For the Love of Dogs – Picture Book Reviews

A little while ago I dedicated a review article to man’s best friend. Today I have another brilliant collection of dog stories that highlight their boundless vivacity, loyalty and dedication, not to mention their occasional misdemeanours, that truly make our pets so loveable.

The 12th Dog, Charlotte Calder (author), Tom Jellett (illus.), Lothian Children’s Books, Jan 2017.

To adoring cricket fans, and of course dog lovers: this one’s for you! Oh, and you have the added bonus of the eye-popping, crowd-pleasing illustrations by the legendary Tom Jellett!

Combining his three favourite c’s; chewing, chasing and catching, Arlo the dog loves to play cricket. Except he never gives the ball back. Struggling to play for the team, Arlo is sentenced to the pavilion (the kennel) by the children as the 12th dog. But he makes a come-back to form. Skilfully integrating cricket terminology into an everyday, Aussie backyard scene sees Arlo score the winning run and he is crowned the best fielder in the street… but is he?

Brilliantly characteristic of ball-loving dog behaviour in an exciting pitch of teamwork and sportsmanship, The 12th Dog marvellously bowls out humour, cricket knowledge and a beaut Aussie flavour. Any fan from age four will be cheering for more. Howzat!?

Gus Dog goes to work, Rachel Flynn (author), Craig Smith (illus.), Working Title Press, Jan 2017.

This book both melted my heart and had me laughing out loud. What a gorgeous representation of a loyal working dog, with a big personality. The narrative and the illustrations both reflect these aspects beautifully. Gus Dog goes to work is uncannily relatable and articulately universal, even if the setting is in rural Australia.

Tom the farmer belongs to Gus Dog, and together, they have the perfect formula for a good working relationship – A mixture of special, ‘formulated’ breakfast with the commonality of an understood language. One day Gus awakes to the disappearance of Tom, and so off he sets on his explorative journey to find him. Using his natural doggy instincts, Gus sniffs and looks and listens and chases and rounds up and rolls in everything he comes across, only the townsfolk are highly unimpressed with his antics. He doesn’t understand everything, but drawing on some of his human-word-knowledge, he knows what ‘getoutovit’ means. Gus also recognises ‘goodboy’ and ‘gohome’, which are music to his ears when he’s finally reunited with Tom.

With fluid pencil work combined with digital painting, Craig Smith has sensationally captured the energy, wit and idiosyncrasies of this working dog and the special bond with his owner. The narrative has elements of a mocking humour matched with a visceral innocence, which superbly depicts the dog’s point of view.

Loyalty, friendship and communication between man and dog faultlessly combine in this funny and loveable story. Gus Dog goes to work will be received with pleasure, compassion and relatability by its preschool readers.

Blue the Builder’s Dog, Jen Storer (author), Andrew Joyner (illus.), Penguin Random House, Aug 2016.

In another tale of a working dog with a mind of his own, Blue the Builder’s Dog is delectably sweet and fiercely passionate in all matters on the building site. Jen Storer brings her quirky and charming sense of humour to this reflective and encouraging story, as does the awesome Andrew Joyner with his lively, retro-feel illustrations, representative of independence and being strong-willed.

Blue is dedicated to his job. He guards the tools, signs the concrete slabs, inspects the works (often) and keeps stickybeak cats away. He is friends with everyone on the team. Except Blue wants more. He wants to be able to go up high, wear a hard hat, and most of all, a home of his own. Living in the shed is no place for a Working Dog. So, with great building plans in mind, Blue quits his job and embarks on his own grand endeavour. His creation is nothing short of remarkable (for a dog), but it seems this kennel is short of stability, particularly in a big storm. Realising his shortcomings, Blue makes amends with his builder and the team. And there is another new and improved design too.

Blue the Builder’s Dog is an animated story of teamwork and having a voice. It shows a determined character who makes a clear statement about the importance of marking one’s territory, so to speak! Humorous with cleverly portrayed themes and insights that children from age four will adore.

My Dog Dash, Nicky Greenberg (author, illus.), Allen & Unwin, Apr 2016.

If you haven’t read this story then I’m not going to spoil it for you. But let’s just say that this dog has no problem coming out of his shell. On first read, I found this so surprising I had to do a double-take! The title, My Dog Dash, may be ‘misleading’, but demonstrates perfectly how easily something, or someone may be misjudged by preconceived notions.

