Funny Holiday Reads for Kids

Whether relaxing at home, on the road or in the air, or sitting by the side of the pool at a fancy resort, your kids will need some great reads to keep them chilled and entertained all summer. Here are a few funny books from popular series for middle graders that will have them enthralled from start to end.

Logie-award-winning television series by Danny Katz and Mitch Vane, Little Lunch is the perfect school-based comedy to read when school is out. Triple the Laughs, fourth in the illustrated book series, contains three immersing stories that will have kids snorting and chortling all the way through.
In ‘The Ya-Ya’, Atticus learns to appreciate his grandmother’s cooking after a long episode of avoiding the small, brown, smelly things in his lunchbox that look and smell like something you scrape off the bottom of your shoe.
The Dress-Up Day’ is about Battie using the alias of superhero, Stretcho, to hide the fact that he is really scared of a lot of things, including moths, crabs, knees, and especially dogs.
The third episode involves Melanie being punished and unable to eat her piece of ultra-choco-happiness cake because Tamara has put ‘The Germblock’ on her following a visit to the toilets. But did Melanie really not wash her hands? Rory seems to know the answer!
Hilarious, authentically appropriate (and sometimes perfectly inappropriate) antics that readers from age seven will relate to or simply have a good old chuckle about, Little Lunch Triple the Laughs is a winner.

Walker Books, August 2017.

Number six in this comedic Timmy Failure series by Stephan Pastis is ‘The Cat Stole My Pants’. The injudicious boy detective is back with another mission to achieve Greatness, this time on an island in Key West, Florida, apparently NOT on holiday / honeymoon with his mum and new step-dad, Doorman Dave.
The graphic novel for tweens sets sail with a pair of missing (or stolen) pants whilst touring the house of famous author, Ernest Hemingway. It then takes us through a sea of laughter as Timmy’s scepticism and hypochondria are a consistent source of his ‘failures’. His social and relationship building skills are tested via interactions with Dave, and Dave’s nephew Emilio, which of course Timmy exploits, I mean, recruits as an ‘unpaid’ intern in his detective agency. Their mission is to solve the mystery of the mysterious note-dropper and a hidden treasure somewhere in the town, leading to a gloriously unexpected and emotionally imposing resolve. All the while, Timmy’s elusively illusive polar bear agent is apparently, according to Timmy, extorting money for a book report required for his summer school homework. But someone else more reliable is there to save Timmy from his unscholarly ways.
With its sarcastic and dry wit, quirkiness, unbelievable yet somewhat uncannily familiar circumstances, and comical illustrations, The Cat Stole My Pants delivers an unputdownable read packed with action, mystery and lessons in (perhaps how to not) handle new and estranged relationships. Set to steal the attention of children from age eight.

Walker Books UK, April 2017.

Laugh Your Head Off Again and Again! is the third in the super-charged, action-packed comedy series blessed with an unbelievably talented array of popular Australian authors. Featuring stories from the Treehouse’s Andy Griffiths, R.A. Spratt, John Marsden, Tony Wilson, Meredith Costain, Alex Ratt, Tristan Bancks, Deborah Abela and Alan Brough, plus fantastically funny sketches by Andrea Innocent.
Again, another ‘brilliantly coloured’ book; literally so eye-blindingly bright you can’t miss it on a bookshelf, but also contextually vibrant in nature to keep its readers totally entranced from neon-green chapter to neon-green chapter.
Nine stories cleverly unfold within the blood-orange cover containing a mix of the unexpected, frightening, enlightening and ridiculous. From a life-threatening shower ordeal, to three greedy pigs and a wolf pie, a psychotic childhood clown come back to life, a high-flying ‘Bum’, to an abandoned girl forging a life of cake and Royalty. Each one different, each with its own voice and level of intensity.
Recommended for middle graders, however make note, this edition is not for the faint-hearted! The authors have definitely turned it up a notch compared to the prequels in terms of ‘scare factor’ and complexity. Some truly nightmarishly frightening with others making you question who you can trust. But all in all, Laugh Your Head Off Again and Again! is a ludicrously entertaining collection of stories to thrill every sense of humour.

Pan Macmillan Australia, October 2017.

Now here’s a raucously Roman romp of colossal proportions! Julius Zebra: Bundle with the Britons! by Gary Northfield is the second hysterically historical book in the series, brilliantly mixing fictional absurdity with non-fictional goodness. It is charged with a chariot-load of droll, and senseless, humour, and insanely wacky black and white illustrations neatly slotting into the storyline throughout. There is also the inclusion of authentically pertinent details of the ancient era with its Roman numeral numbered pages and facts on what the Romans brought to Britain at the closing.
This is the story of The People’s Champion, gladiator Julius Zebra, and his animal cronies on a mission for granted freedom. Emperor Hadrian, the villain in this tale, has promised this outcome on the grounds that Julius defeats the Britons, to win governance of the Roman Empire. Led by Septimus, the boss of the gladiator school, the animals are taken unwillingly to the far-off land of Britannia for a final shot at victory, only to realise their perpetuated slavery will remain unless they stand up for themselves. This does not come without a series of daft and imprudently courageous attempts to outsmart Septimus, their opponents and the Emperor.
Teamwork, friendship and loyalty are at the heart of this fast-paced scramble to freedom. Bundle with the Britons is zany, zesty and zebra-tastic, seizing its middle grade audience with every rip-roaring joke and clanging bangs of energy.

Walker Books UK, May 2017.

