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

Doodles and Drafts – Halloween guest post by Karen Foxlee

a-most-magical-girlHalloween is a time of frights and treats, tricks and magic, guises and remembrance – All Saints’ Day Eve. A fitting time to indulge in a little fantasy and fun. Karen Foxlee’s latest mid grade novel, A Most Magical Girl combines all of these things and will have primary aged readers biting their nails in delicious anticipation. Utterly charming, frightful in places and marvellously magic in others, this is an adventure both girls and boys will find spell binding.

Annabel Grey is a proper little lady of the Victorian times. She devoutly attempts to follow the sermons delivered by Miss Finch’s Little Blue Book, a bible of Victorian social etiquette and expectations but her good intentions derail after she is sent to live with her two aunts in London. They are Shoreditch witches and apart from being Annabel’s new guardians, unlock a heritage Annabel had no idea about, her ability to perform magic.

However, Annabel has no time to dispute their proclamations because her unusual abilities allow her to foresee a terrible future for London and all who dwell there. Mr Angel, evil warlock of the underworld has built a sinister device to use with his black magic to destroy all of the good magic in the world and those who practise it. Only a most magical girl can stop him.

Foxlee’s use of language is bewitching. Annabel’s adventure is fast paced and divinely otherworldly both in spirit and in setting. I thoroughly adored flying along on her desperate quest with Kitty and her strong-willed broomstick. I’m sure children will find A Most Magical Girl just as enchanting.

karen-foxlee2016Today Karen joins us at the draft table to reveal the magical places A Most Magical Girl sprung from.

Welcome Karen! Tell us a bit about kids, authors and story ideas…

The Big Leap

I love to tell my young audiences that kids and authors are pretty much the same when it comes story ideas.  They always look dubious at first.  Authors surely have a special library of previously unused ideas I can see them thinking.  It’s locked away somewhere at the top of a turret beside their quills and their perfect first drafts.

“It’s true,” I assure them.  “You tell me where you get your ideas from and we’ll see if we’re the same.”

Their hands shoot up: from life experiences, from dreams, from things you see! From things you read, things that happened a long time ago, from things you hope for, from television! Story ideas start from things you overhear, from facts, from songs, from comic books, from movies, from computer games, from mixing your own life with the life of book characters that you love! From day-dreaming!

I always love hearing that one.  It validates all my hours spent lying quietly day-dreaming. “Oh my goodness,” I cry, ticking off each one. ‘How weird! My ideas come from all these places too! They come from everywhere!”

Authors let ideas come, we day-dream, we are open to them.  We store them away in our brain machine never knowing when we might need them.  We put an idea from a year ago with an idea from today.  We percolate ideas.  We write them down without knowing what they mean.

But, I tell them, there’s also another way that authors and kids are the same when it comes to story ideas. Their dubious expressions return.  I clamber up onto a table.  Now they start to look down-right worried.

A Most Magical Girl came about as a combination of several ideas I explain.

  1. From an experience (a visit to a museum many years before)
  2. From a life-long love of history and from reading lots books with historical settings
  3. From a love of magic and heaps of little ideas about how magic works

And

  1. A good old-fashioned daydream.

I was lying on my sofa thinking about a museum I’d visited a decade before.  This museum was in London and it contained a recreated Victorian era street, where I wandered for hours.  Years later, on my sofa, I closed my eyes and day-dreamed a carriage arriving on that street.  I imagined a girl stepping down.  She was pretty and a bit posh and also, I knew as I watched her, the owner of a secret.  She stood before a shop window and read the words printed there. Miss E & H Vine’s Magic Shop.  Wow, I thought.  Magic.  I love Magic. This seems good. What’s going to happen here?

“What do you think authors do when they have some ideas that excite them?” I ask from my table top perch.  “What do you do?”

A chorus of replies: Just start! Just start writing! Just start even if you don’t know the answer!

“Do you just LEAP into the story?” I ask.

“Yes!” they shout, because they really want to see an author jump off a table.

And so, because it is the absolute truth about authors and ideas and how they really are not much different to children, I LEAP!

