The Fix-It Man by Dimity Powell and Nicky Johnston

From our very own Boomerang Books blogger / word smith extraordinaire, Dimity Powell, together with the divinely talented illustrator, Nicky Johnston, we have a very special feature here today! I have had the utmost pleasure in reviewing their gorgeous new book, The Fix-It Man, and in finding out more about their collaboration. Enjoy!

Review:

Poignant, perfectly pitched and picture perfect. The Fix-It Man is a story that so effectively and sensitively captures the heartache and love between a little girl and her father when dealing with loss. Dimity Powell’s words are paced at a gentle rhythm that allow its readers space to breathe and take in the deeper meaning at the heart of the tale. The illustrations by Nicky Johnston encapsulate adversity and strength with their unmistakable emotive intensity.

A little girl has complete faith in her dad to fix anything. “It’s what dads do.” Whether it’s super gluing kites, mending the dog’s kennel or piecing shattered teapots back together, Dad is at the heart of turning bad days into good. But even her dependable, handy father can’t fix Mama. And there is nothing more shattering than that moment. That wordless moment of grief in the slimmest of moonlight that father and daughter lay wrapped up in Mama’s quilt, sure to be the first of many sleepless nights. Hearts break and cracks widen, but with a little bit of optimism and a whole lot of love, they know they can fix things together.

Superbly narrated and delicately illustrated, The Fix-It Man is a reassuring story that gently addresses the themes of love, life and loss in a thoughtful way. Being able to embrace life and cope with death at the same time shows great resilience. And for readers from age four in similar circumstances, this book offers an invaluable sense of hope and comfort.

EK Books, March 2017.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Join us now for the interview:

Congratulations on the release of your newest picture book, The Fix-It Man!

DP: Thanks, Romi. Dancing on clouds happy about it.

Dimity, this is your debut in the picture book arena! Where did the foundation for this story come from?

DP: Like many story ideas of mine, it evolved from a real life incident, which developed into a thought, which led to a question, which resulted in a small movie inside my head. The hard part was extracting the best bits and shaping them into a picture book text. I love the belief small children have in their parents, that they can fix anything and everything. I wanted to explore the reaction of a child when this belief is challenged, when their fixer suddenly needs fixing, too.

How did you find the whole publishing process with EK Books? How much input did you have with Nicky’s illustrations?

DP: A veritable dream. Likewise, Nicky is a dream to work with. She is dedicated and meticulous and included me in just about every step of the process from rough drafts to finals. This was something I had not expected so it was a joy to correspond with her and give feedback on the images as they developed. There was never any real need to clarify the relationship between her images and my text; Nicky just seemed to know what was going on in my head. There was however, a lot of discussion between us and our publisher about the various nuances and symbols; all the tiny details used throughout the visual narrative. It was a real team effort.

What do you like about Nicky’s style? How do you feel her illustrations have complemented your text?

DP: Everything! Nicky’s current style is perfectly suited to this story and exactly the way I envisaged this family to be. The emotion projected in Nicky’s images is poignantly powerful.

Nicky’s illustrations more than just complement the story. They add a level of subtly and sensitivity without ever being maudlin. Her soft colour palette and homogeneous characters invite readers into the very heart and soul of the story: we could be that family.

Nicky, what drew you to Dimity’s story when you first read it? Did you feel a connection with the text? Did the images naturally appear in your mind or was it a process that developed over time?

NJ: As soon as I read Dim’s manuscript, I connected to it immediately. Visuals started filling my head, I sketched them all into my sketchbook (pages of them!) it was quite overwhelming actually.

The story is beautifully written, every word, every pause and every page break is a deliberate choice to ensure the flow of the story is not only read, but felt.

The illustrated scenes, the characters, the subtle visual sub stories came to me with immense ease. I worked on the first concept roughs almost obsessively. The entire developmental process from roughs to producing the final artworks filled me with pure joy.

Dimity and Nicky, you seem like a terrific team with an organic relationship, which certainly resonates through the book. How did you feel about the collaboration with one another along the journey? Were there any hiccups or surprises you can share with us?

DP: Extremely grateful and satisfied in the most fulfilling way. From the very first sample spread I saw, I knew my words were in good hands. Nicky’s ability to ‘get’ my intentions is uncanny. I think the way she is able to extract exactly how I picture the characters and scenes out of my head and capture them in watercolour (without any consultation) is true genius and just a little bit spooky. The biggest surprise for me was that everything progressed so fluidly and enjoyably.

NJ: I am amazed with the personal connection Dim and I have, given we have only ever met in person twice! I think our minds, visions and emotions are aligned in quite an authentic way. I am pleased the illustrations and the text combination demonstrates this unitedness too.

This was my first time working with EK Books and I really loved the team approach that was given to the entire project. It was fabulous to be able to bounce around my ideas and rough sketches with everyone to be sure we would create the book to the highest standard.

