Excellently Exciting New 2018 YA Releases!

One of my biggest bookworm weakness is, unsurprisingly, the lure of newly published books! I love seeing what’s just hit the shelves and reading the newbies as soon as I can. Plus when so many other people are devouring the new releases, it turns the world into one giant book club, which is downright awesome. So just in case you haven’t been keeping up with some of the new books to hit the shelves: here, let me help you.

(This doesn’t really help your to-be-read pile or your wallet, but pfft. Life is too short not to try and read all the books of ever.)


LEGENDARY (Caraval #2) by Stephanie Graber

BUY HERE

This is such a highly anticipated sequel and it’s finally in our hands! I’m pleased to say I’ve already devoured this one and it is magical and intoxicatingly beautifully written.

The sequel picks up minutes after Caraval ends and follows Tella’s point-of-view as she plays another (more dangerous, alluring, and vicious) game of Caraval in order to unmask the villain (or hero?) Legend and also save her missing mother from a fate worse than death.

 

THUNDERHEAD (Sycthe #2) by Neal Shusterman

BUY HERE

Although this has been out overseas for a while, Thunderhead is just gracing our shelves in Australia! So so excited for this sequel to the NYT selling Scythe story, which is about a dystopian world were there is no death unless you’re “gleaned” at random by a Scythe.

But corruption has stirred the ranks and two new apprentices, Citra and Rowan are about to be caught horribly in the middle.

 

 

A THOUSAND PERFECT NOTES by CG Drews

BUY HERE

Look I’m being a bit cheeky here, but this is actually my book! I can’t help but add it to the list though so forgive the deviousness here! But hey this is a #LoveOZYA novel about a boy forced to play piano by his mother whose own career failed…but his failure to find perfection ends in violence.

I mean, moving aside the fact that I am horribly biased here, it’s made a lovely little splash as it’s entered the book world and it will hopefully make you laugh and cry…or both.

 

SUMMER OF SALT by Katrina Leno

BUY HERE

This is one of my most favourite authors (!!) and her latest book is set on an aesthetically windswept isle where a family of (maybe) witches are facing some sinister changes. Georgina and her twin sister are about to leave for college, but the leaving is quite hard, especially when the family’s magic is under scrutiny and Georgina herself seems like she’ll never get powers of her own. Then something happens to her sister and the story takes a darker twist. It’s part contemporary and part adorable romance between Georgina and the amazing Prue, and it’s part commentary on some social issues that are so relevant to today.

 

LIFELIKE by Jay Kristoff

BUY HERE

Jay Kristoff is such a big name amongst Aussie authors and well deserved! His Illuminae and Nevernight books are amongst some of my top favourites and now we get a new rabid robotic dystopian adventure, that’s part Mad Max and part scientists playing god.

It has powerful and snarky female friendships, not to mention gorgeous but deadly robots, rogue hunter preachers, persnickety AIs and an adventure that goes from wild to wilder.

YA 2016 June And July Releases To Watch Out For

Keeping on top of the new releases is always hard when it comes to Young Adult books. Why? Because there are so many! And they all seem so epic! How does one even know what to choose?! Luckily for you, I am here to point you in the direction of upcoming epicness and keep your to-be-read piles taller than the Eiffel Tower. I know you’re so relieved. You are most welcome, my bookworm friends.

 

J U NE   &   J U L Y    2 0 1  6    R E L E A S E S


9781785652745This Savage Song

[purchase]

This story is set in a dark Gothom-style city were monsters rule the world. You can pay the mafia to keep you safe — or you can get your soul eaten. Good times. It’s dual narrated by Kate, who’s the stabby daughter of one of the crime lords, and by August, who is a very sweet kind…monster. I love how it contrasts humans vs monsters and asks what truly makes you a monster. It also has a Romeo and Juliet style story line but with actually no romance! It’s stunningly written. Definite must-read!