Fastastical, thanks Karen.

kids-reading-guide-2016-2017You’ll find A Most Magical Girl in the new Kids’ Reading Guide, here!

Allen & Unwin September 2016

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Review – Molly and Pim and the Millions of Stars

Molly and PimSometimes, it takes a little while for things to change from what they were to something different. Imagine a new seedling nudging its head up through the earth for the first time, no longer a seed, not yet a tree. This miraculous transformation of being represents the way I felt reading Martine Murray’s new mid-grade fiction, Molly and Pim and the Millions of Stars. It took a little while for me to see the light emerge within this tale but when it did, it shone. I mean, who doesn’t love climbing trees? Aren’t we all a little attracted to the enigmatic silent types? And who hasn’t wanted to give it to their overbearing neighbours once and a while? These are some of the conundrums that claim Molly’s consideration, too.

Molly is an ordinary girl living a strange existence. She shares her strange life with a border collie named, Maude, an indifferent feline known as, Claudine and her Mama, who’s penchant for potions and picking herbs makes Molly cringe. She wishes for a life more run-of-the mill like her best friend, Ellen’s. Ellen’s mum puts food in packets in Ellen’s lunchbox and never picks herbs barefooted before breakfast. Ellen lives in a normal suburban brick home that in no way resembles the gypsy caravan that is Molly’s abode, at least that’s how she perceives the house she lives in.

Molly and Pim Claude collie illoThen there’s, Pim, the slightly left of field boy at school, whose aloofness and indifference intrigues Molly to the point of distraction. Molly is a little frightened and yet, truth be told, oddly compelled by his abstract ways but is unable to decide if he is friend or foe.

There is no time to find out because Molly and her mama are preparing for battle against ‘the world’s nastiest neighbours’, the ghastly Grimshaws from next door. In an effort to restore harmony, Molly’s mama suggests they grow a tree, a magnificent towering oak tree that will block out the beastly Grimshaws with its beauty. How does one grow an oak tree overnight, though? With the help of mama’s magic potions of course. Shockingly mama’s potion has devastating outcomes. A tree appears but is it all that it appears?

Following the loss of her mama, Molly must not only fend and feed herself and her small menagerie, often with hilarious results, but she must also come to terms with her own jagged dance of life. Through the pain of separation, the vacuum of loneliness, and the desperation of time running out, Molly discovers the beauty in the way her stars align and lets unfurl an inner power she barely knew existed.

This story is a series of beautiful realisations and discoveries as Molly climbs ever higher through her tree of life. You feel her mama’s presence fiercely in every inch of this story, which is both heartbreaking and reassuring. As Molly’s resources and resolve are tested, she finds solace in what was always her normal. Bolstered by Pim’s alliance and Ellen’s unyielding friendship, Ellen learns how it feels being part of the millions of stars that make up the world, her world and what power can issue forth from such awareness. With realisation comes heart and from within heart, courage is forged; ‘imagine if you were never scared of falling, how much higher you might climb’.

Martine Murray Murray uses generous doses of whimsy and magic to tell Molly’s tale of self-discovery and acceptance. The results are spellbinding. Weird but very wonderful, Molly and Pim and the Millions of Stars will sweep young readers away. The line-drawn illustrations and inclusion of Molly’s notebook on herbs are the end are fetching additions to a book that grows with you and allows you to reflect on its fantasticalness long after the last page is turned. Molly certainly lit up my world.

Molly and Pim and the Millions of Stars can be found in Boomerang’s exciting Kids’ Reading Guide 2015-2016.

The Text Publishing Company June 2015

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

Review: Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch

9780575097582I’d been meaning to get to this series all of 2014. After being totally amazed by both The Girl With All The Gifts and The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August I asked the person the Australian publisher who had recommended them both what I could checkout next. And this was the series they said. So having failed to get around to it in 2014 I thought I’d kick off with book one first up in 2015.

