Book Week: the CBCA Eve Pownall Books, Part 2

Fabish: the horse that braved a bushfire

By Neridah McMullin, illustrated by Andrew McLean   Allen & Unwin

Another amazing animal in the Eve Pownall shortlisted books is the horse, Fabish. He was an old horse who rescued the yearlings from the terrible Black Saturday bushfire. The trainer rescued the finest race horses but couldn’t look after them all so he set Fabish free with the yearlings. He discovered every single one safe after the decimating fire but didn’t know where Fabian had taken them.

Picture book form is an apt medium for this true story. Important Australian illustrator, Andrew McLean, is an expert in painting our countryside and animals and Neridah McMullin has crystallised the events into a riveting tale.

Primary-age children could no doubt imagine where the horses may have found safety. They could write and draw their possible experiences.

These creators have published other very worthwhile books, such as McLean’s A Year on Our Farm and Bob the Railway Dog and McMullin’s Kick it to Me and KnockAbout Cricket.

William Bligh: a stormy story of tempestuous time

By Michael Sedunary, illustrated by Bern Emmerichs Berbay Publishing

This tale begins in 1808, 20 years after the First Fleet, when soldiers arrest Governor Bligh. It then retrospectively tells the account of the Mutiny on the Bounty before returning to Bligh’s attempts to quell both the Rum Rebellion and John Macarthur.

Michael Sedunary’s writing is picturesque and colourful; personalising Bligh’s life and endeavours.

Bern Emmerichs’ illustrations are intricate and patterned.

Surprisingly, blogging and social media appear in this book. Bligh’s log (now kept in Sydney’s Mitchell Library) relates blogging to the gossip, printed pamphlets and handbills of the period. Macarthur’s ‘tweets’ against Bligh are viewed as the social media of the time.

The first Australian political cartoon (adapted here) shows Bligh dragged from under his bed by Major Johnston’s men. Propaganda is explained and readers are asked to think about how ‘simple slogans and labels are meant to stop us thinking any further about things.’

More surprises appear when readers are asked to consider who is the hero or villain – Cook or Bligh? (Cook ordered many more floggings than Bligh.)

Other books in the series are What’s Your Story? and The Unlikely Story of Bennelong and Phillip.

 Enormous congratulations to Berbay Publishing for its Bologna Award.

 The Gigantic Book of Genes

By Lorna Hendry   Wild Dog Books

This is a glossy science publication with high quality photos. It includes seamless explanations of genes and genetics with apt examples for children to understand.

It has incredible information, such as ‘If you took all the DNA in your body, unwound it and stretched it out into a single strand, it would reach all the way to Pluto and back.’

Readers are asked: which has more genes: a grape or a human? (the answer is on page 32)

We are reminded that tongue-rolling and widow’s peaks are genetic.

No doubt every reader will be amazed when they clasp their hands to see if their left or right thumb is on top. (page 59) Try it!

And genetically all humans have 99.9% of identical DNA. We are almost exactly the same.

Book Week: the CBCA Eve Pownall Books, Part 1

The Eve Pownall Information Books this year span the ABC, animals and history.

They highlight several small, independent publishers, who should be congratulated on their excellent publications.

Spellbound: Making Pictures with the ABC

By Maree Coote    Melbournestyle Books

Spellbound also won a 2017 Bologna Ragazzi Award. It’s a large, sumptuous hardcover in three parts: architecture, animals and people, and features typography (letter art) where images are created from letters that spell their names.

Young children could find the letters in the illustrations. Older readers could appreciate the typographic poetry (shape poetry) where the meaning of the text is enhanced visually.

I spoke to the creator, Maree, on the day before she flew to Bologna to receive her award, who explained that she has restricted herself to using existing fonts.

There are three levels of difficulty within the book’s examples: 1. any letters that inspire a picture can be used 2. only use letters of the correct spelling of the subject’s name 3. only use correct spelling and only 1 font per letter (see page 3).

This book helps understanding of Visual Literacy. (See page 3 for line and shape, and page 63 for patterns.)

Children could use Macs, or equivalent, to create their own letter art.

There is even a mini tutorial on how to create animals using only letters.

 A-Z of Endangered Animals

Words and Illustrations by Jennifer Cossins       Red Parka Press

The Introduction explains how the high animal extinction rate is due largely to humans, and also introduced species such as rabbits and foxes, in Australia.

Everyone can help by reusing and recycling, keeping beaches clean and not wasting water.

The book is well-designed; it’s clean and clear.

It is structured with one animal representing each letter of the alphabet.

Information on the left-hand page includes conservation (e.g. endangered or vulnerable) status; current population; description of the animal and where it lives; and an interesting fact such as no two tigers have the same striped pattern, and eastern gorillas use basic tools to gather food.

Each animal is illustrated on the opposite page.

Primary-aged children could focus on Australian endangered animals and present information using the same format, possibly to make a class book.

Amazing Animals of Australia’s National Parks

By Gina M. Newton    National Library of Australia

Like A-Z Endangered Animals, Amazing Animals of Australia’s National Parks shows which species are endangered, vulnerable or threatened (their conservation status).

Every state and territory is included, so readers may be able to visit one.

The structure is organised by environments and habitats such as woodlands and grasslands (the Bush), wetlands and waterways, arid zones and coast, oceans and islands.

Each habitat has a double page, followed by one page each for selected animals.

Read this book to discover more about our wildlife and how to care for the environment

There are high-quality photos, interesting ‘fast facts’ and a glossary.

I will write about the 3 other Eve Pownall shortlisted books in another post.

CBCA 2017 Younger Readers, Part 2: Mrs Whitlam & Within These Walls

Mrs Whitlam by Bruce Pascoe  Magabala Books

Bunurong man from Victoria, Bruce Pascoe also wrote Fog a Dox, which won a YA Prime Minister’s Literary Award and Seahorse. Like Seahorse, Mrs Whitlam centres around an Aboriginal family, without emphasising Aboriginal issues. Pascoe here portrays well-functioning, happy, ‘normal’ families. He also won 2016 Book of the Year for the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards for his adult book, Dark Emu. I’ve interviewed the author for Boomerang Blog here.

In Mrs Whitlam, Marnie is surprised to inherit a Clydesdale horse called Mrs Maggie Whitlam after its young owner dies. The horse is named after the wife of the former Prime Minister who, as Marnie’s mother states, ‘Did a fair bit for black people too!’ The tale explores suffering at an appropriate level for young readers, introduces us to a very appealing girl who is brave but sometimes made to feel inferior, and culminates in an exciting rescue.

After finishing the short novel, children could re-read descriptions of the horse, research Clydesdales and then make an ‘assemblage’ (a 3D collage originating from Picasso’s cubist constructions). They could make the rough sculpture by using ‘found objects’ such as wire, cardboard and wool or twine.

Within These Walls by Robyn Bavati  Scholastic Australia 

Extreme suffering is evident in this well-written holocaust tale set in Warsaw, Poland during WW2. It is mainly placed in history just before Morris Gleitzman’s novel, Soon, another graphic account of violence against children and adults.

Within These Walls is not just another holocaust story. It is particularly interesting and engaging and reveals a depth of knowledge and research based on true events, especially in the sealed ghetto. The details such as Miri’s mother wearing a wig and baking challah create verisimilitude. The family reads the Biblical book of Esther and the Passover account of the Jews’ Exodus from Egypt, replacing slavery with freedom. Both books are pertinent to the story told here. Family is critical to Miri but, tragically, she loses her parents and siblings one by one.

We experience Miri’s life in the city, the open and closed ghetto and in a dark cellar. The novel begins with her time in the cellar and it is used to foreshadow some of Miri’s darkest times.

Even though Within These Walls is shortlisted for younger readers, parents and schools may wish to examine the contents before giving to all children.

The author also wrote Dancing in the Dark, which has a Jewish focus as well.

CBCA 2017 Younger Readers, Part 1: Captain Jimmy Cook & Rockhopping

The Younger Readers CBCA Short List has a well-balanced selection of books; there’s something for all primary school age groups. I know the awards are judged on literary merit, but this is a helpful and positive by-product.

I’ve written about these 6 books in three Parts for the blog.

As well as a plot run-down and mention of anything that stands out, I’ve incorporated some activities that children could do with these books at school or home.

Boys, in particular, will be very keen to read these first two books.

Captain Jimmy Cook Discovers Third Grade 

By Kate Temple & Jol Temple, illustrated by John Foye  Allen & Unwin

Jimmy is thrilled to share a name with Captain James Cook but not so keen to write a diary, like the explorer. When he reads that Cook kept a ‘log’, he becomes far more interested. Like Jimmy, children could keep a short log about their daily activities, especially at school, and include one or more illustrations in the naïve style of the book.

The book is funny. When Jimmy dresses up as Cook for History Week he uses powder and hair cream to create Cook’s curls but the cream leaves him with bald spots. He takes his fake arm to Bed, Bath and Cables and loses it in the Kids’ Ball Pit.

When he realises that Cook was killed by the Hawaiians, Jimmy resolves to continue his explorations. He eats cereal to try to win a competition to Hawaii, feeds his baby sister an orange thinking she has scurvy and inadvertently terrorises a guest speaker. He starts an Explorers’ Society (but no girls are allowed) and the members use a formula of ‘Sir + Street Name + Fridge’ brand to invent their names, such as ‘Sir Clanville Fisher-Paykel’. Children could also try finding their own explorer names using this method.

Jimmy discovers lots of information from Google, such as what ‘fermented’ is, and uses an ancestry site to find out about his descendants. Children could also use the internet to learn about their past family.

Devotees can read more in Captain Jimmy Cook Discovers: X Marks the Spot, which is equally good.

Rockhopping by Trace Balla  Allen & Unwin 

This companion graphic novel to the award-winning Rivertime is set in Gariwerd (the Grampians). It tells the second story of Clancy and Uncle Egg, whilst respectfully including and acknowledging the Jardwadjali, Djab Wurrung and other Aboriginal peoples, as they try to find the source of the Glenelg River. Nephew and uncle also encounter native wildlife and plants and, of course, get lost along the way.

Read this book in conjunction with the Eve Pownall shortlisted, Amazing Animals of Australia’s National Parks. Teacher notes are available at the publishers’ website. Also read My Place by Nadia Wheatley and Donna Rawlins to highlight the section where Clancy imagines the history of the lake and who could have lived there (page 71).