What has been the most rewarding part of creating this book so far?

DP: When I got the call from my publisher with the green light good news. It had been a long hard slog to get to that point so that call was a massive relief. I may have shed a few tears. Holding it (The Fix-It Man) in my hands for the first time was also a bit momentous. Oh and watching the visual landscape of my story come to life with each of Nicky’s illustrations. I still find that part of storytelling inexplicably rewarding; watching your words come alive is pure magic. Sorry to carry on but I feel very rewarded!

NJ: Seeing the illustrations and the text together for the first time was pretty special. And to be called a ‘Dream Team’ topped it off for me!

It was quite a lengthy process from beginning to end, and like all things that take time, the wait has been worth it.

DP: The dream team…still sets me aglow.

Thank you both so much for participating in this mini interview!! 🙂 xx

NJ: What great questions, thank you for having us share our collection journey of creating The Fix It Man!

DP: It’s been a pleasure, Romi. Thanks J

Purchase The Fix-It Man.

The Fix-It Man will be launched in both Brisbane and Melbourne! Check the flyers for details.

 

The Blog Burst party continues at the following websites. Check them out!

Kids’ Book Review

Creative Kids’ Tales

Dee White

GumbootsPearlz

Visit Dimity Powell at her website, and Nicky Johnston at her website.

Please enjoy one last special show, courtesy of Nicky Johnston!

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

 

 

 

Review – One Would Think the Deep

One Would Think the DeepIf you thought Claire Zorn’s first two YA novels, The Sky So Heavy and The Protected, were brilliant, you’re going to need double tinted Ray Burns for her latest masterpiece, One Would Think the Deep.

Zorn manages to mould rough edged, grit-encrusted reality into exquisite accomplished prose with the mere flick of her fingers. One Would Think the Deep is a story that surges with emotion, confrontation, and ultimately, hope.

If I were to reflect on Sam’s story too deeply, I’d be overwhelmed with the melancholy of it, of him but this is not a tale of woe and hopelessness, in spite of its gently grim beginning. Its sincerity and swagger from the opening lines swept me along and held me afloat until the very end.

Shortly after one fateful New Year’s Eve, Sam Hudson finds himself suddenly orphaned, teetering on the precipice of shock, grief, graduation and homelessness. My stomach filled with sick ache for him as he called his Aunty Lorraine to inform her of his mother’s premature death.

With nothing more than his skateboard and a collection of 90s something mixed tapes (he listens to Jeff Buckley on his Walkman with the same obsession I did to ABBA), Sam lingers uncomfortably in the small coastal town of Archer Point with his aunty and cousins, Minty and Shane. He is caught in a turbulent no man’s land of past boyhood memories and buried family secrets, incapable of finding his fit. Grief and despair are his most loyal companions, second only to his cousin, Minty with whom he spent a chunk of his childhood.

Minty is the laWavetter day version of Taj Burrows, young, gifted, a surfing legend amongst the local crowds. His laconic life views and ability to work any wave endears Sam to the ocean. But it takes a few months before his newfound surf therapy begins to take effect. Despite the elegant monastic simplicity of ‘a life in the water’, Sam’s life continues its complicated hurtle toward (his) self-destruction. He pines for a past he doesn’t fully understand, yearns for the affections of a girl he can barely speak to and is constantly at crushing odds with most of his family members including, Nana. Sam’s emotional dichotomy of good boy battling the bad within is fascinating and heart wrenching at times. It’s impossible to dislike him because of what you feel for him feeling so much.

Sam’s story of hurt and healing is beautifully rendered. Even the most vicious of emotional situations are depicted with refined tenderness so that I found myself weeping emphatically throughout, not just at the end where you’d expect a need for tissues.

Each character is drawn with knife-edge sharpness. Each speaks with a clarity that never dulls. Every sense is heightened by the wrenching complexity of the lives of this very inconsequential, simple group of ordinary individuals. And it’s not just Sam who is damaged and vunerable. Each is noticeably flawed or at least weighed down by their own limitations to a point of exquisite confusion. I loved them all.

It’s not the surf, time, or chance or even family that ultimately saves Sam in as much as they all conspired to also undo him.  It’s that old chestnut love, which I believe is the true nucleus of One Would Think the Deep (the moments between Gretchen and Sam are incomparable).The ability to surf the ‘glistening wake’ of your leviathan fears and laugh about the results with people who love you is ultimately the key to surviving the ride.