Illustrator Extraordinaire – Interview with Anil Tortop

With her superlative illustrative talents and ultra-impressive list of publications, it’s impossible not to be in awe of the skill, imagination, dedication and charisma of Anil Tortop. The Turkish-born artist, designer and animation-expert is here today to discuss her books, processes and latest ventures. 🙂

You’ve had huge success as an illustrator of many amazing books, some including Digby’s Moon Mission, Digby and the Yodelayhee…Who? (Renee Price), My Perfect Pup (Sue Walker), Where’s Dad Hiding? (Ed Allen), I Want to Be a Rock Star (Mary Anastasiou), and more recently The Leaky Story (Devon Sillett), The Great Zoo Hullabaloo (Mark Carthew) and junior fiction series 6 Minute Stories for Six Year Olds and 7 Minute Stories for Seven Year Olds (Meredith Costain and Paul Collins). And these have all been published in the last two years! How do you manage your hectic illustrating schedule? Do you complete one project at a time or work simultaneously on a few?

😀 I wanted to start with a big smile. It’s been hectic indeed!
I work simultaneously on a few projects. In fact, when I have only one project I can’t focus on it well. Two is still not enough. My favourite is 3-4 projects at a time. Otherwise I just feel lazy and find myself doing nothing until the deadline gets closer. But not all these projects are books. I usually have something with a short deadline aside. Books take much more time and sometimes having a break and working on another project feels refreshing.

I have a home-made calendar; each month is an A4 paper with a magnet at the back and it covers the whole left side of my fridge. I put all my deadlines there and see everything in a glance. Having it in the kitchen, my panic starts at breakfast. Other than that, I don’t have a particular method to manage. I just work when I should, which is most of the time. I have been trying to be a well-organised person with dedicated working hours but it never works for more than two days. I still have hope!

Have there been any particular stories that you felt a stronger connection with or any that challenged you in unexpected ways?

Mmm… Hard question. I’m trying to give an answer to myself but I guess I don’t feel that kind of things for stories. That doesn’t mean I don’t like them but couldn’t label any of them with “stronger connection” either. But I do feel connected with the characters in the stories. Recently my favourite is the octopus in The Leaky Story and her connection with the father. It reminds me of my dad, although I don’t know why.

Challenge… Yes! One of the most challenging stories was in a picture book I illustrated last year. Because there was no story when I was asked to illustrate it! Of course, the editor had a clear idea of how they wanted it and made lots of suggestions. But in the end, the words came after the illustrations. I had huge room to create a visual story. I panicked a lot! I wanted to make it really good. Then I panicked even more! But eventually, it was fun.

If you could walk a day in the life of one of your illustrated characters which would you choose and why?

I guess that would be Digby. Because he’s so clever and talented and knows how to have fun. And I like his pyjamas. 😊

Since launching your current books, what has the audience response been like? Any stand-out moments?

The reviews have been really nice. Facebook also shows me a lot of “likes” and nice comments, if that means anything at all. But I have never come across a “real audience”. I mean, children. I really wonder what they think and would love to hear that directly from them.

The latest release, The Leaky Story has been reviewed a lot lately. I was even interviewed live on ABC Brisbane. I think the moment I probably won’t forget for a while is that. It took only 3 minutes but I was way out of my comfort zone. Phew!

You often record your progress through fascinating time lapse videos. Can you explain a little about your preferred media and method to your illustrating genius.

Except for the initial warm-up sketches and storyboards, I almost always work digitally. I use Photoshop. My favourite Photoshop brush that I use for outlines is “Pencil”. It feels a little bit like a pencil. I recently upgraded from Wacom Intous to Cintiq (drawing tablets).

My process differs from one project to another but it’s usually like that: I make several storyboards first. It takes some time to get satisfied. Then I do the roughs. Then the clean drawings and finally colouring. And I do all these for all of the illustrations in a book simultaneously. I mean, I don’t start and finish one illustration and go to the next. I start and finish all the illustrations at the same time.
You can watch all my videos on my Vimeo channel.

You have a remarkable working relationship with your husband, Ozan, at Tadaa Book. Please tell us about your roles and how you collaborate on a daily basis. What does Tadaa Book offer its clients?

Tadaa Book basically offers illustration and design services, especially to self-publishers. Then if our authors need, we help them with printing and publishing and creating marketing materials too.

Ozan and I started working together back in Turkey. He was the art director of a traditional publishing house and I was the in-house illustrator. After coming to Australia we worked with a lot of self-publishers, collaborating again. Then we wanted to take it a step forward and founded Tadaa.

Ozan is my personal art director at home. But on a daily basis, he does much more than that. Although our roles are a bit mixed up from time to time, I usually illustrate only. He does the rest. He deals with new authors and other illustrators from different parts of the world, does the art direction of projects, keeps our website and social media accounts updated, goes to the post office to send Storyboard Notebooks, learns new things, deals with my computer problems, etc.

What is the best part of what you do?

Smelling a freshly (offset) printed book. I love that! I love to see the happiness of the authors too. It’s really rewarding.

Have you done anything lately that was out of your comfort zone? What was it and how did it go?

It was definitely the radio interview that I mentioned! It wasn’t terrible I guess but I can’t say it went well either. I at least give 10 points to myself for the bravery. Questions were unexpected and it was too quick. I’m glad I didn’t freeze. I actually kind of did but Emma Griffiths handled it really well. Afterwards, listening to myself was even harder than the 3 minutes I spent there! I won’t listen again.

We would love to learn more about what you’re currently working on! Do you have any sneak peeks or details that you can share?

