Love-Inspired Books for Kids

With all things ‘love’ on the chart for today, there’s no better way to celebrate Valentine’s Day, International Book Giving Day (aka #bookgivingday) and Library Lovers’ Day with some especially special and adorable books with your loved ones. Here are a few to make your heart sing and add a warm smile to your day.

Love Thy Babies

Hello Little Babies, Alison Lester (author, illus.), ABC Books, December 2016.

Welcoming and watching your little one’s as they grow and change in this big, wide world is a truly heartwarming and precious experience. Alison Lester expertly caresses our hearts with her divinely narrated and illustrated glimpse into the developmental stages of six babies’ first year.

With the birth of Alice, Ruby, Mika, Zane, Vikram and Tom, the diversity of cultures, traditions, abilities and behavioural routines are portrayed with a beautiful synchronicity. Sleeping habits are formed with the jiggling of cradles, rubbing of little backs and strolls by the sea. Playing involves rattles, baths, a game of peekaboo and a favourite book. I love the messy food and eating behaviours, and how the babies are beginning to move about at different levels of independence. They are exposed to the beauty of nature through exploration and observation, and then it is time to say goodnight.

With its simple sentences and individualised colour vignettes for each baby, the reader is able to identify the characters and move through the pages with ease. And Lester’s ability to highlight cultural and developmental differences speaks volumes, particularly in today’s society and for new, overly-conscious parents.

Hello Little Babies contains the perfect bundle of love to share with your perfect bundle of joy.

I ❤ Preschoolers

Origami Heart, Binny Talib (author, illus.), Lothian Children’s Books, June 2016.

I love the Asian-infused qualities in this bunny’s tale of striving for perfection, high expectations and overcoming disappointment in the name of friendship. And I also love that the guts and passion addressed in the story shows us that reaching out, sharing your heart can lead to a happy ending.

The quirkiness of Kabuki begins when he is introduced to us from his burrow in the sky. He is the neatest, most organised and pedantic bunny in town, habituated to his strict routines and obsessive behaviours. In preparation for a visit from his friend Yoko, Kabuki picks up ‘perfect’ vegetables, ‘excellent’ snow pea tea, and ‘symmetrical’ flowers from the market. Everything is set in rows and cut to exact heart-shaped proportions. He is ready. However, his scrupulous plans are set to take a nose-dive when he hears of Yoko’s cancellation. But rather than wallow in his own grief, Kabuki literally throws his heart out to the city, and guess who’s there to catch it!

There is a strong character personality and equally meticulous line drawings and simple colour palette to match, but there is also a gentleness and endearing tone with its soft, handwriting text and little details like the displayed photographs of Yoko and the tiny red birdie that stays by Kabuki’s side.

With bonus origami instructions at the back, Origami Heart will have preschoolers pronouncing their love for this book, and for each other, over and over again.

All For Primary Kids

My Brother, Dee Huxley (author, illus.), Oliver Huxley (character, illus.), Tiffany Huxley (design), Working Title Press, July 2016.

Expressing love of a different kind, this story takes us on a heavenly journey of brotherly love. Created as a team, the Huxleys’ exquisitely haunting plot and mesmerising illustrations powerfully stir up the emotions in your heart and the curiosity in your mind.

With the strong opening, “I miss my brother. I’m so lost without him.”, the gentle, horned creature immediately grabs us by the horns and locks us in to his endeavour to find his long-lost sibling. Like black and white photographs in an album, we are treated to landscapes that defy logic and immerse our thoughts in old nursery rhymes and imaginative places as the creature desperately searches far and wide, over here and over there. There is certainly no need for descriptive phrasing when the graphite pieces of art tell it all. An ‘enlightening’ finale brings joy, colour, purity, and a sense of peace when the brothers reunite once more.

This book is amazing for its endless talking point possibilities, such as the meanings of being ‘lost’, the yearning for loved ones, and reality versus the imaginary, mystical or even the spiritual world.

My Brother can be appreciated on many levels, from the simple to the complex, however ultimately it is a book of pure beauty, extraordinary wonderments and undying love.

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Christmas Crackers – Picture Book Reviews

As we mark the first day of December, the Christmas countdown has officially begun. A time for snuggles, a time for giggles, a time for togetherness, a time for giving, a time for remembering and making new memories. Here are a few glorious picture books that have all the joy, laughter and magic of Christmas covered.

imageThere is Something Weird in Santa’s Beard, Chrissie Krebs (author, illus.), Random House Australia, October 2016.

Argh! It’s like The Dreadful Fluff in disguise! Yes, there is a dreadful, terrorising mutant refusing to depart the comfort of Santa’s beard. Created by tired and grotty Santa’s leftover crumbs of bubble gum, candy canes, French fries and mince pies, the hideous, squatting blob threatens to ruin Christmas. It devours toys from the workshop and snaps up the elves’ trap. Santa attempts to remove it but to no avail. At last, it is the skilled, king fu-fighting reindeer that save the day. All is well with Santa until he treats himself after a training session with a sticky ice cream.

Chrissie Krebs has written this story with the great gusto and rollicking rhyme that it deserves. I love the depiction of Mrs Claus, too – homely and caring, but let’s face it, everyone’s patience has its limits! With its slapstick comedy, unfaltering rhyming couplets and vibrantly bright and energetic illustrations, this book makes for a highly engaging and fun read-aloud experience.

There is Something Weird in Santa’s Beard will take your preschoolers on a belly-rolling, chin-tickling journey as Santa overcomes the most terrible experience imaginable. But you can count on poor, messy Santa reliving it over and over again, as he did in our household!

imageI Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas, John Rox (author), Simon Williams (illus.), Scholastic Australia, October 2016.

Here lies the renewal of the classic 1950 song originally written by John Rox, and performed by a young Gayla Peevey in 1953, which resulted in the Oklahoma City zoo acquiring a baby hippo named Matilda.

The story subtly portrays a sweet innocence, yet the narrator is firm with complete conviction on why s/he should have a hippopotamus for Christmas. Written in first person with its irregular upper and lower case handwriting as the main text, this is a fun, lyrical narrative (with bonus CD by Indigenous singer Miranda Tapsell) perfectly capturing the magic of childhood and Christmas for its preschool listeners.

Simon Williams gorgeously ties in this magical essence with his own interpretation of the humour and playfulness through his whimsical illustrations. Pairing a ginger kitten as narrator with its ‘Hippo Hero’ is an inspiring move portraying a wonderful unlikely friendship. The kitten makes promises to feed and care for it, and is excited by the hope of being surprised by its presence on Christmas morning. No crocodile or rhino would do, “I only like hippopotamuses. And hippopotamuses like me too!”

Adorably energetic, bouncy and joyful, children from age three will be adamant that they want I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas for Christmas.

imageThe Night Before Christmas, Clement Clarke Moore (text), Helene Magisson (illus.), New Frontier Publishing, November 2016.

With illustrations that are soft with warmth, deep with texture and rich with love, this newest edition of The Night Before Christmas is truly one to treasure.

With the timeless poem by Clement Clarke Moore, talented illustrator Helene Magisson works her magic to create a stunning gift for any family celebrating Christmas. As Santa and his eight reindeer journey through the snow-speckled sky to below the snow-crested rooftop, we are soothed by the pale watercolour tones that beautifully contrast the outdoor shades of blues with the indoor hues of reds. I also love the little whimsical subtleties like Santa’s cheeky expressions, the playful cat and the koala toy for our Australian readers.

With a special story and exquisite illustrations that represent togetherness, comfort and the undeniable joy that is Christmas, The Night Before Christmas is a beautiful keepsake for children between four and six years old.

You can find more fantastic gifts in the Kids Reading Guide 2016.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Sweet Dreams, Little Ones – Picture Book Reviews

Amongst the themes of bedtime routines and playful antics are ones of sentimentality, unconditional love and guidance. Each striking in their own visual and lyrical ways, the following picture books perfectly set the tone for engaging and soothing shared reading experiences before the lights go out.

imageCounting Through the Day, Margaret Hamilton (author), Anna Pignataro (illus.), Little Hare Books, June 2016.

Here’s to making every little one count. Because this book gives us the warm fuzzies just like our own special ones do. Each number from one to millions is dedicated its own page with gorgeously combined pencil, watercolour and fabric collage illustrations. And to add to the gentle and soothing tone, a beautiful lyrical rhythm unfolds with every turn. The rhyming couplets take us through a fun and reassuring day with teddy, pets, favourite toys and loving parents and grandparents to share and protect the little girl.

Counting Through the Day is a comforting vision of a peaceful routine and the beauty of nature. It presents a seamless integration of time from morning to night, and number awareness from one to twelve and larger figures including twenty, hundreds, thousands and millions.

With immeasurable sweetness to devour, toddlers and preschoolers will lap up every precious moment shared reading this book with their loved ones.

imageI Just Couldn’t Wait to Meet You, Kate Ritchie (author), Hannah Sommerville (illus.), Penguin Random House Australia, March 2016.

From the get-go, this book brings a sentimental light and a sparkling twinkle to every mother’s eye. The endpapers are laced with precious milestones from early pregnancy scans to growing bellies and baby shower invitations, and completed with snippets of the baby’s development. Ritchie tells a poetic love story to her little one about her every thought, hope and dream that soon becomes a wonderful reality when baby enters the world. The calming watercolours in pastel yellows, greens and pinks deliver this affectionate tale as parents prepare for their bundle of joy to arrive. The illustrations exquisitely give meaning to the words, with mum’s imagination presented in delicate thought bubbles.

I Just Couldn’t Wait to Meet You is a book that both parents and their babies will treasure, enlightening bonds as they share their own loving stories of the journey into being.

imageQuick as a Wink, Fairy Pink, Lesley Gibbes (author), Sara Acton (illus.), Working Title Press, August 2016.