9780702253942 (1)One Would Think The Deep

[purchase]

This is by the wonderful Australian author, Claire Zorn, who writes astoundingly gorgeous novels like The Protected and The Sky So Heavy. This time, the novel is set in 1997 and features Sam who’s suffering from the grief of losing his mother. It also promises surfing (I mean look at that fantastically trippy cover) and strange relatives and a boy learning to live again.


29753111When Michael Met Mina

[purchase]

This is another glorious Aussie author creation! It’s about refugees and the “boat people”, which is a very apt topic for today and I can’t wait to read this book and see how the author handles things! It features two kids from opposite sides: Mina, who came from Afghanistan on a boat, and Michael, whose parents adamantly protest the refugees. It promises love and injustice!


9780544805095With Malice

[purchase]

This is a YA thriller pitched as for fans of We Were Liars and The Girl On the Train. So, woah, you know you’re in for a wild time! It features Jill who was supposed to have a nice holiday in Italy…but she wakes up in a hospital with her body damaged and a 6 week memory gap. What happened? What was the accident? Was it even an accident?


Forgetting Foster | REVISED FINAL COVER x 2 (18 April 2016)Forgetting Foster

[purchase]

I was absolutely captivated by Aussie author, Diane Touchell’s first book A Small Madness, so I’m super excited to try Forgetting Foster! It sounds like it’ll be another heartbreaking tale, this time about a little boy who’s father is forgetting things…more and more things until eventually Foster is the one being neglected and overlooked. I have so many questions! I can’t wait to read this!


9780552573740And I Darken

[purchase]

This is an epic fantasy that features a dark and brutal princess. She is a pawn in a power game for empires and thrones and she’s planning revenge on the people who stole her birthright. The blurb promises battles and wits and a toxic and deadly love triangle. Which all sounds very exciting and dramatic. I can’t wait!

Release of Beauty’s Kingdom by A.N. Roquelaure (Anne Rice)

Long before the Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon, Anne Rice was writing a raunchy series of erotic novels in the 1980s under the pseudonym A.N. Roquelaure. The Sleeping Beauty series contained the following three novels: The Claiming of Sleeping BeautyBeauty’s Punishment and Beauty’s Release. The trilogy has been very successful for Anne Rice, and in the 1990s, she revealed her identity as the author behind the pen name A.N. Roquelaure.Beauty's Kingdom A.N. Roquelaure

The latest and most exciting news is that a new book has just been released, and Beauty’s Kingdom is the fourth in the series and the first in 30 years. Before I tell you about the latest release, let me give you a brief overview (or reminder) of the series in case you haven’t come across it before. And if the erotica genre is not for you, then click here for some art therapy to cleanse your mind, and I’ll bid you farewell.

The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty is certainly not your typical fairytale, nor is it appropriate for children. Beauty is woken from her 100 year sleep, not with a kiss from a handsome prince, but with copulation. The prince takes her to his kingdom and in gratitude for waking her from her spell, Beauty is trained to become a plaything and sex slave. Don’t worry though, Beauty enjoys her encounters and falls passionately in love with a male slave. The sex is submissive and features elements of BDSM and pony play.

In Beauty’s Punishment, Beauty is punished for her affair with a fellow slave and is sold at auction. She is purchased by an innkeeper and captures the attention of the Captain of the Guard, who takes over her ‘education in love, cruelty, dominance, submission and tenderness.’ At the end of the book, Beauty and several other slaves are kidnapped and sent to serve in the palace of the Sultan.

In Beauty’s Release, Beauty finds herself in a new realm and a prisoner within a harem belonging to an Eastern Sultan. As the title suggests, she does escape her predicament and marry, but to tell you any more would be a spoiler. As the blurb says: ‘Anne Rice makes the forbidden side of passion a doorway into the hidden regions of the psyche and the heart in this final volume of the classic Sleeping Beauty trilogy,’ and I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Throughout the Sleeping Beauty series, themes of desire, discipline, pleasure, pain and surrender are all explored, and the writing is evocative and erotic.

