Review – Who is Fitzy Fox?

imageWho is Fitzy Fox?, Amelia Trompf (author), Jennifer Bruce (illus.), Little Steps Publishing, September 2016.

Sweetly wrapped up in red and white this little treasure arrived at my door, keenly searching for a place to belong. Upon entering the world of this furry friend, I soon realised just how important his mission was to solve his ‘existential crisis’ of ‘Who is Fitzy Fox?’.

Gently written in a child-friendly tone, first-time picture book author Amelia Trompf narrates a soul-satisfying tale of self-discovery, reassurance, the value of family, and a bit of adventure. The beautiful textures, detail and muted watercolours and pencil illustrations by Scottish-born, Jennifer Bruce equally provide an aura of warmth, comfort and familiarity that highlight the story’s sense of the affection of loved ones and the kindness of strangers.

imageSet in Melbourne’s eclectic suburb of Fitzroy, Fitzy Fox sets off on a path to determine whether his true identity is fox, or whether it is hound. Greeted with delicious cuisine, including veggie burgers and gelati, by the local occupants of busy Brunswick Street somehow doesn’t give Fitzy the satisfaction he is looking for. A trip to the State Library provides a glimmer of hope as the poor lost soul decides to embark on a trip to London. Fitzy Fox searches for his answer in such fascinating landmarks as Buckingham Palace, Hyde Park and Notting Hill, but to no avail. Has his journey across the other side of the world been all for nothing? Has the truth been under his snout the entire time?

Targeted at early primary school-aged children, ‘Who is Fitzy Fox?’ explores some deep, philosophical questions that may be extended to discussing cultural, religious, or gender-specific identities. But the playful and endearing tone of the book allows readers to enjoy it for its life and purity, and the comfort in knowing they are loved for who they are. Perfect for locals and visitors to Melbourne to soak up those vibrant street vibes.

Amelia Trompf has prepared wonderful teaching notes and activities on the Fitzy Fox website.

Who is Fitzy Fox? is on blog tour! Check out the schedule here.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Review – Teddy Took the Train

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Allen & Unwin April 2015

Hey Corinne Fenton, What’s Your Christmas Wish?

Corinne's Launch of Little Dog-5842Corinne Fenton is established as one of Australia’s treasured authors of beautiful picture books. They often contain an element of social history, and her knowledge and passion for writing is regularly shared in schools, libraries and workshops.  
This Christmas, there are TWO Corinne Fenton picture books that are unmissable and will have children from birth to eight feeling enriched and cherished for all of the holiday season; Little Dog and the Christmas Wish and Hey Baby, It’s Christmas! Let’s find out a little more about Corinne Fenton and her books!  

What do you love about writing children’s books?
I love being taken away with the words, those times when in my head I’m spinning and flying on a carousel horse, but really I’m at my desk staring into space.  

queenieMuch of your writing involves a great significance to social history. Is there an element of personal meaning when incorporating these topics?
Yes, in a way I believe I write about animals whose stories must be told – for me there’s a certain responsibility to tell them. When I visit students in schools it gives me a great feeling to share information with them through my stories. I strongly believe that children are learning this information in an enjoyable and almost effortless way. This is another reason why I feel so strongly about picture books.
Queenie: One Elephant’s Story came about by accident (I was actually writing a story about sparrows) but when I found her I knew immediately her story had to be told. Her story raises many issues about animals in zoos today, compared to what zoos were like back when elephants were giving rides not only here in the Melbourne Zoo but in zoos all over the world. Queenie walked for almost 40 years through the depression and through two world wars carrying up to 500 people a day.
The Dog on the Tuckerbox tells of a dog called Lady and her loyalty to her master, but there is also a host of information about bullockies, bullocks, wagons and pioneers and what it was like to live in the days when it took a bullock team up to 4 months to travel a journey which today takes a truck only 4 hours!
Flame Stands Waiting is a fictional story about a carousel horse called Flame, set in a real place – on the carousel at Melbourne’s Luna Park. This story takes place in the years of the depression, the bright lights and happiness of the carousel contrasted strongly with the drab clothing worn by the children. The discussion about this story centres on being different but students can take it further by comparing carousels throughout the world and their differences and by studying further about the depression.  

little-dog-and-the-christmas-wish[Little Dog and the Christmas Wish is a truly charming book. It is a story of loyalty, love and family belonging. This gentle, beautifully written tale is set in 1957, with Corinne Fenton’s own nostalgic memories evident, as is her love of dogs!
Little Dog, a white West Highland Terrier, escapes from home in a thunderstorm on Christmas Eve and finds himself in the heart of the city. He passes familiar Melbourne landmarks, scouring through the tall buildings, watching people bustling around, searching for his best friend and owner, Jonathan. With the hope of finding his way back home, will Little Dog get his Christmas wish? With stunning drawings by illustrator Robin Cowcher, appropriate for this setting and era, readers will enjoy the soft watercolours, smooth lines and textures of every scene.
Little Dog and the Christmas Wish is a heartwarming, engaging story that will have children from aged three, as well as older generations, in anticipation of the ending’s reveal and for future readings every Christmas.
Black Dog Books 2014]  

