Review – How Big is Too Small? by Jane Godwin and Andrew Joyner

9780670070756How Big is Too Small?, Jane Godwin (author), Andrew Joyner (illus.), Penguin, 2015.  

Can size hold you back? Can size determine your value? Everyone and everything, from the miniscule to the enormous, has a place in this world. We all have important jobs to do. But Sam wonders – “How big is too small?”

It’s all relative, really. A big brother is tall, but not compared to his father. An ant’s a small creature, but not as small as a flea. Individual leaves are small, but each one contributes to a bigger picture – they make up a tree. And a tree has to start somewhere – as small as a seed.

From the philosophical brilliance of award-winning author, Jane Godwin, with the perfectly matched pairing of the superlative, Andrew Joyner, ‘How Big is Too Small?’ is a book of monumental wisdom and charm.

How big is too small book imageSam, the narrator, is told by his older brother that he is too small to play ball games with the big boys. With a heavy heart, he returns to his room, and he begins to ponder this line of reasoning. Soon, he is making insightful observations, first within his room, then outside his window. It started with a ball and an ant and a flea, then the leaf and the clouds roll onto his radar. As his idea grows, so does his confidence, and when he is needed to rescue the ball atop the roof, Sam makes another incredible discovery… A new friend. They form a bond, and are able to watch over the whole city from their own lookout construction. And with a fresh outlook on the world, and on his big (small) brother, who (or what) is too small now?

How big is too small book image1Godwin’s rhyming text is riveting, rollicking and masterful, reminiscent of Suess’s language. She has created this simple story about fitting in, being included and growing up, but with added depth and clarity that give readers the autonomy to question the big (and small) nuances of the world. Andrew Joyner has cultivated the seed, so to speak, effectively including loads of visual details about Sam’s philosophical interests to facilitate further discussion and hours of perusal by the book’s audience. His characteristically bold, energetic cartoon illustrations, with some collage features, simply take the story to another level – they bring about a sense of familiarity, are naturally captivating, thought-raising and eye-catching. From close-up shots of falling leaves, to sketches of buildings, scaled diagrams and handmade telescopes, there are plenty of references to perspective and proportion that can be explored.

‘How Big is Too Small’ is an intriguing read-aloud picture book that encourages reflection and creative thinking, and self-acceptance, delightfully fitting for any sized person from age four.

The Greatest Gatsby

Greatest GatsbyLiterary editors of both The Australian and Sydney Morning Herald newspapers commented about words and grammar in their columns this weekend.

The Greatest Gatsby: A Visual Book of Grammar (Viking, Penguin) is a very clever way to help everyone understand words and grammar. Tobhy Riddle is one of Australia’s notable picture book illustrators, with works such as Nobody Owns the Moon, My Uncle’s Donkey, Irving the Magician, Unforgotten, The Singing Hat and The Great Escape from City Zoo.

He uses his highly developed and creative design skills to explain English grammar in a motivating and comprehensible way. He believes the old adage that ‘a picture tells a thousand words’ and uses an inspired combination of his own illustrations, late nineteenth century photographs and other artwork in an uncluttered format with plenty of white space.

I particularly like the ‘English Words Network’, which sets out the parts of speech, such as nouns and conjunctions, like an urban railway line map. Riddle then spends time looking at each of these.

The title, ‘The Greatest Gatsby’ comes from a section on comparing adjectives. ‘The Great Gatsby’ is a descriptive adjective, ‘The Greater Gatsby’ is a comparative adjective and ‘The Greatest Gatsby’ is the superlative. The illustrated Gatsbys (debonair men in suits) are shown in increasing height to match their descriptions. ‘Gatsbys’ are also used to demonstrate ‘articles’ such as ‘the great Gatsby’ and ‘a great Gatsby’.

My Uncle's Donkey

The section, ‘Word classes in action’ culminates in an intriguing picture of an old man sleeping. Each word in the accompanying sentence is analysed visually and with the words seen here in brackets: ‘The (definite article) old (descriptive adjective) man (common noun) slept (past tense verb) soundly (how adverb) outside (preposition) his (possessive pronoun) home (common noun)’.

Riddle tackles the tricky and often misused ‘me or I’, ‘it’s or its’, ‘lie or lay’, ‘that or which’, the active and passive voice, and showcases the clever spelling of ‘fish’ as ‘ghoti’.

Affixes are shown visually to make it clear how words are built up. An example is the word ‘help’. It is shown at the top of a page representing the carriage of a train. Underneath is the word ‘helpful’, with the suffix, ‘-ful’, as another carriage. Under that is ‘unhelpful’, with the prefix and suffix each filling a carriage. The bottom row shows the word ‘unhelpfully’ filling four carriages.

Word SpyThis book is an excellent resource for a wide range of people, including schools and adult English classes. It could be used in conjunction with Tohby Riddle and Ursula Dubosarsky’s awarded The Word Spy and The Return of the Word Spy.

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 Highlights of a Professional Life: An Interview With Ursula Dubosarsky

Ursula_Dubosarsky_publicity_photo_A_2011Ursula Dubosarsky has written over 40 books for children and young adults. Some of which include The Terrible Plop, Too Many Elephants in This House, Tim and Ed (Tim and Ed Review), The Carousel, The Word Spy series, and The Cryptic Casebook of Coco Carlomagno and Alberta series.

She is a multi-award winner of many national and international literary prizes including The Premier’s and State Literary Awards, The Children’s Book Council Book of the Year Awards, The Children’s Choice Awards, The Prime Minister’s Literary Awards and The Speech Pathology Australia Awards.

Ursula’s books have been characterised as timeless classics with universal accessibility, always heartwarming, funny and indelible. Her picture books, in particular, emanate energy and delight, wit and ingenuity. She has worked with some legendary illustrators who have brought Ursula’s playful words to life, including Terry Denton, Tohby Riddle and Andrew Joyner.    

I am absolutely thrilled and honoured to have had this opportunity to discover more about Ursula Dubosarsky’s writerly mind, joys, achievements and plans for the future, and she has been so gracious in sharing her views with our readers.

Where do you get your creativity from? Were you born into a creative family?
Well I was born into a family of writers, although they are more non-fiction writers than fiction writers. But non-fiction demands plenty of creativity, as I discovered when I tried to write non-fiction myself (my “Word Spy” books.) My mother also had an amazingly vivid dream-life -I sometimes wonder if that’s where the story ideas come from…  

What or who are your biggest motivators?
For some reason I find this a very confronting question! and I don’t know how to answer it. Perhaps it’s one of the biggest mysteries of creative acts – why do it? It feels like a compulsion.  

Which age group do you most prefer to write for, younger or older children?
I love the succinctness that is demanded of you in writing for younger children – I love throwing out all the words until you have just that bare minimum. The other nice thing about writing for younger children is you get to work with illustrators, which has been such a pleasure in my life. But of course as anyone would say, each form has its particular rewards (and hardships.)  

the-word-spyWhat has been the greatest response / fan mail to you and your books?
That would be my three “Word Spy” books – non-fiction books about language, particularly the English language. I think one reason they get the most fan mail is that the books are written in character. They are narrated by a mysterious person called The Word Spy. So I think children really enjoy the fantasy of writing to an imaginary person – I enjoy the fantasy of writing back as a character! The Word Spy even has her own blog “Dear Word Spy” where you can see lots of the letters children have written to her – and her answers! http://wordsnoop.blogspot.com.au/

What is your working relationship like with illustrator, Andrew Joyner? Do you or the publisher choose to pair you together?
Oh I love working with Andrew.The pairing came about quite naturally. At the time I was working for the NSW Department of Education’s School Magazine, which is a monthly literary magazine for primary school children. I was doing some editing there, and Andrew happened to send in some illustrations. I just so responded to his work, immediately. Anyway then when I had written the text for “The Terrible Plop” he was a natural person to suggest to Penguin, the publisher, as an illustrator for the book.

