Funny Holiday Reads for Kids

Whether relaxing at home, on the road or in the air, or sitting by the side of the pool at a fancy resort, your kids will need some great reads to keep them chilled and entertained all summer. Here are a few funny books from popular series for middle graders that will have them enthralled from start to end.

Logie-award-winning television series by Danny Katz and Mitch Vane, Little Lunch is the perfect school-based comedy to read when school is out. Triple the Laughs, fourth in the illustrated book series, contains three immersing stories that will have kids snorting and chortling all the way through.
In ‘The Ya-Ya’, Atticus learns to appreciate his grandmother’s cooking after a long episode of avoiding the small, brown, smelly things in his lunchbox that look and smell like something you scrape off the bottom of your shoe.
The Dress-Up Day’ is about Battie using the alias of superhero, Stretcho, to hide the fact that he is really scared of a lot of things, including moths, crabs, knees, and especially dogs.
The third episode involves Melanie being punished and unable to eat her piece of ultra-choco-happiness cake because Tamara has put ‘The Germblock’ on her following a visit to the toilets. But did Melanie really not wash her hands? Rory seems to know the answer!
Hilarious, authentically appropriate (and sometimes perfectly inappropriate) antics that readers from age seven will relate to or simply have a good old chuckle about, Little Lunch Triple the Laughs is a winner.

Walker Books, August 2017.

Number six in this comedic Timmy Failure series by Stephan Pastis is ‘The Cat Stole My Pants’. The injudicious boy detective is back with another mission to achieve Greatness, this time on an island in Key West, Florida, apparently NOT on holiday / honeymoon with his mum and new step-dad, Doorman Dave.
The graphic novel for tweens sets sail with a pair of missing (or stolen) pants whilst touring the house of famous author, Ernest Hemingway. It then takes us through a sea of laughter as Timmy’s scepticism and hypochondria are a consistent source of his ‘failures’. His social and relationship building skills are tested via interactions with Dave, and Dave’s nephew Emilio, which of course Timmy exploits, I mean, recruits as an ‘unpaid’ intern in his detective agency. Their mission is to solve the mystery of the mysterious note-dropper and a hidden treasure somewhere in the town, leading to a gloriously unexpected and emotionally imposing resolve. All the while, Timmy’s elusively illusive polar bear agent is apparently, according to Timmy, extorting money for a book report required for his summer school homework. But someone else more reliable is there to save Timmy from his unscholarly ways.
With its sarcastic and dry wit, quirkiness, unbelievable yet somewhat uncannily familiar circumstances, and comical illustrations, The Cat Stole My Pants delivers an unputdownable read packed with action, mystery and lessons in (perhaps how to not) handle new and estranged relationships. Set to steal the attention of children from age eight.

Walker Books UK, April 2017.

Laugh Your Head Off Again and Again! is the third in the super-charged, action-packed comedy series blessed with an unbelievably talented array of popular Australian authors. Featuring stories from the Treehouse’s Andy Griffiths, R.A. Spratt, John Marsden, Tony Wilson, Meredith Costain, Alex Ratt, Tristan Bancks, Deborah Abela and Alan Brough, plus fantastically funny sketches by Andrea Innocent.
Again, another ‘brilliantly coloured’ book; literally so eye-blindingly bright you can’t miss it on a bookshelf, but also contextually vibrant in nature to keep its readers totally entranced from neon-green chapter to neon-green chapter.
Nine stories cleverly unfold within the blood-orange cover containing a mix of the unexpected, frightening, enlightening and ridiculous. From a life-threatening shower ordeal, to three greedy pigs and a wolf pie, a psychotic childhood clown come back to life, a high-flying ‘Bum’, to an abandoned girl forging a life of cake and Royalty. Each one different, each with its own voice and level of intensity.
Recommended for middle graders, however make note, this edition is not for the faint-hearted! The authors have definitely turned it up a notch compared to the prequels in terms of ‘scare factor’ and complexity. Some truly nightmarishly frightening with others making you question who you can trust. But all in all, Laugh Your Head Off Again and Again! is a ludicrously entertaining collection of stories to thrill every sense of humour.

Pan Macmillan Australia, October 2017.

Now here’s a raucously Roman romp of colossal proportions! Julius Zebra: Bundle with the Britons! by Gary Northfield is the second hysterically historical book in the series, brilliantly mixing fictional absurdity with non-fictional goodness. It is charged with a chariot-load of droll, and senseless, humour, and insanely wacky black and white illustrations neatly slotting into the storyline throughout. There is also the inclusion of authentically pertinent details of the ancient era with its Roman numeral numbered pages and facts on what the Romans brought to Britain at the closing.
This is the story of The People’s Champion, gladiator Julius Zebra, and his animal cronies on a mission for granted freedom. Emperor Hadrian, the villain in this tale, has promised this outcome on the grounds that Julius defeats the Britons, to win governance of the Roman Empire. Led by Septimus, the boss of the gladiator school, the animals are taken unwillingly to the far-off land of Britannia for a final shot at victory, only to realise their perpetuated slavery will remain unless they stand up for themselves. This does not come without a series of daft and imprudently courageous attempts to outsmart Septimus, their opponents and the Emperor.
Teamwork, friendship and loyalty are at the heart of this fast-paced scramble to freedom. Bundle with the Britons is zany, zesty and zebra-tastic, seizing its middle grade audience with every rip-roaring joke and clanging bangs of energy.