A new book is coming out on 1st of May! The Great Zoo Hullaballoo by Mark Carthew (New Frontier Publishing). You can watch the trailer here:

Currently, I’m working on two picture books. One is Meeka by Suzanne Barton (Tadaa Book), the second one is Scaredy Cat by Heather Gallagher (New Frontier Publishing). I probably will share some sneak peeks soon on social media, but not now, unfortunately.

Meanwhile at Tadaa, we are working on the Book Week publication of Ipswich District Teacher-Librarian Network. Here are the cover and details:

And two other picture books are contracted for the rest of the year.
Besides the books, I’m regularly illustrating for a Turkish children’s magazine, doing illustrations and animations for a web-based science platform for children in the US, and designing characters for a couple animated TV shows in Turkey.
Will be a hectic year again!

Wow! You sure are a busy lady! Thank you so much, Anil, for participating in this interview! 🙂

Thank you for having me here!

Stay tuned for some special reviews of Anil’s latest picture books!


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!  


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!

Get Reading for School, Kids!

With school starting up for the year ahead, there may be many mixed feelings of trepidation, excitement and loneliness (and that’s just for the parents). But if your kids are going through some of these emotions, too, here are some fantastic resources to help children relate their own experiences to others and reassure them of things that may be causing anxiety.

snail-and-turtle-are-friends-293x300Developing Friendships
Snail and Turtle are Friends, Stephen Michael King (author / illus.) Scholastic Australia, 2014.

Snail and Turtle like to do lots of things together. They like to walk and run and read (as you can imagine, very slowly and quietly). Whilst they are good friends, Snail and Turtle recognise their differences in their habitats, diets and favourite activities. But they find common ground in their creative painting pursuits, ‘even though Snail likes swirls and Turtle likes shapes and blobs.’
A very sweet story of friendship and celebrating differences, with equally gorgeous bold, colourful and textured illustrations by author / illustrator Stephen Michael King.

jessica-s-boxPromoting Resilience
Jessica’s Box (Cerebral Palsy Alliance Edition), Peter Carnavas (author / illus.) New Frontier Publishing, 2014.

Jessica’s Box was originally pubished in 2008, winning awards including The Queensland Premier’s Literary Awards 2008, the CBCA Awards 2009, and Speech Pathology Australia Shortlist 2009. It is a story of starting in a new school and trying to make friends by showing off possessions. Jessica displays much resilience when her attempts initially fail, she eventually discovers that being herself is far more successful in the friend-making department. In 2014 a new edition has been released to include images of Jessica in a wheelchair. The storyline and sentiment remains unchanged; giving focus to the fact that many children are faced with challenges of trying to fit in, forming friendships, and being yourself, regardless of ability.
Read Dimity Powell‘s fascinating interview about Jessica’s Box with Peter Carnavas here. Also, Jessica’s Box will also be read on ABC4Kids’ Play School Friday 30th January at 9.30am.

9781925059038Packing Lunches
What’s In My Lunchbox?, Peter Carnavas (author), Kat Chadwick (illus.), New Frontier Publishing, 2015.

And brand new from Peter Carnavas is What’s In My Lunchbox?
What special goodies will you be packing in your child’s lunchbox? Sweet? Savoury? Healthy snacks? A little treat? All to be expected. Well, you can imagine this boy’s surprise when, after finding a not-so-appetising apple, the most bizarre things happen to emerge from his lunchbox.
‘Today in my lunchbox I happened to find…’ A sushi-offering fish? He doesn’t like fish. A chick-inhabiting egg? He doesn’t like eggs. A honey muffin-loving bear? He doesn’t like bears. A dinosaur, then his sister! How absurd! Perhaps that apple is more appetising than he originally thought!
A very funny repetitive story, perfect as a read-aloud, with equally rollicking, fun, retro-style illustrations. What’s In My Lunchbox? will have your kids in fits of giggles. It’s just delicious!

parachuteFacilitating Confidence
Parachute, Danny Parker (author), Matt Ottley (illus.), Little Hare Books, 2013.
CBCA Book of the Year Shortlist 2014.

I love this story about a boy who keeps a firm grasp on his security object; a parachute, with the most imaginative occurrences caused by his own fear. The perspectives portrayed by illustrator, Matt Ottley really take the reader into the scene and give that extra dimension to the emotion intended by Danny Parker. Toby feels safe with his parachute, even doing the ordinary daily routines. But when it comes to saving his cat, Henry, from a high tree house, Toby gradually puts his fears aside and inches towards becoming more confident until one day he manages to leave his parachute behind.
A simple storyline but with creatively juxtaposing and interesting scenes, Parachute is a fantastic book for little ones overcoming insecurities associated with learning new skills or becoming more independent.

hurry-up-alfie-1Getting into a Routine
Hurry Up Alfie, Anna Walker (author / illus.), Scholastic, 2014.

Alfie is plenty busy… too busy to get ready to go out. This fun-loving, easily-distracted and stubborn crocodile typically finds handstands more important than eating breakfast, as is chasing Steve McQueen the cat. And looking for undies unexpectedly leads to the discoveries of missing items and different ways to use your pyjamas. What else?! Alfie thinks he’s finally ready. It’s coming up to midday on the clock, and an ever-so-quickly-losing-patience-parent informs him that it is not an umbrella needed but rather some clothes! The battle to get dressed eventually ends when a compromise is made, and parent and child make their way out, but there’s sure to be a re-match when it is time to go home!
All too familiar are the daily joys of negotiating with an ‘independent’ child, and Anna Walker does it with so much warmth and humour. Her trademark illustrative style of watercolours, pencil, textured patterns and photo collages once again so perfectly compliment the gentle and whimsical storyline, as well as adding to the detail and movement, and making each scene so real.
Hurry Up Alfie is the perfect back-to-school book for young ones with the same autonomous attitude.