Children could use the panels when Clancy is falling down the cliff, on pages 32-39, to create their own mini-graphic novel or animation of something that could go wrong in the wilderness.

Birds, Animals and Seasons in the CBCA Early Childhood Short List

The 2017 CBCA Early Childhood Short List features animals (as always), with two picture books specifically about birds. Two books are about farms and one is set on a Northern Territory camp. Family remains an evergreen theme and humour is the core of some of the books.

Go Home, Cheeky Animals! written by Johanna Bell, illustrated by Dion Beasley (A&U)

This funny story is the stand-alone sequel to Too Many Cheeky Dogs. The book is sponsored by the NT Government and has an engaging narrative with a cyclic structure based on the seasons and changing weather. Animals are the highlight, though. At first, too many cheeky dogs keep the other animals away. Then the rains bring a gang of goats, the sweaty season brings a ‘drove of donkeys’, cool winds bring a herd of horses and drought brings a bunch of buffaloes and caravan of camels. But when it storms, ‘all the cheeky animals go crazy’. And the cheeky dogs do nothing to stop them, for a while …

Illustrator, Dion Beasley is a 24-year-old Indigenous man with muscular dystrophy. He is also deaf so he and author, Johanna Bell, collaborate using Skype and sign language. He has a naïve drawing style with plenty of humour, such as how he shows when something happens to Grandpa’s pants, and when goats drive. The endpapers give an overview of all the animals. Children could practise counting animals throughout the book and the Too Many Cheeky Dogs website includes a child-friendly activity of making wrapping paper with cheeky dogs.

Family is important to this story and includes Dad, Mum, Grandpa, Uncle, Aunty, brother, sister, but no Grandma. Nannie Loves fills this gap.

 

Nannie Loves by Kylie Dunstan (Working Title Press)

Nannie lives on a cosy and inviting farm, with ‘rolling hills, a muddy creek and lots of paddocks, green in winter, brown in summer’. It is a quintessential Australian setting and makes us want to walk into the story. The scenes are contained to provide an appropriate focused framework for young readers; there is repetition of the words, ‘Nannie loves …’ to help beginning readers; and there are some wordless pages.

Nannie collects her mail wearing her gumboots. She loves her letters, her animals, her garden and her family. She laughs with her family who help her work around the farm. She loves them and she loves the young narrator. This book has a gentle humour, such as when Nannie watches for Grandpa in one of his many checked shirts.

Kylie Dunstan has used paper collage, gouache and pencil.

The greens of Nannie’s farm change to browns of a drought-stricken farm in All I Want for Christmas is Rain.

All I Want for Christmas is Rain written by Cori Brooke, illustrated by Megan Forward (New Frontier Publishing)

This story begins clearly with an illustrated bird’s eye overview of a dry farm. In the rhyming text, the protagonist, Jane, asks Santa for help with her family’s threatened property, ‘My mission was clear – I had hatched a great plan: I would ask for help from the great bearded man.’

Santa seems to fulfil her wish and there is a particularly evocative picture of the family dancing in the rain and mud on Christmas Day.

Children could extend their experience of this story by reading some other Australian Christmas stories such as Glenda Millard and Stephen Michael King’s Applesauce and the Christmas Miracle and Colin Buchanan‘s books, or by painting an Australian farm scene using mud.

In contrast, The Snow Wombat is set in a very different part of Australian.

The Snow Wombat written by Susannah Chambers, illustrated by Mark Jackson (A & U)

Showing a wombat’s life in the snow is an original idea for a picture book. Like some of the other useful endpapers in books described here, these endpapers are a highlight and show a map of the wombat’s movements and haunts.

Every sentence begins with the word ‘snow’, and many begin with the phrase ‘snow on …’, which is helpful for beginning readers. The repetitive, simple text becomes even more predictive, encouraging young children to say or ‘read’ the rhyming word.

After reading the book, children could make wombat footprints in ‘snow’ using baking powder and conditioner or shaving cream. Tracks of some of the other animals in the book could also be made by indenting the ‘snow’ with fingers or sticks.

In a different illustrative style, cartoon seagull, Chip, follows with a funny story.

Chip by Kylie Howarth (Five Mile Press)

Chip loves eating chips – fat, skinny, soggy, sandy, crunchy, spicy chilli-dipped chips – even though he doesn’t feel well afterwards. This is a tale about healthy eating in the guise of a hilarious story about Chip and the length he goes to eat when people are banned from feeding the gulls.

The illustrations include newspaper collage (apt because it’s used for wrapping fish and chips; a newspaper article also features). My favourite illustration shows Chip with a noodle box on his head and noodles streaming out like hair.

Another bird protagonist in the Short List is Gary.

Gary by Leila Rudge (Walker Books Australia)

 

Gary is a racing pigeon who can’t fly but dreams of adventure. He works on his scrapbook of travel mementos on race days when he’s left alone in the loft, even though he’s never travelled. When he lost his balance one night, he fell into the travel basket and was carried far from home to the city. Of course the racing pigeons flew home, but Gary was left by himself. Fortunately he had his scrapbook of travel mementos and was able to plot his way back to the loft.

This is a very appealing story of overcoming obstacles or disability and of flourishing in different surroundings. New situations can be frightening for children and Gary demonstrates courage and ingenuity, which could help young readers.

The illustrations are created using mixed media and, again, in this book we find interesting endpapers.

After reading the story, children could use found objects and mixed media to create their own scrapbook about travel.

Alex Ratt & Stinky Street Stories

Hi Alex Ratt, could you tell us about yourself and your alter-ego? 

That’s a very existential question! I have to decide which is me and which is the alter ego…Well, I was Frances Watts first, so let’s start with her—I mean me.

I have written twenty-two books, ranging from picture books (including Kisses for Daddy and Parsley Rabbit’s Book about Books, illustrated by David Legge, and Goodnight, Mice!, illustrated by Judy Watson) to historical novels for young adults (most recently The Peony Lantern, set in nineteenth-century Japan). And then there’s my less fragrant alter ego, Alex Ratt. I thought being someone completely different would allow me the freedom to write something completely different—hence Alex Ratt. (Also, Alex Ratt has a big bushy false moustache and Frances doesn’t. And who wouldn’t jump at an excuse to wear a false moustache?!)

Who is Jules Faber? 

Jules Faber, I’m delighted to say, has a much more straightforward identity: he is Jules Faber! He is also an extremely talented cartoonist and illustrator, well known for his work on Ahn Do’s Weirdo series and David Warner’s The Kaboom Kid series.

How important are the illustrations in this book?

The illustrations are integral. The Stinky Street Stories (Pan Macmillan Australia) should feel welcoming and accessible to all kinds of readers, whether they are confident readers or not, and the illustrations do so much to convey the humour that is inherent in the text. One thing I particularly loved about working with Jules on this book is his spirit of adventure. Whatever wacky image I can dream up, he is prepared to draw. A sculpture of a rocket ship made entirely of carrots? No problem!

What type of comedy do you write?

Despite the word ‘stinky’ in the title, I don’t actually see the humour in The Stinky Street Stories as focusing on the gross. To me, the real humour is in the absurdity of situations and images. And the challenge is to take the absurdity and, within the bounds of the story, make it logical.

How do you get your readers to laugh out loud (as I did about some carrots and a pumpkin head)?

I’m glad you liked those bits—that’s exactly what I mean about the humour being absurd rather than gross. That’s where I find those laugh-out-loud moments: in unexpected juxtapositions, in ideas pushed to ridiculous extremes, in characters who treat these hilarious scenarios seriously.

Brian is a very funny character. Could you tell us about him, his sister Brenda, and any other characters?

Brian (‘call me Brain—everyone does’) has a somewhat overinflated sense of his own intellectual prowess, which is why he is able to meet absurdity with seriousness. His friend Nerf is the perfect sidekick, being just ever so slightly dafter—but loyal and good-hearted. The real brain of the family is Brian’s sister Brenda. And in his heart, Brian knows it to be so, and calls on her in moments of crisis.

What is your favourite scene in The Stinky Street Stories? 

You picked it yourself: the pumpkin heads. Because within that particular story, ‘The Ripe and Rotten Reek’, it not only makes perfect sense for Brian and Nerf to be running across a field with pumpkins on their heads, it is a positively brilliant plan!

Who do you hope reads this book?

Everyone! By which I mean boys and girls. I had a lot of fun turning gender stereotypes on their heads. The (anti)heroes might be boys, but the girls have a strong, smart, sassy presence. And, as I said above, I hope the book is enjoyed by confident readers and reluctant readers—we (by which I mean the whole village that makes a book: the author and illustrator and publisher and editor and designer) were determined to make it a book that had something to offer every kind of kid and every kind of reader.

What’s next in Stinky Street?

The second in the series, 2 Stinky, will be published in August. There are smelly sewers, pongy penguins…and a house of (stinky) horrors!

What other humour have you written? 

All my books have humour in them—it’s just the way I’m wired—but the first overtly humorous books were those of the Ernie & Maud series, featuring trainee superhero Ernie Eggers and his trainee sidekick: a sheep called Maud. More recently I have contributed stories to two humorous anthologies, Laugh Your Head Off and Laugh Your Head Off Again.

How many aliases do you have?

Oh dear…You’re on to me, aren’t you?! The truth is, Alex Ratt is not my only pen name. Frances Watts is a pen name too. (Yes, my pen name has a pen name.) My real name is Ali Lavau, and I am a very serious book editor who hardly ever wears a false moustache to work.

Thanks very much, Alex, Frances, Ali …

Thank YOU! (I loved these questions.)

And – here is a video about the book! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wORzbpzfTzs&feature=youtu.be

Meet Brigid Kemmerer, author of Letters to the Lost

Thanks for talking to Boomerang Books, Brigid. I greatly admired your new novel Letters to the Lost (Bloomsbury).

Where are you based and how are you involved in the YA lit community?

 I live near Annapolis, Maryland, which is pretty close to Washington, DC. I’m an active member of the YA community, both online and in person, and I’ve met so many amazing authors, booksellers, and book bloggers since Storm was first published in 2012.

Could you tell us about your other books? 

I’m the author of the Elementals Series, published by Allen & Unwin in Australia. This series follows the four Merrick brothers, four orphaned guys who can secretly control the elements of earth, air, fire, and water.