Walker Books UK, May 2017.

Show Books

Very Hungry CaterpillarIt’s holiday time so some shows based on outstanding children’s books are currently being performed in Sydney and surrounds, as well as in other cities around Australia.

A highlight is The Very Hungry Caterpillar (Penguin), a production created around four books by Eric Carle: The Very Hungry Caterpillar, of course, The Artist Who Painted a Blue Horse – my new favourite, The Very Lonely Firefly and Mister Seahorse. Literature is celebrated in the performance and the backdrop is an actual book with turning pages. The show will also be playing in Melbourne and Brisbane and will tour in 2016 if successful. Judging by the sell-out Sydney season, this will not be an issue.Blue Horse

Along with a couple of others, I am writing teacher notes about the play which will be available via a website linked to the show soon. This is a great opportunity to read and re-read Eric Carle’s stunning picture books. The production is excellent. The children (and adults) in the audience were besotted.

A second book-related show is The Gruffalo. This loved picture book by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler about a mouse in the woods has been playing around Australia.

GruffaloAs well as reading the book itself, this is an opportune time to read other books by this creative team, including The Gruffalo’s Child, Tiddler, The Snail and the Whale, Stick Man, Superworm and their most recent collaboration, The Scarecrows’ Wedding (Scholastic).

The Scarecrow’s Wedding is quite a sophisticated tale about a scarecrow couple, Betty O’Barley and Harry O’Hay who wish to marry but suave Reginald Rake interrupts their plans. It will also be enjoyed by Aaron Blabey’s legion of fans.Scarecrows Wedding

Another production inspired by a picture book is Kit Williams’ Masquerade. Unfortunately this 1978 book is only available second-hand. An enterprising publisher should re-publish it. Playwright Kate Mulvany was enthralled and comforted by this book when she was a child suffering from cancer. It is playing now at the Sydney Opera House and will be in Adelaide for the Festival and elsewhere, no doubt. I can’t wait to see it soon.

RabbitsGood luck getting tickets for The Rabbits Opera, based on the book by John Marsden and Shaun Tan (Lothian/Hachette Australia), with music composed by the brilliant Kate Miller-Heidke and libretto by Lally Katz. The Rabbits will play in Perth and Melbourne this year. Hopefully it travels further.

Where is Rusty? by Dutch author-illustrator, Sieb Postuma (Gecko Press) is about a curious young dog lost in a department store. It has aired overseas as theatre and television and is currently available as a picture book. Its themes of hiding, searching and safety are ideal for young explorers.

Another book recently published by exciting Gecko Press, although we perhaps don’t want to think about this subject quite yet, is I don’t want to go to school! by Stephanie Blake.I Don't Want to go to School

Boldly illustrated in bright colours and with some comic panels, this is a quirky, heart-warming story about starting school. And this diverts us to the many wonderful Australian and other books on this important topic, beginning with Starting School by Jane Godwin and Anna Walker (Viking/Penguin), the classic Starting School by the Ahlbergs and my evergreen favourite, First Day by Margaret Wild and Kim Gamble (Allen & Unwin).

First Day

Meet Alice Pung, author of Laurinda

LaurindaThanks for talking to Boomerang Books about your outstanding first novel Laurinda (Black Inc.), Alice Pung.

Thanks for interviewing me!

You are well known for your excellent non-fiction, Unpolished Gem, Her Father’s Daughter and as editor of Growing Up Asian in Australia. Why have you sidestepped into YA fiction?

Growing up, I went to five different high schools, and I have always been fascinated by the way institutions shape individuals. In each new high school I felt like I was a slightly different person – not because anything about me had immediately changed – but because people’s perceptions of me had.

High school is the only time in your life where a large part of your identity is actually shaped by other people. As an adult you can choose your friends, and your time is finite, so of course, you try to only spend time with people who like and affirm you. As a teenager, though, you are forced to fit yourself in amongst 200-1000 other people, who are all with you every day. So I’ve always been interested in how teenagers adapt to this. And I wanted to do this through fiction because I wanted to create a character inspired by a number of young adults I’d met and admired.

You are also known for the Asian content and stories in your books. How does this manifest in LaurindaUnpolished Gem

Laurinda, first and foremost, takes a satirical look at class. Lucy Lam, my main character, is from depressed socio-economic circumstances, and I did not want her race to be the main focus. Where many young adult books fall flat, I think, is when they focus on the ethnicity or race as the most important part of their character. The reality is, most teenagers don’t spend time thinking about their cultural background. You don’t wake up every morning aware that you’re Asian, until someone draws your attention to it.