I think part of the reason I kept putting off the series was the quote from Diana Gabaldon that the series was like “if Harry Potter grew up and joined the Fuzz”. Not because I have anything against a Diana Gabaldon quote (I am loving Outlander, can’t wait for Part 2 of Season 1 and now know why early in my bookselling career so many people kept asking for the next book in the series!). The reason I think I delayed was because I already had my “Harry Potter for Grown Ups” obsession in 2014; The Magicians Trilogy by Lev Grossman. So two in one year didn’t feel right. So again, new year, new obsession. And I am definitely obsessed with this series.

To sum the book up it is a British police procedural full of wicked humour and a big dollop of magic. Peter Grant is a freshly minted police constable in the London Metropolitan Police Service. He’s hoping against hope he gets assigned somewhere glamorous and not given a boring desk job. When he attends a brutal murder scene and takes a witness statement from what turns out to be a ghost his concerns about a boring assignment are completely forgotten. Instead Peter is introduced to London’s underworld. No, not the underworld of gangs, drugs and crime but the underworld of wizards, vampires, nymphs and river gods. And things are not on the up and up in this under world. On top of territory disputes there are other tensions bubbling to the surface. Tensions that threaten to burst onto the streets of London in a full-scale riot. Peter must navigate through his new circumstances learning not only the craft of magic but careful diplomacy at the same time as tracking down a spirit which appears to be at the heart of all the violence and trouble that is slowly flooding the streets.

I am well hooked on this series and cannot wait to get into the rest of the books. The humour is that pitch perfect British variety that combines the sardonic with surreal in perfect balance and the blend of London history, real and magical makes for truly entertaining reading.

Buy the book here…

Doodles and Drafts – A bewitching encounter with Angela Sunde

Hold on to your brooSM.cover.119KBmsticks because today we have someone special visiting. She’s a bit of a drafter and doodler, a fellow resident of the magical Gold Coast and a wickedly wonderful conjurer of stories. Snap Magic is her latest light-hearted, fairy tale inspired fantasy novel about friendship and young girls approaching the precipitous edge of puberty.

She has a predilection for kissing princes, sipping champagne and pumpkin soup, and looks ridiculously cool in witches’ britches.

So grab a goblet of pumpkin juice, sit back and meet Angela Sunde, author of just released Snap Magic and its predecessor, Pond Magic.

Who is Angela Sunde? Describe your writerly / illustrator-self.ASunde.1d.WEB

I aim to be professional in all that I do. If I don’t feel my work is up to industry standard, then it is shelved and I move on to the next project. I am not too precious about my writing and receive feedback and critique with interest and a positive motivation to improve. I am constantly setting myself challenges that are just beyond my comfort zone and experiences. This means I may sometimes undertake more than I should, and then I’m working into the wee hours of the night. I enjoy volunteer work, which supports children’s access to reading, and other writers and illustrators on their creative journey. As an experienced teacher I enjoy mentoring and being mentored.

How do you wish to be perceived by your reading audience; as primarily an author; mostly an illustrator or a happy combination of both?

Angela Sunde ArtMy readers consider me primarily to be an author and engage with me thus. Illustrating is a passion of mine from childhood. I am always returning to it and the urge cannot be ignored. I enjoy small projects, especially illustrating children, and offer ‘Picture Book Children’s Portrait’ commissions. Clients can have their child illustrated as a picture book character to frame. It’s a lot of fun. I’m also working on the storyboard for a new picture book manuscript I just love; it’s very personal to me. Five years in the future I would like to be considered a combination of author/illustrator.

In a past life you were a high school linguistics teacher. How did this shape or influence your writing career? Have you always written? When did you begin drawing?

I taught German from Year 5 to Year 12 for decades. My broad understanding of how we develop language, whether it be our first or our second, has enabled me to write with a clarity, simplicity and efficiency of words. One reviewer of my first book, Pond Magic, called it ‘deceptively uncomplicated writing.’ I wrote poetry and songs when I was young, but I drew from the moment I could hold a crayon. I think it was a picture of my dad on the tractor and trailer, driving through the orchard with a load of fruit on the back.