What better way to soothe young ones at the end of the day than with a sprinkle of mischief and a dusting of spirit from five little flutter fairies in all their lighthearted glory as they set off to bed! As Fairy Blue, Green, Gold and Red fairy-step their way from teeth brushing, bathing, dressing, and reading into fairy-dreamland, one cheeky flutter fairy is playing a sneaky hiding game around the house. Enchantingly engaging us, amongst the rollicking rhythm, with the repetitive phrase is “But someone’s playing hide and seek. Can you see her? Take a peek. Quick as a wink, find Fairy Pink!” After all the frolicsome fun, I wonder who falls asleep first?!

Clearly defined, bright colours and varied page spreads allow readers to identify each fairy and their actions. The illustrations further provide an interactive experience to complement the text with their adorably energetic line drawings and hidden details, such as locating the whereabouts of the naughty pink fairy.

Quick as a Wink, Fairy Pink is suitably the most fairy-licious read to get your little ones to hop, wriggle and flutter their way to bed every night. My three year old daughter highly recommends it!

imageNoisy Nights, Fleur McDonald (author), Annie White (illus.), New Frontier Publishing, August 2016.

It’s quite a predicament when one is unable to sleep with a terribly noisy racket outside your window! This is the case for poor Farmer Hayden. His menagerie of animals, plus a clattering train, are chirping, moo-ing, maa-ing, nickering and howling through the night. And no matter how loud he shouts, the volume is far too high to even hear him. So what’s a sleep-deprived farmer to do? Count sheep, of course!

A story of continuous laughter, and a touch of empathy, with its whimsical illustrations, Noisy Nights is loveable and entertaining. Preschoolers will certainly appreciate the silence after this read to ease them into a peaceful slumber.

imageDream Little One, Dream, Sally Morgan (author), Ambelin Kwaymullina (illus.), Viking Penguin Random House Australia, May 2016.

Vibrantly painted with line, pattern and bold colours, and told in a lyrically gentle tone, this title by much-loved Indigenous team sets such a joyous and endearing mood. A collection of popular Australian animal parents guide their babies to develop strength, skill and safety through nature’s most beautiful occurrences. Bushes bloom and roos bound, seas sigh and dolphins glide, insects buzz a story of the earth and snakes slide into the peace of a loveable land.

The visuals and the visual literacy blend flawlessly, and are both stunning to see and listen to. Dream Little One, Dream will transport preschool-aged children to another world where only the most transcendent of dreams can take flight.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

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

 

 

 

Picture Books with World Dementia Month in Mind

image

September is Dementia Awareness Month, an important initiative providing Australians with further knowledge and understanding of how dementia affects individuals, their families and carers. The theme for this year is ‘You are not alone’; a sentiment that aims to help those impacted to feel supported and empowered even in difficult circumstances.

Dedicating their time and energy to raising awareness of the topic of ageing grandparents or other family members is a passionate group of Australian children’s authors and illustrators. Their personal, heartfelt stories of hope and compassion continue to provide encouragement, optimism and inspiration to many children and families confronting change and illness in the ones they love.

imageDebra Tidball‘s When I see Grandma fits perfectly with the theme of ‘You are not alone’ on several levels. It is a poignant story of a little girl who brightens the dreams of her grandmother in an Aged Care Home. With gorgeously illuminating illustrations by Leigh Hedstrom, this book includes both heartwarming and practical strategies for creating, and rekindling fond memories.

Debra states, “When I see Grandma shows children interacting in a space that is not usually thought of as child-friendly – an aged care home. If parents of young children can see beyond the sadness of their own experiences and take their children to visit aged relatives in this setting, it can provide an enriching experience for all.”

She further relays, “Research shows that people with dementia and their carers are significantly lonelier than the general population. The children in When I See Grandma share very simple things they enjoy with their gran and the other residents – like reading, singing, and playing peek-a-boo, all giving the message, in a very natural, easy way, that their grandma is not alone.” Debra wrote the book to “let families know that they are not alone in their experiences and to encourage families to keep connections with elderly and ailing relatives so that they too, know that they are not alone.”

More on the book and a Boomerang Books interview with Debra Tidball can be found here.

In a recent article, Debra provides enlightening guidance for children and parents on reading to grandparents. Find it on the Wombat Books blog here.

Wombat Books, February 2014.

imageLucas and Jack focuses on the power of memory to establish close bonds between a boy and his Grandpop. Divinely illustrated by Andrew McLean, and gently written by Ellie Royce, this book is a fantastic medium “to start conversation, memories and stories flowing.”

Ellie explains the power of listening. “As a picture book about older people’s stories, it [Lucas and Jack] encourages the listening which often leads to such enriching connections being formed.” Read the full article here.

More on Ellie Royce’s book and a Boomerang Books interview is here.

Working Title Press, June 2014.

imageVictoria Lane (Thieberger) is the author of Celia and Nonna, with timeless illustrations by Kayleen West. This gentle book embraces the hard realities of dementia and adapting to change, but at the same time highlights strength, togetherness and faith in the ones we love.

Victoria encourages readers to find ways to accept and manage these often confusing times. “It is so important to keep children involved and informed, whatever changes are happening in the family… Celia finds her own delightful way(s). I hope that Celia and Nonna will help to start a conversation with children when a loved one is affected by dementia or old age.”

The full review and Boomerang Books interview with Victoria Lane is here.

Ford Street Publishing, September 2014.

imageDo You Remember? by Kelly O’Gara and Anna McNeil is a comforting, poignant story of memory and togetherness of a mouse and her grandmother. The celebration and the gradual fading of those memories are gently portrayed using the child’s artwork as a medium to remind her grandmother of her own rich and wonderful stories. This book shows a beautiful way to support and encourage children and their elderly grandparents to preserve and strengthen their bonds.

Wombat Books, February 2015.

imageHarry Helps Grandpa Remember, authored by Karen Tyrrell, and illustrated by Aaron Pocock, is a story of compassion, humour and hope. Young Harry provides a forgetful, confused and lost Grandpa with cleverly integrated coping and memory skills. Here is a book that gently introduces “children to the realities of Dementia and Alzheimer’s.” Find out more about the book here.

Digital Future Press, April 2015.


Alzheimer’s Australia also has resources to help provide reassurance to families. Another website to explore is Dementia in my Family, where you can find most of the above picture books listed in the resources section. Click here for more information on dementia and loneliness.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

 

Three Types of Charm – Janeen Brian Picture Book Reviews

Award-winning author Janeen Brian is well-known for her superlative poetry, fascinating research projects and of course, those cheeky dinosaur books. She also has a gifted ability to incorporate important, ‘real-life’ topics into her stories in the most pleasurable and engaging ways. From the farm to the outback and atop the Himalayan mountains, the following three titles encourage readers to open their eyes and senses to worlds other than their own, to perspectives they have never seen, all the while allowing themselves to drift into imaginative and emotional realms.

 imageMrs Dog, illustrated by Marjorie Crosby-Fairall, is a picture book that will undoubtedly inject a large dose of sentimentality into your heart. In this case of sacrifice, bravery, trust and unconditional love, this story will most certainly leave an ever-lasting soft spot for these good-natured characters.

At her ripe age, Mrs Dog has moved on from her role as sheep-herding working dog. So, it’s only natural that she take on a nurturing motherly role when little weak Baa-rah the lamb is discovered alone in the paddock. Not only does Mrs Dog nurse his physical strength, but also empowers Baa-rah with street smarts (or ‘farm’ smarts, rather) and a strong voice. In a tear-jerking near-tragedy, the little lamb triumphs over his fears and uses his newly developed skills to alert the owners, Tall-One and Tall-Two, of Mrs Dog’s fall into the Dangerous Place.

The endearing character names, touching story, and soft textures and warm tones all blend beautifully together to create an indelibly loveable book for all ages. Mrs Dog, with its combined heartrending and humorous qualities, is a sweet and memorable visual and language experience to share amongst the generations.

The Five Mile Press, 2016.

imageIn Where’s Jessie?, Bertie Bear faces his own challenges and braves the harsh conditions of the Australian outback. Based on a true story set in the early 1900s, we are carried along with the raggedy teddy as he is dragged upon camel, whooshed through dust clouds, nipped by wild creatures, and slushed in water. All the while he longs to be back in the warm arms of his beloved owner Jessie. And the reunion is nothing short of miraculous.

With fantastically descriptive language, and stunningly expressive watercolour bleeds and scratches by Anne Spudvilas, the action and emotion of this adventure is truly engaging. Janeen‘s fascination with and fondness of this real-life bear, as discovered at an exhibition at Kapunda, shines through in her words.

Where’s Jessie? is definitely a story worth exploring further, as well as being an absolutely uplifting treasure to cherish for centuries.

NLA Publishing, 2015.

imageHer first hand experience with the children and families in the Himalayan village led Janeen to explore this intriguing culture and lifestyle in her gorgeously fluid collection of short poems in Our Village in the Sky. Brilliantly collaborating with Anne Spudvilas, the visual literacy and language are simply exquisite.

The perspectives of various children intrigue us with the work, and play, they do in the summer time. For these ‘Third-World’ kids, imagination is at the forefront of their industrious lives. Whether they are using water tubs as drums, daydreaming in soapy washing water, turning an old ladder into a seesaw, chasing goats downhill or flicking stones in a game of knucklebones, chores like washing, cleaning, cooking, gathering and building are fulfilled with the brightest of smiles on the children’s innocent faces.

Our Village in the Sky is a lyrically and pictorially beautiful eye-opener to a whole new world that our Western children may not be aware of. With plenty of language concepts, cultural, social and environmental aspects to explore, there will certainly be a greater appreciation for the beauty, differences and similarities between our children and those in the Himalayan mountains.

Allen & Unwin, 2014.

For fascinating insights into the production of these books see my wonderful interview with Janeen Brian at the following link.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

A Pet is for Life – Sandy Fussell on Sad, the Dog

Sandy Fussell‘s new picture book had a most timely arrival, with Christmas around the corner it comes as an important reminder that responsibility for pets is for a life time, not just for one season. Already having success with her middle grade books, including the popular Samurai Kids series and her award winning novel, Polar Boy, Sandy Fussell‘s venture into picture book territory is exciting, and certainly most welcomed.