And that’s the paradox with a school like Laurinda – where everyone is so liberal and politically correct and culturally sensitive – the most interesting thing other girls focus on about Lucy is her Asian-ness. The other girls do not realise that she is a teenager in the exact same way they are: Lucy does not know the history of colonial Indochina, is not an authority on oriental food, and is more interested in boys than Vietnam war films.

Did you attend a school like Laurinda? If not, how did you imagine and craft this setting with such verisimilitude?

I get asked this a lot! No, I didn’t attend any school that was as rotten as Laurinda (thankfully!), but I have, like most other students, had teachers who were bullies, been in classes where we bullied the teachers, and seen the whole mean girl dynamic five times over in each new high school at which I started.

I’ve always been a watcher. No one suspects the quiet Asian kid of harbouring very much ambition except ‘doing well at school’, so as a teenager I’ve been privy to a lot of fly-on-the-wall conversations. Sometimes, I even heard some of the most outrageously racist things from other students, and other times I got insight into the struggles of girls I never thought would have struggles.

Also, as an author I have visited hundreds of schools throughout Australia, each with their own culture and traditions. I’ve seen how certain schools promote feminism while others promote a warped sense of femininity that denies competition while pushing success at all costs. I’ve also been to a private school so understand a little about the aspirations of those students, and did not want to tar all the students with the same brush. It seems that all the news and opinion pieces about private schools in the media are rife with so much hyperbole and polarised views. So I hoped that Laurinda would allow people to take a light-hearted and yet simultaneously very serious, nuanced look at why they feel this way.

Growing up AsianThe protagonist, Lucy, is an exceptionally well-created, three-dimensional character. She should become a role model.

Wow. Thank you!

In spite of the vast amount of YA lit I read, I’m excited to have been exposed to new ideas via Lucy, such as needing a group of friends to get a boyfriend at fifteen, and recognising students who are ‘self-contained satellites’.

Could you describe Lucy, or something about her?

When I wrote the character of Lucy, I was very aware of her voice first and foremost, very certain that the reader would be hearing her thoughts and not her words. She’s what school psychologists would now call a classic introvert, but the fascinating thing is that she was not an introvert at her previous school. It is only coming to Laurinda that she loses her speaking voice.

Many young adult books stress the importance of belonging to a group, yet Lucy is content to be by herself at school after she recognises that the institution is rotten. When evil exists, we are taught to do something about it – Lucy’s non-participation in the institution is a form of resistance, and I think it’s pretty stoic. You have to have a strong sense of self to choose to be ‘a loner.’

The ‘Cabinet’, a controlling group of girls, is a masterful, chilling portrayal of teen power. How did you devise their dynamics and role in the school?

I wanted to create characters that were so entitled that they didn’t even realise how entitled they were. There’s the old cliché of the silver spoon, but I didn’t want these characters’ entitlement to be based on wealth – I wanted it to be based on cultural capital: the handed-down power that exists in our society. Their alumni mothers trained them to appreciate Royal Doulton and institutional loyalty, their fathers are powerful men and their school Laurinda trains them to be ‘Leaders of tomorrow.’

So of course they’re going to want to ‘lead’ the school. They feel it’s their birthright. And also, being such perfectionists, they feel a duty to weed out the weaker elements of the school: vulnerable teachers, students they feel are not up to scratch. I did not want the Cabinet to be vacuous ‘mean girls’, but the sort of pressure-cooker girls you would meet at a private school who must be on top of things all the time; and yet whose worlds are so tightly-wound that any threat to their order would ignite them. And I hope readers come away with an understanding that those girls are as much victims of institutional and familial insularity as they are cruel.

You mention a number of literary texts, such as Emma, Romeo and Juliet, The Great GatsbyWhy did you include these? Emma

Those were books I studied as a teenager when I went to a private grammar school. Gatsby is a book about class and a man who will never quite belong because of his pink suit. And when Jane Austen began to write Emma, I think she resolved: “I am going to take a heroine whom no one but myself will much like” because Emma, like the Cabinet, is selfish and entitled. But actually, she is my favourite Austen character because there is a gravitas and kindness to her at the end when she comes of age.

Lucy is informed by the principal that YA literature is not studied at Laurinda. Do you have a personal opinion about this provocative stance?

I studied John Marsden and Isobelle Carmody books at my Catholic College, and a novel about a Cambodian refugee called ‘The Clay Marble’ in Year 7 at a public school. It seems to me that the more ‘elite’ the school is, the more their texts seem removed from the realities of existence as a teenager.

I cannot fathom how you could teach teenagers and yet remove their experience from the whole equation. YA books taught me how to become an adult, how to deal stoically with adversity, how to negotiate with adults around me, how to cope with mental illness: they were the most important books I have ever read in my life.