Snap Magic features Lily Padd, a character we met in your first book, Pond Magic. Can kids read Snap Magic without having read the first one?

Pond Magic 2Yes, nothing is given away. Snap Magic is a stand-alone sequel. Rainier has gone back to France and Lily and her best friend, Maureen, have a new set of problems to face, although the ultra-annoying Rick Bastek is still there.

How long had the idea of Snap Magic been brewing for? What finally ignited its creation?

It hadn’t really brewed. It ignited suddenly when I decided to use a short story I had written called Snap as the springboard for a new Lily Padd story. Snap had been shortlisted for the Charlotte Duncan Award in 2009 and I’d been itching to place it somewhere. Then it was just a matter of brainstorming a plot.

What was the hardest thing to get right in Snap Magic? What aspect of the story’s creation did you most enjoy?

I can’t actually remember anything being too difficult. It’s based on my own experiences in intermediate school in New Zealand. It’s a mid-grade school system where all the students are between ten and twelve – perfect tweens. I did base the mean girl, Ellen, on someone I knew in high school, so I most enjoyed making life difficult for that character. Mwa ha ha… (*evil author laugh.)

I found Maureen particularly endearing. Is she based on a childhood friendship you may have had or one you wished you had? Was there any particular message you set out to convey in Snap Magic to girls of this age?

Maureen is partly me and partly my best friend – strong-willed and determined. She won’t let anyone push her around and she’s staunchly loyal to Lily. That’s how we were.

Messages find their way into books naturally. They can’t be forced. If you are true to the characters, their motivations and goals, the message will float to the top. In Snap Magic Lily learns that trust in others must be carefully placed. Can she trust Ellen? Can she tell Maureen her secret? The other message is that bullying has consequences for the perpetrators, very bad consequences… Mwa ha ha…

Is Lily Padd likely to be involved in any more magical adventures?

I’m thinking, will she ever be quiet in my head? I write Lily’s stories for my own enjoyment and there is a full length novel in progress.

What is your favourite colour? What does this choice reflect about you?

As a child it was yellow. Years ago I went through a low period with my health. I asked my husband to paint our family room yellow and I felt happier straight away. I also find blue so soothing. But I almost never wear either colour. I like to wear red and black because they give me confidence.

Did you ever dress-up and go trick-or-treating as a kid? With your own children? Now? If so, what is your favourite Halloween character and why?

No, I didn’t. But we did throw my daughter a Harry Potter party when the first book came out. Her teacher had read it to the entire class and we had a bunch of very excited little witches sitting on the ‘sorting chair’ desperately hoping the ‘sorting hat’ would call out Gryffindor! The hat’s voice was on a hidden recording made by a radio announcer friend of my sister’s with a very deep and scary voice. Of course he called Gryffindor! Every time.

What’s on the drawing board and or draft table for Angela?

I’m flying down to Sydney at the end of the month for a week’s residency at Pinerolo Children’s Book Cottage as Illustrator in Residence to work on a storyboard for a picture book that is very dear to me. And next year will see me in New Zealand researching a historical fiction novel based on my grandparents’ migrant experiences.

Just for fun question: If you possessed magical powers, which trick or spell would you relish using every day? Why?

Flying. The closest I’ve come to it would be snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef, just that feeling of weightlessness, of floating above looking down, so calming. Of course I am scared of heights.

Thank you so much for having me on the blog today. I really enjoyed the questions!

Thank you Angela. It’s been spookily sensational!

Delve into more enticing facts, articles and reviews about Angela and her books here as she brooms about her Snap Magic Blog Tour. Just click on this banner for full dates and details. Snap Magic Banner

Red Pedal Press October 2014

 

 

Review: The Magician King by Lev Grossman

9780434020805I think I loved this even more than The Magicians (which if you haven’t read beware spoilers ahead). The first half of The Magicians was like an adult Harry Potter and full of the wonder of discovering magic was real. The second half was an exploration of what happens to people who discover a new power. It was much darker, which I really liked, and you really got to know the negative sides of the books characters which is not something many books of this genre do.