Despite Dash’s inattentive meanderings, misreading of social cues and favouring for homely disorder, the girl narrator is passionate about the wellbeing of her beloved pet, even when others don’t understand. She is dedicated to training him, walking him and cleaning up after him. When Dash disappears one night, the girl is naturally devastated (however not to any dismay by her parents, by the looks on their faces). In a most satisfying ending, there is one more shocking surprise. You’ll have to read it to find out!

I love the rawness of this story; from the sacrifice of standing up for a misunderstood friend, to the natural, earthy tones and mixture of pencil sketching and textured paints in Greenberg’s illustrations.

My Dog Dash is a quirky, comical take on what is considered ‘normal’ puppy behaviour. Friendship and responsibility are at the heart of this sweet tale for preschool children. Remember, don’t judge a pet by its covering!

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Jen Storer’s Glorious Story

 

imageJen Storer; word expert, her books and writing encapsulating the most brilliant use of language to tantalise every sense within its reader. Popular and highly acclaimed chapter books include Jen’s bestselling Truly Tan series, Tensy Farlow, Crystal Bay, the latest awesome series Danny Best, and most recently awarded with a CBCA notable is the adventure mystery The Fourteenth Summer of Angus Jack. And new to Jen’s writing repertoire is the absolutely scrumptious Clarrie’s Pig Day Out (review here), and boy, has she entered the picture book world with a tang! I mean fang! No, BANG! Today I am thrilled to welcome Jen Storer to the blog to discuss all things writing and Clarrie! ☺️

Congratulations on the latest release of your sensationally hilarious picture book, Clarrie’s Pig Day Out! I’d like to start with a question from my Miss 6. How did you think to write such a mixed-up story?!

imageThank you, Romi! I’m thrilled that you and Miss 6 enjoyed Clarrie.

Most stories come to me from all over the place. A bit here. A bit there. But it’s easy to say where Clarrie came from.

I was in a café having a cup of tea and people watching. At the next table there was a
grandmother with a little boy on her knee. She was reading the boy a story. It was one of
those vacuous picture books you often come across in cafes. I could tell the boy
wanted to enjoy the story. But I could also see, by his body language, that this was a
lousy story.

I thought, what would I do if I had to read a kid a crappy story like that? The answer was instant. I’d make up silly words!

I rushed home straight away and started writing a story about an old farmer who got his
words muddled.

Obviously the language in the story is intended to challenge the readers’ thinking and play with words. What other teaching and learning experiences do you hope your audience will gain from this book?

I never EVER consider teaching kids when I write stories. The minute I start thinking like a teacher I’m no longer thinking like a storyteller. Any lessons that come from my books are purely coincidental. My entire purpose is to delight, entertain and inspire.

Clarrie is such an eccentric yet humble and romantic type of character. How did he develop in your mind? Is he based on anyone you know?

He’s a darling, isn’t he? When I wrote the story I was studying art. I was learning to draw circles and spheres at the time. Swinging the ellipse. I’d been drawing loads of eggs in my sketchbook. And the eggs had evolved into cakes. And chickens. And then this funny old bald guy in gumboots and overalls. It was Clarrie! The first thing he ever said to me was, ‘I’m very fond of chookens. They make good friends and their eggs make delicious caks.’ (That didn’t quite make it into the story…)

The illustrations by Sue deGennaro are deliciously playful, just like your story! How did you collaborate with one another? How long did the process take? What do you like most about Sue’s art style?

imageI love Sue’s imagination and the whimsical worlds she creates. And I adore her subtle use of collage. If you look closely you can see that she’s used the insides of window envelopes (bills) to make crockery and decorate various buildings. I also love her gentle palette. The original artwork is a dream. And she adds delightful quirks: Clarrie’s odd socks. His dapper suit. The way he’s a bit of a dandy. Miss Winterbottom’s fabulous 70s inspired frock. All these touches are Sue’s inventions.

I can’t remember how long we collaborated but it was quick. From the time Sue signed up to the time of final art was about eight months I think. Maybe a bit more.

We met a few times in person. I saw initial roughs. Then later a heap of half completed
paintings that we all swooned over. It was so exciting to watch Clarrie’s world come to life.

I was hands-off in terms of my vision for the story. I wanted Sue to bring her expertise to it. Lisa Berryman, my publisher, was the same. We just sat back and let Sue play.

I think that’s one of the best things about working on picture books. Seeing what someone else, another professional, does with your text. Seeing their interpretation, and thinking, ‘Wow. I never saw it that way. But this looks awesome!’

Fun Question! Can you rephrase this sentence Clarrie-style:
I could read your book all day.

I could feed your chook all day.