Your current story, ‘Little Dog and the Christmas Wish’ is set in Melbourne in the 1950s. What does this time and place mean to you? What was your inspiration behind the story?  
This book is special to me for many reasons. A child of the 50’s, it was actually nice to know, first hand, what I was writing about – to remember the enormous Foy’s Santa on the corner of Swanston and Bourke Streets, calling children toward him like this . . .. (finger) and to remember coming into the city on the green and cream rattly trams to marvel at the Myer windows every year – and walking under the portico of the Melbourne Town Hall. I also remember the clip-clopping of the Clydesdale horses as they delivered milk or bread to our front gate.
I believe I am privileged to have such precious Christmas memories and to be able to tie that in with a lovable ‘Little Dog’ character was a special Christmas gift for myself.  

The illustrations by Robin Cowcher are simply stunning. How much of the artistic content is based on your own ideas, and how much came from Robin?
As with all of my books I did a lot of research on this particular book, which Robin was able to refer to. The story is set in 1957 so the Myer windows that year displayed The Nutcracker Suite and on Christmas Eve that year the Regent Theatre were screening An Affair to Remember (one of my favourite old movies) so I imagined all of this when I was writing. Yes, Robin did a magical job on telling the other half of the story with her superb illustrations.  

hey-baby-it-s-christmasA love letter became ‘Hey Baby!’, dedicated to her own babies. ‘Hey Mum, I Love You’ was written for her own special mum. ‘Hey Dad, You’re Great’ was released in time for Father’s Day and is dedicated to her ”dad, grandpa, pop, great grandpa, all of whom I was privileged to know, and to my husband for being such a great dad.”
”This final book (‘Hey Baby, It’s Christmas’) is dedicated to my sister and brother who shared with me wonderful and precious childhood Christmases, which are printed on our hearts.” – Corinne Fenton.
Hey Baby, It’s Christmas includes an adorable array of animal images, accompanied by equally beautiful text by Corinne Fenton about enjoying the exciting lead up to Christmas.
”Hey Baby. Hang on tight, count the sleeps. Christmas is coming.”
This book touches the heart with tender moments between mother and baby, with cute, cuddly ducklings and a ‘quiet as dreaming’ sleeping puppy. There are also moments that make you giggle. Hey Baby, It’s Christmas is perfect for those calm, soothing times, when you can steal plenty of sneaky kisses and cuddles with your little one, whilst teaching them the true meaning of Christmas… Love!
Black Dog Books 2014]  

Congratulations on the release of your most recent book, ‘Hey Baby, It’s Christmas’! How did you celebrate the launch?
This launch was celebrated on Sunday November 9 at the Watsonia Pre-school with readings, books, babies, small children, cake, Christmas crafts, face painting and lots of laughter. It was the perfect place to launch such a book.  

What has been your favourite part of creating this book, and all the ‘Hey Baby!’ books in the series?
In all picture books I believe each word must earn the right to be there and in these short books (the original Hey Baby is only 53 words long) it’s even more important that each word is as perfect as it can be and that’s my favourite part, finding that perfect word, no matter how long it takes.  

Did you have a long term plan to publish all your titles in the series when writing the first ‘Hey Baby!’ book?
Not at all. I actually wrote the first one, Hey Baby! as a dedication in another book, which is not yet published. It was one of those happy accidents that grew.  

What is your favourite thing about the festive season?
Christmas memories and making more and being with the people I love. This Christmas will be special writing-wise as I have many book signings and readings in the lead up to Christmas (see my website under events – and my regular Wednesday blog post.) http://corinnefenton.com/blog    

Thank you so much for sharing, Corinne! Wishing you a safe and joyous holiday season!  
And the same to you Romi. Thank you for this opportunity. Corinne  

Connect with Corinne:
http://corinnefenton.com/  
https://www.facebook.com/pages/Corinne-Fenton-Author/

Book it in! Sunday 30 November  – 11.00 a.m. –
Little Dog and the Christmas Wish Window Launch Event at The Little Bookroom, 5 Degraves Street, Melbourne –

Check dates for other appearances by Corinne Fenton on her blog: http://corinnefenton.com/blog  

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

Coming of Age and Art Theft

9781922070517

Review – Cairo by Chris Womersley

Coming of age novels often deal with the journey from adolescence to adulthood but the journey through adulthood, especially in those first few years, is just a treacherous. These are the waters Chris Womersley, author of the brilliant Bereft, explores in his new novel, Cairo. A book not about Egypt but instead an old apartment building in Melbourne in the 1980s.

Tom Button is a seventeen year old country boy who has moved to the city to attend university. Through the death of his Aunt he ends up moving into Cairo. Tom has never left home before or his small town of Dunley and moving to Melbourne to live on his own is a journey through many new doors.