The Magician King picks up where The Magicians ended. Quentin, Elliot, Janet and Julia are now the Kings and Queens of Fillory but Quentin is growing restless. He wants a purpose, a quest, an adventure and he will do anything to find or create one. Interspersed with Quentin’s story are flashbacks to Julia who went down a very different (and much darker) path to gain her magical knowledge. And as before there a dues to be paid for gaining this power.

Grossman again finely balances a story that doesn’t take itself too seriously, referencing other familiar stories, while slowly turning what seems to be an innocuous and manufactured quest into something far more important. We explore more of Fillory and the expanded universe and (much to some characters’ shock and horror) revisit Earth and the ‘real’ world. I also felt I reconnected to the characters after becoming detached from them after some of the questionable decisions they made in the first book.  Loose ends from the first book are also nicely tied up and the ending is both highly satisfying as a reader and nicely sets up the third and final book in the series.

This truly is a brilliant series and while I’m late to the party in discovering it I get the advantage of reading all three books in the trilogy close together with the final book, The Magician’s Land due out next month. And I will be reading that one straight away!

Buy the book here…

Review – The Magicians by Lev Grossman

9780099534440I have been meaning to get round to this book for a while (thanks mainly to the Bookrageous podcast) and with the final book in the trilogy due out in August I thought it was about time I got started. My first impression of the book was that this was Harry Potter for adults. Instead of a 12-year-old boy going off to school to learn magic and wizardry this is about a 17-year-old boy going off the college, in upstate New York, to learn magic and become a magician.

There are some similarities with Hogwarts, the Harry Potter novels and other fantasy classics like The Chronicles of Narnia but Lev Grossman acknowledges all these sources in clever and often humorous ways so you never get a sense of them being ripped off in any way. Grossman has also constructed his own unique and vivid world(s) so you know you are definitely in a different type of story.

One of the other big differences is the main character, Quentin Coldwater. He is not your like-at-all-costs hero. He is a flawed character which isn’t apparent at first but manifests itself as the book goes on. He is struggling to find himself and has an almost superiority complex which is only fed more by learning to become a magician. Grossman packs all of the years of magic college into the first half of the book. This is not one book for every year of college and it is college life warts and all (pardon the pun). And when Quentin and the friends he makes finish college they don’t set out on a big adventure or quest but instead waste their new-found knowledge and skills on drinking, drugs and sex. (This strand of the story reminded me a bit of The Secret History by Donna Tartt.)

The major difference though is the tone of Grossman’s novel. Often books of this type have a sense of earnestness. The heroes of the story are the chosen ones with a strong sense of their purpose and what is right. Grossman flips this on its head. Instead of earnestness there is a layer of cynicism and the characters purposefulness alludes them (for different reasons each).  Instead a sense of entitlement clouds their judgements, destabilizes their relationships with each other and ultimately leads to tragic consequences.

While this does make everything sound dark and broody everything is tempered with an epic, adventurous narrative that moves along at an addictive pace. It was refreshing to have a main character who was not perfect, was guilty at times of being selfish and struggling to find his own identity. I also really enjoyed the way other worlds weren’t the escape people hoped them to be, especially if what you are trying to escape is yourself.

I can’t wait to see where Grossman takes the story next.

Buy the book here…

A true book to digest, discuss and deliberate upon by a writer like no other.

9780091953799Review – Night Film

Marisha Pessl burst onto the literary scene in 2006 with the unforgettably titled Special Topics In Calamity Physics. Comparisons to Donna Tartt abounded and unlike many others Pessl lived up to the comparisons but also carved out her own wonderfully distinct style. I adored the book and it was a very pleasant surprise to find her new novel suddenly pop up on the release schedule.

I don’t want to give any of the plot away in this review because a huge part of this book is experiencing it. Pessl immerses you in a world where fact and fiction blur, the magical and the explained co-exist and the truth is not necessarily the answer to the questions asked.