School Specific Books
first-dayFirst Day, Andrew Daddo (author), Jonathan Bentley (illus.), HarperCollins Publishers, 2013.

An adorable picture book about a girl and her mum preparing for her first day of school. Getting dressed, making new friends, learning new rules, and being brave. But who is the one with the most nerves?
First Day is a cute story with very sweet illustrations to match. Perfect for mums of first-time school goers.

Starting-School-Copy-2Starting School, Jane Godwin (author), Anna Walker (illus.), Penguin, 2013.

Meet Tim, Hannah, Sunita, Joe and Polly. They are starting school. Watch as they adapt in their new environment; meeting new friends, exploring the school grounds, eating routines, establishing rules and learning new subjects.
With plenty of good humour and beautiful, varied illustrations to discover exciting things, Starting School makes for a wonderful resource to introduce Preppies to the big world that is primary school.

my-first-day-at-schoolMy First Day at School, Meredith Costain (author), Michelle Mackintosh (illus.), Windy Hollow Books, 2013.

We are introduced to another four children – Ari, Amira, Zach and Zoe, who take us through some of the routines associated with adapting to school life. These include lining up, waiting your turn, visiting the toilet, what to do at bell times, a lesson on self-identity and class photos.
Cute illustrations with plenty to explore, My First Day at School is another fun book to help children with understanding various facets of beginning school.

And there are plenty more great books to help cope with the transition to school, but your school staff and fellow parents are also valuable in aiding with adapting to the big changes.
Wishing all new school parents and children the very best of luck with this exciting milestone in your lives! I’m in the same boat, so wish me luck, too!

The Christmas Post

Ah, Christmas! I love this time of year — presents, tree decorating, food (especially Christmas Pudding), parties, family, friends and BOOKS!

One of my favourite things about Christmas is getting to just lie around and catch up on some reading. I thought that Christmas reading plans would make an interesting topic for a blog post. So I emailed three other authors and asked them to share their Christmas reading plans with us.

First up we have Meredith Costain. She lives in inner-city Melbourne with a menagerie of pets. Her books range from picture books through to novels and narrative non-fiction, and include A Year in Girl Hell, novelisations of the TV series Dance Academy, Bed Tails, Dog Squad and CBCA Honour Book Doodledum Dancing (illustrated by Pamela Allen). What’s she planning on reading this Christmas?

I’m looking forward to reading The Convent, by Maureen McCarthy. I went to the launch of the book, held in the Nuns’ Salon at the Abbotsford Convent, where the book is set. These days the gothic buildings and beautiful grounds are home to lots of creative ventures – writers, artists, cafes, craft markets, a classical music radio station – so it’s hard to imagine the misery many of the inhabitants (unmarried mothers banished to gruelling work in the convent’s commercial laundries) endured. Maureen is a wonderful storyteller, and has drawn extensively on her own family background for this book.

Having watched the movie Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy on the weekend (twice – it’s incredibly complex!) I’m also planning to read John Le Carré’s novel the movie was based on. I want to find out more background information on the characters and the workings of the ‘Circus’. I’ve written a couple of non-fiction books for kids about spies so this is of particular interest to me.

There’s also lots of fabulous YA fiction I’m hoping to catch up on – including books by Isobelle Carmody, John Green and Maggie Stiefvater. Roll on summer!

Next up we have YA author Lili Wilkinson. A popular speaker on the school circuit, Lili’s books include Scatterheart, Pink, Angelfish and A Pocketful of Eyes. Her latest book, Love-shy, is a rom-com about a high school journalist and a love-shy boy. Take it away, Lili…

Some of my favourite ever memories are curling up on the couch on Christmas Day after lunch with a pile of new books. This year, I’m planning to read Julia Lawrinson’s Losing It, because I’ve loved Julia’s previous books and this one promises to be no exception! I’m also looking forward to Kate Forsyth’s Bitter Greens, because everyone on Twitter is raving about it. I’m super excited about getting into Brian K Vaughn’s new graphic novel series, Saga, and am hoping I’ll find a copy of that under the tree on the 25th. And finally, I was planning to dive into Maureen McCarthy’s The Convent, but I just couldn’t wait, and have devoured the whole thing over the last few days!

Santas MailLast, but by no means least, we have Dimity Powell. Dimity has just had her first book published — P.S. Who Stole Santa’s Mail?. Being a Christmas themed story, it’s the perfect book for Christmas-time reading. And a great stocking filler. But what is Dimity planning on reading?

What’s on my Christmas reading list? Perhaps a shorter answer would be what’s not on my Christmas reading list? Reading this holiday will include a whole swag of new and previously loved picture books (we always have a stack of them to read each day, usually after breakfast), including Alison Reynolds’s recent release, A Year With Marmalade, because my Miss 7 is infatuated with all things feline. I’d really like to get through the 8 or so books weighing my bedside table down too including; Hazel Edwards’ House Working – a guide to supposedly enable me to learn how to share the load of ‘everything’ with my family better. Ironically, I’m too busy ‘not sharing’ to have time to read it…

I love a good love laugh so; Michael Gerard Bauer’s Eric Vale Epic Fail will be high on the list, along with Benjamin Law’s The Family Law, which I’ve been saving. I dichotomously look forward to a potentially good read, but like to hoard it for a while; a bit like eating roast spuds last, because they’re my favourites. And just for balance; I intend to finish Never Say Die by Chris O’Brien and Alison Goodman’s saucy little thriller, A New Kind of Death. I’m also looking for a copy of Jean-Dominique Bauby’s The Diving Bell and the Butterfly; a book club read that I can’t wait to start. That should keep me going for a while, at least till next year.