How is your new novel Letters to the Lost different from your earlier books?

Letters to the Lost is my first contemporary YA novel, while the Elementals books have a paranormal element. Despite the change, all of my books always follow complex relationships between people, so I’ve been told that my paranormal novels read like contemporaries with special powers thrown in the mix. 

Why have you chosen the names Juliet and Declan Murphy for your major characters?

I just love the names. Sometimes I struggle to find the perfect names for my characters, but these two came to me right off the bat.

How important is letter writing to them? (Is it important to you also?)

Letter writing is very important to Juliet, because she would write letters to her mom while she was alive, and she continues the tradition by leaving letters on her mother’s gravestone. I don’t write many physical letters myself, but I love writing to people. My closest friend and I almost exclusively communicate by email and text message! 

Rev, Declan’s friend, is an intriguing character. Why does he have a ‘rock solid’ faith even after his father’s abuse?

I love Rev! I don’t want to give too much away about his story or his motivations because his book, More Than We Can Tell, will be out March 2018, but his faith is very important to him, and he struggles with whether his faith is appropriate, considering what he went through with his father.

I was interested in the idea that one photo could aspire to telling a whole story. What role does photography play in the story?

Photography plays a huge role in the story, especially since Juliet’s mother was a photojournalist, and at one point, Juliet wanted to follow in her own footsteps. I was partially inspired by how we’ve all grown so dependent on social media, and how we’ve started judging people based on the limited amount we see—which is also what those people have chosen to share. People are so much deeper than just what a photograph reveals. And that works in all ways: both positive and negative.

You give a strong portrayal of mothers (even though they are very different from each other). How did you flesh out these women?

Thank you! I find people fascinating, and I try to flesh out all of my characters. As a mother myself, I wanted to show how mothers (and fathers) aren’t infallible, and we’re all just doing the best we can. Sometimes the best we can isn’t the “best” at all, but life is messy and complicated and we’re all just trying to get through it. One of the most profound moments of young adulthood is realizing that the adults around you are just as capable of screw-ups as teenagers are, and realizing that maturity isn’t about not messing up, it’s about messing up and how we move on from it.  

Your adult mentors such as Mrs Hillard and Frank are powerful. What are their roles?

A lot of YA novels operate in a vacuum where there’s little adult involvement (which is fine!) but it was important for me to show that adults can be allies, and that it’s okay to seek input and advice from adults as well as teen peers.

Your characters with bad reputations are treated worse than other people. Could you comment on this?

In many ways, society has turned to public shaming again and again, especially thanks to social media. Certain people always seem to be fair game, especially if they’re deemed to deserve it. At our core, we’re all people. No one is intrinsically good or bad.

Declan believes in fate but also free will. How is that possible?

I actually think this is more of a debate he has with himself throughout the book, whether everything is fated or whether he has the ability to pull himself off the path he seems destined to travel.

Have any responses from your readers particularly resonated with you?

Yes! It means so much that readers seem to be loving Juliet and Declan and their stories. I’m particularly excited by how many people have been asking for Rev’s story, so I’m glad it’s already written.

What other books have left a deep impression on you? 

I recently finished reading An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir, and I absolutely loved it. Also The Boy Most Likely To by Huntley Fitzpatrick. I’m really eager to read Honestly Ben by Bill Konigsberg, which releases next week, because I absolutely loved Openly Straight, and this is the sequel.

All the best with Letters to the Lost, Brigid, and thanks very much.

CBCA 2017 Picture Books

Congratulations to all the authors, illustrators and publishers who have been shortlisted for this year’s Children’s Book Council of Australia (CBCA) awards.

I am very fortunate to have copies of the following picture books, with thanks to the publishers, and have written a short exposé of most here.

My Brother written and illustrated by Dee Huxley, character creation and illustration by Oliver Huxley and design by Tiffany Huxley (Working Title Press)

This is a stunning, moving picture book about loss and grief, grief shared by the three creators due to the death of a loved one. The written text is minimal and carefully placed on each page. Vignettes of a small donkey lead the viewer through most of the text. Graphite pencil creates a monochromatic effect for most of the book, becoming warm, yellow-suffused watercolour towards the end.

Teacher Notes are available at the publisher’s website.

One Photo written by Ross Watkins, illustrated by Liz Anelli (Penguin Random House Australia)

One Photo is a touching look at the effects of early onset dementia on a family. Dad comes home with a camera to record his memories and help him remember things. Liz Anelli is growing in power with her illustrations, here using sensitive, child-appealing drawing of the photos as well as of the family.

Mechanica: a beginner’s field guide by Lance Balchin (The Five Mile Press, Bonnier Publishing Australia)

Mechanica is a magnificent, innovative pseudo-scientific study of mechanical (mainly winged) insects and other creatures. It reminds me of Gary Crew’s The Lost Diamonds of Killiecrankie and James Gurney’s Dinotopia in the way that a character embarks on a fictional enterprise in a factual, imaginative style. The book champions the protection of our world and its living creatures and is distinctive because of its fine technical/inventive drawings. The sequel, Aquatica, is on the way. Author-illustrator Lance Balchin, has proved to be a popular presenter at festivals and other events.

The Patchwork Bike written by Maxine Beneba Clarke, illustrated by Van T Rudd (Hachette Australia)

Maxine Beneba Clarke is currently one of Australia’s most exciting authors. She also tells the story of a patchwork bike in one of her books for adults and it is interesting to compare it with this sensory, lively version for young children. The illustrations are by street artist Van T Rudd and they are exceptional in their use of media such as corrugated cardboard and smears of paint to show movement. (I will be writing more about Maxine Beneba Clarke’s work in a future post.)

 

Out is written by Angela May George and illustrated by Owen Swan (Scholastic Press)

It is a simple refugee / asylum seeker – ‘but that’s not my name’ – story for young readers told from the point of view of a girl. The agonising trip by boat is not glossed over but is told at an appropriate level. The pencil illustrations also make it accessible for the young.

Congratulations also to Bob Graham (Walker Books Australia) for Home in the Rain. I’ll write about this picture book next week. 

Agent Nomad and Skye Melki-Wegner

Skye Melki-Wegner‘s new series is ‘Agent Nomad’  (Penguin Random House Australia).    

Thanks for speaking to Boomerang Blog, Skye.

Where are you based and how are you involved in the Australian children’s and YA literary community?

I’m based in Melbourne. I write fantasy/ adventure novels for young readers (and the young at heart). I also regularly visit schools and teach writing workshops. It’s such a joy to work with students and to encourage their creativity.

Your writing has a singular, imaginative style. It’s also thrilling and unexpected.

I really loved your stand-alone novel, The Hush, and reviewed it for the Weekend Australian here.

How do you think your creative brain works differently from the brains of other people?

Thanks Joy, that means a lot to me.

I’ve always had an urge to tell stories and to ‘make believe’. My parents have countless videos from my early childhood, full of me babbling about fairies or dragons or making up alternative endings to fairy tales.

Having said that, I believe everyone has the potential to be creative. When we are children, all it takes is a plastic toy or a pile of sand to craft a wildly imaginative universe from scratch.

Many people lose touch with their childhood creativity as they grow older. However, I think the potential for wild imagination still lurks within all of us, whether we are authors or accountants! All we need is a chance to express it.

Have you had any particularly memorable feedback about The Hush?

I recently received an email from a young reader who used The Hush as inspiration when playing her various musical instruments. She said that she liked to pretend she was conjuring sorcery through her music, just like the characters in The Hush.

I loved this idea, since it reminded me of my own childhood. When I was a kid, I used to pretend to be various literary characters to inspire myself during daily tasks. (When we did fitness tests in PE, I secretly pretended I was training for a quidditch match!)

It was incredibly touching to hear that my own book could have a similar effect for a reader.

After such a powerful novel, why are you now writing a series?

In a fantasy novel, it often takes a while to establish how the magic and society function. This can sometimes take up a significant chunk of the book. By writing a series, I can cover most of this ‘world building’ in the first book. Then, in later installments, I get to have fun exploring the characters and world more deeply.

I also love the fun of plotting out a series in advance and hiding secret clues about future titles. In the Agent Nomad series, there are moments in Book One and Two with hidden significance that won’t be revealed until later… but of course, my lips are sealed!

Could you tell us about The Eleventh Hour, the first in the Agent Nomad series?

It’s about spies and sorcery — and unlike my previous books, it’s set in the modern world.

The protagonist is a 15-year-old called Natalie. When the book begins, she’s an ordinary Aussie teenager, worried about homework and Maths tests.

One night, however, it all changes. A pair of deadly strangers invade Natalie’s home and she barely escapes with her life. In the aftermath, she is recruited by a sorcerous spy agency called HELIX.

As a HELIX cadet, Natalie must train to use her own magical abilities. She adopts the codename ‘Nomad’ and prepares to fight against a cabal of ruthless sorcerers called the Inductors.

Before her training is complete, however, Nomad and her fellow cadets are sent to London, risking their lives to thwart a ruthless Inductor plot before time runs out.

Could you describe each of the three main protagonists, Nomad, Riff and Phoenix, in a phrase or sentence?

 Nomad is an artist and a born traveller, who yearns for adventure and to explore the world.

Riff is a jokester with a love of fun, food and rock music – but he also has real talent and a deep love for his friends and family.

Phoenix is a talented fighter, who hides the trauma of her past behind the façade of an emotionless warrior.

I liked both the Australian and London settings. How do you create a sense of place without excessive description?

I think a few carefully chosen sensory details can be more effective than overloaded paragraphs of description.

In the school assembly scene, for example, I needed to describe an Aussie high school gym on a scorching February day. I snuck in snippets of sensory detail: the stink of sweat and cheap perfume sprays, the buzz of a blowfly, the whispering students and glaring teachers etc.

A few of these little details should be enough. If they’re strategically placed throughout a scene, they should prompt the reader to subconsciously fill in the rest of the setting with their own experience and memories.

The pace moves quickly. What’s a favourite scene or ‘inventiveness’ you’ve created?

For personal reasons, I’m quite fond of the chase scene on the train into Melbourne. I’ve spent countless hours sitting on Melbourne’s public transport, daydreaming about magic and excitement. It was fun to incorporate a mundane location like Caulfield Station into a fantasy book. I felt a bit cheeky doing it, actually!