Cover_0What was your reaction when ‘Too Many Elephants in This House’ was selected for this year’s ALIA’s National Simultaneous Storytime? How were you involved in the lead up and on the day?
That was truly the most thrilling and touching experience. We were just delighted to hear it had been chosen, and I can’t tell you how heartwarming it was to see children (and adults!) all over Australia reading our book. ALIA did a brilliant job of organising and promoting the event – we hardly had to do a thing. On the actual day Andrew and I read the book aloud at the Customs House branch of the City of Sydney library down at Circular Quay. I can truly say the National Simultaneous Storytime was one of the great highlights of my professional life.  

IMG_6741You’ve had two of your picture books turned into successful stage productions; ‘The Terrible Plop’ (2009-2012) and ‘Too Many Elephants in This House’ (2014). How were you approached / told about the news? What creative input did you (and Andrew Joyner) have in the productions?
In both cases it was a matter of the theatre company (Adelaide’s Windmill Theatre for “The Terrible Plop” and NIDA for “Too Many Elephants”) seeing the book and then approaching the publisher to see if we’d be willing to have the book staged. We were very willing! In neither case did we have a lot of input into the production. The writer/director at NIDA did keep us informed and sent us draft scripts -but I think we both felt it was better to stand back and let her and the actors and the rest of the creative team follow their own instincts. Again, for me and Andrew it was a tremendous experience to see the books transformed and re-imagined.  

What are you currently working on? What can your fans look forward to seeing from you in the near future?
Well Andrew and I will be working together on an illustrated novel, so much longer than and very different to our picture book collaborations. It’s called “Brindabella” and is about a kangaroo. I have written the text already – and am now looking forward enormously to seeing what Andrew does with it.  

What other hobbies do you enjoy besides writing?
I wish I could say something strange and unexpected but it’s just walking! I love to walk the dog, but I also just like walking altogether. And I do like looking for very unusual cake recipes, researching their history and then having a go at baking them. I’m not much of a cook but I enjoy it!

the-terrible-plopFan Question –
Katharine: In The Terrible Plop, where did the bear run to? Did he ever find out what the Terrible Plop really was?

(This question is) something I’ve never been asked before and never thought about! I guess the bear would run home to all his brother and sister and mother and father and granny and grandpa and uncle and auntie bears, who listen to his story and tell him that’s what comes of sitting in folding chairs and that in future he should stay safely inside their big dark cave. So I don’t think he OR any of the others ever find out what the Terrible Plop really is – in fact over time it becomes part of the Great Bear Mythology…

Ursula, thank you so much for answering my questions for Boomerang Books! It’s been an absolute pleasure!

Find out more about Ursula Dubosarsky:
www.ursuladubosarsky.com
http://wordsnoop.blogspot.com.au/

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

More about the 2014 Prime Minister’s Literary Awards

PureheartIt is commendable that recent Prime Ministers have continued the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards even though, as with some other literary prizes, its future has often seemed under threat. It is a prestigious national award amongst the also-important state and other literary prizes. And it is lucrative, with winners receiving $80 000 and shortlisted authors $5 000 – the latter amount equal to winners’ prize money in some other awards.

The complete shortlist is listed here: http://www.pm.gov.au/media/2014-10-19/2014-prime-ministers-literary-awards-shortlists-0

I’d like to make some additional comments on some categories and specific titles.

It is excellent to see that poetry has its own category here, as in other awards. There is a thriving Australian poetry community and publishing output that readers might not be aware of. As a starting point, explore the Thomas Shapcott Prize, an annual award for emerging Qld poets, which reminds us of the exquisite poetry and prose of venerable Shapcott himself.

The fiction category includes the delightful Fiona McFarlane’s The Night Guest (Penguin: Hamish Hamilton), which may have been shortlisted for as many recent awards as Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North (Vintage). Australian writers and readers are still celebrating his well-deserved Man Booker Prize win, almost as though we won it ourselves. Moving Among Strangers

Gabrielle Carey’s Moving Among Strangers (UQP) about Randolph Stow and her family appears in the non-fiction category. I chaired a session with Gabrielle at the BWF several years ago and was interested then to hear about her research on this important Australian poet and novelist.

Merry Go Round in the Sea

Shortlisted in the history category, Clare Wright has been scooping awards for The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka (Text Publishing). She is also a knowledgeable and entertaining conversationalist.

The Young Adult fiction shortlist deservedly emulates some other YA awards, affirming Melissa Keil’s debut, Life in Outer Space (Hardie Grant Egmont), The First Third by Will Kostakis (Penguin) and The Incredible Here and Now by Felicity Castagna (Giramondo). It is great to see Simmone Howell’s edgy Girl Defective (Pan Macmillan) and Cassandra Golds’ groundbreaking Pureheart (Penguin) included. But where is Fiona Wood’s Wildlife (Pan Macmillan), which won this year’s CBCA award for Older Readers?

I have blogged about some of these books here: http://blog.boomerangbooks.com.au/what-will-win-ya-book-of-the-year/2014/07

Most State Awards have a children’s category, although it is inexplicably missing in the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards. Children’s books are the foundation of our publishing industry – and keep it afloat. If our children are not encouraged to read, who will buy and read books in the future? How literate will Australia be? Most of the PM children’s shortlist has been appearing on shortlists across the country this year, reinforcing the quality of these books. Barry Jonsberg’s My Life as an Alphabet (Allen & Unwin) has been straddling both the children’s and YA categories. This, as well as Kissed by the Moon by Alison Lester (Puffin) and Rules of Summer by Shaun Tan (Hachette) have already won notable awards. It is great to see Julie Hunt’s original fantasy, Song for a Scarlet Runner (Allen & Unwin) appearing on yet another shortlist and Bob Graham, Australia’s world-class author-illustrator, has done it again with his latest picture book, Silver Buttons (Walker Books).Song for a Scarlet Runner

Review – The Treasure Box

Many of my generation (sadly not all) and those of the next, fortunately have not endured the atrocities of war like those seen during the Holocaust. That we are able to feel its impact, appreciate the drama and acknowledge its implications is the unique potency of a picture book. Margret Wild and Freya Blackwood exploit this power wondrously well.The Treasure Box

The quiet unassuming cover of the Treasure Box magnetised me from the moment I was handed the book. The subdued colours, lone tree bereft of leaf and life, fragments of words adrift; all at conflict with the title, which promises something far brighter and more uplifting. I was a little unprepared for the subtle magnitude of the tale, again preoccupied by the end papers, comprising scraps of text which interestingly are taken from Sonya Hartnett’s and Morris Gleitzmann’s foreign editions of their own wartime tales of displacement and loss.

We join young Peter’s story after his home town is destroyed leaving the library in ruin. Books once housed there are transformed to nothing more substantial than bits of ash as ‘frail as butterflies.’ That is all but one; a book that by fortuitous happenstance had been taken home by Peter’s father before the bombing.

Treasure box illoPeter’s father is intent on safe-guarding the book for the stories it contains; stories that tell the history of Peter’s people, of a past ‘rarer than rubies, more splendid than silver, greater than gold.’ The book is secured in an old iron box which forms part of the meagre possessions they flee with from their homeland.

Peter’s father does not survive the soul crushing exodus but instills in Peter tremendous tenacity and a promise to keep their ‘treasure safe’. Unable to continue with such a load but true to his word Peter buries the box under an ancient linden tree, to which he returns many years later. His single-handed courage and loyalty perpetuates the most valuable treasure of all – the gift of hope and love.

Margaret WildMargaret Wild’s eloquent sense of story and place transports the reader into the very heart and soul of Peter and his father. Her thoughtfully sparse narrative paradoxically permeates every inch of the page and ounce of our attention. Neither her words nor the illustrations compete for space in this book. They work in convincing unison, caressing the story along and guiding us skilfully through horrific, almost unimaginable situations like sleeping in ditches, and holding the hand of a dying father.Freya Blackwood

Freya Blackwood’s artwork is instantly recognisable, however is taken one step higher using collage and multi-layering to create a stunning subtle 3D effect. Characters literally appear to be trudging across the page, accompanied by the metaphoric charred fragments of the leaves of a million books. The story is further enriched with delicate contrasts and symbolism on each page, all in the haunting sepia coloured tones of despair and misery.

