Illustrator Extraordinaire – Interview with Anil Tortop

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is the best part of what you do?

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

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

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

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

A new book is coming out on 1st of May! The Great Zoo Hullaballoo by Mark Carthew (New Frontier Publishing). You can watch the trailer here: https://vimeo.com/211773518

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

Meanwhile at Tadaa, we are working on the Book Week publication of Ipswich District Teacher-Librarian Network. Here are the cover and details: http://idtl.net.au/book-week.php

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

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

Thank you for having me here!

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

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

CBCA 2017 Picture Books

Congratulations to all the authors, illustrators and publishers who have been shortlisted for this year’s Children’s Book Council of Australia (CBCA) awards.

I am very fortunate to have copies of the following picture books, with thanks to the publishers, and have written a short exposé of most here.

My Brother written and illustrated by Dee Huxley, character creation and illustration by Oliver Huxley and design by Tiffany Huxley (Working Title Press)

This is a stunning, moving picture book about loss and grief, grief shared by the three creators due to the death of a loved one. The written text is minimal and carefully placed on each page. Vignettes of a small donkey lead the viewer through most of the text. Graphite pencil creates a monochromatic effect for most of the book, becoming warm, yellow-suffused watercolour towards the end.

Teacher Notes are available at the publisher’s website.

One Photo written by Ross Watkins, illustrated by Liz Anelli (Penguin Random House Australia)

One Photo is a touching look at the effects of early onset dementia on a family. Dad comes home with a camera to record his memories and help him remember things. Liz Anelli is growing in power with her illustrations, here using sensitive, child-appealing drawing of the photos as well as of the family.

Mechanica: a beginner’s field guide by Lance Balchin (The Five Mile Press, Bonnier Publishing Australia)

Mechanica is a magnificent, innovative pseudo-scientific study of mechanical (mainly winged) insects and other creatures. It reminds me of Gary Crew’s The Lost Diamonds of Killiecrankie and James Gurney’s Dinotopia in the way that a character embarks on a fictional enterprise in a factual, imaginative style. The book champions the protection of our world and its living creatures and is distinctive because of its fine technical/inventive drawings. The sequel, Aquatica, is on the way. Author-illustrator Lance Balchin, has proved to be a popular presenter at festivals and other events.

The Patchwork Bike written by Maxine Beneba Clarke, illustrated by Van T Rudd (Hachette Australia)

Maxine Beneba Clarke is currently one of Australia’s most exciting authors. She also tells the story of a patchwork bike in one of her books for adults and it is interesting to compare it with this sensory, lively version for young children. The illustrations are by street artist Van T Rudd and they are exceptional in their use of media such as corrugated cardboard and smears of paint to show movement. (I will be writing more about Maxine Beneba Clarke’s work in a future post.)

 

Out is written by Angela May George and illustrated by Owen Swan (Scholastic Press)

It is a simple refugee / asylum seeker – ‘but that’s not my name’ – story for young readers told from the point of view of a girl. The agonising trip by boat is not glossed over but is told at an appropriate level. The pencil illustrations also make it accessible for the young.

Congratulations also to Bob Graham (Walker Books Australia) for Home in the Rain. I’ll write about this picture book next week. 

Love Ever After – Picture Book Reviews

If all you need is love, added with delicacy, beauty and tenderness, then these two gorgeous new titles from the home of New Frontier Publishing are for you. A classic fairy tale and a global sensation, both possessing the ability to melt your heart.

Happily Ever After: Beauty and the Beast, is another beautiful book in New Frontier’s (Alex Field) series of classic tales with a twist. The story of a young woman, regretfully sacrificed by her father to an unrelenting Beast, has been told with reverence and endearment. It also enlightens girls with a sense of power, evincing Beauty’s strength and courage in facing her fears and standing up for her rights. The story further relays a message of trust and loyalty as the relationship between the unlikely pair evolves. And finally, the ultimate commitment is made when Beauty agrees to live forever with the Beast and he is transformed into a prince. A true display of unconditional love.

Helene Magisson has unequivocally supported this sweet tale with her soft-paletted, fluid and gentle illustrations. She has created magnificent atmosphere with the muted tones of blues and oranges, beautifully depicting both the contrasts between Beauty and the Beast as well as their tendency to naturally complement each other. The subtle symbolism of the caged butterflies, eventually trading places with the wicked fairy, is clever, and most intriguing for its astute readers.

Happily Ever After: Beauty and the Beast has a modern edge whilst retaining the charming essence of the classic. A keepsake treasure for any princess-loving youngster, and especially perfect timing with all the current ‘Beauty’ hype!

I Love You, written by Xiao Mao and illustrated by Tang Yun is a special picture book specifically about three special, little words. It has a universal appeal that any preschool-aged child, around the globe, can relate to. It is fun-loving, pure, reassuring and irresistibly adorable.

‘I love’ how this book encourages a sense of humanity and togetherness, where we can all, including the animals, live in a world of peace and fondness towards one another and our environment. When the tall-necked Ms Giraffe writes words in five different languages on the board at school, Little Badger takes a particularly keen interest. As it turns out, each phrase translates into the same meaning: I Love You. With her best Chinese, Italian, French, German and Spanish, and English, Little Badger professes her love for everything around her, including Mum and Dad. ‘Ti amo, little tree.’ ‘Te quiero, pretty flowers.’ ‘Wo ai ni, cloud.’ ‘Ich liebe dich, rice.’ ‘Je t’aime, underpants.’ Once she is fluent she can finally rest. Now Mum and Dad can practise, too!

Wonderfully dense, textured paintings fill the pages with natural, warming tones, perfectly suiting this wholesome, meaningful story of love, appreciation and cultural integration. There is also a sense of cheekiness and humour that certainly reflects the age of the readers and the engagement when learning something new.

If any book can send good, loving vibes your way, it’s I Love You. It provides opportunities to explore dialect in one’s own community and beyond, and reinforces that universal bond between children and their carers. So let’s celebrate our world’s rich diversity, and affections, one language at a time!

New Frontier Publishing, 2017.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Christmas Crackers – Picture Book Reviews

As we mark the first day of December, the Christmas countdown has officially begun. A time for snuggles, a time for giggles, a time for togetherness, a time for giving, a time for remembering and making new memories. Here are a few glorious picture books that have all the joy, laughter and magic of Christmas covered.

imageThere is Something Weird in Santa’s Beard, Chrissie Krebs (author, illus.), Random House Australia, October 2016.

Argh! It’s like The Dreadful Fluff in disguise! Yes, there is a dreadful, terrorising mutant refusing to depart the comfort of Santa’s beard. Created by tired and grotty Santa’s leftover crumbs of bubble gum, candy canes, French fries and mince pies, the hideous, squatting blob threatens to ruin Christmas. It devours toys from the workshop and snaps up the elves’ trap. Santa attempts to remove it but to no avail. At last, it is the skilled, king fu-fighting reindeer that save the day. All is well with Santa until he treats himself after a training session with a sticky ice cream.

Chrissie Krebs has written this story with the great gusto and rollicking rhyme that it deserves. I love the depiction of Mrs Claus, too – homely and caring, but let’s face it, everyone’s patience has its limits! With its slapstick comedy, unfaltering rhyming couplets and vibrantly bright and energetic illustrations, this book makes for a highly engaging and fun read-aloud experience.

There is Something Weird in Santa’s Beard will take your preschoolers on a belly-rolling, chin-tickling journey as Santa overcomes the most terrible experience imaginable. But you can count on poor, messy Santa reliving it over and over again, as he did in our household!

imageI Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas, John Rox (author), Simon Williams (illus.), Scholastic Australia, October 2016.

Here lies the renewal of the classic 1950 song originally written by John Rox, and performed by a young Gayla Peevey in 1953, which resulted in the Oklahoma City zoo acquiring a baby hippo named Matilda.

The story subtly portrays a sweet innocence, yet the narrator is firm with complete conviction on why s/he should have a hippopotamus for Christmas. Written in first person with its irregular upper and lower case handwriting as the main text, this is a fun, lyrical narrative (with bonus CD by Indigenous singer Miranda Tapsell) perfectly capturing the magic of childhood and Christmas for its preschool listeners.