I love literary classics as much as any author, yet some schools teach the heavy themes in King Lear or the humour in Austen so rigidly, with students churning out essays full of fancy vocabulary and effluent literary tricks. They teach students to be contemptuous of YA literature, and in doing so, make them into miniature, insufferable snobby adults who have to deny their constant true state of existence, which is that they are teenagers!

And you cannot teach teenagers without acknowledging that for six years of their lives, they are inevitably, inextricably in this state of young-adult-hood, with questions about how to live well each day, and how to cope, and how to look forward to things.

What do you hope to achieve with this story? Alice Pung

It’s funny, but I never got asked this question with my non-fiction books, even the book about my father and the Cambodian holocaust! I just hope lots of young adults will read it and be able to relate in some way.

I’ve always been against didactic messages in YA books. If students are studying Kafka in Year 11, then of course they can make up their own opinions!

(I guess that might be one reason some schools put YA off their booklists – some authors feel the patronising need to include ‘a positive message’ and that kills the story.)

Laurinda is an exceptional novel that will be very well received.

Thanks very much for sharing your thoughts with us, Alice.

THANK YOU for these excellent and insightful questions, I’ve really enjoyed thinking about them and answering them. Her Father's Daughter

 

A Snapshot of Australian YA and Fiction in the USA

The Book ThiefI’ve just returned from visiting some major cities in the USA. It was illuminating to see which Australian literature is stocked in their (mostly) indie bookstores. This is anecdotal but shows which Australian books browsers are seeing, raising the profile of our literature.

Marcus Zusak’s The Book Thief was the most prominent Australian book. I didn’t go to one shop where it wasn’t stocked.

The ABIA (Australian Book Industry) 2014 overall award winner, The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion was also popular. And a close third was Shaun Tan’s inimical Rules of Summer, which has recently won a prestigious Boston Globe-Horn Book picture book honour award. Some stores had copies in stacks.

http://www.hbook.com/2014/05/news/boston-globe-horn-book-awards/picture-book-reviews-2014-boston-globe-horn-book-award-winner-honor-books/#_

I noticed a few other Tans shelved in ‘graphic novels’, including his seminal work, The Arrival – which is newly available in paperback.

All the birds singing

One large store had an Oceania section, where Eleanor Catton’s Man-Booker winner, The Luminaries rubbed shoulders with an up-to-date selection of Australian novels. These included hot-off-the-press Miles Franklin winner All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld and Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites, plus expected big-names – Tim Winton with Eyrie, Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North and works by Thomas Keneally and David Malouf. Less expected but very welcome was Patrick Holland.I chaired a session with Patrick at the Brisbane Writers’ Festival a few years ago and particularly like his short stories Riding the Trains in Japan.

Australian literary fiction I found in other stores included Kirsten Tranter’s A Common Loss, Patrick White’s The Hanging Garden and some Peter Carey.

One NY children’s/YA specialist was particularly enthusiastic about Australian writers. Her store had hosted Gus Gordon to promote his picture book, Herman and Rosie, a CBCA honour book, which is set in New York City. They also stocked Melina Marchetta’s Looking for Alibrandi and Saving Francesca, John Marsden, David McRobbie’s Wayne series (also a TV series), Catherine Jinks’ Genius Squad (How to Catch a Bogle was available elsewhere) and some of Jaclyn Moriarty’s YA. One of my three top YA books for 2013, The Midnight Dress by Karen Foxlee was available in HB with a stunning cover and Foxlee’s children’s novel Ophelia and the Marvellous Boy was promoted as part of the Summer Holidays Reading Guide.

The children of the king

Elsewhere I spied Margo Lanagan’s The Brides of Rollrock Island, published as Sea Hearts here (the Australian edition has the best cover); Lian Tanner’s Keepers trilogy; John Flanagan’s Ranger’s Apprentice and Sonya Hartnett’s The Children of the King. These are excellent books that we are proud to claim as Australian.

No. 7 – Most Popular Aussie Novels of All Time

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

At #7 – Tomorrow, When the War Began by John Marsden

34.5% of all respondents have read this book

Synopsis for Tomorrow, When the War Began by John Marsden

Tomorrow, When the War Began is the first book in the Tomorrow novel series by John Marsden. It is a young adult invasion novel, detailing a high-intensity invasion and occupation of Australia by a foreign power. The novel is told in first person perspective by the main character, a teenage girl named Ellie Linton, who is part of a small band of teenagers waging a guerrilla war on the enemy garrison in their fictional home town of Wirrawee.

Tomorrow, When the War Began was adapted into a feature film of the same name that was released on 2 September 2010 in Australia and New Zealand. It was written and directed by Stuart Beattie, and starred Caitlin Stasey in the role of Ellie Linton.

Ellie goes out camping in the bush for a week with her friends Homer Yannos, Lee, Kevin Holmes, Corrie Mackenzie, Robyn Mathers and Fiona Maxwell. They find a way into a large, vegetated sinkhole in a remote area of bush the locals have dubbed “Hell”, and camp there for the week. During this time they see large numbers of planes flying through the night without lights, and though it is mentioned in conversation the following morning, they think little of it, dismissing it as military planes heading back from a demonstration.