Beauty’s Kingdom is the latest release, and is set 20 years after the events at the end of Beauty’s Release. Other than that, I don’t know much more, but I can’t wait to read it.

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 – Spud and Charli

spud and CharliDoes your imagination ever run wild? I bet kids will have no difficulty answering this one and for me that answer is still an empathic, yes! Horse-obsessed Charli finds it difficult to rein in her run-away imagination too in Samantha Wheeler’s new novel for primary-aged readers, Spud and Charli.

This story gallops full speed from the first page to the last and reminds me of my intense desire to own a horse of my own at Charli’s age. Being short on grass, (our backyard was a dustbowl) and unable to persuade my parents to invest in anything equine, I rigged up the dog’s lead to my bicycle handlebars as reins and rode for hours around an imaginary gymkhana in our backyard. It was an engineering and imaginary success, which thankfully Charli does not have to resort to because she is allowed to attend horse-camp and realise a dream come true; ‘to learn to ride a real, live horse!’

Nevertheless, dreams rarely come true easily and when camp show-off, Mikaela, snaffles the palomino Charli has her heart set on, she is crestfallen. Charli is relegated to Spud, an over-sized, unattractive ex-racehorse. It’s not the start of the stellar riding career she’d hoped for however Spud’s soft nature soon insinuates itself in Charli.

Not only does Charli have to adapt to the rigours and routines of horse care and the chequered, challenging personalities of her riding mates, she also has to contend with a newfound fear – bats.

Fruit bats surround the property filling Charli’s nights with disquieting noise and her heart with fear. She’s heard they spread disease and can kill horses and with her imagination galloping straight out of the paddock, she is convinced that Spud is in grave danger because of them. Not only are lives threatened, but Mrs Bacton, the camp organiser wants to cancel the gymkhana.

Are bats as deadly as Charli believes and if not, how will she persuade Mrs Bacton that she really does deserve a place at the riding comp?

Sam Wheeler 2What I loved about Wheeler’s debut novel, Smooch and Rose, was the bright and breezy way Wheeler portrayed a story big on heart and moral understanding. Spud and Charli is similar in its delivery with a little less eye-prickling emotion but just as much raw reality and enthusiastic narrative fluttering with enough funny and shocking moments to rein young readers in.

Charli is a character many young girls in particular will catch glimpses of themselves in whether they are horse mad or not. Her journey of self-awareness and gradual understanding of the truth about bats is neither too predictable nor obtuse. I am confident young readers will get Charli and admire her overall spunk and drive. It would be fantastic if more members of our society were as well informed (about the fruit bat / Hendra Virus situation) as Charli eventually becomes.

Spud and Charli is as entertaining as it is significant and for this reader who grew up in FNQ (far north Queensland) amongst thousands of flying foxes feasting nightly on our backyard pawpaws, it is a positive, feel-good story about two of my favourite mammals.

FruitbatsExtra golden horseshoes awarded to Charli who revisits after the story’s end to take us through some excellent info pages on interesting bat facts with no nonsense advice and useful online links; beautifully dispelling ugly myths while at the same time carefully educating our next generation of nature lovers. A joy to read in its own right, this book will serve well as a valuable prompt for classroom projects and discussion.

For those residing in SE Queensland, be sure to trot into Riverbend Books and Teahouse this Friday the 12th September for the launch of Spud and Charli. Plenty of room to tie up dobbin at the door. 6 pm. Or you can secure your copy of Spud and Charli right now here.

UQP September 2014

Doodles and Drafts – Roses are Blue Blog Tour with Sally Murphy

Roses are BlueI promised myself I wouldn’t cry. Well, maybe a few tears towards the end might be acceptable, but of course, I was dealing with another verse novel by Sally Murphy, so dry eyes were definitely no guarantee.