Only the intensity of the treasure box itself, shown in vibrant red throughout, never fades. By Peter’s maturity, colour and prosperity have returned to his hometown. Even the library radiates with a glorious, golden yellow – hope restored.

I happened upon this picture book late last year, in spite of its 2013 publication date. I thought it was a most serendipitous discovery, but did not fully appreciate its immense value until I uncovered its contents. Truly one to treasure.

Penguin / Viking January 2013

Review – Today We Have No Plans

The life of a modern day family is buzzing and full to capacity – swimming lessons, practice for the spelling bee, signing the homework book, playing the violin, getting the grocery shopping done, working late . . . It’s a whirlwind of activity almost all of us know so well. Some of it is a chore. Lots of it is fun.

But when do we find time to stop? To pause? To just Be?

For the family in this gorgeous book, that day is Sunday. A day when the hands on the clock slow down. When mum says they’re not going out. They have no plans. There is nothing to do but . . .

Swing. Climb a tree. Wear pjs all day long. Build a cubby. Bake a cake. Notice all the little things. And plan on doing . . . nothing at all.

Jane Godwin has penned a book we can all relate to – especially our kids – and one that reminds us it’s the little things and the nowhere-to-be that can be the most fun of all.

Anna Walker’s typical stunning illustrations are beyond joyful, and perfectly complement the message in this book – from harried to peaceful, from paced to languorous – and the sheer delight of doing nothing much at all.

Today We Have No Plans is published by Penguin/Viking.

Print will go within 50 years: Penguin CEO

Outgoing global CEO of Pearson (parent company to Penguin and The Financial Times) Dame Marjorie Scardino reckons that 50 years from now, her company is unlikely produce any more printed products – quite a statement considering many in the industry believe ebooks will never replace the printed book entirely.
Continue reading Print will go within 50 years: Penguin CEO

Review – Too Many Elephants in this House

Author Ursula Dubosarsky? Check. Illustrator Andrew Joyner? Check. Elephants? Check. But not too many at all. In fact, this book wouldn’t be even half way as cool if it didn’t have simply too many elephants, which raises the question: can anyone really have too many elephants?

Eric really likes elephants. He has them everywhere. In the living room, in the kitchen, in the hallway, bathroom and bedroom. There’s an entire herd of rollicking elephants delighting and engaging this young lad from dawn ’til dusk.

BUT his mother doesn’t like it. Not one little bit. ‘There are too many elephants in this house,’ she says. ‘They’ve got to go.’

Naturally, Eric is devastated and will try anything to keep his baggy friends safe, including thinking up a very efficient means of elephant storage.

Dubosarsky’s penchant for childlike fun shines through in this adorable book, with Andy Joyner’s timeless and joy-filled illustrations taking her text to even greater heights. With a deliciously retro feel, this is imaginative, childhood magic at its best.

A must for picture book collectors – and kids.

Too Many Elephants in this House is published by Penguin.

Review – Sophie Scott Goes South

‘Woohoo! I’m going to Antarctica!’

Can you imagine? Hang the snow-white ice, I’m turning jungle green that this nine-year-old is in for the experience of a lifetime – something many adults would knock polar bears over for. Oh wait – make that penguins – because there are no polar bears in Antarctica, you see. Only penguins. Whales, too. And seals. And lots and lots of ice.

Young Sophie has scored big time. Her dad just happens to be the captain of the Aurora Australis – a great hulking red icebreaker of a ship that travels south to deliver supplies to Mawson Station. It takes nearly two weeks to get there, so Sophie will be away over a month. She’s so excited. And I’m excited for her!

Alison Lester has penned yet another classic picture book in Sophie Scott Goes South. Drawing from her own experiences aboard the Aurora Australis in 2005, Alison’s brand new book is not only a visual feast, it’s an information bounty, told in a diary-style format by young Sophie. Indeed, during Alison’s own 6-week voyage, she sent daily emails to schools and families around the world about her trip, and in response, children sent Alison stories and drawings which were eventually compiled into an exhibition which has toured both Australia and overseas.

An extension of this exhibition, this beautiful book contains images from the exhibition, all wrapped up in a warm journalistic story, told by a fictional girl I wish was me. From the informative photos of the icebreaker, icebergs and Antarctic scenes, to the gorgeous author-illustrations and beautiful children’s drawings, this is one enviable journey, told in a way only Alison knows how.

Threading a delightful story with stamps, diagrams, photos and notelets, this high text picture book will thoroughly engage kids – both entertaining and educating them in one fell swoop. This book is not only a delight to look at and learn from, it is one of those stories that make your pulse quicken and bring out the inherent adventurer within. I’m off to pack my parka . . .

Sophie Scott Goes South is published by Penguin.

Review – Pom Pom: Where Are You?

Loving any book set in Paris, but even better when an adorable little puppy dog named Pom Pom is involved.

Pom Pom lives in a tall building in the heart of Paris. Every day, Henriette and her parents, walk him down the Rue Sainte-Geneviève to the post office. Keen to see ‘more of the world’, Pom Pom one day escapes, trotting off into the great Unknown.

This is a simple story, following the journey of a wee dog as he blunders his way into limousines, onto boats, skateboards and bicycles, into baby strollers, through an art gallery and into the home of a well-meaning family who think Pom Pom is helplessly lost and lonely.

Of course, it’s not until Pom Pom realises how much he misses his own family, that he knows he must try to find his way home. Can he make it back to Henriette?

Natalie Jane Prior’s story takes the reader on a glorious romp through Paris (who ever needs an excuse?). Her delightful little character will enchant children, as he scurries around the pages of this beautiful book.

Cheryl Orsini’s absolutely divine illustrations are some of my favourite in a picture book this year. From the endpapers, through the book proper and the covers, too, her utterly whimsical illustrations are so eye-engaging, it’s a delight to turn each page and witness a new surprise.

If you’re someone who appreciates really beautiful picture books, then Pom Pom is for you.

Pom Pom: where are you? is published by Penguin/Viking.

Review – The Word Spy Activity Book

Okay, I’ll admit it – if there’s one book series I wish I wrote, it’s Ursula Dubosarky’s The Word Spy. And to have Tohby Riddle illustrate, too – well. Yes, I’m green.

I love Dubosarsky’s enormously clever take on the English language via her Word Spy character. Not only has she made grammar, punctuation and word structure cool, she’s made it a whole lot of fun for kids, and many’s the hour both my children and myself have pored over her extraordinary journeys into the complexity of words.

This brand new (released today) activity book is the perfect foil for those of us wanting to scribble madly in The Word Spy books, but have never dared because they’re so beautiful.

Deliciously thick and beautifully produced, The Word Spy Activity Book is a feast of wordish fun, with tonnes of brain-stretching exercises to complete – and ideas to ponder on. Divided into several chapters including Favourite Words, Words and Feelings, Words and Pictures, Words and Writing, Word and Punctuation, Riddle’s beautiful silhouetted illustrations and design layout complement a series of fun activities.

Kids can enjoy creating a shadowy puppet show or creating their own rebuses (1 of my fave things in the world 2 do). I love how the author even compares rebuses to text messaging. There are riddles, visual word play, clues, and codes to crack. Visual kids can get visual, cerebral kids can get cerebral. They can close their eyes to write, invent their own script and learn Guinea Pig language.

A must-have for school holidays, travel or just everyday, the creativity and variety in this book is so Ursula Duboskarsky – intelligent, intensely clever and so very much FUN. Brilliant, but be prepped to fight the kids for it.

The Word Spy Activity Book is published by Penguin.

Review – A Bear and a Tree

It’s so nice to hold a new Stephen Michael King book in your hands. It always has that squeal-with-glee feel to it. The illustrations are so iconic, the language is always utterly heartfelt, and the characters that lovely combination of meltingly sweet, and strong.