Now, what about me? Well, to be perfectly honest, I’m not sure how much spare reading time I’m going to have this Christmas as I’m trying to finish off my new novel, Gamers’ Rebellion (the third book in the Gamers series). But if I do end up getting some time… I’ve been saving Eona by Alison Goodman. I read Eon a little while ago and LOVED it (I will get around to posting about it soon… promise). So I am very much looking forward to reading the sequel. I’ve also got a couple of Doctor Who books I want to read — Doctor Who: The Wheel of Ice by Stephen Baxter and The Diary of a Doctor Who Addict by Paul Magrs.

I hope you all have some great Christmas reading ahead.

Catch ya later,  George

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Beyond the NYR12 vids

Last post I showed you some of the videos available from the National Year of Reading (NYR12) website and YouTube channel (see: “NYR12 vids”). But there are lots more videos out there.

NYR12 has not only promoted the joy of books and reading, it has also encouraged others to do so. And so many people across Australia have taken up that challenge — to spread the word and to promote reading.

Timothy Chan, an official Friend of NYR12, took it upon himself to coordinate a unique project — Love2ReadTV. He banded together numerous NYR12 Friends, getting each of them to record a video about the importance of reading in their lives. He has then edited those videos together into a series of webisodes and posted them to the Love2ReadTV website. There are three episodes, so far.

Episode One features Adam Wallace (author of Dawn of the Zombie Knights), Deby Adair, Mick Walsh, Morgan Schatz Blackrose and Meredith Costain (author of Bed Tails and the A Year In Girl Hell series).

Episode Two features: Nicky Johnston (author/illustrator of Happy Thoughts are Everywhere), Dee White (author of Letters to Leonardo), George Ivanoff (that would be me) and Juliet M Sampson (author of Behind the Mask).

Episode Three features: Peter Cawdron, Narrelle M Harris (author of Walking Shadows), Ron & Margaret Sharp and Alice Pung (author of Growing Up Asian in Australia).

And there are still two more episodes to go. But wait, that’s not all. There’s also a special librarians episode:

Go to YouTube and search for “National Year of Reading 2012”. You’ll find lots of other videos created by people and organisations to celebrate NYR12.

Do you have a favourite NYR12 video? Share it in the comments section below.

Catch ya later,  George

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A Year in Girl Hell is Meredith Costain at her entertaining and page turning best. It tells the story of a year in the life of four friends starting high school. Each girl has their own personality, insecurities and special set of problems.

There’s Mia, whose compulsion to look after everyone stems from a tragedy in her past. Then there’s the gorgeous and talented Michi who is mercilessly bullied because she attracts the attention of a boy that one of the popular girl’s covets.

Lexi feels like a loser and she’s coping with a new school, the dissolution of her primary school friendship group and the break up of her parent’s marriage.

Alysha is the pretty one who will do just about anything to attract her parent’s attention and gain entry into the ‘popular group’. It takes her a while to find her feet and work out where she fits into the scheme of things.

A Year in Girl Hell gets right to the heart of issues faced by Year 7 girls everywhere. And the carefully constructed detail in this book brings authenticity to the characters, setting and point of view.

For me, it brought back memories of all the uncertainties and difficulties of starting high school and being thrust into a totally different world where you don’t feel as if you belong.

One of the things I admire most about A Year in Girl Hell is the way the author has seamlessly merged four points of view into a cohesive, gripping story.

It’s a book that teen girls will relate to and while they may love some of the four main characters and hate others, they’ll feel empathy for every single one of them at different times after hearing their personal stories.

I like the way this book shows more than one perspective and reveals to the reader that nobody is all good or all bad and that people have their flaws and insecurities – even the popular ones – The Shinys.

Originally released as four separate books, Crushed, Dumped, Burned and Trashed are now together in a complete compendium. A Year in Girl Hell is published by Hardie Grant Egmont.


When writing her  latest YA book A Year in Girl Hell, Meredith Costain admits that one of the hardest things was digging up the bones of the insecurites and anxieties from her own tortured past –

Girls can be so cruel to each other.

Meredith  chose the first year of High School as the setting for A Year in Girl Hell because it’s a time of immense change and uncertainty, enabling her to put her characters under pressure.

They need to deal with personal issues such as loyalty (to old friendships, while forming new ones), ‘fitting in’, and ‘being there’ for their friends, as well as other issues such as peer pressure, body image and cyberbullying.

I was a high school teacher for nine years so the high school setting was a familiar one.

A Year in Girl Hell was written for 10 to 14 year olds and captures the emotions and feelings that girls  this age experience

Meredith hopes her book will help who are going through similar situations themselves.

Lots of people feel insecure or lack confidence at times and I want them to realise they are not alone.

I spoke to lots of girls about the content while I was writing the series, and also had a panel of readers to check dialogue and technology to make sure it was current. Emotions and fears haven’t changed over the decades, but the way people listen to music or keep in touch with their friends definitely has 🙂

Each book in the quartet has a different main character:

Lexi is scared of change and desperate to be liked. She wants things to go on as they always have, but her friendships are changing and her family is splitting up. In an effort to keep her world together, she makes some silly decisions that only makes things worse.