Sally Murphy with gabriel evans croppedIt’s not just the subject matter of Roses are Blue that tugs at ones heartstrings. Murphy is simply master at massaging sensitive issues into refined, understated yet terrifically moving poetic verse. Her words whisper across the pages with the soft intensity of a mountain breeze. They are beautiful and arresting; a joy to read.

There are no chapters in this novel. The story ebbs and flows organically in a pleasing natural rhythm. Gabriel Evans’ tender ink and painted illustrations cushion the gravity of the story even more allowing the reader to connect with Amber and her world visually as well as emotionally. Youngsters cultivating their reading confidence will appreciate this generous visual reinforcement on nearly every page.

Amber Rose’s world is turned upside down when tragedy strikes her family leaving her mother devastatingly ‘different’. Overnight, everything is altered: there’s a new school, new friends, new home, new secrets and perhaps hardest of all, a new mum to get used to. Amber vacillates between wanting to fit in and appear normal, aching for how things ‘used to be’ and trying to reconnect with her damaged mum.

As Amber’s mother struggles to free herself from her new entrapment, so too does Amber fight to hang onto to their special shared love until, like springtime roses, hope eventually blooms. Roses are Blue addresses the complex issues of normality, family ties, friendships and maternal bonds with gentle emphasis on how all these relationships can span any ethnicity or physical situation.

To celebrate Amber’s story, Sally Murphy joins me at the draft table with a box of tissues and a few more fascinating insights on Roses are Blue. Welcome Sally!

Q. Who is Sally Murphy? Please describe your writerly self.

My writely self? I try hard to think of myself as writerly – but often fail miserably because I think of other writers as amazingly productive, clever , creative people, and myself as someone slightly manic who manages to snatch time to write and is always surprised when it’s good enough to get published.

But seriously, I suppose what I am is someone who writes because it’s my passion and I can’t not do it. I’ve been writing all my life, pretty much always for children, and my first book was published about 18 years ago. Since then I’ve written picture books, chapter books, reading books, educational resource books and, of course, poetry and verse novels.

Q. I find verse novels profoundly powerful. How different are they to write compared to writing in prose? Do you find them more or less difficult to develop?

I think they’re very powerful too. It was the power of the first ones I read (by Margaret Wild) that made me fall in love with the form. But it’s this very power that can make them hard to get right – you have to tap into core emotions and get them on the page whilst still developing a story arc, characters, setting, dialogue and so on.

Are they more or less difficult? I’m not sure. For me I’ve been more successful with verse novels than with prose novels, so maybe they’re easier for me. But it is difficult to write a verse novel that a publisher will publish – because they can be difficult to sell.

Q. How do you think verse novels enhance the appeal and impact of a story for younger readers?

I think they work wonderfully with young readers for a few reasons, which makes them a wonderful classroom tool. The fact that they are poetry gives them white space and also, room for illustration and even sometimes text adornments.

What this means is that for a struggling reader or even a reluctant reader, the verse novel can draw them in because it looks easier, and gives them cues as to where to pause when reading, where the emphasis might be and so on. They will also feel that a verse novel is less challenging because it is shorter – there are less words on the same number of pages because of that white space.

But the verse novel can also attract more advanced readers who recognise it as poetry and thus expect to be challenged, and who can also see the layers of meaning, the poetic techniques and so on. Of course, once they’ve started reading it, the reluctant and struggling reader will also see those things, meaning there is a wonderful opportunity for all the class to feel involved and connected when it’s a class novel, or for peers of different abilities to appreciate a book they share.

Sally & Pearl & TopplingQ. Judging by some of your previous verse titles, Pearl Verses the World and Toppling, you are not afraid to tackle the heftier and occasionally heartbreaking issues children encounter. What compels you to write about these topics and why do so in verse? Do you think a verse novel can convey emotion more convincingly than prose alone?