Simon Williams gorgeously ties in this magical essence with his own interpretation of the humour and playfulness through his whimsical illustrations. Pairing a ginger kitten as narrator with its ‘Hippo Hero’ is an inspiring move portraying a wonderful unlikely friendship. The kitten makes promises to feed and care for it, and is excited by the hope of being surprised by its presence on Christmas morning. No crocodile or rhino would do, “I only like hippopotamuses. And hippopotamuses like me too!”

Adorably energetic, bouncy and joyful, children from age three will be adamant that they want I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas for Christmas.

imageThe Night Before Christmas, Clement Clarke Moore (text), Helene Magisson (illus.), New Frontier Publishing, November 2016.

With illustrations that are soft with warmth, deep with texture and rich with love, this newest edition of The Night Before Christmas is truly one to treasure.

With the timeless poem by Clement Clarke Moore, talented illustrator Helene Magisson works her magic to create a stunning gift for any family celebrating Christmas. As Santa and his eight reindeer journey through the snow-speckled sky to below the snow-crested rooftop, we are soothed by the pale watercolour tones that beautifully contrast the outdoor shades of blues with the indoor hues of reds. I also love the little whimsical subtleties like Santa’s cheeky expressions, the playful cat and the koala toy for our Australian readers.

With a special story and exquisite illustrations that represent togetherness, comfort and the undeniable joy that is Christmas, The Night Before Christmas is a beautiful keepsake for children between four and six years old.

You can find more fantastic gifts in the Kids Reading Guide 2016.

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Under the Christmas Tree – Part 1

Okay, with just over a month and a half to go, it’s time to get serious about Christmas. For the next 42 days or so,  I’ll attempt to fill your Christmas lists with some nifty literary ideas for kids to go under the Christmas tree this year. Today we look at some terrific non-fiction titles guaranteed to raise a few oohs and aahs on Christmas Day.

cheeky-animalsCheeky Animals – Shane Morgan

The classic 20-year-old picture book, Look & See, inspired Shane Morgan’s hard cover board book, Cheeky Animals. Clean, smile-inducing text compliments simple yet strong illustrations of some of our most cheeky cherished Aussie animals.  A great stocking stuffer for 2 + year olds.

Magabala Books October 2016

funny-facesFunny Faces – Dr Mark Norman

Just as funny but using expressive real life images of a variety of animals and their amazing anatomy to accompany concise, information-laden narrative is Dr Mark Norman’s, Funny Faces. This soft cover version is a close up, informative, extraordinary (did you know a Dragonfish has teeth on its tongue!)  look at the funny face bits of a planet of animals, birds, invertebrates and reptiles. The fact file and images are sure to keep budding biologists absorbed for years. Super handy and an easy to reference guide book for early primary project makers. Check out other titles in this funny series, here.

Black Dog Books June 2014

animaliumAnimalium – Katie Scott and Jenny Broom

Curated by Katie Scott and Jenny Broom, Animalium is a cloth bound, pocket-sized gem of a book that invites fledging Attenboroughs to enter a literary museum of the animal kingdom. I felt as though I was wondering through the astonishing exhibits of the London Natural History Museum, exploring the world of mammals, invertebrates, fish and more. This is a biologist’s nirvana: insightful, knowledgeable text, and clear, detailed illustrated plates. Excellent go to book that is a work of art unto itself for mid to upper primary.

The Five Mile Press October 2016

amazing-animals-of-australian-national-parksAmazing Animals of Australian’s National Parks – Gina M. Newton

Gina M. Newton’s Amazing Animals is an environmental triumph. This large, soft cover book leaves no leaf or stone unturned as Newton guides inquisitive minds through a plethora of our national parks and their fascinating individual habitats. From the Tropical Rainforests in the north to the Mallee Woodlands of the arid south, Amazing Animals focuses on the species that inhabit these places with detailed Q & A, fast facts, and a ‘did you know’ kind of narrative. Diagrams and close up photos completes this brilliant compendium of who what and where along with a comprehensive ‘how to use this book’ guide that even includes a Conservation Status indicator. Young readers may be familiar with some of the species highlighted; they may have even spotted a few of them in their own neighbourhoods. What is nifty about this guidebook is that they can now actively get out and explore more of the native parklands in their locale and become more wildlife aware by doing so. Superb. Highly recommended for classroom to bedroom bookshelves of primary and above readers.

NLA Publishing October 2016

awesome-animals-horse-fun-factsAwesome Animals – Horses Fun Facts and Amazing Stories – Dianne Bates and Sophie Scahill

I was your typical horsey-obsessed little girl. That kind of passion never real dissipates, merely dims with neglect. Dianne Bates and Sophie Scahill have produced a handy, bookshelf friendly series of Awesome Animal books that present eager young readers with a mindboggling array of facts, figures, trivia, and fun stories for a menagerie of animals. This one, about Horses is incredible. Layered with more information about horses than I have ever encountered, Horse Fun Facts is comprehensive, breezy, easy to navigate and utterly captivating. I guarantee readers will learn something new each time they delve into these books. Horses is an awesome mix of entertainment and information that will fuel those pony club passions forever more. A brilliant, value-laden gift idea if ever there was one.

Big Sky Publishing September 2016

fantastically-great-women-who-changed-the-worldFantastically Great Women Who Changed the World – Kate Pankhurst

History, whilst fascinating can be a tiresome thing to wade through at times. Not so anymore thanks to Kate Pankhurst’s illustrated explorative journey with some of our planets most noted, daring, and incredible women. Great Women Who Changed the World covers such heroines as Jane Austen, Coco Chanel, Marie Curie, and Anne Frank. Others like, Sacagawea and Amelia Earhart are also featured, each with their own two-page spread festooned with detailed trivia type tip bits all gorgeously illustrated to create a visual wonderland of facts and figures. By the time young readers have swam the English Channel with Gertrude Ederle or uncovered the first Pterosaur skeleton with Mary Anning, they will be hundreds of years wiser and no wiser for it! This awesome picture book ends on a note of great inspiration, namely for young misses but the message is universal: never give up, believe in yourself, back yourself, and dare to be different! Truly fantastic and a must have in your Christmas stockings!

Bloomsbury Children’s Publishing October 2016

For more great gift ideas, visit The Kids’ Reading Guide – Information Titles and stay tuned for my next instalment of Under the Christmas Tree.

kids-reading-guide-2016-2017

 

Picture Books of Persistence and Problem Solving

When life throws you curve balls, when your path is not always clear, or when things are not in your control. These are the times that test your tenacity, your resilience and your perseverance. Young children are faced with a multitude of situations and obstacles everyday that require smart decision making and problem solving, and these few adorable picture books will no doubt offer some extra pointers on rising up to the challenge.

imageSnail and Turtle Rainy Days, Stephen Michael King (author, illus.), Scholastic Press, July 2106.

We were blessed with the presence of this endearing pair in their previous tale of kindred spirits despite their obvious differences. Stephen Michael King cleverly extends on this sentiment in Snail and Turtle Rainy Days – Turtle kindly takes Snail’s creative preferences into account in his plans to help out his friend.

I just love the essences of reassurance, humour, playfulness and warmth amongst the dreariness of the scene. Just like the rain the words flow rhythmically and soothingly, as well as with great gusto as Turtle busily forges ahead with his plan to coax Snail out of his shell. Meticulously gathering, ripping, bending and chewing, and not forgetting painting of bright blobs and gentle swirls (for Snail), Turtle provides the perfect shelter to share with his favourite companion.

The partnership of the divinely vivid and layered illustrations gorgeously ties together with the purity and fervour of its characters. Children from age three will fall head over shells in love with this charming couple all over again.

imageThe Cat Wants Custard, P.Crumble (author), Lucinda Gifford (illus.), Scholastic Australia, July 2016.

When a cat wants something desperately enough, who or what can get in their way? In The Cat Wants Custard, I’ve never seen a more insistent, yet surprisingly patient despite the prickly attitude, feline on a mission.