Central to the story is the Cordova family. The patriarch of the family is a reclusive and revered film maker whose life and art is shrouded in mystery, most of which he has created himself. His films have created their own mythology that he uses to hide behind. Journalist Scott McGrath believes something more sinister lies beneath this veneer but has been unable to dig up anything concrete without his own reputation being severely burned.

Night Film is a wild ride of a novel and I was amazed by the interactivity built into the story. Apparently there is also an app coming that enables the reader to engage even more, all of which only immerses you as a reader into a world that already blurs fact and fiction and is dotted with clues hidden and dangled in front of your eyes.

Pessl deftly takes you on a journey that ebbs and flows from the rational and analytical to the disbelieving and magical until eventually breaking down your walls of resistance which only helps shroud everything in a more deeper mystery. Pessl confirms the deep talent she has and delivers a novel that you will first debate with yourself before engaging others to see what they thought. A true book to digest, discuss and deliberate upon by a writer like no other.

Buy the book here…

Doodles and Drafts – Getting silly with Candice Lemon-Scott

Silver the Silly Sorcerer Book CoverThat instantaneous feeling of satisfaction and inability to stop reading that occurs when breezing over the first few pages of a new book is often a sign of good things to come. Kids are even more decisive, deducing from line one, what is going to work for them and what is not. That’s why the Little Rocket Series excels from the get go. With edgy compelling reads like Candice Lemon-Scott’s latest release, Silver the Silly Sorcerer.

Just when you thought you’d read all there was to read about wizardry and witchcraft and applauded the 700th Harry Potter look-a-like off the Book Week Parade stage, along comes Silver; struggling child sorcerer who simply seeks to be as sensational a sorcerer as his idol, Merlin.

Sadly Silver is less than spectacular as sorcerers go. He continuously fudges his spells and lives in the shadow of his much brighter sister, Star. After failing his Eggs test, Silver is sent to work as a magician with a travelling circus.

Cirus tentCircus life is harder and more humiliating than Silver ever anticipated. He yearns for home and dreads having to perform magic for the has-been, hard to please Ringmaster. Without the companionship and street smarts of his slick talking pet snake, Slither, Silver’s circus days would be even bleaker than the busted lights of the main-ring.

Miraculously, his clumsy magical failures become the talk of the Big Top. Silver’s silly tricks and slip ups transform him into the star of the circus until he realises he has to truly master the art of transformation and magic if he is to rescue his teacher, escape the circus and rise to Tadpole level. Will he and Slither endure the extremes of showbiz?

Humming with hysterical originality and Lemon-Scott’s hilarious imaginative wordplay, Silver the Silly Sorcerer is a sure fire bet to impress readers 7 years and above plus anyone who is thrilled by bunnies bursting from magic hats like I am. Short, captivating chapters are teeming with Janet Wolf’s full colour illustrations, so vibrant, you can almost smell the popcorn and sawdust. Top marks!

Candice Lemon-And to mark the magical appearance of this marvellous new Little Rockets title, Candice Lemon-Scott joins me at the draft table. Welcome Candice. Please, park your broom* and take a seat…

Q When did you first discover the urge to write for children? What motivates you to continue writing?

I lived in Sydney for a short while. When I first moved I didn’t know anyone (besides my husband) and I had yet to find a job. It was at that time that a children’s story idea just popped into my head one day and I started to spend a couple of hours each day writing it until I found work. It wasn’t anywhere near publishable but it inspired me to keep writing. Finding the motivation to write is easy – I love writing and it’s the best feeling to create an imaginary world where anything you want to happen does.

Q You’ve written a number of chapter books for children and this is your second title in the Little Rocket Series. What appeals to you most about this series of books? What makes them special?

I really love the Little Rockets Series because they’re perfect for kids starting to learn to read independently. They have beautiful brightly coloured illustrations which makes them a fantastic transition from picture book to chapter book. I also love the style of the series because it suits the type of story I like to write – action-packed and humorous and written for the 7 plus age group. There are also some fun things attached like the book-based activities on the Little Rockets website.

Q I am a sucker for magic tricks. How did you conjure up the idea for Silver the Silly Sorcerer? Were you magically inspired?