When they return to their home town of Wirrawee, they find that all the people are missing and their pets and livestock are dead or dying. Fearing the worst, they break into three groups to investigate Wirrawee’s situation. They confirm that Australia (or at least, Wirrawee) has been invaded and local citizens are being held captive by a hostile foreign force. Ellie’s group is discovered and, in order to escape, use the fuel tank of a ride-on lawnmower to create an improvised explosive. However, on returning to the nearby meeting point, they discover Robyn and Lee missing. Homer and Ellie search for them and they are met by Robyn, and they discover that Lee has been shot in the leg and hiding out in the main street of Wirrawee, the centre of the enemy’s activity. Ellie and Homer confer with the others and Ellie decides that they should attempt to rescue Lee, using a large excavator to move and protect him. After a protacted chase that sees several soldiers killed, Lee is successfully rescued and returned to the safety of Hell.

While hiding out in Hell, a romantic relationship forms between Ellie and Lee; Homer falls in love with Fi; Kevin and Corrie continue a romantic relationship started a few months before the invasion.

They decide to raid nearby farmhouses, searching for food and other supplies, and then retreat to Hell to establish a base camp for themselves. The group eventually moves toward waging a guerrilla war against the invaders and Ellie, Fi, Lee and Homer steal a petrol tanker, and blow it up under a bridge, destroying the easiest route into Wirrawee (the detour was very slow and complicated). While this is happening Corrie is shot in the back while finding food with Kevin, and Kevin sacrifices his freedom to drive her to an occupied hospital for medical assistance. This leads onto the end of the book which stops there leaving the reader wondering if Corrie will be all right.

Source: Wikipedia

About John Marsden (Books by John Marsden…)

John Marsden (born 27 September 1950) is an Australian writer, teacher and school principal. Marsden has had his books translated into nine languages including Swedish, French, German, Dutch, Danish, Italian and Spanish.

Marsden was born in Victoria, Australia and spent his early life in Kyneton, Victoria, Devonport, Tasmania and Sydney, New South Wales. At age 28, after working several jobs, Marsden began a teaching course. Whilst working as a teacher, Marsden began writing for children, and had his first book, So Much To Tell You, published in 1987. Since then, he has written or edited over 40 books and has sold over 5 million books throughout the world.

In 2006, Marsden started an alternative school, Candlebark School in the Macedon Ranges, in which he is the school principal. Marsden has since reduced his writing to focus on teaching and running the school.

Source: Wikipedia

The List so far…

#7 – Tomorrow, When the War Began by John Marsden

#8 – I Can Jump Puddles by Alan Marshall

#9 – Playing Beatie Bow by Ruth Park

#10 – A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute

#11 – Puberty Blues by Kathy Lette and Gabrielle Carey

#12 – A Fortunate Life by A.B. Facey

#13 – Cloudstreet by Tim Winton

#14 – Seven Little Australians by Ethel Turner

#15 – April Fool’s Day by Bryce Courtenay

#16 – The Harp in the South by Ruth Park

#17 – My Brilliant Career by Miles Franklin

#18 – Jessica by Bryce Courtenay

#19 – My Place by Sally Morgan

#20 – For the Term of His Natural Life by Marcus Clarke

#21 – The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

#22 – Dirt Music by Tim Winton

#23 – Breath by Tim Winton

#24 – So Much to Tell You by John Marsden

No. 24 – Most Popular Aussie Novels of All Time

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

At #24 – So Much to Tell You by John Marsden

20.1% of all respondents have read this book

Synopsis for So Much to Tell You by John Marsden

So Much to Tell You is based on a true story, and is presented as a diary written by a 14-year-old girl known as Marina. Marina has a scarred face because she was the unintended victim of an incident involving a vial of acid which was thrown by her father. She refused to talk to anyone during her long recovery period in hospital so she was sent to Warrington, a girls’ boarding school because nothing else appeared to be working. But even after her arrival, she maintains her silence. Then, one day, her English teacher Mr. Lindell encourages the class to keep a journal. Despite the fact that Marina is determined not to make use of her diary, she cannot resist writing about some of the seemingly trivial events of her day. However, the content of her entries becomes more and more revealing over time and readers are able to better understand Marina’s world: how her friends, teachers and families create profound and lasting impressions on her psyche. Marina goes from not interacting with others at all, to opening up and socialising, and eventually finding non-verbal ways of communicating. However, as the book continues, Marina’s negative feelings towards her father fade away and by the end of the book she devises a plan which enables her to see him again. When she speaks for the first time, in such a long time, she utters her only words for the entire novel: “Hello, Dad… I’ve got so much to tell you…”

Source: Wikipedia

Awards for So Much to Tell You by John Marsden

  • Winner, CBCA Children’s Book of the Year Award: Older Readers 1988
  • Winner, Victorian Premier’s Literary Award Alan Marshall Award 1988
  • Winner, Christopher Award Books for Young People 1990
  • Selected, American Library Association list of Best Books for Young Adults 1990
  • Selected, American Library Association list of Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults 1999
  • Winner, KOALA (Kids Own Australian Literature Awards) 1989
  • Selected, COOL Awards (Canberra’s Own Outstanding List) 1995
  • Winner, Young Adult Book Award (New South Wales, Australia) 1998

Source: Wikipedia

About John Marsden (Books by John Marsden…)

John Marsden (born 27 September 1950) is an Australian writer, teacher and school principal. Marsden has had his books translated into nine languages including Swedish, French, German, Dutch, Danish, Italian and Spanish.