Kevin the cat is called by his owner to come for a treat. However, none of the suggestions are much to his liking. Kevin is in the mood for something sweet, and custard is definitely on the table (not literally, it’s still in the fridge). When the cat’s impressively accurate spelling and rhyming knowledge is unfortunately ignored (or misunderstood, rather), Kevin doesn’t give up. He lays in the kitchen for hours for his big opportunity. But when his prize is finally open for the taking, the feisty, custard-craving cat comes to a shocking conclusion.

Kevin’s obnoxious and indignant stream of consciousness, relayed to his readers via thought bubbles, is totally hilarious! And paralleled is Gifford‘s lively, animated and boldly comical illustrations showing the cat’s characteristically accurate body and facial expressions. (My favourite is the death-stare!)

Children from age three will relish every funny thought of this persistent cat and particularly his cat-astrophic, not-so-sweet ending. My three year old is already asking for the ‘mashed potato’ sequel!

imageLittle Koala Lost, Blaze Kwaymullina (author), Jess Racklyeft (illus.), Omnibus Books Scholastic Australia, July 2016.

Absolutely captivating acrylic paint textures and digital collages set the scene in this endearing counting story of a displaced little koala in the Australian bush. We feel for this tiny one as he tirelessly searches for a home and encounters rejection after rejection from the animals he approaches. Two marvellous magpies claim he can’t sing, three tricky turtles state he has no shell to protect himself, four pesky pelicans tell Koala he wouldn’t be able to catch fish without a bill, and so on. But just as he about to give up hope, it is on his tenth meeting that the koala family welcome the little mite into their gum tree home.

The predictive sequential rhythm and use of alliteration in the text by Kwaymullina is beautifully supported by Racklyeft‘s palpable and inviting illustrations, both encouraging eagerness to continue to locate a satisfying resolution.

Little Koala Lost is an adorably engaging and relatable story of belonging and perseverance, with which preschoolers will root for Koala’s wellbeing every step of the way.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

War and the CBCA 2016 Shortlisted Picture Books

War is a recurring theme in the 2016 CBCA shortlisted books and dominates the picture book category.

RideRide Ricardo Ride by Phil Cummings, illustrated by Shane Devries (Omnibus Books, Scholastic Australia) has an Italian war setting, where the soldiers are portrayed as menacing shadows. It particularly looks at the relationship between Ricardo and his father, who work together on Ricardo’s bike  (a major symbol in the book).

The illustrations include panels superimposed over larger digital paintings and strategic cropping of heads, and it looks to be influenced by the artwork of John Brack.

Suri’s Wall by Lucy Estela, illustrated by Matt Ottley (Penguin Random House) has the inevitable sorry pairing of war and refugees.Suri wall

Suri is treated with suspicion by the other children who live with her behind the wall because she is tall. But her height enables her to look over the wall to see the devastation beyond. However, she tells them tales of very different settings inspired by imagination and beauty. Themes include occupation, difference, imagination, resilience, compassion and hope. Books with similar issues and themes are The Cat at the Wall by Deborah Ellis, The Wall by William Sutcliffe and The Kites are Flying by Michael Morpurgo.

FlightFlight by Nadia Wheatley, illustrated by Armin Greder (Windy Hollow Books) has already been shortlisted for the NSW Premier’s Literary awards – the Patricia Wrightson prize. It begins with a small family fleeing into the desert to escape persecution, which parallels the Biblical story of Mary, Joseph and Jesus fleeing to Egypt. It shows how “an ancient story becomes a fable for our times”. The merging of the Biblical story with a contemporary refugee tale has been more than seven years in the making with prominent author Nadia Wheatley (My Place, Papunya) writing many drafts.

And the BandAnd the Band Played Waltzing Matilda by Bruce Whatley & Eric Bogle (Allen & Unwin) is a confronting anti war cry. It is a ballad as a protest song – and is not for young readers. It’s about Gallipoli, although written in response to the Vietnam War. It is structured around the Eric Bogle song, as well as Waltzing Matilda.

The illustrations could be compared with Whatley’s illustrations for Jackie French’s The Beach they Called Gallipoli (digitally manipulated photos & pen in watercolour and acrylic collages). Here the illustrations feature searing line drawings, allusive blood splotches and are dominated by the narrator soldier’s direct gaze.

stepOne Step at a Time by Jane Jolly (who wrote Tea and Sugar Christmas), illustrated by Sally Heinrich (Midnight Sun Publishing), explores the repercussions of land mines in Burma. The illustrations are reproductions of hand coloured lino prints. Panelling (panel strips) and movement lines are used effectively across the cover and elsewhere. Repeated motifs of elephants and other symbols make decorative borders but the underlying issue in this book is not pretty.

My Dead BunnyMy Dead Bunny by Sigi Cohen, illustrated by James Foley (Walker Books) is not a war story in the conventional sense, although it is raising heated views. It is a zombie rabbit tale, told with over the top humour and rhyming couplets: “I poked at Bradley with a stick – his fur was muddy, damp and thick, and in his final resting place, the worms had tried to eat his face”. The illustrations are in digital comic style using a predominately black and white colour scheme with sparing touches of lime and orange.

Marching Forward – Remembering Bravery Reviews

Remembering, honouring, commiserating, – learning. When recently reading ANZAC titles to my maturing primary schooler, she asked, ‘Are there still wars, going on?’ I had to reply that yes, sadly there were. However, by sharing the past and gradually exposing children to the realities of it, hopefully they become better equipped to care enough to avoid and prevent future conflicts. It’s a reality I’d like to hope for. These titles perpetuate that hope while escorting young readers through the historical past.

Forward MarchForward March by Christobel Mattingley Illustrated by David Kennett Picture Book

This is a curious ANZAC picture book, more of a compilation of ANZAC Day emotions, colours and locations commiserating the loss of our war veterans and the sacrifice they made. The opening page appears sombre and cold at first; pre-dawn on ANZAC Day morn. Look closely though and you’ll notice a pale yellow light entreating hope and promise. It represents one of the many war memorials across Australia where keen crowds gather to remember not only our great-grandads, dads, sons and grandsons, but also the grandmas, mothers, daughters and aunties, all those affected by battles they never ever wished for nor properly understood.

Mattingley’s sparse yet rousing statements honour all those who left their families and land to serve abroad whilst also acknowledging those who stayed behind and kept the country ticking over, ending with the rising of the dawn, the Last Post and a pledge to never forget.

What really captivates though are Kennett’s painted and drawn illustrations clustered in muted sepia-coloured vignettes that resemble the type of photo album your grandmother might have kept. Although an eyeful to take in all at once, these spreads tell of life on the battlefields in ways that leave words gasping. Several international conflicts are depicted including the Boer War, both Great Wars and the Vietnam War giving children wider scope and deeper meaning to exactly what we are remembering when standing at the cenotaph on ANZAC Day.

Ideal for prompting discussion of past world commemorative events amongst early primary schoolers presented with respect and restraint.

Omnibus Books March 2016

Socks Sandbags and LeechesSocks, Sandbags & Leeches Letters to my Anzac Dad by Pauline Deeves Illustrated Fiction

This hardcover illustrated tribute to those who served in the First World War is uniquely different to other children’s books drawing on this theme. Significantly, it is told through the eyes of a twelve-year-old child, Ivy whose father has left to fight overseas.

Deeves executes the same breezy epistolary style used in Midnight Burial to inform readers about life back in Australia whilst great chunks of her population were, in many ways, coerced to fight overseas. Through a series of letters written over a period of four years to her father who is first posted to Gallipoli and later France, Ivy describes how she and her mother had to move house, live with their Aunt Hilda and succumb to the restrictions of life during wartime.

Ivy’s voice is delightfully informal and intimate, eliciting strong young reader appeal and interest. She mentions various modernisations and several vagaries of life over 100 years ago that our tech –imbued children of today might well find absurd. I particularly appreciated Ivy’s illustrations included in her letters.