Ren is outdoors, sitting under her favourite tree. She is a tad bereft because the tree has lost its leaves. Bear, who is collecting the leaves for his winter bed, finds Ren crying, offers her his brolly, then sits with her for as long as is needed.

Soon it begins to snow and Bear knows he shortly needs to hunker down for hibernation. But for now, he will spend a day with Ren. It will be their first ever winter’s day together – exploring, making patterns in the snow, creating bendy creations with tree branches and melting icicles into stunning creations.

Together, they play, dance, twirl and just . . . be. That is, until it’s time for Bear to go.

This is a story about friendship yes, but its seasonality brings with it a sense of both finality – and the promise of rebirth and new life. Ink and watercolour pages are awash with both the thick silence of snow, falling leaves and letting go – but similarly, they are awash with the tinkle of icicles and laughter, and the lovely dynamics between good friends.

Tender, sweet, simple and stunningly illustrated, this is yet another special book from an emotive and masterful talent.

A Bear and a Tree is published by Penguin.

Non-Stop News November: Part II

Gleebooks’s ebooks site.

Google has announced that it will power ebook offerings from national retail chains The Co-op Bookshop (which sells primarily academic and trade books on-campus) and QBD The Bookshop (a clearing house and discount specialist) soon (in addition to those of launch partners Dymocks and Booktopia, whose Google eBooks-fed sites went live three weeks ago).

Like Amazon, Google has an affiliate program whereby booksellers, publishers, web site operators and bloggers can sign up to take a commission on books sold when they refer their users to Google eBooks.

It sounds tempting to a blogger like me until you consider the fact that you’re sending your readers’ money offshore, rather than supporting a local business like Booku or your local bricks and mortar indie, an thus potentially encouraging the contraction of the market. One of the main reasons I still buy the odd printed book is to make sure my local indie, and its equivalents in various holiday destinations, stay in business.

Hopefully the indies are looking at options for offering a similar set-up to like-minded bloggers and publishers.

Speaking of indies, other adventurous bricks and mortar bookshops (in addition to those working with ReadCloud as mentioned in the previous post here) that will face the search engine results challenge from Google are those in partnership with another cloud-based ereading start-up, Melbourne’s Booki.sh.

Booki.sh, which is based on a web browser rather than downloadable file model, partnered with Victorian indie chain Readings to launch a pilot store in January this year. In November, they helped Sydney favourite Gleebooks, Tasmania’s Fullers, Queensland’s Mary Ryan’s (also in Byron Bay), Melbourne’s Books for Cooks and Brisbane’s community minded Avid Reader to enter the ebook market.

All of the indies battle existing giants The Book Depository and its new owner Amazon as well as Apple and Kobo (which powers Collins Booksellers’ ebook offerings here as well as the now Pearson-owned Borders/Angus & Robertson online store and the standalone Kobo online store).

Speaking of giants, Pearson is the parent company of Penguin Books, and speaking of a big month in the book industry, Canadian-founded Kobo was bought out (for $US315 million) a few weeks back by Japanese ecommerce company Rakuten in a move expected to encourage its growth.

On Kobo, did you know that like Dymocks, it has recently followed in Amazon’s footsteps and announced plans to publish books as well as being a seller of them?

Are you keeping up with the nation’s most recent book news? It’s exhausting, isn’t it?

I haven’t even gotten to the Federal Government’s Book Industry Strategy Group, which handed down its final report on November 9 (the same day as the ReadCloud/Pages & Pages event and the day after Google eBooks arrived in Australia), or the planned Australian Publishers Association/Bowker Titlepage-based ebook retail platform (the final piece in the ebook retail puzzle in this country).

My take on those in the next post, Part III, coming soon to uBookish. Read Part I here.

Not The Book You’re Looking For…

Penguin 75I’ve got to admit I didn’t expect to be laughing at myself while reading Penguin 75, but then again, but I guess that’s what you get for doing something by halves (I almost wrote ‘half-assed’, but then told myself this was a family-friendly blog).

I’d vaguely heard there was a book about the history of Penguin’s covers and, as I’m fascinated by the company’s origins and iconic penguin and orange covers, figured it was a must-have. Of course, I didn’t know the title so crowdsourced its title via Facebook.

Fellow writer, part-time bookseller, and full-time friend and Christopher Currie (I’ve blogged about his first novel, The Ottoman Hotel) suggested I might be thinking of Penguin 75; one he knew to be a bestseller. I immediately ordered it from Boomerang Books and rubbed my hands together in anticipation of its arrival.

Those of us in the industry obsess about what goes into a good cover, and what works and doesn’t from both the author’s and booksellers’ points of view. We each have our pet hates.

For me, they’re generally dust covers and specifically dust covers in light colour. If they don’t arrive in store torn, battered, and generally looking shabby, within about five seconds flat of being on the shelf and handled by potential buyers, they will be.

That said, I have no idea what my idea of a perfect cover is and would go into a complete tailspin were I to have to articulate what I would do for my own book should it ever be published. Hence my keen-ness to learn from the best…

It turns out that it wasn’t quite the book I thought I was ordering, although I’m not sure the book I thought I was ordering actually exists. Instead of tracing the company’s history and the arrival at those distinctive orange Popular Penguin covers, Penguin 75 looks at other covers the company has put together and contains a commentary from the authors whose books those covers graced and the designers who came up with them.

It took me a while to work out what was going on and I chuckled at myself and my confusion when I finally worked it out. And although I don’t (ironically) like its cover, I was amused at and impressed by the cleverness of the book and the wit with which it’s executed.

Paul Buckley is the Executive Vice President Creative Director at Penguin, which is a fancy way of saying Art Director, AKA the guy who is in charge of the designers who design the covers. The book is him documenting the behind-the-scenes tales of just how some covers came into being. And by goodness it’s a cack.

Take, for example, his introduction:

Publishers and editors are used to hearing art directors and designers moan endlessly about their best work being passed over by the philistines that surround them on all sides. They’re also used to hearing from the authors about how there is no way the designer read the material and this lousy cover will surely bury the author’s career.

Then these poor editors and publisher have to gently navigate us through, hopefully to a good conclusion for all. Beautiful designs flourish. And massive book sales soon follow. Probably. Not really. Okay, sometimes. But never as often as we’d all like.

Eat, Pray, LoveHe goes on to explain the book’s premise:

This being the case, design blogs are constantly asking, ‘Why does this cover look this way?’ Often the designer appears online and diplomatically attempts to answer. But in all my years, I’ve only seen an author chime in once. So with this book, I thought it would be fun to get both sides on one page talking about one cover.

And what I’ve learned is that when faced with putting their thoughts on the printed page, authors are far more polite than designers. But I’ve seen the emails. I’ve heard the responses. An author who dislikes his or her cover is often very not polite, and sometimes understandably so.

They spend years crafting something that is immensely important to them, then we come along and in a matter of weeks, an editor sends an email that is usually along the lines of ‘We are so excited to be showing you this cover! We hope you love it as much as we do!!! XOXO’ (really, I see the XOXO thing A LOT)…and then major author panic ensues.

There are some brilliant admissions and one-liners in this book, including some that are cleverly previewed on the inside of the cover and that then point to the particular page in the book on which they occur. Some of my favourites include:

  • He read the book brief and immediately came up with a bear shagging a doll. Bingo. Cover approved.
  • This one is going to be very very very difficult to nail.’ Translation: I’ll need to see a hundred cover comps, and I’m not picking on till UPS is banging on the door.
  • What if I said it was awful? Would [my editor] still take me out to lunch?
  • Sketches were submitted and came back with mixed results. The horse would have to be castrated, but the nipple stays.

The Ottoman MotelI actually laughed out loud (at myself) when I read about how the designer, who didn’t realise just how big the book was going to be (although in truth, no one did, really) put together the Eat, Pray, Love cover. See, the ‘eat’ is crafted from real, three-dimensional pasta, the ‘pray’ from prayer beads, and the ‘love’ from flowers. It was painstakingly completed and photographed twice because the first images didn’t turn out quite so well. Me? I never realised what they were! Er, like, duh!