Afraid? Hah – I laugh in the face of danger! (Sorry, couldn’t help myself). But seriously no, I’m not afraid, because I think these are issues kids want to read about. All kids experience tough times – sometimes it’s the loss of a loved one, or illness, or a tragedy like Mum being sick/injured/absent. Other times it’s a beloved pet dying, or a best friend who suddenly doesn’t want to be friends. Either way, these tough times can feel like the end of the world. I think when children read about tough topics they connect with empathy or sympathy, and thus have the opportunity to experience vicariously something which they may not have. And if they have been through those really tragic tough times, or they do in the future, I hope they’re getting the message that life can be tough but you can get through it. Terrible things happen in the world – but good things do too. It’s really important to me that my stories have happy times too, and even laughs.

For me the verse novel form enables me to convey that emotion, but I don’t think it’s the only way it can be done. If you look at the Kingdom of Silk books by Glenda Millard, for example, you’ll see how brilliantly prose can be used to explore emotional situations.

Q. Many verse novels I have read are in first person. Is this a crucial element of ensuring stories in verse work well or is it something that you fall into naturally?

Off the top of my head I can’t think of any verse novels written solely in third person. There’s no rule that they have to be in first, but I do feel they work best that way for me, although I’m looking forward to experimenting with point of view in a verse novel I’m planning. I think first works so well because it creates an intimacy which the poetic form enhances.

Q. I particularly loved your reference to the Bobby Vinton 1962 hit, Roses are Red. What inspired you to use these lines in Amber’s story?

It’s actually a bit of a nod to Pearl, from Pearl Verses the World, who writes a roses are red poem about her nemesis Prue – but surprisingly no one has asked me about the connection before. I was looking for something for Mum to sing, and there it was. Of course the fact that Mum loves to garden, and their surname is rose means it all ties together nicely.

Gabriel EvansQ. Gabriel Evans’ illustrations are very endearing. How important do you think it is for illustrations to accompany verse stories?

For younger readers, some visual element is essential, and I am delighted with the way Gabriel has interpreted the story. Who couldn’t love his work? Again, the illustrations can help struggling readers connect with the story, but they are also important for all levels of reading ability. Some people are much more visual learners and thinkers than others, and seeing the story really enhances the experience. And gosh, they’re so gorgeous!

Q. What’s on the draft table for Sally Murphy?

A few things. I’m working on a historical novel (prose), several picture books and lots of poetry. I’m also in the early stages of a PhD project in Creative Writing and, as part of this, plan to produce three new works, all poetry of some form, as well as writing about why/how poetry is important.

Just for fun Question, (there is always one!): If you were named after a gem or colour like Amber and her friends, which would you choose and why?

I can choose a name for myself? That IS fun. I was nearly called Imelda when I was born, and (with apologies to the Imeldas of the world) have been forever grateful that my parents changed their minds. Sorry, that doesn’t answer your question. I think if I could name myself after a colour I’d be silly about it and say Aquamarine, because surely then no one else would ever have the same name as me. It’s also a lovely colour, so maybe some of that loveliness would rub off on me and make me lovely too.

Thanks so much for having me visit, Dimity. It’s been fun, and you’ve kept me on my toes!

An absolute pleasure Sally (aka Aquamarine!)

Be sure to discover the magic behind Roses are Blue, available  here now.

Walker Books Australia July 2014

Stick around for the rest of Sally’s beautiful blog tour. Here are some places you can visit.

Tuesday, July 22nd Karen Tyrrell
Wednesday, July 23 Alphabet Soup
Thursday, July 24 Kids’ Book Review
Friday, July 25 Write and read with Dale
Saturday, July 26 Diva Booknerd
Sunday, July 27 Children’s Books Daily
Monday, July 28 Boomerang Books Blog
Tuesday, July 29 Australian Children’s Poetry
Wednesday, July 30 Sally Murphy

 

 

 

Doodles and Drafts – Searching for magic with Donna Smith and Jazmine Montgomery – The Magic Glasses Blog Tour

Jazmine Toy DectiveI’m not sure if it is the sleek, bug-eyed appearance of the title character, her sleuth-full occupation or just her name that appeals so forcibly to me, but there’s something about this new Literacy Ladder Reading Series title, Jazmine Montgomery Toy Detective, by Donna M Smith, that I just love.