Marsden was born in Victoria, Australia and spent his early life in Kyneton, Victoria, Devonport, Tasmania and Sydney, New South Wales. At age 28, after working several jobs, Marsden began a teaching course. Whilst working as a teacher, Marsden began writing for children, and had his first book, So Much To Tell You, published in 1987. Since then, he has written or edited over 40 books and has sold over 5 million books throughout the world.

In 2006, Marsden started an alternative school, Candlebark School in the Macedon Ranges, in which he is the school principal. Marsden has since reduced his writing to focus on teaching and running the school.

Source: Wikipedia

The List so far…

#24 – So Much to Tell You by John Marsden

The Movie Curse


Against every sensible bone in my body’s advice, I made a trip to the movies for the 2010 remake of Clash of the Titans, starring that gorgeous Aussie, Sam Worthington. My first mistake. Having adored the 1981 version, I of course had high expectations of this new adaptation. This was my second mistake.

No matter how hard I try, I can’t help but have preconceived notions of how an adaptation should behave. I mean, these people, these ‘director geniuses’ and ‘prodigy scriptwriters’ are taking a perfectly good baby, mixing the DNA up – prettifying it *here* and simplifying it *there* and suddenly you find yourself looking into the face of a stranger. A boringly symmetrical version of someone you once knew, perhaps treasured for its depth, its ‘ugliness’. Now completely ruined.

I fancy myself a bit of a movie critic (though not a great one) – I hang on every word of David and Margaret’s, and throw about such gems as ‘completely amateur scriptwriting!’ and ‘that plot had more holes in it than a boxful of broken sieves’ with the greatest of ease. I’m sure my movie buddies live in terror of the final credits rolling, me blasting the crud out of a movie which ‘was pretty funny, had some romantic bits’, or at least they thought it did until I opened my fat trap.
It’s because of this critical mindset that I’m scared to count how many of my favourite books have, in my oh-so-humble opinion, been ruined by  the silver screen. Dystopian Sci Fi features in particular are (a bit) hit and (mostly) miss for me (why, oh why did they change the ending to I Am Legend?), and it’s why I’m too afraid to watch The Road, despite loving – or perhaps BECAUSE I loved – Cormac McCarthy’s desolate masterpiece. It’s all I can do to stop from getting down on my knees and praying to the movie gods that John Marsden’s Tomorrow series receives proper justice (it’s set for release later this year). Please please PLEASE be good! Please!

I’m resigned to the fact that turning a fantasy book into a movie seems to run a dangerous gauntlet for investors, fans and producers alike. Perhaps it’s because it requires such a suspension of disbelief, that the special effects have to be more than special, the characters have to be more than protagonists, they have to be HEROES. No other genre (besides paperback romance) lusts after its main character as much as fantasy literature does. To be honest, the last time I truly enjoyed some book-to-movie (or movie-to-book) adaptations was back in the 80s, early 90s. True story.

Yet somehow, despite all my whinging and my frenzied vow never to watch anything surrounded by hype ever again, the glittery promise  of the silver screen bringing my favourite characters to life just keeps sucking me back in. Me paying 17 bucks a pop in the vain hope that I’ll feel one tenth of the devastation I felt when Artax drowned in the mud, or the excitement mixed with dread as Westley faces off with Vizzini over the poisoned cup. Such is the mystery, and the poisonous allure, of the movie curse.

Adele Walsh on movie adaptations

I’m not the only perpetual adolescent in the world, and the plan is for this blog to feature a range of ‘adolescent’ voices, from young-adult authors, to young-adult readers. Adele Walsh, or as you may know her, Persnickety Snark, is one of the, if not the name in Australian young-adult blogging. Of course, if you said this to her, she’d humbly point out five or six bloggers she thinks are far better – but that doesn’t change the fact that I’m right :-). Every month, thousands flock to her review/commentary website for their young-adult book fix, and we’re excited to announce that she’ll be dropping by this blog every so often, to share her always-relevant two cents.