The tale of how a 16-year-old intern broke the rules and came up with the perfect cover acts as a reminder that the best ideas can come from the unlikeliest (and less experienced) of places. Its inception will go down in Penguin history.

I also loved how one author created his own cover by photographing prostitutes and then obtaining a handwritten release form, which is pictured in the book). His rather, er, detailed invoice (also pictured), is brilliant too.

But I don’t wish to ruin the surprise so won’t say anything further. Instead I’ll say it wasn’t the book I expected and that I didn’t have the reaction to it that I’d anticipated, but that I’d highly recommend. Kind of like it’s not the book you’re looking for, but it’s one that you should find.

The There’s No More Vampire Academy Books Mourning Period Is Almost Over!

Vampire AcademyIrony is finding out that after months of moaning and moping about (and subjecting others to it) that there’s a new book coming out in the series you desperately love, then realising that you will neither be in the country when it’s released. Nor will you—even if you somehow manage to get it into your hot little hands—have the time to read it. Gah!

For those of you who will be available and keen to read such a title, news has it that there will be a new Vampire Academy book available in less than three weeks. Yep, as of 23 August the There’s No More Vampire Academy Books mourning period will be over.

Or at least, it’ll be over until I’ve finished Bloodlines, which will realistically take (once I get hold of it) about a day. Then the There’s No More Vampire Academy Books mourning period will recommence.

It will, of course, also be temporarily be replaced by I’m Overseas Working My Patootie Off And Unable To Get Hold Of An English Version Or Even Find The Time To Read Said Book If I Had It moaning. And a strictly enforced technology black out as I attempt not to inadvertently read some massive plot spoiler, such as ‘OMG Dumbledore is dead?!’

Replace ‘Dumbledore’ with ‘Dimitri’ and the scale of shock is the same (arguably even larger, with heartbreak thrown into the mix). But that—spoiler alert—has already been done in this series. Surely it can’t happen again. Can it?

The plot so far revealed to us is as follows:

Blood doesn’t lie. Sydney is an alchemist, one of a group of humans who dabble in magic and serve to bridge the worlds of human and vampires. They protect vampire secrets—and human lives. When Sydney is torn from her bed in the middle of the night, at first she thinks she’s still being punished for her complicated alliance with dhampir Rose Hathaway.

But what unfolds is far worse. Jill Dragomir—the sister of Moroi Queen Lissa Dragomir—is in mortal danger, and the Moroi must send her into hiding. To avoid a civil war, Sydney is called upon to act as Jill’s guardian and protector, posing as her roommate in the last place anyone would think to look for vampire royalty—a human boarding school in Palm Springs, California.

But instead of finding safety at Amberwood Prep, Sydney discovers the drama is only just beginning. Bloodlines explores all the friendship, romance, battles, and betrayals that made the #1 New York Times bestselling Vampire Academy series so addictive—this time in a part-vampire, part-human setting where the stakes are even higher and everyone’s out for blood.

I know. It’s guaranteed to be spring break meets vampires. Any money there are jokes at vapid American high schoolers’/High School Musical’s expense. Any money there’s a hot human love interest for Jill and/or Sydney. That and that Dimitri and Rose simply must make an ass-kicking appearance—after all, they’re the best and the ones we fell in love with.

You’ll find out first how accurate or otherwise these predictions are, as I’ll be overseas working insane hours and being torn between wanting to hear your verdict and not wanting to know anything at all. Before you mention it, I’ve considered the ebook option. The work time constraints have already kyboshed that. No really, I’ve already been explicitly told not even think about bringing a book I want to finish as there will be no time for reading and maybe not even much for sleeping.

I’ve tried to score myself an advanced review copy from Penguin so I could tackle it before I go, but they clearly don’t deem me large enough fry to warrant one (or even an email reply). They clearly don’t realise how many people I’ve rabbitted on to about it (even my friends’ boyfriends and husbands are completely aware of who Dimitri is). Instead, I’m going to ask you a favour. Come August 23, can you please make sure you don’t tell me the plot, but do tell me if you’ve enjoyed it?

iHARRY REVIEW

iHarry is a hilarious new children’s book by Australian author, Laurine Croasdale.

It hardly seems fair. Harry’s dad designs mobile phones and Harry must be the only kid on the planet who’s not allowed to have one.

So when Dad is bedridden for a week after an accident on Harry’s skateboard, Harry makes the most of it. Dad has invented an amazing new phone. Surely it wouldn’t hurt to borrow it and take it to school just for one day would it?

At first things start out great! The phone seems like the best invention ever.

“It does his exam, plays his favourite songlist and orders pizza – but it has one MAJOR flaw. He can’t take it off. And that’s when the trouble starts…

When the school principal is sent a text saying her stories are boring, Harry is not going to admit that his super phone was responsible.

Then when the school bully, Bozo steals the phone, it seems things can’t get any worse.

Finally, Harry gets the phone back but it has been ground into the dirt by Bozo. How is Harry going to explain this one to Dad?

iHarry has plenty of tension and excitement to keep readers turning the page. The subject matter is topical and imaginative and the first person point of view brings the reader into the heart of the story.

I’m sure that lots of young readers will relate to Harry’s situation where doing something a bit risky turns badly wrong. They will enjoy the fun technology and what kid wouldn’t dream about having a phone that does their exams and pretty much anything they want it to do – even ask their class ‘crush’ out on a date?

iHarry is a fast-paced, easy to read contemporary story. The characters are well developed and believable and the Harry’s dilemma will appeal to its upper primary school readers; many of whom are desperate to have their own mobile phone.

The colourful and quirky cover illustration is by Heath McKenzie. iHarry is published by Penguin Group’s Puffin Books in their Aussie Chomp series.

 

MEET LAURINE CROASDALE

Today at Kids’ book Capers, we’re talking with Australian Children’s author, Laurine Croasdale, about her writing journey and the inspiration behind her new Aussie Chomp, iHarry Laurine has published around fifteen books in a range of genres and topics.

ABOUT LAURINE *

Laurine started by selling ideas for non-fiction for kids, such as game books and activity books like the Play School Party Book and then she started writing fiction.

What do you enjoy most about being a writer?

The moment when you have a great idea and you can’t wait to start getting words on the page.

What is the hardest thing about being a writer?

Making yourself write when you really don’t want to. Usually that’s the editing/rewriting process on very little sleep.

What were you in a past life (if anything) before you became a writer?

I’d love to think that I was a painter.

What is your greatest writing achievement?

Writing a book about bushfires that swept through the street where I grew up. Half the street got burnt down and the whole street was devastated. In the months after I collected everyone’s stories and put them into my book Red Golf Balls. My ‘street family’ loved it and over the years have always given me lots of support. They also put the book in the street ‘archive’ with some other key memorabilia they collected. It is wonderful being able to give people a voice.

What are you working on at the moment?

I have three projects on the go and am writing like an ipod on shuffle.

(Love that description, Laurine. That’s pretty much how I work.)

Do you have any tips for new writers?

Have fun, take heart – there is always room for a good story.

Do your books have any consistent themes/symbols/locations. If so, what are they?

I often write about people who are outsiders and people who refuse to take responsibility for their actions. I like writing books that make me laugh and hopefully make the readers laugh too. Laughter is such a gift!

Anything else of interest you might like to tell our blog readers?

Writing has been a brilliant part of my life. Not only has it presented me with a puzzle that I have spent most of my life trying to unravel but it has brought me into contact with some amazing people, places and situations. Publication is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the rewards and benefits of putting pen to paper.

ABOUT iHarry

What inspired you to write this book?

My son. He never gets off his mobile phone!

What’s it about?

iHarry is about a boy who ‘borrows’ his Dad’s futuristic prototype mobile phone and takes it to school. For a while it’s a dream come true but one day he discovers that it is stuck to his ear and his life goes into freefall.

