief educator for his chicks; just as father figures in many indigenous cultures do. An enjoyable tale to share with children because of its simplicity and heart but it was the emus’ eyes that clenched it for me; cute and clever! Scholastic Australia May 2014

 A Feast for Wombat features another Aboriginal author, Sally Morgan and first time picture book illustrator, Tania Ezinger.

A feast for WombatWombat is your typical underground slumber-champion with a strong predilection for his burrow. He rarely surfaces. When he does he encounters the goodtime antics of his friends, Goanna, Magpie and Dingo but is slow to join them in play until their persistence and kind-hearted surprise re-instates how much they value Wombat’s friendship.

Sounds a little trite and ordinary I know, however Morgan attempts to balance Wombat’s self-depreciating, woe-be-gone attitude with a questioning optimism that he displays by complimenting his friends’ various talents and by trying to replicate them albeit with little success.

I was pleased Wombat’s self-doubt is finally conquered and replaced with a greater sense of self-worth however felt a little muddled by the oscillating attitudes of Wombat’s friends towards him; sometimes generous and grateful, sometimes hurtfully frank. Four year-olds are unlikely to dwell on this (it is after all how true friends can be) gaining immense pleasure instead from Erzinger’s spirited acrylic based artwork. Keep an eye out for the hapless little spinifex mouse on each page too. Gorgeous! Omnibus Books April 2014

Snugglepot and Cuddlepie's Underwater AdventureWhether these titles stand up alongside such favourites as May Gibbs’ Snugglepot and Cuddlepie, Narelle Oliver’s Don’t Let a Spoonbill in the Kitchen! and Fox and Fine Feathers, Yvonne Morrison’s The Emu that Laid the Golden Egg or Jackie French’s Diary of a Wombat to name a few, time will tell. But like the tiniest creature in the Aussie bush, there is bound to be a spot for them in your heart and on your book shelves.

 

Review – Fire

FireMy first glimpse of the flamed-licked cover of Fire, sparked a considerable amount of emotion. Growing up close to the Adelaide foothills meant scorching childhood summers were unfortunately often synonymous with phrases such as Ash Wednesday and Black Friday.

A couple of years ago I was inextricably moved by the heart-rending picture book recount of the Brisbane floods by the same quietly sensational picture book team, Jackie French and Bruce Whatley, (Flood) so viewed this new picture book release of theirs with anxious anticipation. Could they pull off another disaster-inspired winner able to resound with children and adults alike? The answer is, yes.

The cover and title pages, both featuring the single word, Fire, as though smeared by someone’s finger across a grimy, ash-streaked window pane, mesmerised me from the onset. I was unable to quell my attraction in the same way one is unable to sever ones hypnotic trance with fire’s dancing flames.

This is apt, for fire is the predominate character in this masterful expression of how our nation weathers one of its most deadly natural adversaries. Its release is timely. Once again, vast tracks of Australia bake till hills are ‘bleached golden…and leaves lay limp in the air sucked dry.’ All sobering reminders of Victoria five years past.

Jackie FrenchFrench balances beautiful evocative language with harsh stark imagery. She tempers the brittle narrative reality with soft lilting rhyme, thus allowing us to ‘enjoy’ the awful spectacle unfolding before us. A sulphur crested cockatoo sits alone under ‘a baked blue sky.’ He is disturbed by a flickering, snickering enemy. The birth of a bush fire takes hold with alarming ferocity and speed.

Fear feeds confusion, people flee. The fire feeds itself, growing more and more invincible and mocking as it consumes everything in its path without mercy or remorse. Soon an inferno rages; a fire storm spitting fury and blasting away life, deforming reality and changing lives forever.

But there is hope, always hope, on the horizon: a speck overhead, a hose, a loved-ones hand…And in spite of the devastation, French shows us that it is how we face the aftermath that is often the true measure of our survival.

I am unable to say whether the narrative imagery out surpasses the illustrations or vice versa, however Bruce Whatley’s visual images burnt themselves deep into my psyche like the very stink of fire ravaged bushland. They are breathtaking.

Most fascinating are Whatley’s endnotes describing how difficult it was for him to capture ‘fire’ in paint. And yet all of its dirty, erratic intensity and heat are rendered with such brilliant acuity, that the pages look almost too hot to touch. Logs turned to charcoal glow amber so realistically, you swear you could toast marshmallows on them.