Socks Sandbags and Leeches illos spreadDeeves flourishes fact with fiction in a way that imparts a lot of new and interesting information. Although essentially a story about Socks, Sandbags & Leeches, readers can locate various topics about Conscription, the Retreat from Gallipoli and what school was like for example from the headings listed in the Contents. Scrapbook type pages crammed with authentic sketches, prints and excerpts of the time enhance the appearance of Ivy’s collection of letters and serve to reinforce the information she is relaying to her absent father.

A fascinating storytelling approach and account of the First World War for readers nine to fifteen.

National Library of Australia NLA February 2016

Dreaming the EnemyDreaming the Enemy by David Metzenthen YA novel

I have to include this new novel by master story teller, David Metzenthen, tackling the effects of Post-Traumatic Stress associated with one of our more recent political conflicts. Immersing readers into hot sweating jungle warfare and solider psyche, makes for a challenging read, not for the faint hearted. There’s a possibility it will create lasting impressions but not because of any insensitive gratuitous horror (there isn’t any) rather because it’s narrated in a somewhat disconnected way, from deep inside the head of a returned Vet and his erstwhile Viet Cong nemesis.

If you think you have difficulties getting your head around this psychological battle, spare a thought for the main character, Johnny Shoebridge. His tale of post-Vietnam traumatic anxiety is as wrenching and spellbinding as it is complicated and beautiful. Johnny has left the battlefields but has brought home a dread of living and the ghost-fighter, Khan who relentlessly dogs him. He knows he will remain forever at war if he can’t find a way to lay this phantom to rest.

Metzenthen has woven an elegant web of infinite detail, spinning tragedy and despair with hope and healing, undoable finality with incomplete futures, expanding on the truism that a solider may leave the battlefield behind but that the battle may never truly leave him.

‘Death never ended for the living.’

Wit and plenty of ribald reality checks temper Metzenthen’s breathtaking use of language and meticulous description while characters so real you can literally hear and smell them give you a great sense of tangibility. By the end of it, we come to acknowledge the awful truth we’ve suspected all along just like Khan and Johnny, that war is never really about wanting to kill or having a choice about it. Dreaming the Enemy decries this ultimate tragedy with a force so powerful it leaves your heart heaving.

Older teen readers will gain immeasurably from this stirring read as will the rest of us. Stunning and faultless.

Allen & Unwin 2016

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

 

CBCA Notables 2016

The CBCA (Children’s Book Council of Australia) Notables (or long lists) have been announced today.

The short lists will be announced on Friday 20th May at the national conference which is held in Sydney this year.

I’ve listed my favourites (of those I’ve read) below:  BOOK OF THE YEAR: EARLY CHILDHOOD

As Big as You by Sara Acton
As Big as You by Sara Acton

I interviewed the delightful Sara Acton for the most recent edition of Magpies magazineAs Big as You opens up vertically instead of the usual horizontal format to show height. Sara is one of our new illustrators to watch.

Janeen Brian and Ann James have produced innovative picture books in I’m a Dirty Dinosaur and I’m a Hungry Dinosaur (which I reviewed here). It is hard to go past mud and chocolate icing as illustrative media.

Some other favourites are Perfect by Danny Parker and Freya Blackwood, This is a Ball by Beck Stanton and Matt Stanton and This & That  by Mem Fox and Judy Horacek.

PICTURE BOOK OF THE YEARFlight

Perfect is nominated again in picture book of the year. Other personal favourites are Flight by Armin Greder and Nadia Wheatley. This impressive book seems to be telling a version of the Nativity story but also becomes a refugee story. And there are parallels between Jesus’ early life and that of a refugee. Matt Ottley is long listed twice: for a story of incarceration and hope in Suri’s Wall, written by Lucy Estela and the incomparable Teacup, a refugee story written by Rebecca Young.

Other standouts are Where’s Jessie? by Anne Spudvilas and Janeen Brian (again), Mr Huff by Anna Walker, Adelaide’s Secret World by Elise Hurst and How the Sun Got to Coco’s House by Bob Graham. This is a really strong list and also includes some non-fiction books such as My Gallipoli by Robert Hannaford and Ruth Starke, And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda by Bruce Whatley and Eric Bogle and Platypus by Mark Jackson and Sue Whiting.

THE EVE POWNALL AWARD FOR INFORMATION BOOKS looks particularly strong this year and includes We are the Rebels by Clare Wright, Lennie the Legend by Stephanie Own Reeder, The White Mouse: The Story of Nancy Wake by Peter Gouldthorpe, Atmospheric by Carole Wilkinson, and I could easily go on…

BOOK OF THE YEAR: OLDER READERS My picks are Cloudwish by Fiona Wood, Freedom Ride by Sue Lawson (which has just been shortlisted for the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards), The Beauty is in the Walking by James Moloney, The Guy, the Girl, the Artist and His Ex by Gabrielle Williams (also shortlisted for the NSW Prems) and Inbetween Days by Vikki Wakefield, who I am chairing in three sessions at the upcoming SWF. Meg  McKinlay is listed here for A Single Stone, continuing her run of being long and shortlisted in both YA and children’s awards.

MollyMy pick from a mixed bag for BOOK OF THE YEAR: YOUNGER READERS is Molly and Pim and the Millions of Stars by Martine Murray, which I reviewed here.

Congratulations to everyone who has been long listed. It’s a great honour and shows recognition of your very deserving books.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

A Pet is for Life – Sandy Fussell on Sad, the Dog

Sandy Fussell‘s new picture book had a most timely arrival, with Christmas around the corner it comes as an important reminder that responsibility for pets is for a life time, not just for one season. Already having success with her middle grade books, including the popular Samurai Kids series and her award winning novel, Polar Boy, Sandy Fussell‘s venture into picture book territory is exciting, and certainly most welcomed.

I look forward to sharing our interview with you as the talented, animal-loving Sandy Fussell talks about her career and her gorgeous new title, Sad, the Dog.

imageFor me, and my daughters, Sad, the Dog has had a lasting affect on us. Having always had (spoilt!) dogs in our family, it is unimaginable the level of ignorance and treatment that Mr and Mrs Cripps place on their dog; an unwanted ‘nuisance’ they were given for Christmas. Starved for affection, and even a name, this little pup, who’s spirit is inexorably crushed, calls himself ‘Sad’ – unfortunately, an apt name. But when the grouchy owners up and leave, without so much as a bat of an eyelid, poor Sad is left to fend for himself. In a seredipitous turn of events, Sad is united with a new friend, a new family, a new name, and a new spirit.

Fussell’s eloquent language, together with Tull Suwannakit‘s characteristically arresting illustrations, have the irrefutable power to elicit a full range of sensations with every read. I honestly can’t remember many books that have had me bubbling with rage, sorrow, optimism and pure joy all at once. Through the sadness, though, you’ll find those pops of warmth and love.

Sad, the Dog is emotionally and visually striking, highly memorable and absolutely endearing that any child (and adult) would be ‘lucky’ to own.

Read Dimity‘s insightful review here.

Walker Books, Oct 2015.

Thank you, Sandy for talking with me today!

You’ve been successful with your middle grade fiction, and in particular your best-selling ‘Samurai Kids’ series. What made you venture into the world of picture books and how would you compare your processes between the different writing styles? Do you prefer one style over the other?

imageI never intended to write a picture book and if anyone had asked me, I would’ve insisted it would never happen because I don’t look at the world through “picture book eyes”. But one day, I accidentally looked that way, and the story of Sad the Dog appeared inside my head (450 words complete with a plot hole!).

My approach to middle grade and picture books is exactly the same. I let the story tell itself. When the sense of place and character is strong, the story always follows. While I don’t prefer one over the other, I find middle grade a lot easier to write (the picture book eyesight problem again).

What I did find very different and quite wonderful, was that with a picture book, I was never on my own. Whatever I was doing, Tull Suwannakit (who illustrated Sad) was keen to share and support and vice versa. When you write a picture book there is always another person who loves it exactly as much as you do.

‘Sad, the Dog’ is loosely based on a true story of a neighbouring family in your past. What does this story mean to you? What significant messages do you hope readers will gain from reading your book?