What age groups is it for?

Upper primary.

Why will kids like it?

The kids I know who have read iHarry think it is fun and funny. It’s about the age group when most kids are desperate to have a mobile phone but have to wait until high school so it taps into their wish list and makes them think ‘what if’.

I did a virtual launch via a Literature Live! video conference to 450 kids and we had a lot of fun coming up with ideas for phones and phone apps and what we could do with them.

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

Harry is the main character. He is a decent guy and normally never does anything wrong so when he is tempted by the phone and takes it to school it goes against his moral code. He stuffs up, gets in trouble, fights with his friends and Dad, and bumbles his way through trying to sort it all out. He is like most kids you meet, a mix of fun, good will, mischief and WHOAAARH! Moments. It’s the WHOAARH! moment that brings him undone!

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

Yes, I have some brilliant teacher’s notes and am happy to send them to teachers if they want to email me l_croasdale*at*hotmail*dot*com. There are things to make and invent as well as questions about the social etiquette of mobile phones and their place in the public arena. In 2016 everyone on the planet will have access to a mobile phone network. The use and reliance on mobile phones has grown like lantana but there seem to be no parameters on how to use them appropriately. I hope iHarry makes kids and teachers start talking about that.

Is there something that sets this book apart from others?

iHarry is a fun adventure for both girls and boys, asks a few moral and social questions and provides a few laughs along the way.

What did you enjoy most about writing this book?

I had fun dreaming up a mobile phone and apps that hadn’t been invented yet. It made me laugh when I wrote it and that’s always a bonus.

What was the hardest thing about writing this book?

There wasn’t really a hard part to it. I know, pathetic isn’t it? It would be much better to say I bled from the eyeballs but sometimes stories go your way and this is one of them.

(I’m really glad this story didn’t make you bleed from the eyeballs, Laurine:)

Laurine is available for classroom workshops and visits and more about her is available from the Literature Live website

Laurine also has her own website at www.laurinecroasdale.com

The pic is of Laurine at Berkelouw Books.

A friend told me that iHarry was No4 on their top ten selling books and I had to go and check that my mother had been in buying them all!

For a review of iHarry, come back to Kids’ Book Capers on Friday. Look forward to seeing you here.

 

OUR AUSTRALIAN GIRL – LETTY

MEET LETTY’S CREATOR, ALISON LLOYD

Alison Lloyd is an immigrant Australian girl too. She came on a plane from the USA with her family and enjoyed making mud pies, playing dress-ups and reading. Writing the four Our Australian Girl Letty books felt a lot like pretending to live in the olden days and travelling by imagination back into the past, and those games she used to play.

Alison is visiting Kids’ Book Capers today to share her writing journey and Letty’s story with us.

What did you enjoy most/find hardest about the research process?

I was moved by the first-hand stories of early emigrants. I read diaries and letters from the 1830s-1850s, and some of them are truly sad. One father tell us what the sailing weather is like each day, then describes how his two children are fading daily from malnutrition. I knew a bit about the First Fleet and convicts, but I hadn’t realised emigration was so common and so gruelling – early settlers took their lives in their hands to sail here.

On a happier note, I really enjoyed researching Victorian fashion: lots of gorgeous pictures of laces and flounces and intricate hairstyles.

What did it feel like to walk in Letty’s shoes?

Life was tough in colonial Australia. Letty isn’t as destitute as Sofie Laguna’s Grace, but she’s vulnerable. She has to earn a living at a young age, away from her family.

Sometimes authors (myself included!) put their child characters through extraordinary things to up the tension, but in Letty’s case I didn’t have to stretch probability at all. Every difficulty she faces was common for Victorian children.

What was the most inspiring thing you discovered about your character?

In spite of feeling insecure, fearful and inadequate, Letty takes risks. She courageously attempts to help others when she knows she might fail.  (And of course, eventually she triumphs!)

How do you think you would have survived living in Letty’s era?

I don’t think I would have lived to adulthood. I’m pretty short-sighted, and without modern glasses I would have been bowled over by a carriage, or fallen into a cesspit, before long.

What significant historical events are covered in your books?

In 1841 Australia was changing – it wasn’t just a penal colony anymore. 170,000 emigrants sailed to Australia from the UK in the two decades before the Gold Rush. Letty is one of them. Single women were particularly encouraged to come, because men outnumbered women by 5:2 in NSW.  Letty’s sister Lavinia comes out under a paid government scheme. But as Letty and Lavinia discover, these young women often had nowhere safe to turn when they stepped off the ship. Caroline Chisholm (remember the $5 note?) was so horrified by the abuse and prostitution on Sydney’s streets, that in 1841 she set up the Female Emigrants Home and Australia’s first employment office. So that’s where Letty too finds shelter for a while.

A REVIEW OF LETTY’S STORIES

Letty is the creation of popular Australian Children’s author, Alison Lloyd and her story takes place in 1841.

In MEET LETTY, Letty accidentally stows away on a boat that is taking her sister, Lavinia to Australia. Letty’s life is changed forever.

How is she going to manage when Lavinia doesn’t even want her there and what will it be like on the other side of the world?

Things change on board ship when Letty saves her sister’s life, but once they reach land it soon becomes apparent that their problems are far from over.

Lavinia’s promised job doesn’t eventuate and they find themselves in a strange new country without work, family or anywhere to live.

At least they still have a friend, Abner, a young sailor from the ship, but will this be enough to keep them safe?

Even though Letty has not come to Australia as a convict, her life is clearly not going to be easy in New South Wales.

In Letty’s second adventure, LETTY AND THE STRANGER’S LACE, she and her sister find her way to Mrs Chisolm’s house (Caroline Chisolm is famous in history for how she helped women who were new to the colony by providing lodgings for them in an old army barracks that she transformed into the Female Immigrants Home).

But they can’t stay there. Lavinia finds work, but her employer doesn’t want Letty.

But Letty is resourceful and manages to find her own work with the baker, George and his unusual sister, Mary.

Letty is scared of Mary who seems to carry a darkness with her. Letty, whose own mother died is filled with scorn when she discovers that Mary has a husband and son she apparently abandoned.

But things aren’t what they seem and Letty soon discovers that Mary’s melancholy has been caused by the loss of a daughter in childbirth.

She doesn’t realise that Mary is pregnant with another child until she goes into labour and it’s up to Letty to try and save Mary and the baby.

Finally, Letty’s life seems settled but then Mary decides to take the new baby and return to her husband and son whom she left to come to the city to be near a doctor.

Mary wants Letty to go with her, but can Letty leave behind her sister and a life where she has come to feel happy and safe at last?

Letty is another strong character who can be impulsive but is able to think of others, even when her own life is hard. Letty’s caring and courage will endear her to young readers.

Alison Lloyd’s detailed research and vivid descriptions make it easy to picture yourself in Letty’s world and to understand what she is going through.

Letty’s stories are another page turning set of books in the Our Australian Girl series.

MORE CHANCES TO WIN OUR AUSTRALIAN GIRL BOOKS


 

 

 


 

 

Ships in the Night: Hocking and Eisler Switch Sides

News has surfaced this week of two surprising defections from rapidly entrenched sides in the Great Publishing Wars of 2011. In the red corner is the reluctant indie/self-publishing darling Amanda Hocking, author of several self-published ebooks and POD (print on demand) dead tree titles. Hocking recently announced she had sold over a hundred thousand copies of her books via Amazon’s Kindle store. In the blue corner is Barry Eisler (Barry who?), author of the John Rain series of thriller novels (published by Penguin) and surprisingly good-looking (in the publishing business we call them ‘promotable’).

So what’s happened, and why should we care? Basically in the past week these two have switched sides. Eisler has turned down a $500,000 advance by his publisher to follow J.A. Konrath down the self-published rabbit hole, and Amanda Hocking, it is rumoured (by Amanda herself), is on the verge of accepting a deal with a traditional publisher.