If you are experiencing loss and your soul feels displaced, if you have a passion for the waves or you are still in love with the sounds of the 90s, then you must submerse yourself in this book.  I can almost hear Jeff Buckley crooning Hallelujah

UQP June 2016

Claire ZornStick around…in the coming weeks I’ll be chatting more deeply with Claire about her latest work and how she developed such impressive surfing lingo.  Meantime, you can find all her great reads, here.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Review: Where My Heart Used to Beat by Sebastian Faulks

9780091936846Sebastian Faulks’ new novel is quite simply superb. Tackling themes he has explored before Faulks delivers an original novel that is haunting, beautiful and profound that will resonate all the way through you.

Dr Robert Hendricks is a veteran of the Second World War who lost his father in the First. These two wars have not only shaped his life but also his thinking as a psychiatrist. He is contacted by an aging French doctor, who served with his Father in the First World War, as a possible literary executor of his estate. Hendricks travels to an island of the south of France to meet with the man who also has information about his father whom he never met. A meeting which finds Robert delving into his own memories of war as he confronts his father’s experience of his.

Faulks’ writing as always is sublime. The scenes of Robert’s war recollections in Tunisia and Anzio are some of the best war writing since Birdsong and his explorations of the human mind and what we call madness reminiscent of Human Traces. The heart of the story is about the madness of the 20th Century and how our memories are shaped in order to survive what we experience. And how love, loss, madness and grief are each inextricably entwined and influence our lives.

Heartfelt and heartbreaking, insightful and inventive this is Sebastian Faulks at his best.

Buy the book here…

Trace Balla’s Time to Shine

IMG_7630Up-and-comer author illustrator, Trace Balla, has quickly hit the scene with the recent success of Rivertime, being both shortlisted in the 2015 Children’s Book Council of Australia Picture Book of the Year Awards, and winning this year’s Readings Children’s Book Prize. Her work stems from a background in art therapy, animations and community involvement, with a strong focus on environmental themes. Let’s enter the magical tales of nature, love and loss with her two books, Rivertimeand ‘Shine’.  

9781743316337Rivertime, published by Allen & Unwin in 2014.  

You know a book’s going to be special when the front cover is graced with both an entrancing illustration and a testimonial by acclaimed environmentalist, David Suzuki, telling us about the delight and magic that awaits inside. I’m already loving the endpapers that greet us with a wonderfully hand-drawn menagerie of native birds at the front, and other flora and fauna at the back, all ready to be spotted along our river journey.

Rivertime book image2Boxed vignettes, speech bubbles of handwritten dialogue and endearing pencil drawings form the visual and sensational adventure that we embark on with characters, ten year old Clancy and his Uncle Egg. When number-loving Clancy is finally big enough, his bird-loving uncle plans a ten-day (or 240-hour, or 14,400-minute) paddling trip along the Glenelg River, minus all the technological gadgets. At first, Clancy is grumpy, but as the days pass, so does his temperamental attitude. The pair encounter beautiful wildlife, serene views and fascinating people of the land. Clancy learns to appreciate the beauty of nature and its creatures, a few camping skills, and particularly, to conquer the jetty exit! I just adore the tranquility, including scenes of ‘timelessness’; of gentle, seemingly-infinite rivertime drifting and star gazing on double page spreads. Final pages include a map of the canoe trip on Bochara (the Glenelg River), and the author’s inspiration for the story following her own river journey, away from the modern world.

Rivertime is a calming influence on what is normally a chaotic lifestyle for most of us. It lets us take a breath, or a few, and enjoy the Australian river ride, encouraging its readers to connect with, and hopefully strive to sustain, our unique and wonderful natural environment. Paddling up this river is a true delight; ‘oar-some’ to be explored independently and as part of a class discussion.  

Download a handy pocket bird-watching guide to accompany Rivertime here.
And, look out for Trace Balla’s sequel to ‘Rivertime’; ‘Rock-hopping’.  

9781743316344Shine; a story about saying goodbye, published by Allen & Unwin in 2015.  

From an intensely raw place in her heart, Trace Balla wrote ‘Shine’ for her sister’s children after the sudden passing of their father. From the dedication page, this book takes the reader on an emotional journey, even for those who haven’t experienced loss of great magnitude.

With its heavenly, Indigenous-look line and dot paintings, and equally sentimental Dreamtime essence in the words, we are introduced to a shimmering light amongst the golden stars; a young horse called Shine. As the planets align, he meets the lovely Glitter, and together they are blessed with two little sparkles, Shimmer and Sparky. When Shine has to return to his star, the family weep golden tears that form a huge golden ocean. But this is the part that really got me… As they climb the steepest of mountains to reflect upon its beauty, Glitter explains that its vastness represents the endless and enduring love they have for Shine and for each other. Finally, it’s the brightest, most special star of all amongst the twinkling night sky that allows them a deep and beautiful sleep.

Shine book image ‘Shine’ is a touching story that sensitively deals with ‘saying goodbye’ in a simple, yet profound way. Trace Balla cleverly uses yellow and blue hues not only to represent the shine amongst the dark, but also as the hope and love amongst the tragedy of loss.