(In reality, I associate Caulfield Station with travelling to university exams. Not quite as thrilling as a magical chase scene!)

Your writing style is a highlight. How would you describe it?

It varies a bit from book to book. In Agent Nomad, I’m speaking through Natalie (a teenage first person narrator). It’s an interesting balancing act to weave in descriptive detail without losing the flavour of her narrative voice.

Danika, my narrator in Chasing the Valley, has a slightly different voice. She’s more cynical and hardened at the start of the series, so her style of self-expression is different. Also, since she’s from a fictional dystopian world, she narrates with different vocabulary and colloquialisms.

By contrast, The Hush is written in third person. I had fun incorporating fancier descriptions (and more complex figurative language) into this book, since I didn’t have to worry about a first person narrator’s style or vocabulary!

Science or magic? Magic or science?

Science in the real world, magic in fiction.

What have you enjoyed reading recently?

In SFF, I’ve really enjoyed Illuminae and Gemina by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff – it’s such a brilliant idea to write SciFi in an epistolary format.

In contemporary YA, I’ve recently loved A Shadow’s Breath by Nicole Hayes and Black by Fleur Ferris.

Are you writing something else at the moment? If so, could you tell us about it?

I must confess I’m writing too many things! Needless to say, they’re all fantasy projects. Every time I finish a manuscript, a new idea starts itching at me… and before I know it, I’m halfway through another one! Oops.

All the best with ‘Agent Nomad’, Skye. It should create a unique niche in the market.

Thanks so much, Joy!

Especially for Boys

I know that some people prefer not to have gender labels about books. Regardless, the three following books will be enjoyed by boys, and will no doubt also appeal to a wide readership.

The Grand Genius Summer of Henry Hoobler by Lisa Shanahan (Allen & Unwin)

Lisa Shanahan wrote one of my all-time favourite YA novels, My Big Birkett (published 2006). I have loved talking about it over the years: laughing out loud at the animals that ‘mate for life’ and rattling off the many meals that Raven De Head could make with mince; admiring the correlation with Shakespeare’s The Tempest and adoring the two main characters, Gemma and Raven. It was shortlisted for the CBCA.

Lisa Shanahan has also written picture books, which include Bear and Chook, Bear and Chook by the Sea and Daddy’s Having a Horse (all illustrated by Emma Quay); Big Pet Day (illustrated by Gus Gordon); and Sleep Tight, My Honey (illustrated by Wayne Harris). Many of these have received awards.

Her new novel, The Grand Genius Summer of Henry Hoobler, is best for mid primary-age readers – it’s rare to find a high quality Australian stand-alone novel for this age-group. It is set during a quintessential Australian beach camping holiday. Henry is ‘Mr Worst Case Scenario’. He worries about the adventures and feats (particularly by bike) that most book characters would embrace. The author is perceptive and empathetic in how she addresses Henry’s concerns. The writing and characterisation is impeccable for the intended age group.

Harry Kruize, Born to Lose by Paul Collins (Ford St Publishing)

Another Australian author is Paul Collins, who established Ford St Publishing and has specialised in writing speculative fiction. He has also edited two well-received anthologies, including Rich and Rare.

My favourite of his books was The Dog King, which has been inexplicably out of print for years until now. The author has taken the wonderful essence of The Dog King, added to it, and re-formed it as Harry Kruize, Born to Lose. The core story is about 13-year-old Harry, nicknamed ‘Hobbit’ because of his height, who is bullied by THE BRICK (there are lots of capitals and bolded strategic words in this new version). The beauty and wonder of the tale is the relationship between Harry and the old tramp, Jack Ellis, who moves into the shed behind Harry’s mother’s boarding house. He tells Harry tales about dogs. Some of them seem familiar … The denouement is as breathtaking as when I first read it.

The Light That Gets Lost by Natasha Carthew (Bloomsbury)

The Light That Gets Lost is an accessible, well-written novel for older readers from the UK. 15-year-old Trey deliberately gets himself incarcerated so that he can avenge his family. ‘Camp’ life is tough and he is focused on finding his parents’ killer, who he believes is one of the adults working at Camp Kernow. Sinister secrets are uncovered as Trey draws close to his target.

Two Australians Shortlisted for the CILIP Carnegie Medal

No surprises that Australian YA literature is up there with world’s best. The prestigious UK 2017 CILIP Carnegie Medal shortlist has just been announced and two Australians have been included: Glenda Millard for The Stars at Oktober Bend (Allen & Unwin) and Zana Fraillon for The Bone Sparrow (Hachette). The writing in both these YA novels is sublime.

The Carnegie Medal is awarded for writing and the Kate Greenaway Medal for illustration.

I reviewed The Stars at Oktober Bend for the Weekend Australian . A memorable scene is of beautiful, damaged Alice Nightingale perched ‘on the roof of her house at Oktober Bend, “like a carving on an old-fashioned ship, sailing through the stars”. She is throwing fragments of a poem into the night.’ Her new friend, Manny, is a former boy soldier.

I also reviewed The Bone Sparrow, about young Subhi in an Australian detention centre, in another Weekend Australian YA column, describing it as a ‘universal refugee tale’ and an ‘exalted, flawless book’. They were both in my top 6 YA books for 2016 and both are currently CBCA Notables (the Children’s Book Council of Australia’s long list). The Bone Sparrow was also shortlisted for the 2016 Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize.

It does sound as though Mal Peet and Meg Rosoff are favourites to win the Carnegie. I haven’t yet been able to finish reading Beck, which Meg Rosoff completed after Mal Peet’s untimely death. The pedophilia scenes are so confronting I fear the images won’t be erased. Mal Peet was a raconteur. I chaired a wonderful session at the Sydney Writers Festival with him and Ursula Dubosarsky, whose new novel, The Blue Cat, will be published soon. I was fortunate to have an entertaining lunch with Meg Rosoff and a colleague when working in Brisbane. She is a spectacular, unconventional writer. The other international shortlisted authors (and illustrators) are also stars. Fingers crossed for our Australian writers, of course though.

Other Australians to have won the Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals are Ivan Southall with Josh (our only Carnegie winner so far and that was in 1971- but we have won other major international awards since then), Bob Graham for Jethro Byrde Fairy Child, Freya Blackwood for Harry and Hopper (written by Margaret Wild) and Gregory Rogers for Way Home (written by Libby Hathorn). I believe Levi Pinfold (Black Dog) lives in Australia. A number of other Australian illustrators, including Jeannie Baker, have been shortlisted for the Greenaway.

See the complete shortlists from the official website below.

SHORTLISTS FOR 2017 CILIP CARNEGIE AND KATE GREENAWAY MEDALS ANNOUNCED

  • Children’s Laureate Chris Riddell could win record-breaking fourth Kate Greenaway Medal in 60th anniversary year
  • Dieter Braun’s Wild Animals of the North, shortlisted for the Kate Greenaway Medal, is first ever book in translation to feature on either shortlist
  • Mal Peet’s final novel Beck, co-authored by Meg Rosoff, could posthumously win the 80th anniversary Carnegie

www.ckg.org.uk / #CKG17 / #bestchildrensbooks

Today (Thursday 16th March), the shortlists for the 2017 CILIP Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals, the UK’s oldest and most prestigious book awards for children and young people, are revealed.

The Kate Greenaway Medal, which celebrates illustration in children’s books, sees award-winning writer and illustrator Chris Riddell, the Children’s Laureate, in the running to win an unprecedented fourth Kate Greenaway Medal just a year after his hat-trick in 2016. Riddell is joined by another potential record-breaker in the form of Dieter Braun’s Wild Animals of the North. Originally published in German, this is the first ever translated title to make the Kate Greenaway shortlist following the Medals opening up to translated works in English in 2015. They are joined by former Kate Greenaway Medal winners Emily Gravett, William Grill and Jim Kay and first-time Kate Greenaway-shortlisted authors Francesca Sanna, Brian Selznick and Lane Smith.

The Carnegie Medal, which celebrates outstanding writing for children and young people, sees a range of YA and Middle Grade books make the shortlist. Mal Peet’s final novel Beck, co-authored by Meg Rosoff, could be the second book to win the Medal posthumously, following Siobhan Dowd’s Bog Child in 2009. Peet and Rosoff are joined on the list by fellow former Carnegie Medal winners Frank Cottrell Boyce and Philip Reeve, previously shortlisted author Ruta Sepetys, debut authors Lauren Wolk and Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock and first-time Carnegie-shortlisted authors Zana Fraillon, Glenda Millard and Lauren Wolk.

The 2017 shortlists are:

The CILIP Carnegie Medal 2017 shortlist (alphabetically by author surname):

  1. Sputnik’s Guide to Life on Earthby Frank Cottrell Boyce (Pan Macmillan)
  2. The Bone Sparrowby Zana Fraillon (Orion Children’s Books)
  3. The Smell of Other People’s Housesby Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock (Faber & Faber)
  4. The Stars at Oktober Bendby Glenda Millard (Old Barn Books)
  5. Railheadby Philip Reeve (Oxford University Press)
  6. Beckby Mal Peet with Meg Rosoff (Walker Books)
  7. Salt to the Seaby Ruta Sepetys (Puffin)
  8. Wolf Hollowby Lauren Wolk (Corgi)

The CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal 2017 shortlist (alphabetically by illustrator surname):

  1. Wild Animals of the Northillustrated and written by Dieter Braun (Flying Eye Books)
  2. TIDYillustrated and written by Emily Gravett (Two Hoots)
  3. The Wolves of Currumpawillustrated and written by William Grill (Flying Eye Books)
  4. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stoneillustrated by Jim Kay, written by J.K. Rowling (Bloomsbury)
  5. A Great Big Cuddleillustrated by Chris Riddell and written by Michael Rosen (Walker Books)
  6. The Journeyillustrated and written by Francesca Sanna (Flying Eye Books)
  7. The Marvelsillustrated and written by Brian Selznick (Scholastic)
  8. There is a Tribe of Kidsillustrated and written by Lane Smith (Two Hoots)

The ANZAC Tree by Christina Booth

Christina Booth is a talented author and illustrator. She began her career illustrating books written by Colin Thiele, Max Fatchen and Christobel Mattingley and then graduated to creating her own picture books, which include Purinina – A Devil’s Tale and Kip. Kip won a CBCA Honour award.