This question of messages in books interests me – Are they really there? Do they matter? What if readers get them wrong? I’ve heard many authors (especially adult fiction) say they don’t write with books with a message. For me, that’s not possible. A writer brings many themes to a story – from their passions, beliefs and experiences – they’re story building blocks. And themes inherently contain a message. The reader may find completely different themes and messages depending on their life experience and perspective, and I’m fine with that too.

Sad the Dog, is about hope. Life can be very sad, but with a little help, it can be turned around. There’s other messages too. If we help others we make the world a happier place. Owning a pet involves an emotional responsibility as well as providing the physical needs of food, water and somewhere to sleep. I could probably find even more messages if I went looking. My world view seeps into all my stories, long or short.

What have been your most rewarding and challenging aspects of creating books, and in particular, ‘Sad, the Dog’?

For me, the story itself is a wonderful reward. I suspect I am a very selfish writer. I write the stories I want to tell and the stories I want to hear. The challenge is convincing others these stories are worth reading and sharing.

School visits are the ultimate challenge and I’m always up for that. If I can inspire one child in every school to look at books more positively – that’s a huge reward.

The other big reward I associate with creating books is meeting book people – whether they are readers, writers, librarians or booksellers – anyone who wants to talk books is an instant friend. I’ve been part of the Oz literary landscape for a few years now but writing a picture book introduced me to even more book people.

imageThe artwork by Tull Suwannakit is quirky, compelling and absolutely sublime. What do you like about his work and how do you feel his illustrations compliment your text? Do you have a favourite image from the book?

I have to admit when I was first shown a drawing of Sad, I shook my head and said “Sad doesn’t look like that.” But the truth was, as I soon discovered, I didn’t know what Sad looked like and luckily for me, Tull did. My image was a memory of Cassie, the floppy-eared soulful-eyed spaniel type dog who was the inspiration for the story. What I didn’t realise was after I reworked the inspiration into a story, it wasn’t about Cassie any more. It was about Sad. And Sad didn’t look like Cassie, he looked like himself. Which is what Tull knew right from the beginning. His illustrations were a perfect fit.

I love Tull’s artwork and I love how art pervades his life. I feel lucky to be part of it. RMIT did a short film about Tull and his art. One of my Sad, the Dog favourite things is the birthday card Tull drew for me – Sad has a big grin and mouth full of sausages. My favourite illustration – and it’s so hard to choose – is the front cover with Sad sitting in the leaves – the colours are glorious and the fallen leaves, while leaving the tree bare and barren, remind me it will grow green again.

imageIn a wonderful coincidence of life imitating art, a friend on Twitter sent me this picture of her dog (who wasn’t sad but very happy).

How did you find your publishing experience with Walker Books? How did you go about approaching them with your ‘Sad, the Dog’ manuscript, and how have they supported you in the process?

I read an extract from White Crane at a meeting of writers that included Sue Whiting who had, unknown to everyone there, just been appointed Commissioning Editor for the new Walker Books Australian list. Prior to that Walker Books Australia was a distributor of Walker Books UK and Candlewick US titles. Sue asked me if I would send her the manuscript when it was finished. I did and I’ve been sending Sue manuscripts ever since.

By the time I had the idea for Sad, the Dog I had already published five middle grade titles with Walker Books, whose name is synonymous with beautiful picture books. So I was thrilled when they accept Sad for publication.

How have you found the response to ‘Sad, the Dog’ so far? Any stand-out moments or particular comments that have resonated with you the most?

The response to Sad has been overwhelmingly positive and I’ve had lots of messages and pictures sent to me via social media. Samurai Kids is a popular series and I’m fortunate enough to still receive fan mail seven years after the first book – but they’re always email. Many responses to Sad are more spontaneous – photos and shout-outs. I’ve wondered if it’s a “picture book thing.” Adult picture book lovers are a vocal group – whether they love the book personally or because their child does – they seem more inclined to tell the world about books they love.

I’m rather partial to these lines from a review on Brona’s Books blog: When I read picture books I tend to wear two hats – my preschool teacher’s hat (will a rowdy group of preschoolers like this book? What are its educational possibilities?) and my book lovers hat (do I love this book?) In recent years I have also added a third and fourth hat – my bookseller’s beret (will this book sell? Who to?) and my blogger beanie (does this book have review potential?) Sad, the Dog by Sandy Fussell is one of those special picture books that I can answer YES, YES, YES to all the above. What author wouldn’t love to hear that said about their first picture book?

Do you / have you owned a pet of your own? What special moments with your pet/s can you recall the most?

imageCurrently I have two chocolate-point Burmese cats (Bree and Tega) and a green tree frog called Fat Boy Slim. Over the years I’ve had many pets – some have been rescues and returned to the bush (Mouse, the baby possum given to me by a Ranger when I worked at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Robert the cockatoo with an injured wing) as well as numerous parrots (Robert liberated those), tankfuls of tropical fish (discus and hatchet fish are my favourites), a budgerigar, ducks, chickens, a lizard, a turtle, snakes and three Scottish deerhounds.

My pets, especially the dogs and cats, are family members, much more than just animals that live in my house and yard. Sad, the Dog was inspired by my indignation that anyone could abandon their dog to the new owners of their house, as if a pet was some sort of inanimate home fixture.

Have you always wanted to be a children’s writer? What motivated you to pursue this career? How did you get your break?

I always loved reading but I never wanted to be an author of any kind. I was into mathematics and IT. Finding I wanted to write for children was an accident. My avid-reader 10-year-old decided overnight he wasn’t going to read any more. I’ve always believed the key to kids reading is finding the right thing to read (which may not be a book). I managed to convince him to write me a story that he would like to read. He insisted I transcribe it, because while storytelling was fun, writing it down was hard work (he was right about that). It was the most random story I’d ever heard and I kept interfering. So he sent me away to write my own story. By that time, I was hooked.

I kept writing because I loved it. I wrote nine middle grade stories before I decided I wanted to share them. A chance meeting with Di Bates, who is one of most generous and knowledgeable people in the OZ children’s literary industry, fast-tracked my path to publication. Di encouraged me, improved my work and made sure I was standing in the right spot when opportunity found me. One of my career highlights is the speech I gave at the NSW CBCA dinner where Di was presented with the Lady Cutler Award for Services to Australian Children’s Literature.

What valuable writing and publishing tips have you learned along the way that have been the driving force to getting you to where you are today?

I’m a list lover from way back – so here’s My Top 6 Takeaways from Becoming a Published Author
1 Writing is a habit. Write and the story will come.
2 Words are the musical notes that make a story sing. Choose every one of them carefully and polish sentences until they shine.
3 Writers need other writers. And illustrators. And book people. Because they understand.
4 A writer needs to read widely inside and outside their comfort zone to develop their writing potential.
5 Your editor is your story’s best friend. Trust her (him) with it.
6 It’s important to give. It’s good for the soul. It makes for a better person and a better writer.

You juggle your time between writing, blogging, presenting, and running several literary initiatives including The Story Crowd and The Reading Stack. What are your secrets to managing all these jobs?

I think the truthful answer might be a bit boring. I’m not a good sleeper so I have more hours in my day than most people. I know it’s not supposed to be healthy to sleep 5 ½ hours a day but despite my efforts, I can’t change that pattern. My mother and grandmother were the same so perhaps it’s genetic. I’m also a very efficient person and the theory of productivity fascinates me. I’m always reading articles about it. I’m very focussed – some would say fixated and obsessed– and always full of ideas. I tend to act on a lot of them when I think most people have equally wonderful ideas but just keep thinking about them. If I’m not doing two things at once, I’m looking around for something else to do.

Finally, tell us something about yourself that not many people would know!

I spent years learning the violin. I’m still not very good at it so perhaps that’s best kept secret.

Thank you so much, Sandy! I’m sure your violin skills are superb! May you and your family enjoy a safe and prosperous Christmas! Looking forward to seeing you in the New Year! 🙂

You can find more on Sandy Fussell at her website and facebook page.