I look forward to sharing our interview with you as the talented, animal-loving Sandy Fussell talks about her career and her gorgeous new title, Sad, the Dog.

imageFor me, and my daughters, Sad, the Dog has had a lasting affect on us. Having always had (spoilt!) dogs in our family, it is unimaginable the level of ignorance and treatment that Mr and Mrs Cripps place on their dog; an unwanted ‘nuisance’ they were given for Christmas. Starved for affection, and even a name, this little pup, who’s spirit is inexorably crushed, calls himself ‘Sad’ – unfortunately, an apt name. But when the grouchy owners up and leave, without so much as a bat of an eyelid, poor Sad is left to fend for himself. In a seredipitous turn of events, Sad is united with a new friend, a new family, a new name, and a new spirit.

Fussell’s eloquent language, together with Tull Suwannakit‘s characteristically arresting illustrations, have the irrefutable power to elicit a full range of sensations with every read. I honestly can’t remember many books that have had me bubbling with rage, sorrow, optimism and pure joy all at once. Through the sadness, though, you’ll find those pops of warmth and love.

Sad, the Dog is emotionally and visually striking, highly memorable and absolutely endearing that any child (and adult) would be ‘lucky’ to own.

Read Dimity‘s insightful review here.

Walker Books, Oct 2015.

Thank you, Sandy for talking with me today!

You’ve been successful with your middle grade fiction, and in particular your best-selling ‘Samurai Kids’ series. What made you venture into the world of picture books and how would you compare your processes between the different writing styles? Do you prefer one style over the other?

imageI never intended to write a picture book and if anyone had asked me, I would’ve insisted it would never happen because I don’t look at the world through “picture book eyes”. But one day, I accidentally looked that way, and the story of Sad the Dog appeared inside my head (450 words complete with a plot hole!).

My approach to middle grade and picture books is exactly the same. I let the story tell itself. When the sense of place and character is strong, the story always follows. While I don’t prefer one over the other, I find middle grade a lot easier to write (the picture book eyesight problem again).

What I did find very different and quite wonderful, was that with a picture book, I was never on my own. Whatever I was doing, Tull Suwannakit (who illustrated Sad) was keen to share and support and vice versa. When you write a picture book there is always another person who loves it exactly as much as you do.

‘Sad, the Dog’ is loosely based on a true story of a neighbouring family in your past. What does this story mean to you? What significant messages do you hope readers will gain from reading your book?

This question of messages in books interests me – Are they really there? Do they matter? What if readers get them wrong? I’ve heard many authors (especially adult fiction) say they don’t write with books with a message. For me, that’s not possible. A writer brings many themes to a story – from their passions, beliefs and experiences – they’re story building blocks. And themes inherently contain a message. The reader may find completely different themes and messages depending on their life experience and perspective, and I’m fine with that too.

Sad the Dog, is about hope. Life can be very sad, but with a little help, it can be turned around. There’s other messages too. If we help others we make the world a happier place. Owning a pet involves an emotional responsibility as well as providing the physical needs of food, water and somewhere to sleep. I could probably find even more messages if I went looking. My world view seeps into all my stories, long or short.

What have been your most rewarding and challenging aspects of creating books, and in particular, ‘Sad, the Dog’?

For me, the story itself is a wonderful reward. I suspect I am a very selfish writer. I write the stories I want to tell and the stories I want to hear. The challenge is convincing others these stories are worth reading and sharing.

School visits are the ultimate challenge and I’m always up for that. If I can inspire one child in every school to look at books more positively – that’s a huge reward.

The other big reward I associate with creating books is meeting book people – whether they are readers, writers, librarians or booksellers – anyone who wants to talk books is an instant friend. I’ve been part of the Oz literary landscape for a few years now but writing a picture book introduced me to even more book people.

imageThe artwork by Tull Suwannakit is quirky, compelling and absolutely sublime. What do you like about his work and how do you feel his illustrations compliment your text? Do you have a favourite image from the book?

I have to admit when I was first shown a drawing of Sad, I shook my head and said “Sad doesn’t look like that.” But the truth was, as I soon discovered, I didn’t know what Sad looked like and luckily for me, Tull did. My image was a memory of Cassie, the floppy-eared soulful-eyed spaniel type dog who was the inspiration for the story. What I didn’t realise was after I reworked the inspiration into a story, it wasn’t about Cassie any more. It was about Sad. And Sad didn’t look like Cassie, he looked like himself. Which is what Tull knew right from the beginning. His illustrations were a perfect fit.

I love Tull’s artwork and I love how art pervades his life. I feel lucky to be part of it. RMIT did a short film about Tull and his art. One of my Sad, the Dog favourite things is the birthday card Tull drew for me – Sad has a big grin and mouth full of sausages. My favourite illustration – and it’s so hard to choose – is the front cover with Sad sitting in the leaves – the colours are glorious and the fallen leaves, while leaving the tree bare and barren, remind me it will grow green again.

imageIn a wonderful coincidence of life imitating art, a friend on Twitter sent me this picture of her dog (who wasn’t sad but very happy).

How did you find your publishing experience with Walker Books? How did you go about approaching them with your ‘Sad, the Dog’ manuscript, and how have they supported you in the process?

I read an extract from White Crane at a meeting of writers that included Sue Whiting who had, unknown to everyone there, just been appointed Commissioning Editor for the new Walker Books Australian list. Prior to that Walker Books Australia was a distributor of Walker Books UK and Candlewick US titles. Sue asked me if I would send her the manuscript when it was finished. I did and I’ve been sending Sue manuscripts ever since.

By the time I had the idea for Sad, the Dog I had already published five middle grade titles with Walker Books, whose name is synonymous with beautiful picture books. So I was thrilled when they accept Sad for publication.

How have you found the response to ‘Sad, the Dog’ so far? Any stand-out moments or particular comments that have resonated with you the most?

The response to Sad has been overwhelmingly positive and I’ve had lots of messages and pictures sent to me via social media. Samurai Kids is a popular series and I’m fortunate enough to still receive fan mail seven years after the first book – but they’re always email. Many responses to Sad are more spontaneous – photos and shout-outs. I’ve wondered if it’s a “picture book thing.” Adult picture book lovers are a vocal group – whether they love the book personally or because their child does – they seem more inclined to tell the world about books they love.

I’m rather partial to these lines from a review on Brona’s Books blog: When I read picture books I tend to wear two hats – my preschool teacher’s hat (will a rowdy group of preschoolers like this book? What are its educational possibilities?) and my book lovers hat (do I love this book?) In recent years I have also added a third and fourth hat – my bookseller’s beret (will this book sell? Who to?) and my blogger beanie (does this book have review potential?) Sad, the Dog by Sandy Fussell is one of those special picture books that I can answer YES, YES, YES to all the above. What author wouldn’t love to hear that said about their first picture book?

Do you / have you owned a pet of your own? What special moments with your pet/s can you recall the most?

imageCurrently I have two chocolate-point Burmese cats (Bree and Tega) and a green tree frog called Fat Boy Slim. Over the years I’ve had many pets – some have been rescues and returned to the bush (Mouse, the baby possum given to me by a Ranger when I worked at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Robert the cockatoo with an injured wing) as well as numerous parrots (Robert liberated those), tankfuls of tropical fish (discus and hatchet fish are my favourites), a budgerigar, ducks, chickens, a lizard, a turtle, snakes and three Scottish deerhounds.

My pets, especially the dogs and cats, are family members, much more than just animals that live in my house and yard. Sad, the Dog was inspired by my indignation that anyone could abandon their dog to the new owners of their house, as if a pet was some sort of inanimate home fixture.

Have you always wanted to be a children’s writer? What motivated you to pursue this career? How did you get your break?

I always loved reading but I never wanted to be an author of any kind. I was into mathematics and IT. Finding I wanted to write for children was an accident. My avid-reader 10-year-old decided overnight he wasn’t going to read any more. I’ve always believed the key to kids reading is finding the right thing to read (which may not be a book). I managed to convince him to write me a story that he would like to read. He insisted I transcribe it, because while storytelling was fun, writing it down was hard work (he was right about that). It was the most random story I’d ever heard and I kept interfering. So he sent me away to write my own story. By that time, I was hooked.

I kept writing because I loved it. I wrote nine middle grade stories before I decided I wanted to share them. A chance meeting with Di Bates, who is one of most generous and knowledgeable people in the OZ children’s literary industry, fast-tracked my path to publication. Di encouraged me, improved my work and made sure I was standing in the right spot when opportunity found me. One of my career highlights is the speech I gave at the NSW CBCA dinner where Di was presented with the Lady Cutler Award for Services to Australian Children’s Literature.

What valuable writing and publishing tips have you learned along the way that have been the driving force to getting you to where you are today?

I’m a list lover from way back – so here’s My Top 6 Takeaways from Becoming a Published Author
1 Writing is a habit. Write and the story will come.
2 Words are the musical notes that make a story sing. Choose every one of them carefully and polish sentences until they shine.
3 Writers need other writers. And illustrators. And book people. Because they understand.
4 A writer needs to read widely inside and outside their comfort zone to develop their writing potential.
5 Your editor is your story’s best friend. Trust her (him) with it.
6 It’s important to give. It’s good for the soul. It makes for a better person and a better writer.

You juggle your time between writing, blogging, presenting, and running several literary initiatives including The Story Crowd and The Reading Stack. What are your secrets to managing all these jobs?

I think the truthful answer might be a bit boring. I’m not a good sleeper so I have more hours in my day than most people. I know it’s not supposed to be healthy to sleep 5 ½ hours a day but despite my efforts, I can’t change that pattern. My mother and grandmother were the same so perhaps it’s genetic. I’m also a very efficient person and the theory of productivity fascinates me. I’m always reading articles about it. I’m very focussed – some would say fixated and obsessed– and always full of ideas. I tend to act on a lot of them when I think most people have equally wonderful ideas but just keep thinking about them. If I’m not doing two things at once, I’m looking around for something else to do.