But this is no marshmallow-toasting-time as we are reminded by images of burnt out cars, stricken families and most poignantly, a volunteer fire fighter giving a koala a sip of water from his bottle; all vivid recollections of news clips from former dire times.

Every page is hemmed in by ruled pencilled borderlines. The water coloured illustrations fill these windows, sometimes bleeding over the edges which for me, softens the impact of the scene, contains it somehow and therefore prepares me to turn the next page. I presume many younger readers will experience this subconsciously as well. My 8 year old appreciated the cockatoo’s presence throughout as much as I valued the lingering message that out of tragedy and despair, ‘good things will grow again’.

Fire is a warming testimony to the selflessness of those who give everything to fight Australia’s bushfires. It is as powerful and dramatic as fire itself but is a picture book that will have significant relevance for readers 4 + for varying reasons. It embraces the sometimes bleak reality of living in Australia and how that translates to our ‘never say never’ attitude and our indomitable spirit of survival.

Another CBCA award book in the making. Get your copy here.

Scholastic Press February 2014

 

 

 

 

Player Profile: Jackie French, author of Dinosaurs Love Cheese

jackie-frenchJackie French, author of Dinosaurs Love Cheese & The Girl from Snowy River

Tell us about your latest creation…

Dinosaurs Love Cheese: for every child who loves dinosaurs — and cheese.

The Girl From Snowy River: World War I is over, but it still haunts the mountains. Flinty McAlpine lost a brother when the Snowy River men marched away. The man she loves won’t talk to her. But on a rock in the mist she meets a ‘ghost’ from the future,  crippled in Vietnam:  a man who needs to speak about the war that none of his friends will discuss with him, as much as she needs to hear. The second in the saga of Australia that began with A Waltz for Matilda.

Where are you from / where do you call home?

The Araluen Valley (NSW Southern Tablelands), cliffs streaked with eagle droppings, a wombat under the bedroom,  the sugar gliders eating the blossom from 800 fruit trees, an a possum who snores above my study.

When you were a kid, what did you want to become?  An author?

Always — no matter what — a story teller

girl-snowy-riverWhat do you consider to be your best work? Why?

Pennies for Hitler, Diary of a Wombat, a Waltz for Matilda: all somehow achieved much more than I could have given them..

Describe your writing environment to us – your writing room, desk, etc.; is it ordered or chaotic?

20,000 books, 200 wombats, wood, glass, pottery (gifts, not chosen), 3 wombat skulls, a table of seeds, another of manuscripts, a desk of scribbled notes, an apple core, two coffee mugs, a spider called Bruce, and the possum with sleep apnoea.

When you’re not writing, who/what do you like to read?

Atwood, Pratchett, Haldeman, Trillin, Steingarten, plus about 500 more.

dinosaurs-love-cheeseWhat was the defining book(s) of your childhood/schooling?

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley), at age 7. Didn’t notice the sex scenes, just the realisation that ‘life will not always be like this.’ Great Dialogues of Plato, ditto: Socrates  the youth of Athens to ask questions, unlike both home and school.

If you were a literary character, who would you be?

Every writer includes aspects of themselves in each book they write.

Apart from books, what do you do in your spare time (surprise us!)?

Can sharpen a chain saw, load a musket, milk an echidna, grow a five course dinner, but am functionally innumerate, dyslexic, and can’t spell hipop…hypop..that big grey animal from Africa.

What is your favourite food and favourite drink?

Fresh bread and tomato salad with new olive oil, cold water, apple pie with hazelnut pastry, Jonathon  and Cornish Aromatic apples, but mostly: lots!

Who is your hero? Why?

Socrates: the unexamined life is not worth living; and integrity.

Crystal ball time – what is the biggest challenge for the future of books and reading?

Withering attention spans.

Follow Jackie:

Website URL:

Queen Victoria’s Underpants

Queen Victoria's UnderpantsGiven my infamous obsession with all things underpants, and considering that I pride myself on being relatively across Australian illustrated book royalty Jackie French and Bruce Whatley’s oeuvre, I’m not sure how knowledge of Queen Victoria’s Underpants slipped past me.