ADELE WALSH:
Please, don’t rob me of my childhood

The two Ms had a huge part in my love of the Australian young adult literature scene – a Ms Marchetta and a Mr Marsden.  Both were teachers that never taught me in the classroom, instead they influenced me on the page.  Both created two conflicted and strong female protagonists that really spoke to me as an Australian kid. Before that, I had thought of Australian books as whatever came from Mem Fox’s brain. It sounds narrow minded and doesn’t reflect my fantastic school librarians influence at all, but that’s what I thought as a mild-mannered tween book nerd. Hush was great and all but until Josie (Looking for Alibrandi) and Ellie (Tomorrow, When the War Began) came along, I hadn’t really seen myself, or more importantly, who I wanted to be, in the books that I was reading.

The convoluted machinations of the Alibrandi family and the depiction of Sydney allowed me to see myself and my country in startling clarity.  I was twelve and I felt as though my world had opened up. Ellie came along three years later and I embraced her with fiery pride. These girls might have been struck with embarrassing crushes like me but they were strong, smart and impressively verbal. They weren’t perfect but neither was I. Melina Marchetta and John Marsden’s characters are forever ingrained in my memories of my teen years as a result.

You might be wondering at this point why I’m rambling on. Don’t worry, I’ll tell you. With the release of the film adaptation trailer of Tomorrow, When the War Began this month, I was struck with a familiar fear.  One I had exactly a decade ago when the adaptation of Looking for Alibrandi was released in theatres. 

In 2000, I had just entered university and was finally in the same age range that Josie Alibrandi and Ellie Linton were when their lives turned upside down. Childhood passions are curious creatures, we hold tight, protecting them from our adult existences. I always used to chuckle when I heard claims that a director ruined a person’s childhood. While it might be melodramatic in some cases, revisiting a childhood landmark or bringing a book into the celluloid can often do just that. It shatters the golden memories that we have of that time in our lives when discovery was joyous.

I exited the cinema in 2000 sorely disappointed in Looking for Alibrandi. I was the only one amongst many of my friends to feel that way. It took me a year to realise I was being ridiculous. Cinema is a vastly different medium than a novel. Nothing was ever going to meet the internal movie that I had relived in my imagination for many years. It didn’t matter that Carly and Ivy were merged into one heinous teenage girl or that the passage of time seemed so much more compact. (That being said, I was devastated that Josie’s cousin, Robert, didn’t feature more heavily but with time I understood that it would have tampered with the narrative flow.) The essence of the novel was there.  In great part this was due to Marchetta’s role as screenwriter. The movie didn’t ruin my childhood image of Josie, Nonna Katia and their family history; it just gave me a deeper appreciation for the novel.

In the ten years since Looking for Alibrandi’s release I have seen other representations of my childhood remade… badly. I have to admit that I refuse to see the adaptation of Where The Wild Things Are due to the fact that it is perfect in my mind and I don’t wish to tamper with that image. I might be robbing myself of reliving that adventure in a different medium, but I am satisfied with the memories I already possess.

The Tomorrow, When the War Began movie went into production in late 2009 under the direction of experienced film maker, Stuart Beattie. With the current Internet age, I was well aware of the progress of producing from scripts to casting to the start of filming. I have been much more aware of the process of recreating a vivid childhood adventure than I was in the case of Marchetta’s novel. I also had an avenue (my blog) to moan about certain developments and share my concerns. When local soapie actors were hired to fill two of the eight central roles, I was outraged. A pin up girl as Ellie? My strong, wilful, intelligent Ellie was going to be depicted by an actress who readily showed off too much cleavage at the Logies? I was quite bereft. I was similarly peeved when a British actress was hired to play one of the teens – they couldn’t find someone good enough with an actual Australian accent? The actor playing Homer doesn’t have a big enough nose! I was scraping the bottom of the complaints barrel and didn’t care. Ellie and Homer were mine and they needed to be perfect.

With some time, some distance and the release of the teaser trailer, I am less concerned. The trailer has managed to depict some ordinary Aussie teens in an impossible situation. It doesn’t look cheap (and nor should it, the budget is around the $20 million mark), the English actress’ accent isn’t half bad and they scuffed the pin up girl up. I don’t know what I loved more – the sight of the jets flying over the camp, Homer getting sacked or Kevin flying through the air as flames chased his back. I have faith that the movie adaptation Tomorrow, When the War Began won’t besmirch my beloved teenage reading experience. And should it go the other way, I know I can accuse it of robbing me of my childhood…

Adele Walsh, Persnickety Snark

The Myth of the Children’s Book (Part 1)

If you read up on these kinds of things, you’ll already have been aware that the Hugo Award nominees for 2010 have been announced. Among them the name ‘Shaun Tan’ sits merrily, in the category of ‘Best Professional Artist’ . And if you’ve been hiding under a different rock from the one Shaun Tan’s been propped on, he’s the artistic genius behind such books as Arrival, The Red Tree, and The Rabbits.  I love them to bits.

But I have a confession to make. All those listed above are often marketed as children’s picture books. And I’m an adult.