Finally, tell us something about yourself that not many people would know!

I spent years learning the violin. I’m still not very good at it so perhaps that’s best kept secret.

Thank you so much, Sandy! I’m sure your violin skills are superb! May you and your family enjoy a safe and prosperous Christmas! Looking forward to seeing you in the New Year! 🙂

You can find more on Sandy Fussell at her website and facebook page.

*** Find this post on the Just Write For Kids Australia page for your chance to WIN a copy of Sad, the Dog! ***

A Breath of Fresh Air – Katrina McKelvey on ‘Dandelions’

imageKatrina McKelvey started life in a little country town in New South Wales, where she was fortunate to be able to soak up the charming facets of nature. Nowadays, Katrina is soaking up the well-deserved praise for her gorgeous debut picture book, ‘Dandelions’.
Having had embraced the pleasures and joys through her roles as mother, former teacher, CBCA Newcastle sub-branch president, committee member for the Newcastle Writers’ Festival, and now author, Katrina’s first book certainly reflects her creativity, dedication and passion for life and love for children.

image‘Dandelions’ is a whimsical, delicate story of the special bond between father and daughter, but also of the magic of the world around us. It is about resilience, hope, imagination, wonder and affection. Katrina’s text is perfectly poised, complimenting its storyline on every level. Graceful and tender, the story explores the life cycle of the dandelion as a little girl prompts her Dad to re-evaluate the beauty and simplicity that life has to offer, and together they allow their imaginations to take a wonderful flight.

The illustrations by Kirrili Lonergan are exquisite, with their watercolour fluidity that almost literally sweeps us in to this free and dreamy world. As the wind carries the dandelion seeds across town, we too, can sense ourselves swirling, twirling, spinning and turning on this fanciful drift.

Lyrically and visually stunning, ‘Dandelions’ will spread love, appreciation and curiosity far and wide, harvesting treasured bonds between the generations. Readers from age four will be blown away by its beauty!

I am delighted to have had the opportunity to find out more about Katrina McKelvey and how her ‘Dandelion’ wish literally came true.  

Congratulations on the release of your first picture book, ‘Dandelions’! What have you got planned for your upcoming book launch?  

Thanks! Kirrili and I plan to celebrate in a huge way with our family and friends. We will be launching Dandelions on Saturday, 31st October at 10:30am in the Lovett Gallery at Newcastle Library. We have planned some dandy treats, craft activities and a live reading of the story. We will be projecting the illustrations on a large screen as I read so everyone can feel like they are part of the book even from the back of the room. Kirrili will give a demonstration of how to draw a dandelion seed head. And of course we will be toasting all the people who have helped us during this long journey.  

image‘Dandelions’ is a sensitive and magical story of the beauty of nature and the loving relationship between father and daughter. What was the inspiration behind this story?

As my daughter and I used to walk to and from preschool, she would jump in gardens and gutters to pick dandelion seed heads. We found them growing everywhere. She enjoyed blowing them apart with me. After that, as my husband mowed the lawn, I used to get a little sad watching him destroy the dandelion plants that made those puff balls she loved so much and I wondered how she would feel if she ever found out.  

I have loved watching the relationship develop between my husband and our daughter. It’s a very special relationship – one I hope they cherish forever.  

This book also incorporates lyrical elements that are perfect for promoting dance and movement. As a former teacher, do you have any other teaching and learning ideas for children to engage further with ‘Dandelions’?  

Gosh, the possibilities are endless!  

Firstly, the story should just be enjoyed. I hope adults and children find a really comfy, quiet place to snuggle in and share the magic of Dandelions.  

But to extend this experience, here are some more educational based ideas.
1) Children could investigate the lifecycle of a dandelion and watch it happen in their own backyards. They could research the origin of the name ‘dandelion’. It’s very interesting! They could also investigate dandelion folk names. Some of these are very funny. There are great time lapse videos on YouTube showing how a dandelion flower turns into a seed head. Amazing!  
2) Children could investigate other uses of the parts of the dandelion plant. Every part of the plant can be eaten in some way. You’d be amazed. But I don’t advise you just pick it and start eating it! Children may also like to taste dandelion tea.  
3) Children could collect dandelion seed heads, leaves and flowers. They could use dandelion seeds to make pictures and collages, use dandelion leaves to stamp patterns, and use dandelion flowers as a brush or stamp to paint pictures.  
4) Parents and teachers could discuss the themes of Dandelions with children. The themes include forgiveness, resilience, hope, love, using your imagination, and the importance of the different types of family relationships.  
5) If teachers and parents have children with sensory needs, this book is an excellent companion or springboard to assist with enhancing their sensory learning experiences (blowing, touching, tasting, and seeing).  
And for more advanced children:  
6) Dandelions is full of prepositions and verbs. Children could try and find them. Children could brainstorm other prepositions and verbs to show how and where they think dandelions move and then write their own sentences using a similar structure to the sentences in Dandelions (e.g. … tumbling in the wind above …). They could publish and illustrate their sentences and form a class book.  

A full set of ‘Teaching Notes’ is available by clicking here.  

imageKirrili Lonergan‘s illustrations perfectly compliment the gentle, whimsical nature of the text. What do you like about Kirrili’s work, and how did you find the collaborative process with her?  
I’ve had the privilege of watching Kirrili’s style develop first hand over the last several years. I love how she layers colours, her messy nature and her signature stripes. The first time I saw a completed dandelion seed head I cried. (Hint: Look at the endpapers)  

Our friendship started many years earlier, but our collaboration for this book actually started back in 2011 – long before our contract – with a single dandelions illustration. That illustration travelling the country with my manuscript and accompanied many rejections all the way back home.  

Late in 2013, I found a writing competition I could send Dandelions to. The judge was a publisher and she wanted to publish it after we completed a few rewrites. Then I was asked if I would like to suggest an illustration style that would match my story (this is rare). Of course I put forward Kirrili’s illustration that travelled the country with my original manuscript. The publisher agreed and our official ‘Dandelions’ collaboration was born.  
I was so lucky to see the illustrations develop and grow during the next part of the publication process. Usually authors don’t have input into the illustration process – they just get in the way!  

I watched Kirrili enjoy developing her unique style for this book, develop her colour palette, and perfect her seed heads – sometimes by touch light (but that’s another story!). I saw her pride grow as she moved closer and closer to finalising every single illustration. She would send me photos of her work in progress at random times – which was always a delight.  

We had fun going on day trips to take photos of houses, trees, rivers and flowers. We looked at colours, angles, movement and style. I learnt a lot. She looks at things in a different way to me – with that artistic eye I don’t have. She designed and finalised the cover and sent it to the publisher before I got to see it. Kirrili wanted to keep it as a surprise until further through the process. When I finally saw it, I cried! – again.  

How would you describe your publishing experience with EK Books?  

We have been so lucky! We have worked with a beautiful publishing team. From the initial discussion about the possibility of publishing Dandelions to now, every member of the team has been helpful and lovely. Kirrili and I have felt we have been kept in the loop and guided and supported professionally through every step of the journey. Every word and every line has had the attention of several people. Everything went smoothly. We are so proud of the relationship we have developed with EK Books and we are proud of the book we made together.  

What were the most rewarding and challenging aspects of creating this book?  

I think the rewards are still coming. I can’t wait to see Dandelions in the hands of children and see how they interact with the story. I wonder what their favourite page will be? I wonder whether Dandelions makes dads stop and snuggle with their daughters on the lawn somewhere instead of mowing it!  

One of the biggest challenges was to find a publisher who believed in the story as much as I did.  

The second biggest challenge was to wait from the signing of the contract until I had the first copy of Dandelions in my hand. It took 2 years from getting my publisher’s attention to holding it. At least I got to watch Kirrili illustrate it during the long wait.  

Who or what inspired you to become an author? Do you have a preference for the type of genre you like to write? What is it about writing stories for children that you love?  

I was a full-time mum while my children were little. I read lots of picture books to them during this time and fell in love with them. I had given up primary teaching so when my children started preschool, I wanted to start a new career that involved children and was very creative. It had to be flexible too so I could do it around my family’s needs. Writing for children was the answer. I find writing hard work. It doesn’t come easy for me so I love the challenge. It keeps me feeling young.  

I love writing picture books but have dabbled with the idea of writing early chapter book in the near future. Writing a picture book is extremely hard!  Writing for children gives me permission to play with words. I get to play with the sound of them and the look of them too. I get to make up characters and journey with them as they do amazing things. I get to connect with children on a very deep level and have fun with them too.  

I admire Stephen Michael King’s writing style. I often reread the picture books he has written to see how he’s played with words. My favourites include, ‘A Bear and a Tree’, and ‘Henry and Amy’.  

Besides dandelions, what is your favourite kind of plant or flower?  

I have a few but I would have to say roses. I love looking at them and the way they smell. I grow them in my own garden and they get fussed over a little. They make an appearance in Dandelions too. I also love Lavender, Jasmine and Violets.  

imageWhat were your favourite books to read as a child? Any that have influenced you as a writer now?  

I have to honestly say I don’t have a favourite book from childhood. I was a reluctant reader as a child and I could be found climbing trees and playing Basketball instead. I found THE book when I was teaching in my twenties – Just Tricking by Andy Griffiths. I completely understand what it is like not to want to read books. I was a good reader but had no desire to jump into a book. Quite sad now I think about it. Hopefully I can help children who a reluctant readers with my books.  

What’s next for Katrina McKelvey? What can we look forward to seeing from you in the near future?  

I have lots of picture book ideas rolling around in my head and as many on my computer. I have a couple of solicited picture book manuscripts in front of publishers at the moment too. I‘ve been planning a new picture book manuscript which will have children turning books upside down. I plan to start submitting early chapter books to publishers next year.  

I’ll continue to work on the children’s program of the Newcastle Writers’ Festival. I enjoy being a Books In Homes Role Model. I love working with my ‘children’s writing group’ though the Hunter Writers Centre. I also participate in the guided reading program in my daughter’s classroom. I’m busy but I’m so fortunate.  