We have a fine backlist of picture books about the ANZACS and my review of some top titles in recent years appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald/The Age http://m.smh.com.au/entertaining-kids/parenting-and-childrens-books/gallipoli-books-for-children-open-an-enlightening-window-on-the-reality-of-war-20150420-1mmcfl.html .

Christina Booth has added to the canon by writing and illustrating The ANZAC Tree (Scholastic Australia) ready for this year’s ANZAC Day.

The ANZAC Tree is set on a farm in Tasmania and traces generations of soldiers from the one family. Phillip, the young narrator at the beginning of the story, likes to climb the big hill and look out at forever. His older brothers each planted a tree on the hill before they left for the Great War. Phillip waters the trees. Roy’s survives but Percy’s tree is dying, foreshadowing his fate.

The narration quickly changes from Phillip to Kenneth, who is Roy’s nephew. Kenneth farewells his father (probably Phillip as an adult), who is going away to fight Mr Hitler. When the family don’t hear from him, Kenneth waits under Uncle Roy’s tree.

In the next section it is implied that Kenneth is the soldier fighting with Uncle Joe in Korea. His daughter, Sophie, takes over the narrative. The psychedelic Sixties follow and Emily witnesses her brother Kevin being drafted to fight in Vietnam. He later has a Vietnamese girlfriend and watches the sunset under Roy’s big pine tree rather than attending the ANZAC parade. Then Chris sees his cousin Jenny go to fight in Iraq and Jack skypes his father in Afghanistan. The story culminates with family members united once again under the pine tree planted by great-great-grandfather Roy a hundred years earlier, appreciating that war isn’t something to be proud of, but being brave enough to fight in them to protect other people is.

Children will enjoy the challenge of deciphering the family relationships and following the recurring symbol of the tree in this powerful, soulful story inspired by real people and events. The illustrations, including the drawings of photos, extend the narrative. The structure is sophisticated but executed skilfully and seamlessly in words and pictures. The ANZAC Tree is a commemoration of one family’s fallen, and is also an excellent picture book for primary schools to use to observe ANZAC Day.

‘Design Thinking’ and Matt Stanton

Author, illustrator and former designer at HarperCollins, Matt Stanton, opened our eyes to ‘design thinking’ and strategy in writing and publishing books at yesterday’s ‘Between the Covers’ seminar in Sydney about children’s books and publishing.

Matt is the creator of two very successful series for young readers. The first is aimed at 6-year-old boys. It is unashamedly commercial and doesn’t even try to win literary awards. It is illustrated by Tim Miller and began with There is a Monster Under My Bed who Farts.

His second series creates a funny and interactive experience for young children and their parents or carers. The first book in the ‘Books That Drive Kids Crazy!’ series is the very popular, This is a Ball and is a collaboration between Matt and his teacher wife, Beck. Now parents, Matt and Beck are ‘learning how to re-enter the space of play’ and what better than using a book to do so! The second in this series is Did You Take the B From My –ook? and The Red Book, with its bold purple cover, is on the way. 

His third series ‘Funny Kid’ will be launched around the world this year. It is aimed at middle grade readers.

Matt focuses on the ‘who’, the reader, rather than on what he personally may want to write about (although maybe these are the same thing). I found this stance fascinating and very different from the many authors who I have interviewed at writers’ festivals and elsewhere. In my experience, authors generally speak about the story that they have to tell, regardless of who it’s for. An example is John Boyne and his masterpiece The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, which has found its own audience. Matt is surprised that more authors don’t target their readerships more strategically. I believe that there is probably a place for both approaches.

Matt makes it easy for buyers and browsers to find his books on bookshelves. He uses block colours such as blue, green or purple on his covers. He recognises that yellow is the strongest colour in the spectrum and will feature this on the spines of his upcoming ‘Funny Kid’ series. The book covers in this series will all feature an enormous face to distinguish them from other funny series aimed at middle grade who show smaller characters. Our brains will also register that these faces are looking at us in bookstores and libraries, drawing our attention.

Matt’s website includes a virtual ‘Stretch Your Imagination’ book tour. He also has a YouTube channel that is very popular with his young readers.

Matt reminded us that we’re in a golden age of children’s publishing in Australia. In 2016, children’s and young adult book sales took 44% of the total book market in volume. In 2016, 9 of our 10 top authors wrote children’s/YA. Last year, 9 million more children’s/YA books were sold than in 2005.

Thanks to keynote speaker, Matt, the Australian Publishers Association, host Allen & Unwin and Fiona Stager and her team for organising this very informative event.

Julie Hunt, the imagination behind KidGlovz

When reading a book by Julie Hunt I feel like I’m entering into an uncanny world, where imagination seeps into the interstices of reality. Julie is the author of The Coat (illustrated by Ron Brooks), which won CBCA picture book of the year in 2013.

Her other major books are Precious Little (illustrated by Gaye Chapman), the Little Else series (illustrated by Beth Norling) and KidGlovz, which features in this interview. These books are published by Allen & Unwin.

Quality graphic novels for children are extremely rare and should be cherished. KidGlovz, written by Julie Hunt and illustrated by Dale Newman over four years, is an outstanding example of the form. It won the 2016 Queensland Literary Award and Dale was shortlisted for the 2016 Crichton Award as a debut book illustrator. Although sophisticated, reluctant readers also enjoy it.

The title of KidGlovz derives from the saying, ‘handle with kid gloves’. The protagonist, KidGlovz is a talented, fragile boy who is being raised for profit rather than nurtured. With insufficient food and while virtually a prisoner in his room, he is visited by tightrope walker, Shoestring, who frees him from avaricious guardian Dr Spin, exposing him instead to an external world of danger and adventure.

I met Julie at the State Theatre Café in Hobart last week. It seemed like a fitting, although subconscious, choice by Julie because KidGlovz begins as a theatre performance by the young precocious pianist. Fittingly, the Hobart theatre and café also adjoins a bookshop.

This was the perfect time for an interview because Julie has just had the go-ahead from her publisher Allen & Unwin (great supporters of the graphic novel) for Shoestring, the companion book to KidGlovz. Julie actually wrote it as a sequel soon after completing KidGlovz. It’s now less a sequel than a discrete work even though the characters of KidGlovz and, of course, Shoestring reappear and Julie is rewriting it so that it will become an illustrated, rather than ‘graphic’ novel. She is translating potential visual images and jokes into words but there will still be 100 pictures.

Shoestring will be published in 2018 and a third book will then be in the pipeline, featuring Sylvie Quickfingers, a stolen child prodigy who has a cameo at the end of KidGlovz.

Even though writing is ‘arduous and difficult’, Julie is ‘only interested if the work excites me’. When I asked Julie if her editor and publisher need to restrain her creative brain with its original perspective and perhaps prevent her from straying too far into a wondrous strangeness, she replied that they are formative, ‘They encourage me to go further’.

Julie’s picture book The Coat has been greatly acclaimed. Its illustrator, Ron Brooks, happens to live across the river from Julie, but The Coat was not a collaborative work – Ron illustrated Julie’s story after she wrote it.

Julie’s subconscious seems to be continuously at work, with the gloves being a recurring motif in both The Coat and KidGlovz. She’s often ‘not aware of this stuff till a bit later.’

Music is another motif rising throughout Julie’s books such as Song For a Scarlet Runner, winner of the inaugural Readings Children’s Book Prize and shortlisted for multiple prestigious awards. Julie studied the trumpet and sang Bulgarian folk music, which took her to ‘another realm’ and showcased her ‘larger than life self’ when she was on stage.

Secondary characters such as Splitworld Sam from KidGlovz and Siltman from Song For a Scarlet Runner are both otherworldly figures. Names, such as in Julie’s junior series Little Else, illustrated by Beth Norling, are important to Julie. She knows she’s not on the right track if she doesn’t have the right names for her characters.

It was a pleasure to meet this extremely talented author. Julie is a delightful person, with a generous  smile and laugh. As a writer, Julie feels like the tightrope walker in the famous postcard by Quint Buccholz. She steps out and ‘hopes for the best’.

Author Roadshow: Fleur Ferris and Robert Newton

There were too many exciting books from the recent Penguin Random House roadshow in Sydney to outline in one post so here is Part 2. As well as many standout titles, we were privileged to hear from two YA authors, Fleur Ferris and Robert Newton.

Robert Newton spoke from the heart about his new novel Mr Romanov’s Garden in the Sky. It is an outstanding work, exceeding his Prime Minister’s Literary Award winning When We Were Two. It follows the sad and dangerous existence of Lexie in a Housing Commission Tower who lies to protect her drug-addicted mother. She saves old Mr Romanov from death after thugs throw his dog off the building. The story then becomes an original tale of friendship and hope.

Fleur Ferris is one of Australia’s best selling YA novelists and she is also a most delightful person. Her first novel Risk, a cautionary tale about online predators, is essential reading. It is wildly popular with teens and I reviewed it for the Weekend Australian here. I’ve also interviewed Fleur about Risk here for Boomerang Blog.

Fleur’s second novel Black was Australia’s best-selling ‘new release’ Oz YA book of the year for 2016. It is another a thriller, and incorporates a cult and unexpected ending. I reviewed it briefly for Boomerang Blog here.

Fleur’s third novel Wreck (note Fleur’s one word, one syllable titles, each ending in the letter ‘k’) will be published in July. It is also a thriller but has dual narrators and is set in two different time periods. It sounds like her best work yet and we will hear much more about it.

Other upcoming YA novels include Geekeralla by Ashley Poston from the U.S. (April), billed as a ‘fandom-fuelled twist on the classic fairytale’. Danielle encounters cos-play and her godmother works in a vegan food truck. I’ve read the beginning and can’t wait for the rest.

One of Us is Lying by debut novelist Karen M. McManus (June) is a U.K. title. There’s an omniscient narrator and one teen is murdered in detention with four others without anyone leaving the room.

Darren Groth returns after his triumph with Are You Seeing Me? in Exchange of Heart. Endearing character, Perry from the first novel returns and Down Syndrome is addressed.

Krystal Sutherland’s second novel appears quickly after Our Chemical Hearts. I’ve interviewed Krystal for the blog here. A Semi-definitive List of Worst Nightmares (September) explores phobias, particularly when Esther’s list of possible phobias is stolen, with strange results.