Quite a bit of blog space has already been filled up with speculation and analysis of this situation by smarter people than me. So for this post I would like to concentrate on how I think this situation might play out long term – or rather, how it might turn out to be representative of how books will get published in the future.

Most publishers wouldn’t argue that discovering amazing writers is one of the hardest parts about publishing. And when I say ‘amazing writers’, I don’t just mean people who can write well. There’s a sort of magic that takes place somewhere between the author, the page (or the screen) and the reader. The best publishers try to pick up on this magic and publish books that people want to read. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? That’s how fortunes are usually made in books – both by the publisher who discovers and develops the talent, and by the author who writes the actual books.

The difficulty with this kind of publishing is that the signal to noise ratio is incredibly low. Lots of people write, and love writing. Very few writers, relatively speaking, are worth reading. When there are very few publishers (indie fanatics, read: gatekeepers), then the bandwidth is going to be terrible. Publishers have tried harnessing technology to solve this dilemma in the past (see: Authonomy et al.) But I’ve spoken about the problems surrounding community-based filtering before.

What the Eisler / Hocking switcheroo has shown us, though, is that self-publishing (at its low end) can provide a low-income microcosm of how traditional book publishing plays out. It’s far more market-driven than traditional publishing. And its cut-throat competitive nature ensures that only the authors who have the magic – and the persistence, hard work and nous – will make headway. In the years to come, the self-publishing arena will, I am sure, be a goldmine for traditional publishers.

And the price publishers will pay for this amazing organic filtering service? The risk of losing their existing authors to the clamoring, messy, dynamic horde of self-published writers. Publishers really will have to compete to hold on to their successful authors, particularly those that are self-starting, driven and ambitious. Some authors (like Eisler), will find that the odds are stacked in their favour. But many authors just want to write, and don’t want to spend their lives administering their own career (like Hocking). And there will be other authors still who are created in the self-publishing bubble and never leave – an option that could not have existed only a few years ago. All of this is great news for readers, authors and publishers. There will be better books, and more of them, they’ll be easier to find and (one hopes) the right books will find the right audience more of the time. In others words, it’s a great time to love books.

REVIEW OF POND MAGIC

It’s hard enough being a twelve-year-old and having to deal with teasing from the school bully because your parents have given you the unfortunate name of Lily Padd.

But when Lily is forced to give up her bedroom for the French exchange student and share with her younger and annoying twin sisters, she thinks that things can’t get any worse.

Unfortunately they do. For some inexplicable reason Lily Padd is turning into a frog and unless she does something about it soon she’s going to be spending the rest of her days hopping around the house eating flies.

Pond Magic, is an hilarious new Chomp from Penguin. It is the debut novel of author, Angela Sunde. Angela is also a talented illustrator but for Pond Magic, the quirky illustrations have been drawn by Lisa Coutts.

There’s a great sense of comedy in this book and plenty of tension as Lily’s symptoms increase daily. First it’s the burping, then the webbed feet, the green skin tinge and the frog like wart. But when Lily starts thinking that flies look appetizing she knows she’s really in trouble.

Lily is a great character as are her best friend, Maureen and the mysterious and attractive exchange student Rainier le Dauphin de France.

Chomp lovers will enjoy the humour, action and hint of romance to be found in Pond Magic. This is a cleverly-crafted and well written first novel.

More about Angela and her work can be found at www.angelasunde.com Lisa’s website is currently being rebuilt but you can find her details at

THE MAGIC OF POND MAGIC

Today we’re pleased to welcome debut author, Angela Sunde to Kids’ Book Capers. Angela is stopping here on a blog tour with her new book, Pond Magic and she’s going to be chatting with us about her life as a writer and where her ideas come from.

Hi Dee,

It’s so nice to be here on the Kids Book Capers blog. Thanks for inviting me.

Angela, how did you become a writer?

I have always been a storyteller. As a German teacher for many years my students would often ask me to tell them stories of my travels. These little anecdotes took on a life of their own as we moved the furniture around and pulled out the finger puppets or dress-ups.

Then, when travelling through Europe for six months with my own children in 2006, my colourful, descriptive and action-packed emails of our day to day adventures drew a dedicated following of readers.  Even years later friends still tell me how sorry they were when the emails stopped.

What do you enjoy most about being a writer?

I love working for myself and I don’t find it lonely at all. In fact I feel more connected to my writing peers than in any other job I’ve had. The friendships I’ve made have been the best part.

What is the hardest thing about being a writer?

The hardest thing is having to wear so many hats: webdesigner, blogger, publicist, marketer, accountant and event organiser.  Writing is the fun part.

What is your greatest writing achievement?

The publication of Pond Magic as an Aussie Chomp with Penguin Australia is definitely a dream come true for me. I am very proud of this story and there is nothing I would change about it.

Where do your ideas come from?

Over the last few years I have become more observant of the people around me. I’d say most of my ideas come from personal experience; either my own childhood or the children in my family. I keep a notebook of ideas and often a story idea will come to me when I am free writing.

Where did the idea for Pond Magic come from?

I was asked to write a story for a fantasy anthology. I didn’t feel very confident as I’d never thought of myself as a fantasy writer, so I looked for help. Morris Gleitzman had given a talk at the CYA conference a few years ago and he’d shared with us the ‘secret’ of a successful story.

That secret was to give your character a problem and start your story with the problem. So I gave my character, Lily Padd, the problem of burping uncontrollably.

How did you develop the original idea into a story?

Once armed with a character and a problem, I asked myself a lot of questions using a mind map: What’s making her burp? What are the embarrassing consequences for her? What if other symptoms start to appear making it worse? What if she’s turning into a frog?

Was it a fun process?

Absolutely! I spent a lot of time laughing as things went from bizarre to ridiculous.

What did you enjoy the most about seeing the story unfold?

As I followed my scene plan the most enjoyable aspect of watching the story unfold was getting to know the characters and watching them interact as they developed into strong individuals.

What was the hardest part about going from initial idea to finished story?

The most difficult part was choosing which of the many solutions would save Lily and stop her turning into a frog. Even as I was half way through writing the story, I didn’t know exactly how it would end.

Do you think that being an illustrator as well helps you visualize ideas and characters?

Perhaps. I see the story in my head like a movie and the characters walk through the scenes in full colour.  I see everything three dimensionally, even house plans.

After you came up with the initial idea, did you do things like drink French champagne and catch tadpoles to help you get into the mood of the story?

Oh dear, my secret is out! Actually we had not long ago returned from our trip to Europe and I had been captivated by the medieval walled city of Carcassonne, France, so of course in the story the French exchange student, Rainier, comes from there. It is also a winegrowing district as the climate of Languedoc is fairly moderate.

Then this year, by coincidence, I discovered a French sparkling (champagne) from the same Languedoc region called ‘Lily Pad Pink’ and … the winery itself is called the Arrogant Frog. I know, unbelievable. Even the blurb on the back label says: “Try a taste and discover what a prince this frog can be!”

So of course that is the champagne served at Pond Magic’s book launch.

Can you tell us what your story is about and why you love it?

It’s about a twelve-year-old girl called Lily Padd who can’t stop burping. Fitting in at school is hard enough for most kids without the added embarrassment of webbed toes and skin that’s turning green! And so Lily fears she is turning into a frog.

To make things worse a French exchange student, Rainier, moves into her bedroom, forcing her to share with her little sisters, and Lily’s best friend, Maureen, thinks he’s gorgeous. As Lily side-steps Rainier’s attempts to be friends, her intolerance of him and all things French escalates into a series of laugh-out-loud situations.

I love Pond Magic. It is hilarious, but it also has a deeper more serious layer beneath the humour. As the plot progresses Lily’s character develops from an intolerant, self-obsessed tween to an accepting, tolerant friend with a better understanding of different cultures and a positive attitude towards other languages. The inter-cultural exchanges throughout the story highlight what is happening in schools everywhere when an exchange student arrives.