Thank you so much for answering my questions, Katrina! It’s been a pleasure!

*Dandelions will be launched on Saturday, 31st October at 10:30am in the Lovett Gallery at Newcastle Library.  See details here.

**For more information on the author, please visit Katrina’s website and facebook pages.  

***And for Dimity’s full review of ‘Dandelions’, click here.

Baby Love Picture Books

When our little ones begin to show a curiosity for the world around them, this may include exploring nature; its particular features, elements of growth and change, as well as discovering their own individual attributes and the differences in one another. Understanding and appreciating these fascinating aspects can be facilitated through gentle and nurturing guidance, and what better resources to do that than loving parents and delightful picture books?! Here are three beautiful stories that look at unique qualities and special bonds, just right for toddlers and preschoolers.  

imageHush, Little Possum, P.Crumble (author), Wendy Binks (illus.), Scholastic Australia, 2015.

To the classic tune of ‘Hush, Little Baby’ comes a beautiful Australian version of the lullaby, ‘Hush, Little Possum’. Equipped with a CD recording sung by well-known Indigenous actress/singer, Deborah Mailman, this book/music combo doesn’t get more engaging.

Mama possum is gentle, reassuring and loving, but she is also little possum’s beacon of safety with her unrelenting courage and astuteness. Keeping her precious bundle sheltered from rumbling, wet skies, and gushing floods, to noisy and dangerous structures, Mama’s instincts are unsurpassed.

Absolutely gorgeous multi-textured, earth-toned illustrations of these sweet sugar gliders reflect both the sense of security and nurturing qualities emanating from the song, but also our unique Australian features and landscapes of rusty tin sheds, expansive crop fields and eucalypt trees sustaining the forces of an outback storm. Aimed at reinforcing affectionate bonds between mums and bubs, it’s pure and authentic; ‘Hush, Little Possum’ is perfect for toddlers as a bedtime treat.  

imageOur Baby, Margaret Wild (author), Karen Blair (illus.), Working Title Press, 2015.

‘Our Baby’ maintains a unique stance, spoken by the older sister who portrays a range of babies and their families in varying shapes and forms. From typical nuclear families (like hers), to single and same-sex parents, babies with distinctive qualities (like tiny shrimp toes and dandelion hair), babies on adventures to shops and playgroup, and those performing different talents and cheeky behaviours. Each time, the girl reflects on what makes her own baby so individual, forging their special bond with one another.

With large font and an energetic, rhythmic tone, Margaret Wild‘s text is age-appropriate, warm and playful that makes for an easy, enjoyable read. Karen Blair‘s characteristically gentle and pronounced illustrations beautifully reflect the richness, diversity and idiosyncrasies of families and in particular, babies.

A special book for babies that celebrates how life is truly unique for everyone.  

imageOur Love Grows, Anna Pignataro (author, illus.), Scholastic Press, 2015.  

Following on from the completely divine ‘How I Love You’, another babylicious book by the irrefutably talented Anna Pignataro is ‘Our Love Grows’.

Once again, the maternal bond between mum and baby is explored, this time through reflections on precious past moments. Little panda, Pip ponders; ‘Mama, when will I be big?’. In comparison to their natural world around them, Mama gently guides Pip through the processes of growth and change. She reminisces about the time her little one was tiny; how the stars were just a few, his footsteps so small, his toy Birdy all new and Blanky so big. Mama explains that as nature and Pip have grown, so has her love for her curious child.

The browns, blues, greens and golds in the watercolour and pencil illustrations beautifully reflect the natural, oriental-type settings and the cycle of the seasons, and the warmth and tenderness associated with this loving relationship. Anna‘s text equally suits this affectionate tone with its rhyming and first-person language, enabling its readers and listeners to connect with the story and with one another.

Featuring soft and magical images, with a gentle and sweet storyline, ‘Our Love Grows’ is a lyrical, soothing book perfect for sharing with children from age two.

Give Daddy a Cuddle – Picture Books for Father’s Day

We’ve seen some wildly adventurous and hilarious new release picture books available for Father’s Day, now it’s time to celebrate with some more tender, but just as lively, titles that will melt your heart with their precious innocence and charm.  

imageDaddy, You’re Awesome, Laine Mitchell (author), Renée Treml (illus.), Scholastic Australia, 2015.

It’s the simple things that make Daddy awesome. Spending time together chasing a ball, swinging on the swing, looking up at the stars and sharing tickles are the kinds of memories children will treasure most. Laine Mitchell follows on from her Mother’s Day beauty, ‘Mummy, You’re Special To Me’ with this ‘awesomely’ imaginative rhyming gift to Dads this Father’s Day.
Here is another joyous collection of amazing animal parents, this time with fathers doing fatherly things. Plenty of action and adventure, building, exploring, camping and creating marvellous inventions, and always completing the verse with the phrase ‘Daddy, you’re awesome to me.’ But of course, no loving story about the paternal bonds between parent and child can end without an affectionate kiss and snuggle to soothe little ones after such a busy day.
With the characteristically stunning trademark style of Renée Treml‘s scratch art, vivid colours and simply adorable hand-drawn creatures, ‘Daddy, You’re Awesome’ oozes warmth, fun and adoration for those special people in our lives.  

imageDaddy Cuddle, Kate Mayes (author), Sara Acton (illus.), ABC Books, 2015.

Little Bunny wakes even before the crack of dawn (sounds familiar!) to the sound of the milkman’s truck. To Bunny, it’s time to get up and play. In cute, toddler two-word sentences, Bunny attempts to wake Daddy by any means. ‘Daddy ball?’, ‘Daddy bike?’, ‘Daddy kite?’. Bunny raids the house offering toys and accessories to a blissfully unaware, snoring Daddy, until enough is enough. In an oh-so-sweet ending Bunny is finally treated to a storytime snuggle and cuddle that sends them both back into a cosy slumber.
I love Kate Mayes‘ gorgeously simple text that will appeal to toddlers’ vocabulary and cheeky natures. And beautifully complimented is Sara Acton‘s energetic and adorable line and watercolour sketches on white backgrounds, making ‘Daddy Cuddle’ the perfect book for little ones (and their dads) to relate to the mischievous actions of this Bunny on a mission.    

imageDaddies Are Great!, Meredith Costain (author), Polona Lovsin (illus.), Scholastic Australia, 2015 (first published by Koala Books in 2013 as Daddies Are Lovely).

Daddies are there to make you feel safe, loved, cherished, proud and adventurous. And don’t dogs make you feel these things, too? That’s why this next book contains the ideal combination for tugging on our heartstrings.
It’s a book full of doggy daddy deliciousness, with its tongue-panting kisses, tail-wagging games, romping, rolling and digging goodness. You’ll also find caring poodles and border collies who soothe pups to sleep, boxers that raise a helping paw, and cavaliers and chihuahuas inviting close affection.
The illustrations are fantastically realistic and playful, beautifully supporting Costain‘s gentle rhyming text with its sweet ode to the fun and protecting fathers out there.
‘Daddies Are Great!’ exudes devotion and induces intimacy in this book of unconditional love and special relationships.  

Wishing all Daddies, Granddaddies and other special people a sweet and snuggly Father’s Day with your loved ones!

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…  

Helene Magisson’s Labour of Love: The Velveteen Rabbit

896-20150213142152-Cover_The-Velveteen-Rabbit_LR-1In a gorgeously remastered classic tale, just in time for Easter, is a story about the magic of love; The Velveteen Rabbit. With the original story (first published in 1922) by Margery Williams Bianco being untouched, this current version has an exquisite sense of charm about it thanks to its’ talented illustrator, Helene Magisson.  

Depth, emotion and beauty, with a touch of magic, all describe this story of a toy Rabbit brought into the loving arms of a young Boy. And these words also perfectly describe the divine artwork that so beautifully compliments this enchanting tale.
When once felt as inferior to the other toys, the Velveteen Rabbit is soon unsurpassable and never leaves the Boy’s side. In a touching moment between the Rabbit and the Skin Horse, as he discovers that to be truly loved is to be Real, Helene Magisson has magnificently represented this significance with her gentle, serene watercolour pictures as the characters converse under the pale moonlight. And equally whimsical are the sweet expressions and playful angles that Helene has created when the Rabbit’s little sawdust heart almost bursts with love once he is claimed as Real.
Magisson’s heartwrenching image of a teary, slumped and worn little bunny so effectively captures the intense emotion of a toy due to be burnt to rid the germs from the Boy’s scarlet fever. ”…of what use was it to be loved and lose one’s beauty and become Real if it all ended like this?”
thevelveteenrabbitfairyIn a heartwarming finale, the angelic nursery Fairy and the Rabbit fly across the shimmering, glowing sky to a place where Real is true, and his identity as a live rabbit affirmed. What a bittersweet ending when the Boy unknowingly recognises his long-lost cherished Rabbit; the very bunny that he had helped to become Real.
Throughout the book, Helene has used a consistent colour palette of soft, cool blues and greens, which act as a superb contrasting backdrop to the beige of the Rabbit’s fur, as well as honour the affectionate nature of the story. A timeless story of love, companionship and belonging, perfect as a gift for Easter for primary school aged children, and their parents.
New Frontier Publishing, March 2015.  

Entranced by the gorgeous illustrations in The Velveteen Rabbit, I wanted to learn a bit about the artist who created them. So, it is with great pleasure to introduce the talented Helene Magisson.  

Congratulations on the release of your first picture book, Helene! How did you celebrate The Velveteen Rabbit’s arrival?
I wanted this day to be very simple and be just with my family. Sharing it with my husband and children is this nice feeling when you have accomplished something that you love. I think it was a very serene day. But very important to mention here: we also shared a huge plate full of sushi.