Juniper Lemon’s Happiness Index (July) by U.K. author Julie Israel revolves around Juniper’s file cards of happy and unhappy experiences. But one card goes missing, the one thing that people can’t know about.

What reading extravagances we have in store.

(Author photo at top courtesy Fleur Ferris. From left to right, standing: Fleur Ferris, Belinda Murrell, Felice Arena, Robert Newton)

Author Roadshow: Felice Arena, Belinda Murrell and more

It was a thrill to attend the Penguin Random House Young Readers’ Highlights roadshow in Sydney this week.

As well as being told about upcoming books, four authors (three from Victoria – Fleur Ferris, Felice Arena and Robert Newton, and Belinda Murrell from Sydney) shared their books with us. More from them later…

Picture book highlights for me were Anna Walker’s Florette, full of inviting greenery in the heart of Paris (March), The Catawampus Cat by Jason Carter Eaton and Gus Gordon (April), the retro colour palette of Stephen W. Martin’s Charlotte and the Rock (April), We’re All Wonders (April), an adaptation from R.J. Palacio’s Wonder, Deb Abela’s fractured fairytale, Wolfie: An Unlikely Hero (May), Marc Martin’s stylish design in What’s Up Top (September) and Pamela Allen’s A Bag and a Bird, which is set in Sydney (September).

Middle Fiction looks incredible. Felice Arena, author of popular series ‘Specky Magee’ and ‘Andy Roid’, enthusiastically told us about his stand-alone historical fiction, The Boy and the Spy (April). The Anglicised version of Felice (pronounced Fel-ee-chay) is Felix, meaning ‘happiness’, and Felice certainly demonstrated that.

The Boy and the Spy has family at its core, especially foster families. It is set in Sicily in 1945 and is for 10-12 year-old readers. It can be read at one level or the layers in its text can be uncovered. Felice hopes that it will inspire readers about travel, history and art. He loves writing ‘movement’ and has tried to emulate the stimulating experience given by teachers who read aloud and stop at the end of a chapter. Felice enjoyed researching and talking to relatives and has devised some entertaining Morse Code activities for school visits.

Other titles I can’t wait to read are Skye Melki-Wagner’s ‘Agent Nomad’ series (March) about a magical spy organisation with an Australian feel. I loved Skye’s stand-alone YA fantasy The Hush. Talented Gabrielle Wang has written and illustrated The Beast of Hushing Wood (April), another of Gabrielle’s original magical realist stories. I facilitated a session with Gabrielle at the Brisbane Writers Festival in the past and the children adored her. My favourite of her books are In the Garden of Empress Cassia and The Pearl of Tiger Bay.

Ally Condie returns with Summerlost (May), the irrepressible Oliver Phommavanh with Super Con-Nerd, Morris Gleitzman with Maybe (September) and Tristan Bancks with The Fall (June), a fast-paced thriller with disappearing characters. It will no doubt follow Tristan’s assured debut into literary-awarded fiction, Two Wolves. Tamara Moss’ Lintang and the Pirate Queen (September), a quest on the high seas, looks very appealing.

The charming Belinda Murrell spoke about her popular backlist of the ‘Sun Sword’ trilogy, timeslip tales and ‘Lulu Bell’ and introduced her new series for tweens, ‘Pippa’s Island’ (July), which reminded me of Nikki Gemmell’s ‘Coco Banjo’ but with more sand and sea.

And the wonderful Jacqueline Harvey’s ‘Alice-Miranda’ and ‘Clementine Rose’ series have sold 1 million copies in Australia and worldwide. We celebrated with a special cake. 

I’ll roundup YA at the roadshow in a second post.

Nicole Hayes and ‘ A Shadow’s Breath’

A Shadow’s Breath by Nicole Hayes (Penguin Random House Australia) has just been published. Nicole spoke to Boomerang Books.

Where are you based and how are you involved in Australia’s YA lit community?

I am a Melbourne-based YA author and reader. The YA lit community in Melbourne is very open and embracing, and as an Ambassador to the Stella Schools Prize Program and a writing teacher, I get to meet lots of readers and writers at schools and festivals. When I’m not writing or teaching writing, I often work with other authors on their manuscripts.

What sports are you interested in?

A lot of sports, but I love AFL most of all. I used to play footy when I was a kid and became a rabid Hawthorn fan in my teens. My first novel, The Whole of My World, featured a teenage girl obsessed with footy, very loosely based on my experiences, and eventually led to my writing two more books about footy, and introduced me to the rest of the Outer Sanctum team – the all-female AFL podcast I’m involved in. I also watch a lot of soccer and Futsal because both my daughters are keen players.

Can you tell us about your other books?

The Whole of My World is about teenager Shelley Brown who is desperate to escape her grieving father and her own terrible secret. When she changes schools and a new friend introduces her to her footy heroes, Shelley’s passion for the game tips over into obsession, and she loses track of herself and all the things that matter in the process. 

One True Thing is about 16 year old Frankie Mulvaney-Webb whose mum is the Premier of Victoria. But Frankie hates the spotlight. All she wants to do is lay low and focus on her rock band, but her life is turned upside down when photos of her mum in a secret rendezvous with a much younger man go viral.

I’ve also written two other books about footy – one for adults called, From the Outer: Footy Like You’ve Never Heard It, and most recently, A Footy Girl’s Guide to the Stars of 2017, aimed at kids and featuring players from the new women’s Aussie Rules competition.

Could you explain the structure you’ve used in your new novel A Shadow’s Breath?

The novel has two alternating narratives, depicting two different timeframes interwoven throughout until they merge into one near the end. The Now chapters tell of Tessa Gilham’s survival story following a car accident that has left her and her boyfriend Nick stranded in the middle of the Australian bush. The second narrative, the Then chapters, go back over the last days before the accident, uncovering what drove Tessa and Nick into the bush in the first place, revealing why Tessa is afraid to go home.

It’s a fascinating title. Could you give us an insight into it?

Once I decided that Tessa would be a painter, I became particularly interested in finding a title that reflected the many issues around light and colour. My research uncovered a lot about the relativity of colour, which emerged as a powerful theme throughout the novel. I became fascinated by colour and how we see it differently, how it’s a cultural construct as well as an individual one, but also the logistics of how it works – that it’s also about how light is reflected and how our brain processes this information. In the middle of this reading I remembered an Emily Dickinson poem, “A Certain Slant of Light”, and this stanza caught me:

When it comes, the Landscape listens –

Shadows – hold their breath –

When it goes, ’tis like the Distance

On the look of Death –

That’s when the shadow made its way into the title. I played around with different phrasings, then stumbled on “a shadow’s breath”, which is also an expression that means the smallest thing, or the tiniest margin. I really liked the idea of that – because these tiny things, even as slight as a shadow’s breath – can change how we see things completely. And so often the difference between life and death is as small as a shadow’s breath – one step the wrong way, or seconds earlier or later… Whole lives can change at a whim. There’s so much power in that almost non-existent thing. I also love that it hints at something vaguely mystical and impossible to hold.

Tell us about the characters Tessa, Yuki and Nick.

Tessa Gilham is mostly a loner and feels like she doesn’t belong. She’s convinced that the town hates her and her mum, and she’s probably right to a point. But Tessa’s life is improving — her mum has kicked out her abusive ex-partner, and is sober again. Tessa wants to believe that life will be different, but she’s so fragile and damaged that she struggles to trust it to last. In the process of trying to heal, she rediscovers her love of painting and, between this therapeutic outlet and the blossoming friendships around her, her new boyfriend, Nick and the ever faithful Yuki, Tessa is beginning to find her feet.

Yuki Fraser is Tessa’s best friend and her one reliable companion. It was often the Fraser home where Tessa sought escape from her abusive home life. Yuki’s dad is the local cop, and an old friend of the Gilhams – he’s determined to protect Tessa and has worked hard to keep Ellen Gilham out of jail. Yuki’s mum and little sister treat Tessa like family. Always have. But Yuki is trying to find her own way too, and tension between the girls increases as Tessa leans more heavily on her boyfriend Nick, neglecting to be there for Yuki in the way Yuki has always been there for Tessa.

Nick Kostas is one of the “new kids” from St Catherine’s which has recently merged with Carrima High. He and Tessa have just started dating but because he’s so popular and successful, and a year ahead at school, Tessa isn’t entirely secure in their relationship, and struggles to understand why he would choose her over more likely girls. The fact that he’s about to move to the city to go to university doesn’t help the situation, despite Nick’s obvious devotion to her.

What is the importance of Tessa’s home life to the story?

Tessa and her mum are trying on this new life, and still finding their way back to each other. Ellen Gilham has only recently sent “the arsehole” packing, and is newly sober, but as it’s been so long since it was just the two of them together, Tessa and Ellen are still working out how to be a family.

Tessa has been responsible for herself for so long that she isn’t sure how to let Ellen mother her, and Ellen is weighed down with guilt and regret that she let things continue for as long as she did. A guilt that Tessa feels is, mostly, deserved. Damaged and hurt, Tessa is struggling to forgive her mother, while the fragile Ellen wants only to earn back her daughter’s trust.

How important is the concept of ‘shouganai’ (surrender) in the narrative?

It was one of the first meaningful phrases I learnt in Japanese when I was living there many years ago, and it always stayed with me. It has different interpretations – positive and negative – but when Yuki’s mum says it, there’s a certain dignity and grace attached to accepting what – or who — can’t be changed. Specifically, accepting those you love for who they are – warts and all. In A Shadow’s Breath, I twisted its use to apply to people and their situation, but I love the bravery inherent in that. The idea of stepping back and letting things play out as they’re intended.

What role does art play?

For Tessa, art is her saving grace. Through her art she is able to find her way back to her childhood and begin to process and understand what happened to her. Her painting offers an outlet but also a means through which she can develop self-belief and start to accept her own worth. It also provides a connection with her new friends, and an opportunity to express herself, to earn these new friendships, particularly with Nick, who admires her work and envies her talent. Through their appreciation and admiration, she begins to look to the future for the first time.

Have any responses from your readers particularly resonated with you?

The story idea emerged at least partly from my encounters with young people whose own homes are not the haven they’re meant to be, and I really wanted their stories to be heard too. Since the novel came out, I’ve had several readers message to congratulate me on how I have depicted the reality of an abusive family and the challenges for those left behind. It’s genuinely humbling to be told that Tessa’s experience feels authentic to those who have had a similar life.