The value of this experience is what I wanted to express as the underlying theme of Pond Magic. I think the story successfully delivers this theme without being didactic and at the same time engages the reader in a rollicking good yarn.

I had a lovely time. Thanks so much for having me.

Thanks for visiting, Angela. You can  catch Angela on tour at these great blogs:

21st October – Stories Are Light – Sandy Fussell –
Review
http://www.sandyfussell.blogspot.com

22nd October – Write and Read with Dale – Dale Harcombe
Review and Developing a Character
http://www.livejournal.com/users/orangedale/

23rd October – Sally Murphy’s Writing for Children Blog
Getting Published for the First Time
http://sallymurphy.blogspot.com

24th October – Cat Up Over – Catriona Hoy
What Girls Read
http://catrionahoy.blogspot.com

24th October – Kids Book Review
Review of Pond Magic
www.kids-book-review.blogspot.com

26th October – Tuesday Writing Tips – Dee White
Writing to this Length
http://deescribewriting.wordpress.com

27th October – Kids’ Book Capers – Boomerang Books
Review and Where Story Ideas Come From

28th October – Kids Book Review
The Aussie Chomp Format
www.kids-book-review.blogspot.com

29th October – Tales I Tell – Mabel Kaplan
Promoting your First Book & Planning a Book Launch
http://belka37.blogspot.com

30th October – SherylGwyther4Kids
Once upon a time in a far away place…
http://sherylgwyther4kids.wordpress.com/

BOOKS! BOOKS! BOOKS! August Book Giveaway

This month, Boomerang Books are giving you more chances to win! Alongside our regular monthly giveaway and our Facebook-exclusive giveaway, to celebrate August being the month of the Children’s Book Council Australia’s Book Week, we have a special children’s prize pack to giveaway.

AUGUST MAJOR GIVEAWAY

This month’s prize pack is an eclectic mix set to capture your imagination, touch your heart and tickle your tastebuds. While Judith McNeil paints an unforgettable portrait of Australian life in the 1950s, Angela Valamanesh’s art inspires, and Ben O’Donoghue and Mary Taylor Simeti share recipes that plot you on the path to becoming the Masterchef of your household. The pack includes:

Butterfly by Sonya Hartnett SIGNED
Here is Plum Coyle, on the threshold of adolescence, striving to be new. Her fourteenth birthday is approaching: her old life and her old body will fall away, and she will become graceful, powerful, at ease. The strength in the objects she stores in a briefcase under her bed – a crystal lamb, a yoyo, an antique watch, a penny – will make sure of it.
Over the next couple of weeks, Plum’s life will change. Her beautiful neighbour Maureen will begin to show her how she might fly. The older brothers she adores – the charismatic Justin, the enigmatic Cydar – will court catastrophe in worlds that she barely knows exist. And her friends – her worst enemies – will tease and test, smelling weakness. They will try to lead her on and take her down.
Who ever forgets what happens when you’re fourteen?
Butterfly is a gripping, disquieting, beautifully observed novel that confirms Hartnett as one of Australia’s finest writers.

Outdoor by Ben O’Donoghue (Hardcover) SIGNED
In his first-ever cookbook, Ben brings the wide-sweeping world of barbecuing to your backyard via one of the most stunningly designed books around. No need to walk over hot coals to impress your BBQ guests, these divine recipes will leave a lasting taste in everyone’s mouth.
Try Grilled Lobsters from Norfolk, or Pork Loin With Bay And Balsamic from Italy or even a Thai-inspired dessert of Grilled Pineapple With Rum Ginger And Lemongrass Syrup. Yum! And while you grill, serve guests a Southern Cross Pimm’s barbecue-side. Fresh in every way, this cookbook is a summer staple.

Letters to Leonardo by Dee White
On his fifteenth birthday, Matt receives a card from his mother – the mother he grew up believing was deceased. Feeling betrayed by both his parents, Matt’s identity is in disarray and he begins writing letters to Leonardo da Vinci as a way to sort out the ‘mess’ in his head. Through the connections he makes between his own life and that of Leonardo, Matt unravels the mystery that his life has become and discovers his mother’s secrets and the reasons behind his abandonment.
A unique and powerful story about a fifteen year old boy who tries to deal with his mother’s mental illness by writing letters to Leonardo da Vinci. Ages 12+. 

A True History of the Hula Hoop by Judith Lanigan
A beguiling and utterly original debut novel about two women born centuries apart but joined by the spirit of adventure and a quest for true love.
Catherine is a hula-hooping performance artist, a talented and independent individual plying her trade on the international burlesque stage. Columbina meanwhile is a feisty female clown and a principal in a 16th-century Italian commedia dell’arte troupe.
As Catherine and Columbina struggle to make sense of an increasingly nonsensical world – and to assert their rights as performers and women during times of profound change – their lives, as if by magic, seem to interact.

No One’s Child by Judith McNeil
Judith takes you on a journey back to her childhood – as a ‘railway brat’, growing up in small towns along the tracks while her father worked on the lines. Judith’s life was one of hardship and poverty. The eldest of six children, she soon took on the role of provider and carer, while desperately craving affection from a mother too tired to give it and a father who resented her because she wasn’t a son. Yet there was still joy to be found: in the vibrant Gypsy camp, full of laughter and love in the eyes of Tom, the engine driver who believed in her and fed her thirst for knowledge and in the friendship of Billy, the boy who could see into her soul. No One’s Child is an unforgettable portrait of Australian life in the 1950s. With a vivid cast of characters and set against the backdrop of the ever-changing outback landscape, it will leave you marvelling at the indomitable spirit of one little girl who was determined to forge her own destiny.

Angela Valamanesha: About Being Here by Cath Kenneally (Hardcover)

Sicilian Food: Recipes from Italy’s Abundant Isle by Mary Taylor Simeti

Another Way To Love by Tim Costello and Rode Yule

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

AUGUST FACEBOOK GIVEAWAY

As always, we have a great prize pack to give away to one of our Facebook Group members, which includes: Letters to Leonardo by Dee White, Shakespeare: The Most Famous Man In London by Tony Thompson, Third Transmission by Jack Heath, A Tale of Two Women by Christina Slade, Samurai Kids: Shaolin Tiger by Sandy Fussell, Another Way To Love by Tim Costello and Rode Yule.

Shakespeare Third Transmission A Tale of Two Women Shaolin Tiger

Boomerang Books is fast becoming one of Australia’s biggest book groups on Facebook, so what are you waiting for? Join Now!

BONUS AUGUST CHILDREN’S GIVEAWAY

Entering this bonus giveaway is easy enough. All you have to do is email me a review of the last children’s book you read. You could’ve read it last night, last year, or even back when you were a kid. The catch? It has to be in 20 words or less. When entering, mention which prize pack you’d like to be in the running for – picture book or fiction for ages 10+. Entries close August 31, 2009.

Section A: ‘Book Safari’-Themed Picture Books: The Little One: The Story of a Red-Tailed Monkey by Kaitie Afrika Litchfield, The Gorilla Book: Born To Be Wild by Dr Carla Litchfield, The Chimpanzee Book: Apes Like Us by Dr Carla Litchfield, The Penguin Book: Birds In Suits by Dr Mark Norman, The Antarctica Book: Living In The Freezer by Dr Mark Norman, The Great Barrier Reef Book: Solar Powered by Dr Mark Norman, When No-one’s Looking: On The Farm by Zana Fraillon and Lucia Masciullo, When No-one’s Looking: At the Zoo by Zana Fraillon and Lucia Masciullo.

The Little One The Chimpanzee Book Penguin Book At The Zoo

Section B: Fiction 10+

Samurai Kids: White Crane (SIGNED), Samurai Kids: Owl Ninja (SIGNED), Samurai Kids: Shaolin Tiger (SIGNED), Samurai Kids: Monkey Fist, Letters to Leonardo by Dee White, The Zoo of Magical and Mythological Creatures by Sam Bowring.

White Crane Owl Ninja Letters to Leonardo The Zoo of Magical and Mythological Creatures

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