Do you remember the first book you ever read (or had read to you)? There’s definitely an early one that imprinted itself on my brain: There’s a Hippopotamus on our Roof Eating Cake. And sure, I know that partly the reason I have loved this book every time I have opened it since, is that nostalgia for my 80s childhood. Yet there’s another larger part of me that can’t even remember what the book’s about – it’s the illustrations themselves that continue to draw me in. At the ripe old age of 26 (newly turned) I am still in love with the pink and purple colour combination! Seeing pretty colours together in print gives me some sort of weird inner peace and I immediately feel calm, as if all is right with the world – such is the power of illustration.

Shaun Tan himself is a master at wielding the power– his pieces are often dark and disturbing. Consider his use of colour in The Rabbits (written in collaboration with John Marsden). It’s a dark yet sensitive story about colonisation from the perspective of the ‘colonised’. The twist is that the colonisers are bunny rabbits.

The Rabbits cover itself could be interpreted by a number of perspectives:  the preschooler (happy, bright reds and blues), the agonised teenager (colours of rage and oppression), or the professional art critic (colonial imperialism, environmental destruction and cultural discord)! Even Mr Tan himself believes that his picture books are intended mostly for an older audience. In ‘Picture Books: Who are they for?’, Tan comments:

We [all] like to look at things from unusual angles, attempt to seek some child-like revelation in the ordinary, and bring our imagination to the task of questioning everyday experience. Why are things the way they are? How might they be different?
…But is this an activity that ends with childhood, when at some point we are sufficiently qualified to graduate from one medium to another? Simplicity certainly does not exclude sophistication or complexity; we inherently know that the truth is otherwise. “Art,” as Einstein reminds us, “is the expression of the most profound thoughts in the simplest way.”

In response to anyone who believes an imagination is ‘children only’ domain, I would argue that imagination never stops. An ‘innocent’ imagination transforms into a ‘critical’ imagination with age and experience, giving us the ability to explore abstract concepts and see them as capable of many meanings.

Having said all this, I don’t even want to PRETEND to think that there’s some ‘hidden meaning’ to that purple hippopotamus on the roof eating the pink cake. I think it’s a safe bet (though I could be wrong!) that for the little girl in the story, there really was a hippopotamus on the roof. And that’s it. If I probed very deep with my ‘psychology fingers’, there might be something to be said about the wider human need to create invisible friends to be different, or to be understood, or to never be alone. But really, my attraction to the book can be witnessed through the lullaby rhythm of the words and the pink and purple pictures. Plain and simple.

A continuous look back to the picture books of your early years, similar to the study of academic history, can reveal new things each time. To me, it’s the truest magic you can find in this world – a fantasy in reality, you might say. Perhaps for you, it will be a gentle meditation on a childhood lived. Perhaps it will reveal something about the person you are now. But if all you feel like seeing is the happy colours and playful words, then that’s ok too. No adult, no matter how old, smart or busy they are, should lose the urge to play.

CHILDREN’S BOOK WEEK: Melina Marchetta

In what will no doubt set a dangerous precedent for the years to come, this week, to celebrate the CBCA’s Book Week, we’re doing something very special here at the Boomerang Blog. We’ve invited a selection of Australian children’s author to drop by and guest blog for us – one for every day of the week.

We’re kicking off with Melina Marchetta, whose books include the quintessential Australian young adult book, Looking For Alibrandi, which became a successful film, and On The Jelicoe Road, recent winner of the prestigious 2009 US Printz Award for excellence in young adult literature.

Enjoy.

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When I was in Year Six, my best friend and I were in charge of discarding the garbage in the school incinerator. As much as I’m thankful for recycling bins and child protection these days, it was there that our imaginations went haywire and we managed to bludge whole afternoons. Except for the term when my teacher read the class Ivan Southall’s Hills End. Setting our hair alight no longer interested me because I was desperate to return to class and listen to a story about a group of country Australian kids and their teacher separated from the rest of their town because of a storm and a lie. I savoured the love triangle between Paul, Frances and Adrian, I loved the moral dilemma faced by Adrian, long demoralised by his father, and I was introduced to the importance of the secondary characters. When Ivan Southall died last year I felt a sadness that we never got to meet. I would love to have told how important his work was to me.

By high school, I enjoyed any story written about teenagers. Most were from the US, like Paul Zindel’s My Darling My Hamburger. I remember in Year Eight, Judy Blume’s Forever being passed around the room with the important sex references dog eared for quick consumption. It wasn’t until I studied at university that I was truly introduced to Australian YA and I fell in love with the genre because of novels like John Marsden’s So Much To Tell You, Simon French’s All We Know and Isobelle Carmody’s Obernewtyn.

Although my own novels aren’t specifically written for a particular audience, I’m forever grateful that they’ve found a home in the hands of teenagers who don’t go around questioning where the adults are in a story about boarding school territory wars. Teenagers don’t care much about audience or themes or finding out why a story works the way it does. But they do love language and they’ll go around quoting their favourite lines. When you ask them why it’s their favourite, their response isn’t about the use of assonance and alliteration and juxtaposition. Instead they say, “I just like the sound of it. It makes me feel something.”