Aimed squarely at 6 – 8 year old emergent and confident readers, this chapter book is brimming with mystery, mushroom elves and magic.

Jazmine Montgomery is a girl with a passion for solving dilemmas and is regularly called upon by her school and friends to locate missing toys. Operating from her backyard office (aka the cubby house), Jazmine has a litany of devices she uses to deduce the whereabouts of toys missing in action, but perhaps her most useful is her set of magic glasses, after which the first book in this series is titled.

When she is unable to find an errant iPad borrowed from school, Jazmine and her trusty side-kick, Yap (aka the shaggy pet dog) must use the glasses to relocate the iPad in time for school. If she doesn’t, she not only risks detention but her reputation as a detective as well. Who hasn’t gone through this kind of trauma just minutes before the first school bell of a morning?

The Magic Glasses illosYoung readers, especially those of the little-girls-with-large-aspirations variety, are sure to get a kick out of the first in this series. It might even have a few checking under their fruit trees for the tiny villages of  mushroom elves, like I did!

Each book includes super sleuthing tips and (elf) character descriptions which are perfect for coaxing fledging readers into the magical world of reading alone with confidence.

Donna M SmithTo celebrate Jazmine’s awesome success as a Toy Detective, today I welcome her creator to the draft table, author and publisher, Donna Smith. So grab a big bag of jelly beans, settle back and get comfy.

Q: You have published a varied selection of work for children Donna, including short stories, picture books and Haiku poetry. Name a stand out piece that you are most proud of and why?

HopscotchYes Dimity, some of my work is varied. Thank you for asking about the various genres I have written. I have also been fortunate enough to have had several text books published and course content for the Adult Education sector. Choosing one piece is difficult as I love them dearly for various reasons. Mr Bumblebottom which appears in the ‘Hopscotch’ anthology holds special significance, not only was it one of the first stories I wrote but it evolved over the course of two years whilst my eldest son Timothy, was at three and four year old kindy. This took place about seven years ago. Timothy really did not want to go to kindy and so I told him there was a magical dragon that would sit in his pocket throughout the day and he would take special care of him while he was a kindy. Over time, Timothy named him and told me what colour he was and lots of stories about how he felt happy at kindy when Mr Bumblebottom was there too. So over the two years while Timothy attended kindy, Mr B as he was known became an important part of the family. When Timothy started school, I whispered to him as he went into class for the first time that Mr B was in his pocket and he replied, ‘Mum, I am a big boy now shhh.’ I will say he did appear from time to time in need. So this story is quite special and at present I am working on it to be launched as a picture book.

Shadow at Cape naturalisteA Shadow of Cape Naturaliste, also holds special significance as it was the first story accepted by a publisher. At that time, I replied to an ad for stories at least 2500 words which must be historical fiction and a ghost story. I relished in the research process and found the Cape Naturaliste lighthouse on the Western Australian coast line has quite a haunted past. So, I wrote Harry’s Lighthouse (as the title was back then). It was published in Australian Chillers’ anthology in 2009. A few years later I decided to re-tweak it for a slightly younger audience and it became A Shadow at Cape Naturaliste. I love this book, the cover is perfect. The photograph depicts what I had imaged it to be exactly and the size is a perfect companion. This book has done well in grade three- six classrooms and is also available it the lighthouse gift shop.