Michi is very individual and not scared to stand out from the crowd. She has her strict father wrapped around her little finger. But she realises she’s not quite as strong as she thought she was when she crumbles under the cyber assault of her old friendship group when they think she’s wronged one of them.

Mia is the ‘mediator’ of the group – the one who’s always there for her friends when they have problems and worries. She’s grounded, sensitive and caring, but perhaps a bit too much of a doormat at times.

Alysha (hair toss, hair toss) used to be likeable, but throughout the four books is on a self-destructive trajectory towards ‘Queen Beeness’. She’s desperate to become part of the popular ‘shiny’ group, and steps all over her old friends to get there. There’s something about Alysha though that saves her from completely imploding when everything about her new lifestyle blows up in her face …

What sets this book apart from others is that having four narrators allows you to see their lives from four very different points of view.

Meredith says that the thing she enjoyed most about writing this book was Developing the characters: giving them family backgrounds and interests and expressions that made them uniquely themselves.

Also, coming up with the (let’s be frank here, ‘bitchy’) situations that made life ‘hell’ for each of the girls. I wouldn’t wish some of these on my own worst enemy!

Meredith says that one of the hardest things about writing this book was making each of the four ‘voices’ in the books different enough that you knew it was coming from a different character each time.

I also had to make sure my technology references were up to date (MSN chat speak, mp3 players in docks with speakers rather than CDs in CD players) and understanding the intricacies of mobile phone operating systems so I could do sneaky plot points with mobile phone messages.

This Friday we’re reviewing A Year in Girl Hell at Kids’ Book Capers.

A Celebration of Books at the Ford Street Literary Festival

Last week I attended the Ford Street Literary Festival at Scotch College in Hawthorn and I really wanted to blog about this inspiring example of kids having fun with books and their creators.

(Pictured below are Jo Thompson, Meredith Costain and David Miller who got down to the bare bones of writing and illustrating at the Ford Street Literary Festival.)

What better way for an author to spend a day than in the company of other authors and illustrators and 175 enthusiastic kids and their dedicated teachers?

Graham Davey (champion of children’s literature in Australia) was the MC for the day and he kept the kids entertained and the day moving along smoothly.

Students from schools across Victoria from Years 5 to 10 gathered to talk books and writing with Paul Collins, Meredith Costain, Justin D’Ath, Hazel Edwards, George Ivanoff, , Phil Kettle, Doug MacLeod, Felicity Marshall, Foz Meadows, JE Fison, Liz Flaherty, Sean McMullen, David Miller, Michael Salmon, Jo Thompson and me.

It was fantastic to see kids enthralled by books and coming to an event like this prepared with enthusiastic and informed questions for authors and illustrators.

A book quiz challenged the kids to work together and share their book knowledge to win a box full of books for their school – and all competitors attacked the task with enthusiasm.

Then Michael Salmon (pictured right with Phil Kettle) did an illustration demonstration that kept the kids mesmerised until it was time for JE Fison’s launch of her exciting new Hazard River Series.

It was great for me to catch up with fellow Boomerang Books Blogger, George Ivanoff from Literary Clutter – and of course the entire group of inspiring Children’s  authors and illustrators.

After the quiz and author chats with students, we all moved to the auditorium to watch Michael Salmon work his magic.

Then there was the sales and signings where students could buy their favourite Ford Street titles.

The Ford Street Literary Festival was a reminder that there are so many great ways to celebrate books and what they can bring to a child’s life.


Dance Academy, Learning to Fly

Based on the major new ABC tv series, Dance Academy, Learning to Fly tells the story of 16yo Tara, the daughter of sheep farmers who soon discovers that being in Dance Academy is not quite the dream come true she thought it would be.

She has to cope with back stabbing ballerinas, a teacher who seems to have taken a dislike to her and her own feelings for a boy who seems to have no interest in her.

Once of the things I loved about this book is that the characters were so well rounded. Heroine Tara was of course extremely talented, but she also had flaws which did more to endear her to me rather than detract from her appeal. Conversely, Abby, ‘the baddie’ had redeeming features that made the reader empathise with her even though she is trying to bring Tara down.

Learning to Fly handles real issues for kids this age in this kind of situation and the authenticity of the characters, dialogue and setting will appeal to teen readers.

Learning to Fly has themes of friendship choices, first love and finding your place in the world and would provide a useful discussion focus for any high school classroom.

Learning to Fly is published by ABC Books and Harper Collins

Meredith Costain Talks About Writing Learning to Fly

What inspired you to write this book?

Learning to Fly was commissioned by the publisher. It’s based on the TV show Dance Academy, currently screening on the ABC. They sent me the scripts and rough cut DVDs for 13 episodes and asked me to write a novel based on them. So the characters and the storylines belong to the scriptwriters rather than me. It’s a very different way of working.

Why will kids like it?

It’s based on a TV show that’s been very popular. Learning to Fly sold out its first print run in three weeks, so I guess kids do like it.  🙂

But also, dance is very big at the moment. Shows like So You Think You Can Dance, Glee – even Dancing with Galahs!

Can you tell me about the main character and what you like/dislike about him/her?