What other books have left a deep impression on you? 

So many! The book that continues to shake me, no matter how many times I read it, is The Road by Cormac McCarthy. There are several reasons for this. Firstly, McCarthy manages to depict a harrowing and bleak world of post-apocalyptic America in such sparse and beautiful language that I have found myself rereading passages too many times to count. But beyond the writing itself, the story depicts possibly the purist kind of parental love – it is a story about a dying man and his young son attempting to travel south to avoid an almost certainly lethal winter – and yet it never once uses the word love. There’s barely an expression of emotion in the whole novel. And yet it makes me cry like a baby every time I read it. I shiver even now just thinking about it.

Thanks for your generous and insightful responses, Nicole, and all the best with A Shadow’s Breath.

YA at ‘Reading Matters’ and other standout novels

Some of the best YA novels I have read recently span contemporary realism to fantasy, past to future, New York City to Ireland.

Two of the authors I’ve reviewed here will be making appearances at the excellent Reading Matters conference in Melbourne (see more at the end of these reviews). Another is about to arrive in Australia.

The Call by Peadar Ó Guilín (David Fickling Books) is set in an alternate Ireland. Nessa and her cohort know that this is the year when they will be ‘called’ for a life-changing three minutes by the Sidhe, avenging fairies who have been forced ‘under the mounds’ by humans. Nessa has the extra difficulty of a damaged left leg but she throws herself into the physical and psychological training all the young people endure to give them a chance of escaping and returning. Any who return have been damaged in some way. Will Nessa be the exception? The Call is atmospheric, chilling and highly imaginative. Its originality and brilliance are unforgettable.

Peadar is about to make appearances at, at least, one Australian bookshop and the Perth Writers’ Festival this month.

The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon (Corgi, Penguin Random House) is shooting up ‘best of’ lists. Natasha and her family live in New York City but are about to be deported to Jamaica. On her way to a last minute attempt to revert the decision, Natasha meets Daniel, a gorgeous Korean-American with a ponytail who breaks the mould.

Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven (Penguin Books) follows the author’s stunning All the Bright Places.

Holding Up the Universe takes us inside the life of Libby Strout, who starts high school after being homeschooled because of her obesity. She encounters beautiful Jack Masselin, who has prosopagnosia (a condition which appears in another recent excellent book which, for ‘spoiler’ reasons I can’t reveal here yet). Jack can’t recognise faces. The narrative explores both Libby and Jack’s universes, and how they intersect.

Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future by A.S. King (Little Brown, Hachette) takes us further afield, into the future, as well as the present. Glory and her best friend Ellie, who lives on a commune, drink a petrified bat, which gives them visions of the future. Like Juliet in Bridget Kemmerer’s upcoming Letters to the Lost, Glory has lost her mother and makes sense of her world through photography. Glory O’Brien is a slow-burning and original piece of writing. Exceptional.

A.S. King and Jennifer Niven are both speaking at Reading Matters conference in Melbourne in June. Link here. What an opportunity to hear these brilliant authors.

‘Before You Forget’ and Julia Lawrinson

 

Meet Julia Lawrinson, author of Before You Forget, Penguin Australia

Thanks for talking to Boomerang Books, Julia.

Where are you based and what’s your background in books?

I am based in Western Australia, and I’ve published thirteen novels for children and young adults (lucky thirteen, I hope!)

I really enjoyed your 2006 YA novel, Bye Beautiful . Could you tell us about this and some of your other writing? bye-beautiful

Most of my books are realistic, contemporary novels. Bye, Beautiful is set in the wheatbelt in 1966, and so is a departure from that. It is about a policeman’s family, and what happens when two sisters fall in love with the same boy, who happens to be Aboriginal. Although it is fiction, it is based on my mother’s story: my grandfather was a policeman who became officer in charge of the North West before he retired, and his strong personality and morality has had a lasting effect on his family. I feel I work best as a writer when I have a strong emotional connection to what I’m writing about.

My earliest work was very ‘gritty’: dealing with bogan high schools and adolescent psychiatric hospitals. Those stories resonated a lot with readers, and were stories that needed to be told.

Your new novel Before You Forget has a devastating personal connection for you. Could you tell us about the genesis of this novel?

before-you-forgetThe novel was written in response to seeing the suffering that my daughter went through when her father developed early onset Alzheimer’s disease, which began as she was starting high school. It wasn’t just the loss of memory that was an issue: his whole personality changed, and he went through periods of being anxious and angry by turns, which was difficult for both me and my daughter. He would give money away, invite perfect strangers home, almost cause accidents when he was driving without the slightest awareness of it. He refused to see doctors, and when he finally did, they suspected he had depression, alcoholism and various other things until he saw a specialist. Being there with him when he was diagnosed remains the most awful day of my life.

It was incredibly painful for my daughter to see the father she knew disappear in this way, and nobody really seemed to understand. The only person who truly got it was her friend Gemma, whose mother had the same disease, and who tragically died the week the book was released. I want people to understand the impact of diseases like Alzheimer’s on the kids in the family, to have empathy for the extended grief such conditions create.

What is the most terrifying thing about Alzheimer’s?

That it strips away what defines you as yourself. Annie’s dad’s defining feature was his intelligence. It was so awful to see that disappear. Although he’s retained his sense of humour to the end.

How has the book helped your family?

It’s been cathartic, being able to describe some of the things that happened, and to reclaim some of what we lost through the story. The situations in the novel are common to most families where a parent develops Alzheimer’s or similar neurological diseases, so hopefully it will provide a sort of sense of community.

How can others help families in this situation?

By asking what they need. People often want to come in and take control, or offer what they think is best, but it’s really important to listen to what would make the family’s life easier. It will be different for everyone. Also, to be respectful of people’s emotions: taking care of a loved one with Alzheimer’s is an emotional rollercoaster. I remember someone saying to me early on that Alzheimer’s was a beautiful thing, which felt like being slapped in the face. Teenagers with parents with Alzheimer’s can become very impatient and frustrated, but this doesn’t mean they don’t love their parent. It means they are dealing with the grief of dealing with a parent who is no longer who they used to be.

flyawayWho are your favourite artists?

Visual artists? Monet, Van Gogh, Rene Magritte, Brett Whitely, Frida Kahlo, Jeffrey Smart, Margaret Olley.

The protagonist, Amelia, loves art. How have you used art to reflect Amelia’s experiences?

I tried to have Amelia’s struggle to express herself as an artist parallel her difficulties in expressing her feelings about what is happened to her and her dad. Amelia is quite self-contained, but her art shows what is important to her.

How have you incorporated 9/11 into the story?

Amelia obsessively watches 9/11 footage, reads about it, tries to imagine what it would have been like to be there. To her, it is her personal disaster writ large. Instead of having something slow and invisible up-end your life, there is something fast, immediate and visual. But she also learns that it is not just one story: there are lots of stories out of 9/11, including stories of hope and bravery and fellow-feeling.

Amelia’s best friend Gemma has a problem. Could you tell us about this?

Gemma develops an eating disorder almost by accident: she begins dieting and then finds herself on a path she can’t get off. I’ve seen this happen with a lot of young people, and it happened to me as a teenager. You can’t mess with restricting food: once you start, the problems you may have been using food to deal with get magnified. Amelia can’t understand it, because to her Gemma has everything, and she is also upset that Gemma can’t appreciate Amelia’s serious problems. They can’t help each other, in a sense, because of what’s going on in their own lives, but they do try to find a way back to each other.

I should note that I used my daughter’s best friend’s name with permission in the novel, but the real Gemma bears no resemblance to the fictional one!

1b28f-chessnutscoverAmelia’s neighbour, Will, plays chess and one of your earlier books is called Chess Nuts. Why have you used chess in your YA novel, rather than another pastime or point of contact?

Again, this was part of the autobiographical aspect of the novel: my daughter played chess, and her dad was a chess coach (which is how Chess Nuts came about). It was also one of the first things that alerted me to his mental decline: a man who remembered every move of his year seven chess final to suddenly forget how to move a knight. It was a clear sign something was wrong.

What other books have left a deep impression on you?

I read a lot of books featuring bodily or mental illness when I was a teenager. Lois Lowry’s A Summer to Die had a big impact on me, as did The Bell Jar, A Patch of Blue by Elizabeth Kata, and Second Star to the Right by Deborah Hautzig.

Thanks very much, Julia, and all the best with your new book and your family. Your story will no doubt help many others.

Hope Farm, A Guide to Berlin, Between a Wolf and a Dog and other awarded lit fiction

hope-farmAward long and short lists continue to showcase our excellent Australian contemporary literature, much of which is written by female authors. Peggy Frew’s superlative Hope Farm (Scribe) has just been longlisted for the 2017 International Dublin Literary award and this year has already been longlisted for the Indie Book award and shortlisted for the Miles Franklin, Stella Prize, Australian Book Designers’ award and won the Barbara Jefferis award.

Hope Farm is narrated by thirteen-year old Silver who lives a peripatetic life, moving each time her mother Ishtar’s relationship breaks down. They follow Miller from warm Queensland to freezing Victoria but the situation becomes inflammatory.

An unnamed character’s point of view is revealed in notebooks. These entries describe a naïve, poorly educated young woman who falls pregnant and is cast out of her family, taking refuge in an ashram.

The descriptions of the Australian bush are tactile and inspired. The sense of dread is perfectly crafted. The character of Silver is portrayed as longing, awkward and yet knowing, as befits a girl with vulnerable and disrupted life experiences.

berlinAnother outstanding work of literary fiction still being nominated for awards this year is A Guide to Berlin (Penguin Random House Australia) by Gail Jones.

Protagonist Cass meets regularly with five other foreigners in Berlin who share their lives through story. The writing is exquisite. There are references throughout to the work of Vladimir Nabokov who “likened the bishop’s move (in chess) to a torchlight, scanning in the dark, swinging into angles”. There are butterfly motifs and exploration of rich words used by Nabokov such as “lemniscate” – the shape of infinity; “conchometrist” – one who measures the curves of seashells and “drisk” – a drizzly European rain. The novel’s title also comes from a short story by Nabokov. The beautifully crafted insights remind me that I need to re-read Hermann Hesse’s The Glass Bead Game.