Nonetheless, I’m rectifying that now. I mean, really, what’s not to sell you on a book about underpants like an illustrated cover featuring a windswept dog? Two windswept dogs if we’re going to argue semantics.

Queen Victoria’s Underpants is a whimsical tale with an important historical bent. Until Queen Victoria popularised wearing underpants, few women wore them (something that is, these days and to a underpants connoisseur like me, almost inconceivable).

Her championing of underpants meant—and here’s the kicker—that girls then had the freedom to engage in activities otherwise considered, without the modesty aid of underpants, to be unladylike or risqué. Cue horse riding and bike riding and dancing and archery …

Queen Victoria ruled half the world, the book’s un-named protagonist tells us, but she, like most people of her time, was underpants-less. ‘What if the wind blows the Queen’s skirt up?’ is the question that’s posed to refute the archaic claim that the Queen had no need of undies.

Broken down, the Queen Victoria’s Underpants’ premise is my friend’s someone did something incredible [insert heavy-hitting historic figure and their claim to fame here]. But her mum (as in the protagonist’s mum) made Queen Victoria’s underpants. This is the moment that the ‘My dad, picks the fruit …’ celebrating-the-everyday Cottee’s cordial jingle entered (and still hasn’t left) my head.

The tributes at the book’s beginning are whimsical, with double meanings set to deliberately sail over its target audience’s heads. French’s reads:
To Bruce, Lisa, Jennifer and Natalie, with love and enormous gratitude … playing with royal underwear has never been so much fun
.

Whatley’s reads:
For Lisa, who keeps me busy enough to afford clean underwear every day.

Diary of a WombatThe illustrations are, as always with this pair, complementary and complimentary all at once. The dogs’ facial expressions are, hands down, my fave elements.

I’ve got to say, though, that Queen Victoria’s Underpants is a bit light on substance—I expected more and better from such an accomplished, well-oiled writing-illustrating team as French and Whatley. I’m admittedly not in this book’s target readership, but I’d still argue that it doesn’t cater well to either kids’ imaginations or wink at adults—or do both, as most seriously good children’s books do.

For example, beyond bringing the quirky Queen Victoria creating an underpants trend trivia to our attention, the book doesn’t include enough historical matter to warrant inclusion on educational reading lists. Nor does it include story elements exciting or out-of-the-box enough to hook kids into reading it (or adults reading it to them) for free-time fun either.

Which kind of makes you wonder when—or rather, if—anyone’s reading it. Which in turn may explain why I hadn’t heard of this book, first published in 2010, until now. Which is why I think I’ll be sticking to re-reading French’s and Whatley’s back catalogue. Diary of a Wombat, anyone?

New Release: Queen Victoria’s Christmas by Jackie French & Bruce Whatley

A Gloriously funny tribute to a little known corner of royal history – complete with Christmas chaos

The sequel to the hilarious (and historically accurate) QUEEN VICTORIA’S UNDERPANTS, this Christmas tale tells the story of one of our most endearing Christmas traditions – the Christmas Tree

Something strange is happening at the palace and the dogs can’t work it out.

The cooks are busy … are royal visitors arriving?

Mysterious parcels are arriving.

And most curious of all … what is that TREE doing in Prince Albert’s study?

From the creators of the delightful QUEEN VICTORIA’S UNDERPANTS comes the story of the first ‘traditional’ Christmas, complete with a Christmas tree and presents for the family, as seen from the point of view of Queen Victoria’s dogs.

JACKIE FRENCH is one of Australia’s most renowned and best-loved children’s authors. She is a full-time writer who lives in the Araluen Valley, NSW.Jackie’s books have won numerous awards, both in Australia and overseas, and they have been translated into over twenty languages.

BRUCE WHATLEY has been writing and illustrating award winning children’s books for over twenty years. He has previously worked as an art director in advertising and has illustrated over 60 children’s books.

Buy the book here…

4 Aussie Authors nominated for world’s largest children’s literature prize

Four Australian authors have been nominated for the 2013 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award, the world’s largest prize for children’s and young adult literature.

Ursula Dubosarsky, Jackie French (pictured), Morris Gleitzman and Melina Marchetta are the Australian authors selected among a group of 207 candidates for the 2013 award.