You’ve had tremendous success as an author of chapter books for younger and older readers, including Truly Tan, Danny Best, Tensy Farlow and Angus Jack, amongst others. When you’ve established characters like Truly Tan and Danny Best do you find that you need to reread from the beginning to remember things they’ve done?

imageNo. I carry their worlds in my head from book to book. Occasionally I’ll flick back to check a fact or the name of a minor character. Also, I’m always writing one book while at the same time checking first, second and third pages of the previous one. So the worlds are in continual motion.

Do you plot out the whole series carefully beforehand?

Not on your life!

How do you ensure that everything ties together and flows on from one book to the next?

Each of the books in Truly Tan and in Danny Best are stand alones. There’s no overarching plot that I need to keep track off. All I have to get right is the characters, their relationships and the world they live in. And the voice, of course. That has to be consistent.

You juggle your time between writing, illustrating, speaking, presenting and blogging! How do you manage such a hectic schedule? What’s your secret?

I don’t always manage. Behind the scenes I’m often flouncing about swearing and cursing. But when I’m not doing that, I’m actually a really determined plodder. I’m committed to this work. I’m a boots and all girl. If I decide to do something I’m in it for the long haul.
I’m getting better at saying no these days, too. And listening to my intuition. It provides impeccable guidance. I’m obsessed with my work. Obsessed. I haven’t decided if that’s a good thing or a bad thing!

I love your new inspiring initiative to teach other writers all the tips and tricks of the trade with your girl & duck workshops and online tutorials. Can you tell us more about how this came about and what you have and will be offering interested participants?

imageGirl and duck is my passion. It came about in a stealthy manner while I wasn’t really looking. But now it’s up and running I’m consumed by it. I have exciting plans for it. I adore teaching. Love, love, love. I can talk about creative writing until the cows come home. I’m busy writing and illustrating a book for the ‘duckettes’. I hope to have it available by the end of the year. Then there’s another book planned to follow the first. I’ll also be running online classes. More on that soon. It’s a huge commitment. Under the surface we’re paddling like crazy. There’s so much techy work going on. And business school. It’s awesome. The online world offers astonishing opportunities.

You’ve been in the industry for a while now with many successes and accolades. What have been the most rewarding highlights of your career? Is there anything that you are still striving for?

Apart from dreaming up ideas and developing projects, meeting readers is still the biggest highlight. As well as receiving their mail.

But these days it’s also about inspiring others (adults) to pursue their passions and embrace their creativity. I never planned to do this but ‘creativity coaching’ is something that fills me with joy. I’ve had a tricky journey to get where I am. I’m a late bloomer. First book published at 42 etc. I like to urge younger creatives to get cracking while they can. The sooner the better. But even if you feel you’re too old, forget that! Age is a crock.

There are loads of goals I’m still striving for. Growing girl and duck. Writing. Painting. Drawing. Coaching. Teaching. Travel. You name it. I’m just getting started.

Besides all the numerous projects that we’ve mentioned above, what else are you currently working on? What can your fans look forward to seeing from you in the near future? A sequel to Clarrie’s Pig Day Out perhaps? 😉

imageI’ve written a follow-up to Clarrie. But that’s a secret…
I’ve written the first 30,000 words of a follow-up to Tensy Farlow. It’s about another girl in that same world. I’m desperate to finish it but I need to go to the UK to research it.
I have my girl and duck books.
I’m into the second act of my screenplay.
I have a picture book coming out with Andrew Joyner in August.
Book three of Danny Best is half written. Book two comes out in November. Mitch, Lisa and I are going over the illos and layout now.
Book five of the Tan series has just been released, Truly Tan: Hoodwinked! And I’m halfway through book six. One of my readers named it. It’s called Truly Tan: Trapped! I’m still figuring out where I’m going to trap the poor little peanut.
Books seven and eight of Truly Tan need to be thought about. And written (ahem).
There’s loads of stuff going on.

Thank you so much for joining me for this interview, Jen! It’s been an honour! X

Thank you, Romi, you’re an angel! xo

imageMore information on Jen Storer can be found at her website and Facebook page. Jen’s writing for children workshops can be seen at her new girl and duck website. Plus, details on her Melbourne-based ambassador role for The Footpath Library, an initiative to enrich the lives of homeless people with free books, can be found here.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Review – Clarrie’s Pig Day Out

imageClarrie’s Pig Day Out, Jen Storer (author), Sue deGennaro (illus.), ABC Books, March 2016.

Jen Storer’s remarkable picture book debut, Clarrie’s Pig Day Out, is a glorious word-fest of hilarity that sends its readers into a sensory-overload frenzy. Its ability to turn absurdity to logic, and back again, is second to none. This story of a lawfully, I mean, awfully mixed-up farmer takes us on a jumbled, laugh-out- and shout-out-loud adventure as he goes about his day.