Tara is a very complex character, which made her much more interesting to write about than a two-dimensional clichéd ‘bunhead’. I didn’t invent her, but I had to be careful to make sure I included scenes in the book that display who she is, by her dialogue and actions. She’s over-sensitive, which means she takes things to heart too much. She’s also devastatingly honest and wears her heart on her sleeve – which gets her into embarrassing situations with the guy she falls for. She has a dream, and she’s determined to achieve it, no matter what it takes. As one of the lines from the background material says, she’s ‘nobody’s doormat. Push her too hard and she’ll come back fighting.’

Are there any teacher’s notes, associated activities with the book?

There’s a fantastic website at

Is there something that sets this book apart from others?

It’s a novelisation of a TV show, so a different way of working. But it goes beyond being just a blow by blow recount of everything that happens in the show. There’s room for the character to reflect on what’s happening to her – the reader can get inside her head and she what she’s thinking, as well as seeing her actions and hearing what she says.

What did you enjoy most about writing this book?

The scripts were wonderful and the production standards were very high. It made my job much easier when the raw material was so good. You could tell the kids in the acting roles – who were all fabulous dancers as well as actors – really enjoyed themselves making the show. The setting – Sydney Harbour – was so vivid it almost became one of the characters.

What was the hardest thing about writing this book?

Distilling so much material (13 episodes) into one book of 25,000 words. I had to plot everything out very carefully to work out which scenes had to go in and which could be left out. Not just for ‘my’ character though. Four books following the lives of the other main characters were being written by other people at the same time, and I had to be careful not to ‘steal’ too much of the storylines that concerned them. So there needed to be a few ‘sweeping paragraphs’ that moved the story along so that what happened next to my character made sense.

The deadline was also very tight as the producers wanted the books out at the same time the show went to air. I had the DVD playing in one corner of my computer screen, a script in another, and my text in the middle. Plus masses of scribbled notes all over the desk. The rewind function got a really good workout too, as I’d play a scene over and over to set it in my mind so I could describe it accurately, or pick up on dialogue that had changed since the script had been written.

Thanks for visiting Kids’ Book Capers this week, Meredith. It has been great to hear about your new releases and how you wrote them.

Next week on Kids’ Book Capers, Sue Whiting is here to talk about her gripping new novel Get A Grip, Cooper Jones.


Rosie & Ned and the Creepy Cave

“It’s not always easy for Ned, being friends with someone as fearless as Rosie. But when Rosie is trapped in Witchy Nell’s cave, Ned has to find his own courage – fast!”

Rosie’s love of red things has led her to Witchy Nell’s cave. And when Rosie slips on a stone mound trying to climb out of the Creepy Cave, she injures her ankle and can’t walk.  The cave is filling with water and her Ned must get help fast – but the closest house belongs to Witchy Nell. Ned has to summon the courage to call on Witchy Nell to save his friend.

Rosie and Ned and the Creepy Cave has all the elements to appeal to younger readers: humour, suspense, great characters and true friendship.

It’s full of clear descriptions and active verbs that bring tension to the story and move it along. I also loved the characterization and expressions in the delightful, illustrations by Tina Burke

Rosie and Ned and the Creepy Cave is the third Aussie Nibble from Meredith Costain starring the ‘red loving’ and adventurous Rosie. Written for 6-8 year-olds, it’s about kids solving their own problems and overcoming their fears

It is published by Puffin Books, an imprint of Penguin Books Australia.

Meredith Talks About Writing Rosie and Ned and the Creepy Cave

What inspired you to write this book?

This is the third book in a series about two country kids called Rosie and Ned. I grew up on a farm and we always seemed to doing stuff: making billy carts, catching eels in the creek, rolling around the paddocks in rusty old water tanks. Outdoors kind of stuff where you got dirty and fell over and skinned your knees, rather than sitting inside on your bum playing video games.

I wanted to show kids there is life beyond the loungeroom. I also wanted the main instigator of all the action to be a girl. Rosie is brave and feisty and a risk-taker – even when it gets her into trouble. But her intentions are always good. In the first two books, Rosie’s friend Ned is a bit of a wuss. A follower rather than a leader. This book was a chance for him to step out from behind Rosie’s shadow and show that he could be brave and a risk-taker as well.

What did you enjoy most about writing this book?

Developing the characters of Rosie and Ned across the series, and remembering bits and pieces from my own childhood, such as making billy carts, preparing food for community picnics, bushwalking at Mount Cannibal, being scared by imaginary noises and shapes – then finding ways to weave these things into the stories.

What was the hardest thing about writing this book?

Keeping to the word limit. Aussie Nibbles are very short – only 1500 words maximum – and I tend to write very convoluted plots.

Teacher’s notes and a word activity based on the first two Rosie books are available from Meredith’s website:


I first met Meredith Costain many years ago when she was teaching at a writer’s conference in Dookie. In fact, she was one of the people who inspired me to start writing for children.

She is one of the most versatile writers I have met and has published more than 200 books in a mixture of trade and education titles and a range of formats: picture books, chapter books, novels, non-fiction and text for graphic novels.

Meredith has been writing since she was six and says she used to ride her bike to school along country roads, and ideas for poems and stories came into her head as she pedalled along.

I was always scribbling things into notebooks. I kept this up right through school – I’d be writing poems instead of studying for exams.

When I was eight I had a poem published in the Junior Age section of The Age newspaper. They paid me for it – 17 shillings and sixpence! – which was an absolute fortune to me. I decided then and there I was going to be a writer when I grew up. I even had  a pen name picked out, because I thought that’s what writers did. Mine was to be Gemma Craven. It sounded so romantic and writerly. It was only much later, when I needed a pen name for a series I was writing, that I discovered my name had already been ‘taken’ – Gemma Craven was an English actor. So I changed the surname to something else (which I will never reveal).