A Guide to Berlin has been shortlisted for the 2016 NSW Premier’s awards, longlisted for the 2016 Stella Prize, ABIA awards and the Sisters in Crime 2016 Davitt award. In October it won the 2016 Colin Roderick Award.

housesTwo other acclaimed books, which I applaud for their fine writing, are The Life of Houses (Giramondo) by Lisa Gorton (which jointly won the 2016 Prime Minister’s Award for Fiction with Charlotte’s Woods’ The Natural Way of Things – reviewed here), and Between a Wolf and a Dog (Scribe) by Georgia Blain (which has just been shortlisted for the 2017 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Fiction and won the 2016 Qld Literary Award for Fiction).

Like Hope Farm, The Life of Houses is a dual narrative, one strand of which is from the viewpoint of a teenage girl, Kit. Her mother, Anna, is a most unlikeable character.

Georgia Blain’s writing in Between a Wolf and a Dog has a sparkling clarity and beauty. It addresses euthanasia. It is devastating that this gifted writer has just been felled by cancer. wolf

Between them these books have won and been long and shortlisted for many awards. We no doubt have a surfeit of fine Australian contemporary female writers of literary fiction.

Glorious Gift Books

annualExceptional children’s gift books for Christmas this year include Annual, edited by Kate De Goldi and Susan Paris (Gecko Press). It’s a treasure book in the vein of an old-style yearly annual, here packaged in the highest quality hardback form as a sumptuous possible Christmas present and absorbing holiday read.

The editors have excelled in their commissioned works, which range from short stories to non-fiction, poems, comics, art pieces, a song with sheet music included (Always on Your Phone) and activities such as a board game called Naked Grandmother and This is not a bottle – instructions on how to make a minaret, a spaceship or a hound with a bottle.

Contributors include Bernard Beckett, Barbara Else and Steve Braunias who has written a satire about various celebrities turning up to work at your house. Lorde and Taylor Swift turn up to wash the dishes but not much work actually takes place.

classicClassic Nursery Rhymes (Bloomsbury) is for younger children and showcases exquisite artwork by Dorothy M. Wheeler, who illustrated Enid Blyton’s books. Each nursery rhyme is generously illustrated with a full-page colour picture inside an elaborately sketched black and white border, which spills over to surround the printed rhyme on the opposite page.

There are too many favourite rhymes to name but they include Hickory, Dickory Dock and Jack and Jill as well as lesser-known gems such as A Frog He Would A-Wooing Go and Cock-A-Doodle-Doo. Little Jack Horner is ideal to read for Christmas.

The sheet music is provided for a number of the rhymes such as Polly Put the Kettle On and Baa, Baa! Black Sheep.

Studies show that children who know nursery rhymes have a higher success rate in early literacy. Mem Fox has also been sharing this belief: ‘If a borrowed story book or nursery-rhyme book becomes favourite, do your utmost to purchase it for your child. Children who have lived in book-filled homes prior to going to school are known to be scholastically advantaged for the rest of their lives. And children who have memorised eight nursery rhymes by the age of three, so I have been told, are always the best readers by the age of eight.’ (quote from Mem Fox’s website)

oddThere is a foreword in Classic Nursery Rhymes by Chris Riddell, who has also been busy illustrating a reissue of Neil Gaiman’s interpretation of a Norse myth, Odd and the Frost Giants (Bloomsbury). This is a very classy publication, extravagantly produced with illustrations throughout, touches of silver ink and cut-away icicles on the front cover. It is sophisticated, creative writing for older primary or gifted younger readers.

It is always worth exposing young readers to folktales, whether in original or reinterpreted form. Here a Viking boy with the unusual name of Odd suffers a terrible injury to his foot and encounters beasts in the woods that are actually Norse gods. As well as the often-argumentative male gods we also meet that most lovely and capable goddess, Freya.

Dinosaurs and Cheeky Animals in Australia

dinosaursImagine if dinosaurs lived today in Australia. As we know, dinosaurs did live in Australia, some on the Kimberley coast of northwest Australia, and their footprints are still visible there. In Return of the Dinosaurs (Magabala Books) Nyiyaparli and Yindijibarndi descendant Bronwyn Houston wonders what it would be like if dinosaurs roamed around Broome today.

As a girl the author-illustrator played at the beach with her brother and found footprints that turned out to be those of sauropods. In this picture book, she has created the surrounds of Broome in vibrant, inviting illustrations. Her characters – human and dinosaur – visit the rocks at high tide, play with humpback whales, meet their prehistoric crocodile cousins in the mangroves, feast on salmon, hunt for bush tucker, play at Cable Beach and enjoy the outdoor movie screen at Sun Pictures.

Brachiosaurus, Ceratosaurus, Megalosauropus, Broomensis, Parasaurolophus and Stegosaurus are included in the narrative and humans are sometimes shown in the illustrations to provide scale. Young readers will find this well conceived and executed book captivating.

animals_in_my_garden_high_res_Bronwyn Houston’s other new book is a board book for very young children, Animals in My Garden (Magabala Books). It is a simple counting book, “1 one snake … 2 two kookaburras … 3 three lizards” and so on up to “10 ten mosquitoes”. Each numeral and accompanying creature is showcased on one page.

The animals can be found in Australian backyards and the illustrations are extremely appealing: bright, textured and inviting children into nature.

cheekyAnother new Magabala Books’ publication for young readers is a second board book, Cheeky Animals by Shane Morgan. This book is inspired by Shane Morgan’s book Look and See, which was first published in 1999 and is still in print. This is testament to the synergy between the clear, often ochre-coloured illustrations and the simple appealing written text, “Look at the lizard, he’s up in the tree. See the big lizard. He’s looking down at me … Look at the turtle walking so slow. See the turtle, he stood on my toe.”

Shane Morgan is a descendant of the Yorta Yorta peoples of Victoria. Cheeky Animals’ appeal as a board book for the very young culminates in its ‘bedtime’ ending, “Look at the dingo howling with might. See the dingo, he’s saying goodnight.”

 

boySome of my other favourite picture books published by Broome-based Indigenous publisher, Magabala Books are Once There Was a Boy by Dub Leffler (simply beautiful), Mad Magpie by Gregg Dreise and Our World Bardi Jaawi by One Arm Point Remote Community School.

 

Double Dipping – Friendships lost – picture book reviews

Recently, the world lost one of the Children’s Literary Industry’s most recognised and iconic author illustrators, Narelle Oliver. Among many of the literary legacies she left us (you can read about her marvellous achievements and books in Joy Lawn’s post, here), she was a woman who encouraged and maintained sincere relationships with everyone she met, friendships rich and real. During last week’s reflection about her, two books found their way to me promoting further introspection on friendship, love, and loss.

Molly and MaeMolly & Mae by Danny Parker & Freya Blackwood

Molly and her close friend, Mae are about to embark on an adventure together, a train trip into town. They are filled with bubbly excitement, relishing each other’s company, sharing the passing of time until the train arrives and the telling offs by Mum as they scamper, bounce, hide and ballet the wait-time away. Like all little girls, they are so engrossed with their games and secrets that they are blissfully unaware of the wider world surrounding them on the platform.

Their joie de vivre eventually spills into the carriage, over seats and under foot as the countryside slides away outside, until, after many miles, games become stale and tempers fraught.  Delays halt fun and bad weather smears their vision, turning their friendship murky. A trip by oneself can be lonely, however and the girls miss each other in spite of their falling out or perhaps because of it. Eventually, as they near their destination, they cross bridges of a physical and emotional kind. Their journey takes them over hills, through valleys, sometimes running straight and true, other times navigating bends and tunnels, until together, they arrive, holding hands.

Molly and Mae is a wonderful analogy of friendship brilliantly executed by this talented picture book team. There is an eloquent sparseness about Parker’s narrative that harmonises each and every word on the page with Blackwood’s oil painted illustrations. The combination is intoxicating and terribly alluring.

Blackwood’s visual story contains several signposts that guide readers through this warm and recognisable tale of friendship; transporting them through all the exuberant, boring, testing, dark, and illuminating parts of the friendship journey.

Memorable, visually poetic, and beautifully written, this picture book is not only perfect for little people from four years upwards but also makes a gorgeous gift for those remembering and sharing friendships, past and present.

Little Hare Books HGE October 2016

Ida AlwaysIda, Always by Caron Levis and Charles Santoso

I always feel a little conflicted with the idea of harbouring animals in unnatural habitats far from their original ones, from their norm. This picture book, however questions what is normal, learned and ultimately depended on and loved from a polar bear’s point of view.

Gus lives in New York City’s Central Park Zoo. He is joyously unaware of the bigger city outside of his parkland world where zookeepers and visitors come and go and tall buildings form his boundaries. This is largely because he lives with Ida, his polar bear room mate. She is right there with him, everyday, always. They play ball together, splash in their pond together, chase and race together until it’s time to rest and relax as the city’s heartbeat hums around them. Their days seem repetitive and predictable but for Gus and Ida, they are all that they need. Until one day, Ida isn’t quite there.

The city and zoo’s residents continue to shuffle and hum and rush and squabble but Ida can no longer join the raucous of daily living because she is old and has fallen ill. Gus struggles with this abrupt change, refusing to leave Ida’s side when she is too tired to play, insistent on helping her and making the most of ‘the laughing days’ they have left together, until one day, ‘Ida curls into quiet’ and is no longer there.

In spite of his loss and grief, Gus continues, listening as the city pulses around him. In its rhythm, he feels its life, his own heart beat and Ida, right there with him, always.

Ida Always illos spreadTouching, a little tearful but ultimately inspiring, Ida, Always was inspired by the real life relationship between two polar bears in New York. Apparently, not only Gus mourned the loss of his friend but also the entire city and all who had cared for and come to know them.

Levis’s treatment of their story is heartrending and not overtly sentimental, allowing the reader to observe and understand the bond of friendship and love possessed by these two creatures who knew little else but the world, which their friendship created. By telling their story with subtle fictional flavour, sharing their thoughts, and hearing them speak, we feel an affinity with Gus and Ida that we might not otherwise have felt. The result is poignant and powerful, and enhanced beautifully by Santoso’s illustrations.

Ida, Always is a story about love, loss, friendships and how those we truly cherish remain with us, always.

Koala Books Scholastic September 2016