We’ve all been there. Those moments when you feel your life is cluttered with piles of bowls (and books!), your pets (and kids!) won’t listen, and your daily schedule is filled to the brink. Of course it’s natural to stumble along trying to keep on top of it all. Clarrie, too, finds himself in a pickle. Not literally, it’s just a word pickle. Unless it’s a pickle in a jar, then perhaps he finds himself in one of those situations?! Enjoy as this charming, quirky character tells us his story in his native (twisted) tongue that only the most discerning listeners will understand.

imageWhen Clarrie plans his day out with his dog Bert, it’s not only his speech that ends in a series of unexpected mishaps. First, he informs Bert about the bushy-tailed box (that’s fox) that runs past whilst driving his jar (no, car). But Bert didn’t come. If he did, he could have chased the bats (or cats, rather) that Clarrie’s love interest, Miss Winterbottom owns as they dine ever-so-romantically on pupcakes (you get it!) and coffee under the candlelight. Roasting a letter, buying dumb boots and handing honey to Mr Peck for some chickens are next on the agenda. And if all that rollicking rumpus isn’t enough to tickle your funny bones, wait until you see the frantic flitting of feathered fowls (including Clarrie!) as he attempts to rescue them from that sly, lip-licking fox! So how will it end? Will there be a hero? Who will it be? There’s one thing for sure – it’s been a pig day!

Jen Storer brilliantly dazzles and delights as she combines humour, word play and themes of loyalty and friendship. The language is rich and playful, and written in first person with a dialogue that uncannily rolls off the tongue. Enlarged font for the emphasised, erroneous words add extra interest to the visuals, perfectly tying in with Sue deGennaro‘s bouncy illustrations. I love her acrylic paint, watercolour and ink gentleness with little collage details, patterns and textures. The consistent colour palette of sea greens and blues and touches of reds gorgeously gives the book a calming, non-perplexed feel in an otherwise uproarious manner of complete sillyness.

imageOther than its endless possibilities for teaching and learning, including rhyme, word families and comprehension, Clarrie’s Pig Day Out is simply and utterly a divine and entertaining read with a strong, lovable character that we’d love to see more from. Definitely a winning book to pleasure, and treasure, for all children, big and small.

Purchase Clarrie’s Pig Day Out.

*Don’t go anywhere ‘cos Jen Storer has joined us here for an interview on writing and Clarrie!

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Truly Tan, an Australian ‘George’ from the Famous Five

Move over Clarice Bean and Ramona Quimby… there’s a new girl on the scene!

Melbournian Jen Storer is one of the loudest and most influential new voices in modern Australian children’s fiction. In 2011, her novel Tensy Farlow and the Home for Mislaid Children– the story of plucky, flame-haired orphan Tensy – was shortlisted for a string of awards, including the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards (Best Children’s Fiction) and the 2011 CBCA Book of the Year.

This November, let Jen introduce you to another original and irrepressible new character from the Storer stable: Tan Callahan. Sometimes mischievous, often insightful and always funny, ten-year-old Tan is no wimpy kid.

‘Tan is exactly who I wanted to be when I was kid’, says Jen. ‘She’s an Australian George from the Famous Five, with a sense of humour’.

The first book in a trilogy of Tan adventures, Truly Tan is a uniquely Australian story that in the future will no doubt keep company with modern children’s classics like Clarice BeanJudy Moody and The Dork Diaries.

About the book

Meet Tan. She’s funny. She’s lively. She has the mind of a Great Detective …

Dear Diary

It’s official. Our whole family has moved to the country. The pets are disturbed and restless. My sisters are disturbed and restless — although that’s normal. What is not normal is a cursed fox and a haunted clubhouse. That is definitely unnormal.

At least the country people now have an expert in their midst. Someone with a cool head and a sharp eye. Someone who can solve intriguing mysteries and knows how to keep detailed Secret Spy Files.

Really, it’s lucky I came along when I did.

Truly

Tan

Ages: 8-12

Buy the book here…

About the author

Jen Storer is a talented and exciting writer for children. Her fantasy novel Tensy Farlow and the Home for Mislaid Children was shortlisted for a string of awards, including the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards (Best Children’s Fiction) and the 2011 CBCA Book of the Year. Prior to becoming a full-time writer, Jen worked in the publishing industry as an editor, a project manager and in creative development. Jen has a studio at the Abbotsford Convent in Melbourne.