*** Find this post on the Just Write For Kids Australia page for your chance to WIN a copy of Sad, the Dog! ***

Big Adventures with Alison Lester’s Picture Books

Alison Lester; much-loved, legendary children’s author illustrator, Australia’s Inaugural Children’s Laureate 2011 – 2013, multi-award winner with a long-standing, colourful career and classic books including ‘Imagine’, ‘Magic Beach’, ‘Nony the Pony’, ‘Kissed by the Moon’, ‘Our Island’ and ‘Are We There Yet?’.
imageHaving said all that, I’m still pinching myself that I actually met her last weekend! Attending her special storytime at Readings, we were lucky enough to get a personal reading of her gorgeous, new book, ‘My Dog Bigsy’.  

From the wonderfully textured front cover, to the interactive farm route on the endpapers, and the animated sound effects emanating from the words, ‘My Dog Bigsy’ is the perfect language experience for little ones.

imageIntroducing Alison‘s real dog Bigsy, with a detailed diagram of his unique body parts, including crooked front legs and a special scratching spot, we immediately fall in love with this bouncy character. A little girl tells of his silence as her co-sleeper, but once outside, she hears her hairy friend clamouring, barking and chasing the animals all around the farm. Rollicking onomatopoeia have us bounding along with Bigsy and his noisy counterparts, from screeching cockies to thumping kangaroos, snorting horses, ducks and lazy cows, bold pigs and non-mathematical hens. At the end of his rounds, Bigsy is exhausted. Where will he go next?

imageAs Alison explained, her line work is different from her usual technique. This time the watercolour pictures were cut inside the outline for a smoother look, and the textures of the mixed media and frayed edges of the dress material is ideal for that added depth and authentic rustic feel.

‘My Dog Bigsy’ is a fun, vibrant romp with an endearing character, including a sweet message of friendship and a clever approach to reinforcing knowledge of farm animals and their noises. Just delightful for children from age two.

Penguin Random House Australia, 2015.  

imageAnother engaging book for early childhood readers is Alison‘s most recent edition of her classic story, ‘Are We There Yet?’, this one with fun lift-the-flap and I-spy components.

Whilst the first is aimed at an older target audience with its sweeping detail, this current book is a terrific summary of this family’s trip around Australia including simple, short sentences and interactive I-spy questions and answers under the flaps. I love this format for introducing young ones to our unique locations and landmarks, flora and fauna, enthralling activities and modes of transport, as well as a touch of history that makes our land so extraordinary.

imageAll the stunning imagery exquisitely painted by Alison Lester in this book have been transferred from the original, in a more compact form with round-edged and glossy pages, specially adapted for those little hands.

‘Are We There Yet? Lift the flap and play I-spy!’ is sure to be a trusty travelling companion for any young reader all the year round.

Penguin Random House Australia, 2015.

For more information on Alison Lester, visit her website here.

Freya Blackwood’s Books Make the Perfect Gift

It’s true. You can’t deny it. Freya Blackwood‘s art is so exquisite that whether it’s for a Christmas or birthday gift, or a ‘just because I want it’ gift, every household should own a piece of her talent. And of course, coupling with superb artists of writing makes purchasing decisions all that much easier. Two of the many books on this year’s Kids’ Reading Guide list are ‘The Cleo Stories: A Friend and a Pet’ and ‘Perfect’, both illustrated by Freya Blackwood.  

imageThe collaboration between Freya Blackwood and Libby Gleeson continuously impresses, with previous winning titles including ‘Clancy and Millie and the Very Fine House’, ‘Banjo and Ruby Red’ and ‘Amy and Louis’. Also on the awards list is ‘The Cleo Stories: The Necklace and the Present’ (review) with its success for Younger Readers in the 2015 Children’s Book Council Awards. Following on with another beauty is the second in the series; ‘The Cleo Stories: A Friend and a Pet’.  

Text and illustrations once again work harmoniously, beautifully connecting emotion, energy, playfulness and a sense of familiarity and everyday life. The colourful, pencil sketches throughout this hardback chapter book are delightfully engaging and appealing to its intended audience; perfectly relatable as a read-alone or read-aloud experience.  

In A Friend, Cleo has nothing to do on a rainy day, and cleaning her room just doesn’t appeal. But her parents’ patience with her food-splattering, mascara-splashing ways are wearing thin. Cleo is a fun-loving, creative and resourceful little girl with a big imagination. How will she overcome her boredom? In A Pet, Cleo’s friend Nick, and the rest of her class (almost) have a pet. But not Cleo, and she is desperate to have one. When her parents refuse Cleo is disappointed, but her inquisitive and rational nature leads to a win-win solution for all.  

imageThe authenticity of the conversations and actions in the stories effectively translate through Freya’s illustrations. When Peanuts the puppy pees on Cleo’s dress, you can see that real shift from gentle comforting to true frustration (and the puppy’s confusion), all drawn with spot-on body language and perfect line placement. Genius!

‘A Friend and a Pet’ is a book packed with genuinely heartfelt, and humorous moments, encouraging readers from age six to explore their own imaginative and creative sides, just like the loveable Cleo.  

Allen & Unwin 2015.  

image‘Perfect’, written by Danny Parker, explores a wonderfully carefree Summer day for three little children and their cat. This picture book, aimed at the early childhood age group, oozes beauty and tranquility, radiance and tenderness.  

With Danny Parker‘s expressive, poetic verse, accompanied by Freya Blackwood‘s soothing, soft shades of blues and yellows, you can’t help but feel a sense of transcendence wash over you with each page turn. Sunshine and baking, construction and balancing, fresh air and cool shade, windy skies and ‘one great big day’. We are taken on this joyous path as the children wander and explore the beautiful seaside beside their lush green country town, and then settle for a snuggle and a night-time dream.  

imageI adore Freya’s magical pencil and acrylic illustrations that enlighten all the senses, and her beautiful way of capturing light and movement through sequences, texture, depth and perspective.

A ‘Perfect’ resemblance of the spirit of childhood, the warmth of togetherness and the refreshment of a cool breeze on a balmy Summer’s day.    

Little Hare Books 2015.

‘In a World of Imagination’ – Interview with Anna Walker

imageAnna Walker; master creator of picture books encompassing emotion, wisdom, sensitivity, adventure, charm and humour. And equally as gentle, creative, genuine and profound as her delightful stories and pictures is the author / illustrator herself, with which I had the utmost pleasure in meeting recently at her Mr Huff Exhibition. I am honoured that the amazingly talented Anna Walker has agreed to shed some light on her enchanting book-creating world and her newest masterpiece, Mr Huff (review here).  

imageYour trademark style of illustrating is always infallibly charming with its whimsical and multi-textured features. How did you develop this style and how did you come to illustrate books for children?

Ever since I was child I had wanted to illustrate children’s books. I developed my work with wanting to create an illustration that was hand crafted – a small piece of art. Perhaps this has contributed to my work looking textured as I use cut paper, watercolours, etching and woodblock. I look for different mediums to bring to life the picture I have in mind. Sometimes it reminds me of playing with my doll’s house as a child, making tiny cut flowers, blankets, and paintings to hang on the wall of the miniature rooms! The whimsy I don’t seem to be able to help, no matter what I try it is part of who I am, it seems my love of fairy tales and enchanted worlds pervades my world.  

imageYour long-standing partnership with the masterful author, Jane Godwin, has been hugely successful with titles including ‘Today We Have No Plans’, ‘Little Cat and the Big Red Bus’, ‘Starting School’, and ‘All Through the Year’. How did the pairing come about, and what aspects of working with her do you enjoy most?

In 2007, Penguin said they were going to send me a manuscript of a story to see if I was interested in illustrating it. I remember the yellow A4 envelope arriving in the mail and sitting on the corner of the couch to open the package. In the afternoon sun I read Little Cat and the Big Red Bus, written by Jane Godwin. By the time I finished I had tears in my eyes, it was so beautiful. I could hardly believe I had been asked to illustrate a true picture book that was so special.  This was the beginning a wonderful partnership. I love collaborating with Janie, she is a wonderful writer and an inspiring person.    

Many of your books were penned and illustrated independently. Do you find working independently or in collaboration more challenging, and why?