Cairo’s tenants are an eclectic bunch and Tom soon falls in with a bohemian couple and their friends. This group of artists and musicians captivate Tom. Spellbound by the group’s centre, Max Cheever and falling hopelessly in love with Max’s wife Sally, Tom is convinced to ditch his plans for formal education and instead let the world be his guide. Tom quickly adapts to this new lifestyle of parties and art shows and is eager to be part of the group’s dream to leave Australia behind and settle in France and write novels, compose music and make art together.

Womersley sets all this against the real life theft of Picasso’s Weeping Woman from the National Gallery of Victoria. A theft that remains a mystery today despite the painting being returned. Womersley uses this advantage to create his own version of events. Events Tom is all to easily caught up in, blinded to the consequences, deceptions and betrayals.

At first glance I wasn’t drawn to the storyline of this novel but Womersley’s writing quickly drew me in just as it did in Bereft. Tom’s naivety and innocence is deftly drawn and exploited, especially when it comes to love. The way Tom is enchanted by the older, seemingly more wise, group is a trap most of us have been guilty of at one point or more in our lives and blended with a real life art heist makes for addictive reading.

Buy the book here…

Rhonda is in Therapy

Rhonda is in TherapyI spent three days in Melbourne last week—something I needed to recharge and inspire me after the past three months of un-fun uncertainty and ahead of Tuesday’s widely expected Queensland budgetary hack job. It was exactly what I needed—budget or no budget, and be it writing, playwriting, or all manner of other arts practices, Melbourne just ‘does’ arts.

My trip was prompted by (bias alert) the opening of a play my sister’s currently in. Called Rhonda is in Therapy, it’s a four-person play written by playwright Bridgette Burton that examines a mother’s grief, guilt, and loneliness in the aftermath of her child’s death.

It’s dark subject matter, but incredibly compelling, and there was a buzz in the air in both the theatre where it was performed and the streets outside where laneway pubs and restaurants bustled and AFL fans hustled against the biting, wintery Melbourne weather to see their teams play football finals. In Melbourne, unlike in Queensland (I noted with plenty of envy), arts and sport abut each other effortlessly.

In Rhonda is in Therapy, we meet the Rhonda of the title (played by my sister, Louise Crawford) as she visits her new therapist (Kelly Nash). Rhonda’s specific aim is to understand why she’s started an affair with a student (played by the eminently attractive Jamieson Caldwell*) while her dutiful husband (Ben Grant) tries to hold things together at home.

The script (and its execution) is stellar, something of keen interest to me not just as a writer but as someone who is necessarily fascinated with what makes successful works of art, be they plays, TV series, films, books, or visual art. I’ve had many, many discussions in recent times about how a good script sets up a good show—without it, you can add all the big-budget special effects in the world and you’d only be (to be crass) polishing a turd.

The evidently talented Burton created the script with some help from the R E Ross Trust Playwrights Script Development Award (get outta here—funding for the arts!). I was impressed by her ability to expose both the rawness and the humour of the situation—often in quick, rollercoaster succession. I knew Rhonda is in Therapy was going to be a challenging play, but I was surprised at how often it both made me laugh and then almost immediately tear up and sniffle.

That and how the quality writing and the assured performances enabled the show to be staged with an austere but not sparse set (as a writer, I so often bring things to life in my head, it doesn’t often occur to me what they’ll look like brought to life on the stage).

The set was laid out in triangular formation, potentially connoting the love triangle—two chairs denoting the therapist’s office, a couch denoting Rhonda’s home, and a desk and two chairs contained within a floor-to-ceiling skeleton of walls that also gave the impression of cage bars.

Continuing the Melbourne-does-arts-well theme, it was fitting that Rhonda is in Therapy is playing out in fortyfivedownstairs, a not-for-profit theatre space that used to be a factory of sorts—all exposed brick, iconic windows, and exuding authenticity and history.

The theatre’s in the basement and, as you descend the stairs, you can also stop off at packed, pumping galleries on other levels. I’ll not deny that I was simultaneously inspired and despairing. What would it take for Queensland to reach the same vibe and level of arts support? Particularly in terms of writing? Our work isn’t location-specific—as long as we have pen or laptop, we can write anywhere.

Brisbane artists traditionally flee head to Melbourne to pursue their arts practice, something I both understand and am attempting to resist. Would Brisbane’s creative industries be pumping in the same way that Melbourne’s are if those artists stayed here? Or is the climate too tropical and Melbourne’s inclement, introversion-inspiring weather the necessary ingredient for groundbreaking creative work?

If you’re in Melbourne or plan on heading to Melbourne in the next few weeks, I’d highly recommend Rhonda is in Therapy (and not just because my sister’s in it). I’m still mulling over the play’s themes and nuances specifically and the rich arts culture in Melbourne more generally.

Budget or no budget, writing, playwriting, and all the arts practices in between, what do we need to do in Queensland to achieve the same?

*There was a hilarious moment the night I attended the play when Rhonda tells her young lover that she’s heading home to her husband. A middle-aged woman in the front row who clearly thought Caldwell was fairly good looking, involuntarily let her inside voice out with the surprised, slightly outraged: ‘What? No!’