The winner of this year’s award will be announced on 26 March 2013 in Stockholm.

Australian writers Shaun Tan and Sonya Hartnett have previously won the award in 2011 and 2008 respectively

A complete list of the nominees for the 2013 award can be found on the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award website.

New Release: Diary of a Wombat, 10th Anniversary Edition

By Jackie French & Bruce Whatley

Celebrating ten years of one very determined wombat and one extraordinary collaboration

Jackie French’s love of wombats comes alive in this cheeky observation of Mothball’s life, while Bruce Whatley’s captivating illustrations of Mothball’s antics show just how entertaining and endearing wombats are to humans.

Published around the world including in France, United Kingdom and the USA Diary of a Wombat is a beautiful tale of one wombat’s daily life.

From the creators –

‘Mothball Wombat bounced into our lives 17 years ago, bashing up the garbage bin, shredding the doormat, and demanding carrots. Diary of a Wombat changed my life. No matter where I talk – from keynotes at history conferences to talks on literacy or weed ecology – someone always wants to know ‘is the wombat in Diary of a Wombat real?’ She’s real, she’s big, stroppy, smelly, and she and the book she inspired have brought us enormous joy.’ – JACKIE FRENCH

‘The inspiration for Mothball, the wombat was a very ugly, white English Bulldog i had at the time. In many ways they were the same shape. They definitely had the same personality. The success of Diary of a Wombat’ has been overwhelming at times – it’s not something you can plan or predict. There’s just no stopping that wombat.’ – BRUCE WHATLEY

About the Authors

JACKIE FRENCH is one of Australia’s most renowned and best-loved children’s authors.Jackie’s books have won numerous awards, both in Australia and overseas, and they have been translated into over twenty languages. She lives in the Araluen Valley, NSW.

BRUCE WHATLEY has been writing and illustrating award winning children’s books for over twenty years. He has previously worked as an art director in advertising and has illustrated over 60 children’s books.

Buy the book here…

Review – Animal Rescue Series

Leo is an odd kid. And, alas, odd kids rarely have friends. Well, actually, he does have one friend . . . his guinea pig, Alan Nesbit Kirk; a guinea pig who believes nothing special ever happens to Leo. He even tells him so.

‘Nothing interesting ever happens to you,’ Alan Nesbit Kirk says to Leo one sunny day by the guinea pig cage.

Leo agrees. Nothing interesting ever happens when other kids think you’re weird.

I must say, being able to talk to a guinea pig doesn’t, in my book, count as weird. It kind of counts as super cool. And it’s not only guinea pigs Leo can talk to. Pigeons. Dogs. School lab rats. He can truly talk to the animals, and little does he know that Mozz – the coolest, smartest girl in school – knows this. She knows because Alan Nesbit Kirk told the cat next door who told a passing cockatoo who told Mozz’s gran’s giraffe who told Charlie the gorilla, who then told Mozz and her gran, the very clever Dr Drizzsock.

Frankly, you won’t believe what Mozz and her gran are up to behind closed doors. Astonishing stuff. When Leo is approached by a gorilla on a skateboard who leads him through a mysterious, hologramed volcano to Dr Drizzsock’s hideout, well – that’s only the tip of the iceberg in this rollicking eco-warrior adventure.

After a trip in a supersonic aircraft made of recycled drink bottles and fueled by rotting banana skins and disposable nappies, Leo finds himself on an Indonesian island, tasked with saving a group of endangered elephants, about to be swamped by a tsunami. This may all sound far-fetched, but much of the bones of this story and its sustainability and endangered-species messages, are very real.

For an early reader book, this is some highly-detailed, richly woven story, nonetheless told clearly, simply, engagingly and with a hefty dose of humour . . . a combination author Jackie French does so very beautifully.

Leo and his first animal rescue adventure is a madcap read that hones in strongly on several important messages that don’t charge at children like a spurned elephant, but rather implant themselves gently into sponge-like little heads.

I’m loving the factual references at the end of the book that add an extra dimension to this mostly-fiction tale, and I’m gagging to grapple with that gorgeous gorilla in Gorilla Grab. These books are really great fun, and I’m sure the astonishing adventures of Leo and Mozz have only just begun.