Meredith says that the thing she enjoys most about being a writer is getting to work from home with her dogs at her feet, and setting her own working hours. And she loves being paid to use her imagination.

She says that writing is a great way to ‘sort’ stuff that’s floating around in your head.

It helps you to crystallise half-baked thoughts. You find out lots of things you didn’t realise you knew!

Giving workshops in schools is great too. It’s a lovely way to find out what kids are thinking and how they see the world. They’re also totally honest when it comes to giving feedback.

The things she finds hardest about being a writer are juggling deadlines and waiting . . . and waiting . . . and waiting . . . to hear back from publishers about submissions.

Before she became an author Meredith worked as  a secondary English teacher for nine years.

She wrote articles and stories for the Victorian Education Department magazines while she was teaching.

It took being hit by a car on a pedestrian crossing in Paris (during long service leave) to make Meredith realise life was too short to not do what she really wanted to do. So she resigned – and took on part-time jobs: waitressing, data entry, playing in dodgy bands, band management, VCE tutoring – until she was getting enough work to become a full-time writer.

Meredith says that her greatest achievement was receiving an Honour Book (along with Pamela Allen) for Doodledum Dancing in the Early Childhood section of the Children’s Book Council Awards.

But just getting published for the first time was a huge achievement in itself.

Meredith’s Tips For New Writers

Read as much and as widely as you can. Not just the kinds of books you want to write yourself – though this helps. All kinds of styles and genres that show all the different ways words can be put together.

Work on developing your own voice. Ask any publisher what they’re looking for and after they’ve said, ‘I’ll know it when I see it’ or ‘something with the X factor’ they’ll add ‘something that has a fresh, new voice.’ Something that may help is to write in lots of different styles and formats until you find the one that seems most natural to you. And when you find it, don’t make the mistake of discounting it because it seems to be the ‘easiest’. It’s the easiest for a reason!

Network! Join writers’ clubs and associations. Subscribe to writers’ newsletters and online bulletins. Make friends with other writers and find excuses to see them regularly. Go to book launches, conferences and writers’ festivals. Keep an eye on what different publishers are doing.

Send stuff out! Nobody will make an offer for that masterpiece of yours if it’s languishing in your bottom drawer. But ensure it’s as polished as you can make it before you do.

Meredith says, she did an apprenticeship in writing.

The first pieces of writing I had published were short stories and articles for kids’ magazines. I like to think of it as my writing ‘apprenticeship’. It was a fantastic way to develop skills I used later once I started writing picture books and chapter books: economy of style, grabbing the reader in the opening paragraph, writing to a specific word count, meeting deadlines – along with interview and research skills. It’s also a great way to build a list of publishing credits, which come in handy on your writer’s CV. An international education publisher invited me to contribute titles to a series of emergent readers on the strength of my history of writing for Comet magazine. These were my very first published books, and I still find it funny to think that American kids are learning to read from them.

Consistent Themes and Symbols in Meredith’s Writing

Dogs manage to worm themselves into quite a few of my books. They have so many wonderful qualities: loyalty, playfulness, boldness, unconditional love. Dogs also make wonderful confidantes (for both you and your character). I could never put a dog in a story for the sole purpose of killing it off later to create an emotional response in the reader.

I also seem to write lots of books about ‘fitting in’ – finding your place in a group, making friends. I’m interested in how people relate to each other.

What Meredith is working on at the moment

I’m working on a series of non-fiction narrative picture books about wild animals. I’m also writing text for a ‘journal’ that ties in with the Dance Academy TV show and a book on the last days of Pompeii. There are also three picture books in various stages that keep putting their hands up, reminding me they’re there.

My other ‘hat’ is literary editor for Challenge, Explore and Comet magazines (the ones I started writing for all those years ago). At the moment I’m selecting fiction for the next issue, and organising books to be sent out to student reviewers for the book review pages.

You can find out more about Meredith and her work at her website

On Wednesday, Meredith is back to talk about how she wrote her new Aussie Nibble, Rosie and Ned and the Creepy Cave.

On Friday here at Kid’s Book Capers we’ll be reviewing Meredith’s other new release Dance Academy: Learning to Fly and talking with her about the journey to publication.

October Giveaway


Variety is the spice of life, and this month’s prize pack’s spicy indeed! Spend a year in Girl Hell,  search for truth, live a hilarious life alongside a comedian, and learn to cook for a growing family on a shrinking budget, in a pack that includes:

The Ghost’s Child by Sonya Hartnett SIGNED

A Year In Girl Hell: Dumped by Meredith Costain

Liar by Justine Larbalestier

A Nest Of Occasionals by Tony Martin

Woman Speak by Louise Nicholas and Jude Aquilina

On A Shoestring by Samela Harris


To go into the draw to win these books, just complete the entry form here. Entries close October 31, 2009.


When you join our Facebook Group, not only do you become a part of one of Australia’s fastest growing online book groups, you also go into the draw to win prizes! This month, one lucky member will win a pack that includes:

Nemesis and the Fairy of Pure Heart by Ashley Du Toit SIGNED

After by Sue Lawson

Elephant Dance by Tammie Matson

Dragon Keeper by Carole Wilkinson

On The Case by Moya Simons

Elephant Dance Dragonkeeper

A big thanks to our friends at Allen and Unwin, Black Dog Books, Dragon Publishing, Hardie Grant Egmont, Pan Macmillan, Penguin, Wakefield Press and Walker Books for supporting our giveaways this month.