A metaphorical beauty for young children, with the power of everlasting love at its core.  

Both these stories inspire an appreciation for every moment spent with the things that matter most in this world, and far beyond it…  

Review – Teddy Took the Train

Teddy Took the TrainLoss is a natural part of life. Nearly all of us have experienced it, losing a pet, a loved one, a favourite piece of antique china, mental sanity. As adults, we are equipped with strategies and understanding enough to assist us to the next station in life, to get over it. However, when a child is faced with the sudden loss of say, a beloved toy, feelings of desperation and grief amplify because of their less refined fields of reference.

This new picture book, Teddy Took the Train by Nicki Greenberg mirrors an identical incident my Miss experienced several years ago (cue Pinkie, the Rabbit) and is one I’m positive many a distracted parent has had to contend with.

Teddy and DotDot loves days out in the city with her mum. They enjoy many child-cherishable moments together like shopping at the markets and munching on buns for morning tea. Teddy is Dot’s silent companion and experienced commuter. He and Dot take in the world together through the rain-splattered windows of the train home, oblivious to the crushing crowds surrounding them because after all, for a child the window seat is everything.

Distractions spring up everywhere but when mum cries to follow her at their stop, Dot has to make a hasty exit completely forgetting about Teddy. Her best mate’s absence goes unnoticed at first. Splashing in storm puddles creates too much here and now pleasure that is impossible to ignore. When the crushing reality that Teddy is missing hits, Dot is plunged into despair.

But wait, did the train take Teddy or did he take the Train? Dot suspects this is exactly what Teddy had in mind all along and is using this opportunity to get to the picnic he’s been invited to at Bear Bend; crafty old bear.

Nevertheless, he is taking an awfully long time to get back home. Concerns creep into Dot’s curly-haired head as she counts the hours of his disappearance and is torn between hope and dismay. Thankfully, Dot is made of sturdy stoic stuff and gives our roving ted all the credit he deserves.

Nicki GreenbergGreenberg portrays this familiar tale with visceral warmth and verve. Her use of causal rhyme moves Dot and Teddy’s day along at a comfortable pace that allows young readers to becoming fully absorbed in Ted’s adventure.

The illustrations, executed in a variety of mediums including scanned objects and digital collages provide plenty of stop and seek moments and create an authentic inner-city-storm-day mood.

I’m not going to tell you if Dot and Teddy are ever reunited. It’s the kind of anxious desperation many of us (as kids) have lived through and that future generations who insist on taking their toys everywhere with them, will have to endure. Needless to say, Pinkie, the Rabbit never made it back after his trip around the Brisbane train network, but we like to think he found a new little girl (or boy) to roam the rails with, and is seeing the world in the way only a stuffie can.

Experience Teddy’s amazing adventures for yourself and with children 3 to 5 years old, here.

Allen & Unwin April 2015

Review – Perfectly Poignant Picture Books Part One – Here in the Garden

Grief by any measure can be overwhelming. The grief one experiences after the loss of a family member never more so, even if that member happens to have whiskers and furry ears.Here in the Garden

Who knew I’d still be grieving the loss of my dog so intensely four months on? That the thinnest memory of him could unveil a mountain of yearning and loss and cause small avalanches of tears – again and again.

Then one of those inexplicably perfectly timed encounters in life happens; I read Briony Stewart’s picture book, Here in the Garden.

Briony with WinstonPenned after the loss of her beloved pet rabbit, Winston, Here in the Garden is more than an inspired cathartic exercise. It is an exquisitely crafted passage-of-time tale that allows ‘anyone who reads it (a) way back to a loved one through (their) heart and (their) memories’.

A young boy loses his special friend, a pet rabbit and wishes fervently that they were still together in his garden. Seasons slide by with the passing of time yet his yearning never diminishes. The boy’s present day feelings are sensitively juxtaposed with each new season and the past memories they reawaken of his days shared in the garden with bunny.

Briony Stewart Stewart’s heart-felt narrative is poetic and poignant and at times a little tear-inducing. The evolution of the seasons is beautifully measured by her splendid illustrations; most notably, the stirring string of pencilled line drawings at the end leading us and the boy beautifully from grief to resignation to jubilation of better days. By the end of story and the passing of a year, the boy comes to realise that whilst not everything we hold precious and dear in life can remain with us physically, memories are forever.

Here in the Garden is ultimately a moving yet magnificent and uplifting testimony to life and that wondrous salve of all hurts, time. Older readers will need tissues. Younger ones will cherish the joy and hope hidden within just as easily as they will locate the leaf-shaped bunnies drifting throughout this book.

Highly recommended for healing and hope-seeking.

UQP April 2014 Available here, now.

Don’t put those tissues away yet! Stick around for Part Two of Poignant Picture books when we cast a look at The Stone Lion.