I enjoy collaborating as much as working independently. In some ways every book is a collaboration because you are chatting about the ideas and what the story is communicating early on with the editor, your family, friends and the designer.    

Your writing style is equally as gentle, thoughtful and enchanting as your pictures. How do you get this harmony so aligned? Do you prefer one aspect of the book creation over the other?

Thank you for your kind words! I prefer the drawing and painting over the writing. At times I find the writing very difficult but I persist as I have a vision of a story to tell. My stories usually are sparked by images and I bring the words in later to partner them.  

imageCongratulations on the launch of your latest picture book release, ‘Mr Huff’! Your recent exhibition beautifully showcased your work, including the book’s storyboard process, from inception to completion, original artworks, as well as your adorable models used in your stop-motion trailer. Can you tell us a bit about the response you’ve received so far. Any stand out moments? What was your most rewarding part of the process?

I couldn’t be happier with the way the Mr Huff exhibition went. In the lead up to the exhibition I wondered why I was having it. I felt like cancelling the whole thing. But on the opening night everyone was so lovely and said such kind things about the story.  During the exhibition it was particularly rewarding for me to see tiny children fascinated with the puppet I made of Mr Huff for the stop motion. A highlight for me was an email from a mum with two boys one of whom experienced Anxiety. The mum said the book was now part of their lives and that some days they described as ‘Huff Days’. When I read  these words they made every bit of the work that went into the story worth it.  

‘Mr Huff’ is a stunningly poignant yet uplifting and sweet story of a young boy who overcomes this growing sense of melancholy around him. Where did the inspiration for this story come from, and how did it develop?

The inspiration came from scribbling in my visual diary when I was feeling worried about things. There was no real reason for this anxiety it’s just something that visits me sometimes. I was drawing how that feels when it occurred to me perhaps I could translate that idea into a picture book. And so Mr Huff was born.  

The message of embracing challenges and being positive is one that stands out in ‘Mr Huff’. What would you like readers to gain from this book? Do you have a motto or life philosophy?

I find it fascinating how different people respond to the book. When a book ventures out into the world you hope that some families will relate to the story but I am never really sure whether that will happen. I have been overwhelmed with the lovely responses to Mr Huff.  

What do you love most about writing and illustrating for children?

I think the thing I love most is traipsing in the world of the imagination. It is very exciting to take a character that you can see in your mind and create a reality for them, to bring them to life so to speak.  To tell a story in 32 pages means your thoughts and ideas need to be distilled so that the result of the few words partnered with pictures speak volumes. I believe in the picture book being a true art form and think children deserve the time and consideration put into the books they are reading.  

Which authors and/or artists have been your greatest influences in becoming the successful writer and illustrator you are now?

Growing up, I was surrounded by wonderful authors such as A.A.Milne, Beatrix Potter and William Steig. I had open access to books with my mum being a librarian. A stand out though was Maurice Sendak who had a huge impact on me. When I was in Grade 3, I was mesmerised by Where the Wild Things Are and thrilled that our class made cardboard monsters of the Wild Things! I remember reading Aranea by Jenny Wagner and being struck by how a picture book could be about something so simple, so quiet and gentle.
The Australian authors and illustrators also played a big role in forming the illustrator I am today. Ron Brooks, Alison Lester, Ann James and Bob Graham are such pivotal figures in Australian literature and each inspiring in how they continue to create amazing children’s books.  

You’ve been winning numerous literary awards around Australia since 2009. What do these honours mean to you? Are there any that stand out as most significant to you?

The Crichton award in 2009 was one of the most special as when I was in the audience I sat in between Bob Graham and Pamela Allen! Bob chatted to me, and it is a memory I will treasure. I must admit I also loved Peggy being shortlisted in 2013 as my children were very impressed with the gold sticker!  

What projects are you currently working on? What can all of your fans look forward to seeing from you in the near future?

I am working on two special stories. One of them is about a little girl and it is set in Paris. I can’t wait to begin the paintings!  

What advice would you give to aspiring writers and illustrators wanting to publish their own picture books?
Be brave. Draw, write and explore ideas. Explore history, colour, mediums, reference, typography, design, experiences and anything else you are passionate about. Make books. Read them out loud. Find your voice.

Thank you so very much for answering my questions, Anna! It’s been a real pleasure!

Visit Anna Walker’s website and facebook pages.

imageHer new book with Jane Godwin, What Do You Wish For? will be out this September.

Review – Mr Huff by Anna Walker

Mr Huff, Anna Walker (author, illus.), Penguin Viking, July 2015.

9780670078042Delicately explored in her books are often the themes of maintaining a sense of being, having belief in yourself and looking on the brighter side of life. With treasures including the ‘I Love’ series, Peggy, I Don’t Believe in Dragons, Hurry Up Alfie, and Alfie’s Lost Sharkie, Anna Walker has once again brilliantly captured a little ray of sunshine in the delightful, Mr Huff.  

As soon as Bill wakes up he is burdened with a gloomy scribble cloud above his head. His morning goes from bad to worse, with dog-chewed socks, soggy cereal and an uncooperative backpack. As Bill’s bad mood heightens, so does this growing sense of apprehension that overshadows his every move. It’s Mr Huff. Bill grumbles about Mr Huff’s presence at bathtime, bedtime, toilet breaks and has moments of attempted bravery to banish him. Whilst funny on the surface, we feel his pain. His internal struggle finally explodes like a raging storm. And then all is still. Bill eventually finds his calm, befriending the vast grey mass, and the sun is able to shine through the clouds. Mr Huff, the symbolic ‘worry’, has diminished, and we’re left with an ending that is bittersweet.

large_mr_huff_6Anna Walker has so masterfully been able to convey Bill’s emotional journey, from his feelings of anxiety and misplacement through his progression to a more positive outlook, in her sensitive, thought-provoking text. But not without injecting that gorgeous sense of humour that makes her books so engaging and loveable. As for the illustrations, naturally they are whimsical, enchanting and exude personality. If you were able to cast your very own eyes on the visual feast displayed at her recent Mr Huff Exhibition in Melbourne, like I did, you would appreciate the absolute skill of Anna’s individually painted, cut and pasted pieces, multiple textures and media (including paper, fabric, watercolours, etching and woodblock prints). Just incredible!

Mr Huff is a gentle, touching and multi-layered story of embracing one’s feelings and finding beauty in the world. It’s a charming and meaningful book for both young children and adults who will ensure that Mr Huff visits them again and again.  

Read the exclusive interview with Anna Walker, here!

View Anna Walker’s ‘Mr Huff’ Behind the Studio Door and Book Trailer here.
See my experience at the Mr Huff Exhibition here.
 

Picture Books for Stubborn Kids

In typical toddler fashion, my youngest daughter (aged two and a half) has developed the “NO! I don’t like it!”, and the “Don’t want it!” approach to almost everything offered, much to the delight of her parents (that’s me). If you’re a parent or teacher of children anywhere between two and five years old, and understand the complexities of little independent, strong-willed minds, then these few books are perfect for lightening the mood and reinforcing positive behaviour.

u34+1F!EVWH7ngw7NLVXIcKIKW2pmYA+Gl!w8rbMsYH!BRIAG5OUet9tcq9F2XjffXkZsjELHH1dotzfe59AzwIZrNCEXMgjUxCkYapieGeWsW1OYzkgsRAdZgmVYczuI Don’t Want to Eat My Dinner, David Cornish (author, illus.), Harper Collins Publishers, 2014.  

Shortlisted in the 2015 Speech Pathology Australia Book of the Year Awards (3-5 years) is the subtly coercing ‘I Don’t Want to Eat My Dinner’ by David Cornish.

My youngest child loves this book (okay maybe there’s something she likes!) with its repetitive and funny phrasing, bold and in-your-face animated scenes and familiar culinary dishes. My only wish is that Rollo would convince her to eat her meals.
I dont want to eat my dinner book image We’ve tried pretending to be hungry dinosaurs gnashing on our leafy greens. We’ve tried transforming into intergalactic smush beasts and firing carrots into our mouths like Rollo did. Alright, I admit we haven’t ridden on a chicken drumstick like a knight in shining armour. But none of these approaches seem to work. She won’t fall for it. But when Rollo (and my daughter’s older sister) are seen polishing off their dessert, my little one is always quick to want to get to that part!