Billy cart race derbyBilly Cart Derby is a really exciting, fast paced, giggle of book starring Jaz, TJ and Ben who participate in a billy cart race at school as a fundraiser. Jaz, TJ and Ben are based on my three children Jazmine, Timothy and Benjamin. What is interesting Dimity is that I wrote this book when Jazmine was in grade 1 (now grade 6) before Ben was even born. I wrote a draft based on a dress up day I attended at school where I saw a grade 6 girl wearing a billy cart. I thought it was fantastically inventive. So the story started to take shape about a billy cart race at school which was based on fundraising but during the race they had lots of mishaps. After the initial draft a couple of years later, I was pregnant with Benjamin and I decided to wait until he was born (to see if he was going to be a boy or a girl) before I completed the final draft so I could include all three children. I ended up waiting until Benny was in kindy and developed his own little personality and character so as I could make teh characters true to their real personalities. I just love the story so much. Children just find it hysterical. Billy Cart Derby is currently used in classrooms grade prep through to about four. Actually a grade three class used it last year during their narrative study. Billy Cart Derby has coloured glossy billy cart race track maps in the front of the book along with character illustrations. This book is currently undergoing production to be made into an interactive picture book, which is illustrated of course. I plan to write more about Jaz, TJ and Ben’s school adventures in the future.

Delightfully Haiku is also very special as it was my first poetry collection but, more importantly it was also a dedication to my nephew Marshall who was born sleeping in August 2010. It has received wonderfully positive reviews over the past couple of years which lead to being invited to participate in the Japanese Festival since it began in 2010. I have attended each year since and enjoy holding haiku poetry workshops throughout the day.

A Christmas TaleA Christmas Tail was born several years ago when my daughter’s Victorian doll house (which stands 1.2 metres tall) became home to a beautiful family of wooden dolls which my daughter still loves to play with. Over time we furnished the doll house, put lighting in, pictures on the wall, even a tiny grand piano sits in the living room. The idea of a story evolved. A Christmas Tail was co –written with Helen Ross, a very talented children’s writer and former primary school teacher. This beautiful picture book was illustrated by Aaron Pocock, a well known Brisbane artist who did a fantastic job bringing the story to life. A Christmas Tail kicks off a book launch tour in November so keep your eyes peeled for more information regarding that.

Jazmine Montgomery – Toy Detective series is based on my daughter Jazmine. Jaz tends to see magic in everything even at almost 12 (in a few weeks). I love the idea that not everything can be seen and just because we can’t see it on the surface doesn’t mean that it’s not real or it’s not there. Jazmine Montgomery has many case files that she will be sharing in the future. The Magic Glasses is book one in this new series.

It is really hard to pick just one book. My books hold special meaning and significance for myself and my family.

Q: What was the inspiration behind the character Jazmine Montgomery?

JM is based on my daughter Jazmine, who possesses a beautiful innocence and ability to see magic in everything. Jaz will be 12 in a few weeks and is still very much a little princess.

Q:What was the best thing about writing Jazmine Montgomery and the most difficult?

The Magic Glasses illos 2I think the most difficult aspect of writing the first of this series was the evolution that took place. I wrote the first draft a couple of years ago and after editing with Sally Odgers, it was discussed the possibility that an aspect of the story could outdate quickly. The original story was about a red scooter that was lost. Once it was decided that this may not work as well as something which was just flooding the market and being implemented in schools (such as the iPad), I had to re-write many sections to fall in line with iPad concept. Therefore this story evolved and underwent many visits for ms assessment by Sally before the final story was complete and Sally began the editing process. We worked on this story for quite some time before it was just perfect. I then contact Sharon Madder and was just delighted with her illustrations. Sharyn was wonderful to work with and I am really happy with the final result. Another difficult aspect of this particular book was the layout. I really wanted to incorporate the stars which appear around the pages, I had to create each individual star and place each one exactly where I wanted it to appear, this was very time consuming. Then my design team headed by Sylvie Blair, converted this in InDesign to make each star digital and keep the placement the same. This process was quite tricky, time consuming and expensive however, I am really happy that we kept at it as it turning out really well. It really sets the book off, particularly for the target age group. So this book has taken quite some time to produce and get just perfect. But well worth it. I must credit Sally Odgers as it was her idea of the stars on the page! Thank you again Sally.