Elephant Alert and Gorilla Grab are out this month, published by Scholastic. Ideal for early readers or for kids struggling to read – ages 6 – 10.

 

Number 19 – Most Popular Aussie Kid’s Books

Advent Calendar Christmas Countdown

Most Popular Aussie Kid’s Books #19

Diary of a Wombat by Jackie French and illustrations by Bruce Whatley

We surveyed our customers to discover the Most Popular Aussie Kid’s Books of all time – we’re counting down the Top 24 Kid’s Books between now and Christmas Eve…

 

33.7% of all respondents have read this book themselves, or read this book to their children.

 

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.

 

CBCA NSW 2010: Assorted Snaps

Some other snaps from the Conference:

Bob Graham took us through his life and his life’s works. He was then treated to orchestrated interpretations of four of his picture books (composed and conducted by George Ellis) including How To Heal A Broken Wing



Ursula Dubosarsky and Tohby Riddle took to the stage to discuss the process behind their smash-hit, The Words Spy, and its sequel, Return of the Word Spy.



Sandy Fussell, author of the recent Jaguar Warrior talked all things Internet…



… with Boomerang Books’ own Dee White, author of Letters to Leonardo and helmer of Kids’ Book Capers.

Queen Victoria made a rare posthumous appearance at the book launch of Queen Victoria’s Underpants, Jackie French and Bruce Whatley’s latest.

Okay… so I almost went a full festival without making myself the centre of attention – Margaret Hamilton looks on as I, the youngest member of the CBCA NSW Committee, and Maurice Saxby, the oldest living former CBCA NSW Committee member, cut the cake for the CBCA NSW’s 65th.

The cake in question before Maurice and I hacked it to bits. For the record, it was delicious.

CBCA NSW 2010: An event like no other

Jackie French, me, Bruce Whatley

The CBCA NSW Conference… wow.

I’ve been to my fair share of festivals, but never before have I been to one that felt so inclusive. Authors and other attendees weren’t separated. My experience with other festivals, as both speaker and attendee, has been that after sessions, speakers disappear to green rooms, never to be seen when they’re not onstage. The CBCA NSW Committee (and I’ll register my bias now: I’m on it) abolished the green room for the Conference, and what a difference it made. It felt like a gathering of equals: there were authors, publishers, librarians, teachers, booksellers, students all amassed togher and relating to each other as children’s book lovers.

I was speaking with Susanne Gervay (author of the sensational I Am Jack and its sequels, not on the Committee, so there isn’t an obvious bias), and she put it perfectly:

“I really loved the set up where everyone could get together.”

And we did come together. Authors talked process (with the behind-the-scenes workings of picture book partnerships), and politics (keynote speaker Libby Gleeson with the quote of the Conference: ‘What’s the point of building an education revolution, and building libraries, if there are no teacher librarians in those buildings?’)

While there’s no way to cover the entirety of the Conference, I will write about a selection of moments that really struck me. And there were many moments. It really was the perfect place to be perpetually adolescent…

[Note: If I don’t look particularly happy in photos, disregard it… Mum’s pulled me up on smiling like Mr Bean in pics, so I’m trying to dial down the rubber-faced grin from ear to ear. Right now, I’m having difficulty finding the attractive median between ‘rubber face’ and ‘serial killer’. Case in point, I’m giddy in the above photo to be meeting Jackie French (an icon) and Bruce Whatley… can you tell? Haha. PS, this is their new book, which was launched at the Conference.]

Boomerang at the 2010 CBCA Imagine This! Imagine That! Conference

Boomerang Books is proud to announce that this weekend, not only is a member of our Boomerang Books blogging team speaking at the sold-out 2010 Children’s Book Council of Australia NSW Branch Conference, but we’ll be live-blogging the two-day event – with scheduled appearances by the big names in Australian children’s writing, including Libby Gleeson, Glenda Millard, Libby Hathorn, Jackie French, Melina Marchetta, Markus Zusak, Margaret Wild, Julie Vivas and Shaun Tan.

For program information, click here. Sad you can’t make it? Itching to ask a particular author a question? Well, send me an email, and I’ll not only be your eyes and ears at the Conference, but I’ll be your mouth.