Helene MagissonPlease tell us a bit about your illustrating journey. Did you always love to draw as a child?
For sure, I have always been very attracted to everything related to art. As far as I can remember, I think that I have always drawn! In my early career as an artist, I was a painting restorer and loved that job but there was no place for creativity. It is only when we settled down here in Australia 3 years ago, that I decided to be a children’s book illustrator. It was an old dream which I had never taken the opportunity to fulfil. So I tried, worked hard to move from art restoration to illustration and then one day, timidly, I attend the CYA conference. I was very surprised to get the first prize and to be offered my first contract with New Frontier to illustrate The Velveteen Rabbit. I could not imagine a better start.

What do you love about illustrating children’s books?
I love every step of that work from the research of the characters till the final colouring. The stories created for children can be so charming, surprising, touching. Discovering a children’s book is like a door opened to incredible worlds. And it is amazing to be a part of these worlds by illustrating them. When I first discover the story I will illustrate, there are so many images coming through my mind, it is a very exciting feeling, with no limit to the imagination. It is a work of passion and it makes me happy.

Were you familiar with The Velveteen Rabbit growing up? What do you love about this story?
I grew up in Kenya and I think it is there where I first read this story. But then I lost it a bit when my family went back to France. Unfortunately it is not a very well-known story in France (what a pity!). But it was also great to rediscover it as an adult, and then be able to understand its deeper and beautiful meaning. It is exactly what I love with that book: you just grow up with it. The kind of book you always keep with you.

The velveteen rabbit imageThe artwork in The Velveteen Rabbit is beautifully soft, elegant and whimsical. Do you have an image that was your favourite to work on? How did you decide on the cool colour palette, and what media did you use?
Thank you. I loved illustrating this beautiful dialogue between the horse and the Velveteen Rabbit. It is a strong part in the story. I wanted it to be serene and poetic. I could not imagine it without a huge full moon and tiny mosquitoes dancing in the air. And also, I enjoyed working on the lovely little face of the Velveteen Rabbit with tears in his eyes when he discovers the fairy. This particular moment is full of emotion and is very whimsical. I wanted the whole work to be very soft, no strong or “heavy” colour, and very harmonious not to disturb the flow and the gentleness of the text. Also the rabbit had to be brown as Margery Williams Bianco described it. So I wanted to create a soft contrast all around him in that cool colour palette. And watercolour is my favourite media and I think it perfectly fits the story.

What were the most challenging aspects of creating the illustrations for this book?
One of the most challenging part was this long dialogue between the 2 real rabbits and the Velveteen Rabbit. This dialogue spreads out through 5 pages. We needed to keep the action flowing and coherent but it also had to be dynamic, so I used different perspectives and close ups. Also I made the choice to show all the emotions of the Velveteen Rabbit but very subtly.  He is a toy, but I wanted to show him as a child can see him: alive, so with emotions but never too strong. As if we were hesitating… Is he real or not? That was challenging.

How long did the process take from start to finish?
The text is long (48 pages) so there are many illustrations (27) and many of them spread out on the next page to softly frame the text. They are also full of tiny details. So it took me 7 months from the sketching part till the last illustration.

How did you find your first publishing experience with New Frontier Publishing? Was it a very supportive, collaborative process?
It was fantastic to work with them. They gave me a lot of freedom in my creativity process which was very pleasant, and their feedback was always very inspirational to me. For some tricky parts, like the front cover, they were very supportive. I enjoyed every minute of this project. But most of all I am so grateful to New Frontier for giving me this great start.

What does your art space look like? Creative clutter or meticulously organised?
Oh! My God! Am I obliged to answer that question? Well…It is absolutely terribly messy and a huge mystery for my husband. It is like a miracle every day for him. Of course, there are 1000 brushes, paints, pencils, pieces of paper but also plenty of children’s book everywhere, photos of everything, cards with quotes I love, something like 100 cups of tea all around, and many blades of grass, pieces of wild flowers (the one I prefer and very often include in many of my illustrations), and even a small collection of feathers I find in my garden.

What are you currently working on? What can we all look forward to seeing from Helene Magisson in the near future?
I have just finished a lovely story, elegant with a touch of humour about a Prince who wants to marry a Princess, you know, this very delicate Princess? It will be released early next year. And I am also very excited about the next project, but still want to keep it secret!  

Thank you so much, Helene! It has been absolutely delightful getting to know more about you!

Contact Helene Magisson:
Www.helenemagisson.com
www.facebook.com/pages/Helene-Magisson

”A Tapestry of Experiences Folded into Fiction”; Victoria Lane Talks About ‘Celia and Nonna’

author pic jul 14 WEBVictoria Lane has made a successful career from writing; as an award-winning financial journalist for many years, editor and correspondent for many leading media publications, and of course, as a picture and chapter book writer for children. Today, we delve into Victoria’s writerly mind as she shares her inspirations behind her touching picture book, Celia and Nonna.  


Review – Celia and Nonna
There is something so precious about children spending quality time with their grandparents. Every word and every image, beautifully interwoven by author Victoria Lane and illustrator Kayleen West, pour warmth and affection out of this book and into the hearts of its’ readers.

”Celia loves sleepovers at Nonna’s house.” And Nonna just cherishes the moments they spend together; baking cakes and biscotti, cuddling and reading bedtime stories. But one day Nonna begins to forget things, and she moves to an aged care home where she will get the appropriate support. At first Celia struggles to grapple with the new arrangement, but her resilience, sensitivity and love allow her to accept the change, strengthen their bond, and bring joy and ease to Nonna. Gorgeous sentiments in Celia’s drawings help us, the reader, to remember and appreciate that no matter where we are, all we need are the ones we love.

Celia-&-Nonna-Cover-WEBKayleen West’s illustrations are soft, timeless and emotive. I love the meaning attached to the realistic children’s artwork that are significant to both Nonna, and to Victoria Lane. I also love the clever connection between Celia and the swallows who follow Nonna and stick by her on her life journey.

Celia and Nonna; a message of embracing hard realities, finding strength and faith, an uplifting and important tale to share, all packaged perfectly in a delightful picture book. Ford Street Publishing. 

Interview – Victoria Lane
Congratulations, Victoria, on the release of your first picture book, Celia and Nonna! How did you celebrate its’ launch?
Thanks Romi! We had a lovely launch at the Ivanhoe Library filled with friends, as well as some lovely contributions via social media of people’s memories of their grandparents. We brought biscotti and played ”Guess how many borlotti beans in the jar”.  

Have you always wanted to be a writer? What do you love about writing children’s books?
It’s true, I started writing stories when I was a kid, mainly mash-ups of fairytales inspired by my older brother’s satirical Mad magazines. And I’ve been lucky enough to have made a career out of writing and editing, as a journalist and foreign correspondent. It’s only in the past few years that I’ve had the time to devote to writing fiction again and I love it.
What appeals to me the most about writing for children is the need to condense meaning into a picture book of limited word count. It is a challenge and a delight.  

Celia and Nonna is a warm story of togetherness across the generations, and adapting to change. What special message would you like your audience to gain from reading your story?
It’s so important to keep children involved and informed, whatever changes are happening in the family. If a grandparent is in an aged care home, make sure the grandkids still get to visit rather than leaving them at home. Kids are very adaptable and accepting of change; we should give them credit for it. There are many ways to adapt to these changes, and Celia finds her own delightful way to navigate this confusing time. I hope that Celia and Nonna will help to start a conversation with children when a loved one is affected by dementia, old age, Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s.  

Does Celia and Nonna have a personal significance to you? What was your inspiration behind this story?
It certainly does. This story has two inspirations. The first was when my eldest daughter could no longer enjoy her treasured sleepovers at my Mum’s, due to her own illness. The second part was the experience of visiting my Dad in a nursing home and trying to explain the situation to my daughter. It was a very foreign place. For those few years, I was part of the sandwich generation, with caring responsibilities for both my parents and my children – I had a new baby at the time. It was an incredibly difficult period. So the story really became a tapestry of my experiences, folded into fiction. I felt it was really important to create a positive story with a positive outlook. I also wanted to keep the Italian flavour because it’s so important to show diversity in Australian children’s literature.  

The illustrations by Kayleen West are beautiful, and provide plenty of elements that add to the meaning of the story. What was it like working with Kayleen? How much input did you have in the artistic design?
I think publishers generally like to keep the authors out of the illustrator’s way, and I think that does give the illustrator the freedom to interpret the words as they like. Kayleen’s work is just gorgeous, full of warmth and love, and I think they are perfect for the story.
castle 1 I did get to ask for a few little touches, and one of the pictures that Celia draws is the castle in her Nonna’s home town in Italy. That meant a huge amount to me. It is still so emotional to see the image of the massive 12th Century castle (which was rebuilt after being heavily bombed in the First World War) that is a symbol of my mother’s home town. There is also a strong element of art and creativity in the way Celia responds to the family’s changes, and Kayleen managed that delicate balance in showing a realistic portrayal of a child’s artwork. And the beautiful endpapers are a little inspiration for kids to create their own art for a loved one after reading the story.  

What was the most rewarding part about creating Celia and Nonna?
For me, it has really been seeing the heartfelt response from parents and children. The story really seems to have struck an emotional chord for many readers and that is so thrilling. The response has been fantastic.  

One of the lovely past times the characters enjoy together is baking. Do you have any special traditions with family members that you follow each year during the holidays?
Not really – it’s hard to live up to the sumptuous five-course meals that my Mum used to prepare for any occasion! Her apple strudel was famous in our family, but it takes hours to prepare and it’s very hard to get the pastry right. We tried to write out the recipe together, but it was just ”add a bit of this, a bit more of that”…  

What are you currently working on? What can we look forward to seeing from you in the near future?
I have a few other stories on the go at the moment, and I have also been busy with some junior fiction. I’m writing a series of early chapter books all set a fictional primary school in Melbourne’s north. Some of these are out on submission with publishers, so stay tuned! I would also like to find more time to introduce Celia and Nonna to aged care home and libraries, where it may reach more families.  

Victoria, thank you so much for answering my questions for Boomerang Books! Wishing you and your family a wonderful holiday season!
Thanks for having me, Romi! Same to you and all the readers at Boomerang Books.  