Q:You have aimed this chapter book series for younger primary aged children, what motivates you to write for this age group?

My children I think Dimity. My children Jazmine 11 (she reminds daily that there are not many sleeps until she is 12!), Timothy 10 and Benjamin 7, inspire me every day. Our library at home is a favourite room in the house, it contains many, many picture books, early chapter books and novelettes. We read these sorts of books most often. I have had a few funny looks after purchasing an arm full of children’s books and then nestling down to read them in a cafe. I have surrounded myself with these sorts of books primarily because of the ages of my children, therefore it just happened that way. I am excited however about my next book, Benjamin and the Castle of Tomorrow which I have been writing since 2009. It started as a 2500 chapter book, and just became longer and longer. Sally said to me ‘don’t worry just keep writing.’ The book now some 25000 words has visited Sally’s desk more times than I can remember and has been a journey in its self.

Two trips to England to study castles and medieval culture, I took medieval literature electives during my Arts degree and submitted a draft as part of my final portfolio assessment in my children’s literature unit. I have also studied endless waterfall locations and waterfall photography, dragon myths and written under Sally’s guidance for the past four years. The story is metafictional and something I am very excited about. I am very happy to say- the story is complete and the editing process is now underway. So, I guess Dimity this will be a different genre again! Ben’s story, as Sally and I refer to it as, after all these years will be out next year.

Q: Have you or your children ever come across elves or fairies in your garden?

Of course Dimity, magic is everywhere. Just smile on the inside and out!

Q:What can we expect from Jazmine Montgomery in the future?

Jazmine Montgomery has an exciting collection of case files which has solved and worked on with her companion Yapps and the Mushroom Elves. Their next adventure sees them at school trying to solve the mysterious case the missing counting beads in the preps class.

Donna GraduationQ: What is on the storyboard for Donna Smith?

I graduated with my Arts degree in April this year. My main stream was Educational Psychology and Writing/ Literature. My youngest son has been struggling at school with a learning disability so I decided to attend Monash Uni earlier this year and complete their one semester course in Education Support/ Teacher Aide course with the aim to help Ben as much as I can. I have just completed PD training in Cued Articulation and really enjoy helping in his class two mornings a week. It has six years now that I have being doing classroom help with my children since they started school, however now I am helping in literacy intervention which I really enjoy. I was deciding whether to continue study in literature, however due to our circumstances with my son and recent further diagnosis, I have decided to continue study next year in the Masters of Special Education with a major in Literacy Support. As I also manage Jelli-Beanz Publishing, I am busy with a catalogue of titles which have approved contracts by various authors. Earlier this year I was fortunate enough to become a team leader at the Victorian College of Literary Arts which will see me working literacy invention programs, which is exciting. And my writing? Helen and I are currently brainstorming Peter’s next adventure, Jazmine Montgomery’s next case file will emerge and Benjamin and the Castle of Tomorrow will be released next year. Mr Bumblebottom will take flight as a picture book and Billy Cart Derby will be skidding into the interactive app world! Gee wizz, a cup of tea somewhere in there would be nice too!

Q: Just for fun, do you have a favourite Jelly bean? What is it?

Oh yes, I love Jelly beanz, my favourite is black! Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there was a rainbow jelly bean?

Mug of beanz(Oh yes! But black is my favourite too!) Thanks Donna and good luck with EVERYTHING including nabbing that cup of tea some time soon.

Jelli-Beanz Publishing Blog August 2013

Check out the Book Trailer for The Magic Glasses. Buy the book here.

Be sure to visit Jazmine as she zips around on the rest of her Blog Tour with Donna Smith.Jazmine Toy Dective Launch and blog dates Aug 2013