There was a little bit of magic involved. It began with a case of the dreaded writer’s block. Then one day I found this old story writing computer program. In the program you could mix up three parts of a sentence that were computer generated to create an opening line. I chose, ‘the sorcerer was stuck in a pile of muddy muck.’ It all went from there with the writer’s block magically disappearing as the story evolved.

Q What is your favourite magic trick, most memorable illusion or circus act?

I loved all magic when I was a kid. I remember I was so excited when I was given a magic box as a present. My favourite trick was the one where the seemingly never-ending magical scarf was pulled out of the magician’s hat – simple but fun. That’s probably why the scarf trick makes an appearance in my story.

Q Kids love quirky characters. What inspired your character choice in this book?

From my opening line I figured that this sorcerer must be pretty silly to end up stuck in the mud, which is really how Silver came to life. When I was thinking about how he could get out of the mud Slither the Snake just magically appeared to save the day.

Q Slither, Silver’s pet snake, is a useful and faithful companion. Is he based on any previous pets you had as a kid or perhaps any that you now have?

Gosh, no, I had really regular pets growing up– dogs, cats, birds, rabbits, but there was never a moment in my childhood where I was without one, which shows what an important role pets have played in my life. My eldest daughter is also crazy about reptiles, and now has her own pet blue-tongue lizard, so I’ve learned a great deal about snakes (but not the magical kind).

Q I found Silver a real hoot to read. Was it as much fun to write? Does writing humorously come naturally to you or is it a conscious thing you have work on to include in your writing?

Thanks! It was heaps of fun to write. I guess that’s probably why my kids’ stories have humour injected into them – it’s enjoyable to write it. I think the humour just comes as I write – I certainly don’t plan it out by thinking, ‘Is this funny?’ or ‘How could I make kids laugh in this scene?’ That said, I think the subject matter has to lend itself to humour for it to work.

Candice's books

Q Last year you released your first adult novel, Unloched. How does writing for primary aged children differ from other adult-aged genres you’ve published? Which do you feel more comfortable writing and why?

Technically, it’s totally different in terms of language, themes, structure, writing style etc. But to me writing for kids is no different to writing for adults in that it’s always about getting in the head of the character who the story is about. So, in this way, I don’t find one more comfortable than the other to write. If I’m writing about a ten year old boy then I’m in the head of a kid of that age but if I’m writing about a young woman then I’m thinking the way she would think. It’s a bit like role-playing for me – I’m imagining myself in someone else’s shoes, or in someone else’s cloak in the case of Silver.

Q A great kids’ story can be read faster than it takes to pull a rabbit out of a hat (unless you are Silver of course). How long does it take you to write them? Does it vary from book to book?

Usually it takes me a few months to write a chapter book. It’s more in coming up with the story idea that varies in the time it takes to create a story. Some ideas come to me in minutes – and I can see in my mind straight away what could happen in the story. Others start with a bit of a thought but can take months or longer for me to find out what the story is.

Q Tell us what fills your days apart from writing.

I have a book exchange where I sell new and second-hand books and where people can swap over the books they no longer read for something new or different. So, my life is completely about books, books and more books. I love it – I get to talk about books when I’m not writing and put any reading down to ‘work.’ Oh, and being a mum keeps me happily busy as well.

Q What’s on the draft table for Candice?

I’m currently writing a series of futuristic space adventure stories for kids aged 8 and up, the first of which will also be put out with New Frontier next year. The stories follow a group of kids (and a cyborg) who end up solving all kinds of spacey mysteries.

Q Just for fun question: If you were a better sorceress than Silver, what one magic trick would you like to perform and why?

I would like to master the art of escape, like Houdini. His tricks always fascinated me as a child – I would love to be able to get myself out of any situation like he could. That would be a pretty clever trick to perform, I think.

Thanks Candice! 

*Note Candice does not actually own a flying broom stick but should the opportunity arise to operate one, I’m sure she would park it sensibly.

Silly the Silver Sorcerer is part of the New Frontier Publishing’s Little Rocket Series.

Released this month, you can purchase the book here.