Connect with Victoria Lane:
http://www.victorialanebooks.com
http://www.facebook.com/VictoriaLaneBooks
http://www.twitter.com/vthieberger  

Well, that’s it for the author interviews this year! I hope you have enjoyed meeting them as much as I have!
Thank you all for welcoming me into the Boomerang Books world of blogging, and I look forward to sharing more wonderful news, reviews and author insights with you in 2015!

Have a booktacularly festive holiday, and really treasure those moments with your loved ones!

Happy reading,
Romi Sharp

http://www.romisharp.wordpress.com
http://www.facebook.com/mylittlestorycorner
http://www.twitter.com/mylilstorycrner

Interview with Jo Emery, author of My Dad is a FIFO Dad

jo emery photoMy Dad is a FIFO Dad, an uplifting story that has already touched the hearts of many families, has beautifully encapsulated the highs and lows of the life of a child with a father who ‘flies in and flies out’ for work. (See Review here). But let’s not forget the strength, courage, commitment and perseverance of the mother who wrote the book, who is raising three children on her own for three weeks in every month. Today we talk with author, Jo Emery, about her moments of heartbreak and joy, her achievements, family life and plans for the future.  

Congratulations on the success of your book, ‘My Dad is a FIFO Dad’, already sold out on the first print run!
THANK YOU, it’s been a very busy and exciting introduction to the world of children’s books J  

Can you please tell me a bit about your career background, writing history and family?
I have been employed by the Department of Education and Training Queensland for the past 17 years and most recently held the position of Principal at one of the Sunshine Coast’s Primary Schools. I have been on leave for some time (3years) however, to raise my family. I have 3 children, Sahskia who is almost 7, Ahnika 3 and Grayson 11 months. My husband Steve and I have been married for almost 10 years and have been living a FIFO lifestyle for almost 4 years. I’m not quite sure when I signed up for the FIFO commitment but for now; we are making it work as best we can, for our family.  

I have written in poem, song and story for as long as I can remember. It is something I have always enjoyed and felt the need to do. It has given me respite and relief, enthusiasm and enjoyment and in this case an opportunity to help others stay connected to the ones they love the most.  

jo emery family photoWhy you were inspired to write ‘My Dad is a FIFO Dad’?
The story, My Dad is a FIFO Dad was born out of the raw emotion of our last drop off of Daddy to the airport. We were late for the plane and had to leave Steve in the ‘drop off zone’, rather than park the car. The children were devastated that Daddy was heading back to work and it was the first time that Ahnika, two at the time, had realized that Daddy was going away for a long time. My eldest daughter Sahskia, was incredibly sad as she felt the angst of her sister also. (Needless to say this was our last drop off and my husband now catches the shuttle bus J) It was incredibly heartbreaking to see and to feel and so, as I have often done in many situations, that night I went home and put pen to paper to debrief. The initial draft of my story was penned some 18 months ago. The story is told through the eyes of Sahskia. I tried to capture what I knew she was feeling on that day and mix it with what I hoped she would be strong enough to feel in times to come.  

How has the change in lifestyle affected you and your family?
Firstly, we are separated physically … Steve and I had never been apart longer than 48 hours so weeks on end has been a very big change for us. Our family is apart 3 weeks of every month and together for one. But what we have learned is that our life style is not about the amount of time spent apart, rather the quality of time we have together. Our mantra is ‘To Make Everything Count’. We are a very open family, when we are sad we cry, when we are angry we get angry, when we are happy we laugh loudly and so the openness and respect we have for each other’s feelings helps us to deal with issues and move on. Our kids are very connected with both Steve and me but that is because we work on it. The difficult times we experience because of FIFO,  is on those special occasions that arise when we are apart… birthdays, weddings, funerals, Easter, holidays and so on.  

my dad is a fifo dad page3On the opening page of ‘My Dad is a FIFO Dad’ there is a child’s beautiful drawing and statement about her dad being the greatest. Can you tell us about that? Who drew the picture?
This picture was drawn by my eldest daughter Sahskia. This is her view of what it means to be a FIFO Dad. Clearly the ‘flying in and out’ component of his job plays on her mind. I love that her Daddy is still smiling while he departs and the family who remain are smiling too; even the man in the ticket box is having a happy day. My kids adore their dad and he knows more than anyone that they consider him to be the greatest dad ever, and that’s because he really is!  

We are then drawn in with fun scenes of an animated dad role playing, riding and reading stories with his kids. What are your partner’s favourite things to do with your three children?
Steve just loves being with them! We live in what we consider one of the most beautiful places on the Sunshine Coast and so visits to the beach, parks and in the pool are all of our favourites. Our kids are heavily into dancing and so having the opportunity to watch them do what they love to do most is wonderful when he is home from work.  

You capture the narrator’s thoughts, feelings and actions of sadness and resilience so well. Are these based on your own child’s words and behaviour, or your experience with dealing with these issues?
I would say that these thoughts are shared from experience, practice and hope. I guess I tried to capture what my child was feeling and mix it with my hopes for what she would be able to feel in the future. My children are very resilient and with age and maturity this is developing more and more. We discuss how to deal with issues of different kinds, very often and I hope that one day it will become second nature. In saying this, the children and I are all sensitive souls and so acknowledging our feelings and working through them is something we will always do.  

What do you hope this book achieves for its readers and the general public?
I hope that our story resonates with others in a FIFO/DIDO situation and that kids that are able to feel ‘OK when Dad’s Away’. I hope the story reassures children that despite distance, fathers can be present in heart, mind and spirit in many situations and those families can work towards building and maintaining strength, resilience and unity. While the platform for this story is FIFO I really think that anyone who believes in the unity of family will enjoy it and take some important messages from it.    

my_dad_is_a_fifo_dad_cover How have you found people’s responses to the book so far?
I have been completely overwhelmed and relieved that all of my readers have loved the story as much as we do. Hearing that there have been tears, laughter and reassurance is the vein in which it was written and I couldn’t be more proud! I have received some beautiful photos of kids reading the book together with sibings, together with mum and together with Dad. In some of the orders I have received, there is a sense of urgency for families to have the book ‘in time for when Dad gets home’, it’s wonderful that the messages within the book are being shared as valuable in advance of them being read.  

As a first time author, how did you find the publishing process, and working with illustrator, Ann-Marie Finn?
I am a true believer that things happen for a reason and firstly I found Ann-Marie and then was lead to Dragon Tales. I have been more than happy with this process and feel that in both, I have made the very best choice! I began my search for someone who could take my words and bring colour and life to them and give the beat of my heart to each and every one. You know you have made the right decision in your choice of illustrator when you open a PDF and your heart swells with emotion. Ann-Marie Finn, gave coloured life to my words and where there were no words her drawings carried the true intent of our family story, like she had known us for a lifetime. I am so very grateful! It is wonderful working with Kaylene at Dragon Tales as I have felt in total control over my work. She has offered constructive feedback and given me the necessary guidance of a true professional in this process, I couldn’t be happier!  

Do you have any plans to write more stories along this line, or on other topics? Will you continue to write picture books?
ABSOLUTELY! I have plans to continue working to provide materials that will support families living a FIFO lifestyle but as well as this I cannot wait to share many other picture books with children and their families.

Thank you for your insights on your journey and for letting us take a little peek into your life, Jo! All the best with your future plans!

For more information about Jo Emery and My Dad is a FIFO Dad, please visit:
http://www.mydadisafifodad.com
http://www.facebook.com/mydadisafifodad

Interview by Romi Sharp
www.romisharp.wordpress.com
www.facebook.com/mylittlestorycorner

Review – Banjo and Ruby Red by Libby Gleeson and Freya Blackwood

banjo-and-ruby-red Banjo and Ruby Red has been shortlisted for the 2014 Children’s Book Council of Australia’s Early Childhood Book of the Year Award, and rightfully so. It is an emotive story that tugs on the heart strings, created by the dynamic duo, Libby Gleeson and Freya Blackwood, who also collaborated on award-winning Amy and Louis, Half a World Away, and Clancy and Millie and the Very Fine House.

Banjo is an old farm dog and Ruby Red is a haughty chicken, and they never see eye to eye. Can they ever be friends?
This funny and touching story of antagonism and love is by award-winning author Libby Gleeson, with illustrations by internationally acclaimed Freya Blackwood.  

Bark. Bark. Bark.
Banjo is the best chook dog. He works hard and always successfully hustles all the squarking chooks back to roost. All except Ruby Red. She’s more interested in watching the sky, giving the old dog more exertion than he needs.

But one day, as Banjo is rounding up the chooks, he discovers that Ruby Red is nowhere to be found and he searches all over the farm. Our hearts drop when we finally find her lying still with her eyes closed.

Will Ruby Red survive?

It is through true loyalty, care and compassion that Banjo takes the chicken’s life in his own paws. He lays with her, keeping her warm for days, and we watch as a miracle unfolds before our eyes.

It is the finale that captures the most heartwarming, touching moment, so warmly depicted in the beautiful illustrations.
Bark. Bark. Bark.
Squark. Squark. Squark.
Chooks fly into the yard, peck at the ground and settle on their roosts.
Except Ruby Red.  

I love how illustrator, Freya Blackwood has integrated feelings of both still and movement, calm and chaos; from the smooth lines of dozing animals to the sequences and rougher sketching of a leaping Banjo and wildly flying chickens. She has also cleverly used text to add to the impact of the noisy animals, to draw the reader right into the scene. The soft earthy tones of the paint, mixed with the outlines and shadows of black pencil, are perfectly suited to an active chook dog rounding up lively chickens in a farm yard.

Banjo and Ruby Red is an absolutely gorgeous story about the friendship between a lovable, spirited dog and an obstinate chicken, with a touch of humour, and stunningly captivating illustrations. Definately a book to capture the hearts of readers of any age.

This book review can also be viewed at www.romisharp.wordpress.com , and on Facebook:
www.facebook.com/mylittlestorycorner.

Review – I Love You Night and Day

I Love you Night and DayOkay, so I’ve missed the love boat on the Valentine’s Day cruise again this year. Who says we can only share bad love puns and schmaltz on just one specific day of the year? Cue, I Love You Night and Day, by popular London writer Smriti Prasadam-Halls and UK illustrator, Alison Brown, which by the way is not as schmaltzy as it sounds.

I admit the mawkish title and subdued cover with cliché cute rabbit and bear took a while to lure me in. But once I got past the love hearts and daisy chains, I immediately knew I wanted more, rather like the archetypal box of chocolates. And it was an equally delicious experience! Smriti Prasadam-Halls

Prasadam-Halls has penned a picture book that could easily serve as an ode to love for devotees of Valentine’s Day, although 0 – 5 year olds are more likely to fall in love with it. Bunny and Bear are great friends; friends who love each other through thick and thin, during their high points and their lowest and for better or for worse. Yes, it does resemble the idealisations of some poetic wedding vows however that is exactly what makes it so quietly appealing for the adults who will be sharing it with young children.

Bear and Bunny’s relationship cleverly reflects a cross-section of relationship combinations including those of: parent and child, grandparents, BFFs, siblings and spouses. Each is a scenario most young children will either be familiar with first hand or by association and therefore have an immediate connection with.

Prasadam-Halls uses uncluttered easy rhyming verse to deliver some truly moving sentiments. ‘I love you huge, I love you vast. For the fun to come and the fun that’s past’, is one of my favourite lines and is endearingly accompanied by soft orange page colour and illustrations of Bunny and Bear sharing old photos and memories. For me, this represented loss as well as the cherishing of the past but also delivered a strong sense of hope. Time and love knows no bounds; love is bigger than the universe – kind of things.

If I’m making this sound as though the text is cloying with cuteness too thick to swallow, then that’s only because I was genuinely surprised by how much I Love You Night and Day resonated with me. Perhaps it is the scent of so much schmaltz wafting about at this time of year. More probably, it is because this picture book really is a joyful, moving and balanced celebration of love. Love of friendships, nature and emotion itself. A B Snip 

Alison Brown’s painted and pencilled illustrations are saturated with pure emotion and vibrant colour, sure to entrance a two year old as convincingly as Chanel No. 5 and chocolate works for me. My only niggle, that the text on some pages is black against deep indigo which makes it a tad difficult to read, especially in those low light situations you might find yourself snuggling up to read this book in.

Otherwise, I Love You Night and Day sings of the beautiful unconditional type of love children most especially are abundantly endowed with. For that reason alone, it will warm the cockles of your heart and delight them no end. It is never too late to share the love, a philosophy my other half also follows – thankfully with blocks of chocolate. Okay, so he’s a few days late too. Never mind – it was Willy Wonka.

Get yourself some loving here. Bloomsbury Children’s Books January 2014

Real life love stories

December and the holiday season is a receding memory (even if several of my neighbors still have sad and tattered pieces of tinsel wilting on their doors and balconies) and we are entering what I call “the chocolate season” – Valentine’s Day and Easter.

I don’t usually make a fuss over Valentine’s Day. It’s not that I hate the day so much as I want every day to be “hey, you can whisk me off to Paris now” day – if you limit yourself to one day of the year, what happens if they decide they want to do it in July? Do you have to wait the eight months or can you split the difference? But there is no doubt it’s a time when many people’s thoughts turn to love so if you are looking for real-life romance, here’s a few books guaranteed to warm the heart and stir the reader into great romantic deeds – and possibly purchasing that ticket to Paris.

If you are want inspiring tales of real life love, check out the recently released All There Is by StoryCorps founder Dave Isay. In it he shares with the reader more than 30 touching personal stories of real-life love and marriage, as told by the people who experienced it.  From falling in love to remembering a lost loved one, from the excitement of falling head over heels  to love that endured despite discrimination, illness, poverty, distance, this collection is a powerful and uplifting reminder of the strength of the human heart.

It shows love in all its complexity and diversity. Long-term relationships and newlyweds, gay and straight partners, high school sweethearts and long-distance penpals, from couples who met in a military base to those who reunited in their old age, this compilation of stories is a must-read for those who love love stories and will touch the heart of even the most determinedly non-romantic.

StoryCorps is an American nonprofit organisation who have, in the last decade, collected more than 30,000 interviews from more than 60,000 participants in order to give people of all backgrounds and beliefs an opportunity to record and share their stories. These stories are recorded on to a CD for participants to share, archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress,  and broadcast on public radio and at their website.

If you’d like something romantic but not in the modern day, there’s no end of great love stories in history to inspire you. Some have been heavily interpreted and rewritten in the manner of a traditional romance such as Andrea Stewart’s stirring Rose of Martinique, the biography of Napoleon’s partner, lover, confidant and political advisor, the captivating Josephine. (You could also read their love in their own words with Napoleon’s Letters to Josephine, a collection of their correspondence.) For those who like their love stories lengthy, complex and a little bit tortured, try Norah Lofts Eleanor the Queen, a fleshed-out account of the life of Eleanor of Aquitane, who married two kings and was one of the most influential women of her age.

They don’t have to be famous to be an epic love story, as Martin Goldsmith’s Inextinguishable Symphony proves. Martin (the host of NPR’s Performance Today where he shares his love of classical and rock music), is the American-born son of two German-Jewish musicians who met through music and managed to escape the Holocaust. He follows his parents through their early musical training, their blossoming love and marriage, to their miraculous rescue and escape to America.

He also follows his family members that were not so lucky and remained in Nazi Germany, suffering ever-tightening persecution and eventual journeys to the gas chambers. This story of love and music in turbulent times is a challenging but  ultimately uplifting read and well worthy of a place in your reading this Valentine’s Day, however you choose to spend it.

 

How To Be Single If Being Single Isn’t Bad?

How To Be SingleWhile my book-reading tastes are broad and varied, and my blog-writing efforts subsequently so, even I’m surprised by the book I both recently picked up and that I’m blogging about right now.

Entitled How To Be Single—I know, I know, please stay with me here—it didn’t make the splash its book half-brother He’s Just Not That Into You did when it hit the marketplace.

In fact, I didn’t even know this book existed and only stumbled across it and then succumbed to its guiles during a moment of my-soul-has-been-crushed-by-a-stinky-stinky-boy weakness while rifling through a bin at a garage sale.

I’m not the kind of girl who’s on the quest to find ‘the one’—I think there are careers to pursue and social and environmental issues to tackle and that matters of the heart, while important and valid, shouldn’t be one’s sole focus in life.

Nor am I convinced that there’s a happy ending waiting for everybody, and think that if you’ve staked your efforts and your sanity on trying to find someone to look after you and make you happy, well, you’re playing with it’s-going-to-end-badly fire.

How To Be SingleWhich goes at least part way to explaining why I picked up and purchased this novel by Liz Tuccillo, one half of the He’s Just Not That Into You book, which swept the single women’s world like wildfire and spawned a flippant, simplistic phrase that makes single women the world over want to slap somebody.

I’m not jaded, honest. I’m actually more interested that someone finally approached the issue from another angle: that of being and staying single and whether that’s such a bad thing. I mean, I can’t help but wonder if there is and should be more to life than getting coupled up.

How To Be Single’s premise (and the opening paras) is as follows:

It’s the most annoying question and they just can’t help asking you. You’ll be asked it at family gatherings, particularly weddings. Men will ask you it on first dates. Therapists will ask you over and over again. And you’ll ask yourself it far too often. It’s the question that has no good answer, and that never makes anyone feel better. It’s the question, that when people stop asking it, makes you feel even worse.

And yet, I can’t help but ask. Why are you single? You look like an awfully nice person. And very attractive. I just don’t understand it.

But times are changing. In almost every country around the world, the trend is for people to remain single longer and divorce more easily. As more and more women become economically independent, their need for person freedom increase, and that often results in not marrying so quickly.

A human being’s desire to make, to pair up, to be part of a couple, will never change. But the way we go about it, how badly we need it, what we are willing to sacrifice for it, most definitely is.

He's Just Not That Into YouSo maybe the question isn’t anymore, ‘Why are you single?’ Maybe the question you should be asking yourself is ‘How are you single?’ It’s a big new world out there and the rules keep changing. So, tell me ladies, how’s it going?

Although I was incredibly embarrassed to be seen reading this book in public, and was worried that I would either run into someone I knew, or would drop the book I’d been surreptitiously reading on the train with the cover in full view, I enjoyed it a lot. In fact, a lot more than I thought I would.

I’d even go so far as to say that I think Tuccillo, who was an executive story editor of the Emmy Award-winning and cult classic Sex and the City, is a good storyteller (and better when the voice is just her own—geddit, a single writer?).

How To Be Single is fiction, but it appears to be based on non-fiction interviews, and I’d hazard a guess it’s based loosely on Tuccillo‘s own experiences and those of her friends.  She travelled around the world interviewing single ladies (and yes, writing that made Beyonce just leap into my head), and I can’t help but notice that the book was a little bit Sex and the City and a little bit Eat Pray Vom, I mean, Love.

Eat Pray LoveThere were five characters instead of four, but they all neatly filled a different niche of woman without straying too strongly into Carrie/Samantha/Miranda/Charlotte territory. In fact, they didn’t know each other overly well and there wasn’t a Samantha among them.

The locations of said interviews included Bali, Australia, Iceland, Brazil, France, Italy, and India, and I was a little bit suspicious that we were going to get an Eat Pray Vom meeting and marrying of the perfect man in Bali, but the book thankfully steered clear and didn’t offer a perfectly neat, happily-ever-after dénouement. Besides, I think some of the best insights came not at the summing-up stage, but in short revelations throughout the text.

This will probably be one of the only love-life-focused books I’ll read or review here, but I can’t say it was a bad one to have done. I think the catch phrase should be not ‘He’s just not that into you’, but ‘Is it so bad to be single?’ or ‘How to be single if being single isn’t bad?’