‘I Don’t Want to Eat My Dinner’ is cleverly and humorously written and illustrated to have readers fascinated by the realms of imagination, as well as exploring fun ways to encourage the pickiest of eaters to gobble up everything on their dinner plate. Perhaps my little girl is still a bit young for this kind of pretend play, but parents of fussy kids from age four will relish having this savory book as a handy recipe for quenching those dinner time blues (and greens).

u34+1F!EVWH7ngw7NLVXIcKIKW2pmYA+Gl!w8rbMsYH!BRIAG5OUet9tcq9F2XjffXkZsjELHH1dotzfe59Az2cAk+lN53bbZBZp5k15YYKWsW1OYzkgsRAdZgmVYczuMike I Don’t Like, Jol and Kate Temple (authors), Jon Foye (illustrator), ABC Books, 2014.
Shortlisted in the 2015 Speech Pathology Australia Book of the Year Awards (3-5 years).  

If there’s one thing in the world that makes you happy, could it be ice cream by any chance? It definitely does for Rollo and for my little girl, but for Mike I Don’t Like, that’s about all he likes. He’s so picky about his tastes that he goes as far as disowning his own book!

When his friend kindly offers him half his sandwich, Mike berrates the poor fellow, going off about the way it smells, and looks, and his dislike for his lunchbox and books. Mike’s rant continues.
Mike i dont like book image“I DON’T like that MILK. I don’t like THAT JUICE. I don’t like ANTLERS on a MOOSE!”
Lizards, barky dogs, meowing cats, washing his hair, worms and bugs, lice, baths, flowers, cheese, pickles, tickles, bats, shoes, smells from kangaroos, carrots, gibbons squawking, kisses, crabs, blue whales, spooky barn owls, packing away and pirate parties, are just some of the few things on his ‘dislikes’ list! Until he spots that ice cream… I wonder if Mike will get what he deserves?

An absolutely hilarious performance by Mike I Don’t Like with his ranting rhyming couplets in bold and capitalised handwritten text. The big-mouthed, egg-shaped Mike with his skinny arms and legs, scarce teeth and tiny beady eyes makes for a perfect-looking brat. The punchy, eye-catching and farcical illustrations immediately get you smiling, and by the end of the book, with its clever punch line to wrap it up, you’ll be whinging about having sore cheeks.

Ingenious, hysterical and completely over the top, ‘Mike I Don’t Like’ is a sure fire way of teaching those youngsters this important lesson: Keep Calm and Be Positive.  

I dont like koala book coverI Don’t Like Koala, Sean Ferrell (author), Charles Santoso (illus.), Scholastic, 2015.  

Now here’s a boy who knows exactly what he doesn’t like…it’s his toy Koala. Adam is horrified when he opens his gift only to discover the most terrible terrible that ever was. With his stalking, asymmetric yellow eyes and his mysterious appearances at every turn, this creepy toy would give anybody the heebie-jeebies.

9781481400688in02jpg-fb7c091d437ded6cBut what to do with an unwanted toy? Put it away…away is a lot of places. Take it far, far away…far away is closer than you think. Adam shouts, “I don’t like Koala!” but his parents ignore his pleads for help. Finally Adam comes to realise that Koala, with his terrible terrible face and his terrible terrible claws and his watching, watching eyes, is in fact, just the comfort he needs. And who is freaked out by Koala now?

Another cleverly written story that keeps us guessing, giggling, and a bit on edge is unequivocally matched with the quirky and melodramatic illustrations that add so much charisma to every scene. Santoso’s pencil etching technique and moody hues create a perfect sense of movement and verve through a tale that is somewhat dark and distrurbing.

Although Adam doesn’t like Koala, plenty of preschoolers will adore the cheekiness, frivolity and affection that emanates from this imaginative story of overcoming fear and asserting one’s independence. It’s wicked!

keep-calm-and-be-positive-62

Elizabeth Honey’s ‘Hop Up! Wriggle Over!’ – One for Mum and Bub

1733911_origHop Up! Wriggle Over!, Elizabeth Honey (author, illus.), Allen & Unwin, April 2015.  

Cherish the moments of early mornings, chaotic meal times, constantly chasing tails and a house that’s never tidy, because one day it will be a distant memory; and you’ll miss it. This recent release emanates all this energy, and more; it’s a gorgeous, totally relatable book for mums to share with their little cherubs for Mother’s Day.  

elizabeth_honeyAward-winning author of poetry, novels and picture books, Elizabeth Honey‘s books exude vibrancy, joyfulness and wit. She also illustrates her own books, which are characteristically heartwarming and delightful. Some of her titles include I’m Still Awake, Still!, Ten Blue Wrens and That’s not a Daffodil! (CBCA 2012 Honour Book).  

Distinct to her charmingly boisterous style is her latest celebration of our unique national fauna; ‘Hop Up! Wriggle Over!’ is a completely adorable book of an Australian animal family bouncing through a busy day.  

With glorious onomatopoeia in short, punchy bursts, the baby mammals jumpstart the day with a scene parents know all too well. No more rest for the wicked; Mother Koala and Father Kangaroo are soon hustling as the daily routine begins.

”Hop up! Wriggle over! Wakey wakey. Hungry.
Crunch crunch. Gobble gobble. Lick lick. More!
Bong! Bong! Clang clang! Ting ting! Shhhh!”
 

Hop up! Wriggle Over! ImageWith nine little ones to attend to, breakfast is like a clanging, tinging orchestra of bowls and spoons. A trip to the playground is like running a marathon trying to keep up with their abundance of energy. Tea time sounds of nibbles, chomps, slurps and burps. And bath time is bubblicious pandemonium. Finally, the kidlets settle for a story, and kisses, snuggles and sweet dream wishes see the babes peaceful at last.  

As playful as the text, Elizabeth Honey’s illustrations radiate life, animation and spirit. Typical toddler-like actions in the pictures suitably mimic the frolicsome hubbub that the words express. At the same time, her pencil and watercolour paints create a gentle feeling in its technique and natural earthy tones; perfect to capture the warmth and innocence of this loving family.  

‘Hop Up! Wriggle Over!’ is a beautiful introduction to different Australian animals and the reinforcement of the daily routine. It is a book of romping good fun, but also a nice way to end a busy day. What could be better than a story and a snuggle with your precious ones just before bed? An enchanting, lively book recommended for babies and young children, and their mums.
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Picture Books to Celebrate the ANZAC Centenary

In just a couple of days we commemorate the legacy of the brave soldiers and the tragic events of World War 1 that occurred one hundred years ago. A beautiful selection of ANZAC books for children have been reviewed by Dimity here, but here’s a few more that certainly captured my heart with their touching themes of heroism, love and dedication.  

9781921720628Once a Shepherd, Glenda Millard (author), Phil Lesnie (illus.), Walker Books, 2014.

Gorgeous in its lyrical prose. Devastatingly provocative. Stunning imagery. ‘Once a Shepherd’ is a war story of love and loss, sure to break its readers’ hearts.
It tells of a young shepherd, living amongst a backdrop of emerald green beauty. “Once Tom’s world was all at peace.” He marries his sweetheart, and all the world seems right. Until he is called to war and he bids farewell to his wife and unborn child. A stranger veteran calls upon Tom’s home once the war had ended, only to share the shattering news of his heroic fall with a now grieving widow. Of the hand-stitched coat she once darned, now a new toy lamb is mended for Tom Shepherd’s baby boy. And the world is at peace once again.
‘Once a Shepherd’, with its carefully crafted verse and exquisite watercolour images of greens and browns, is a powerful, moving tale of the heartbreaking reality of war and the inherent hope for peace.
Prized Notable Picture Book of the Year in the Children’s Book Council of Australia’s 2015 Awards.  

9781921977718Midnight: The story of a light horse, Mark Greenwood (author), Frané Lessac (illus.), Walker Books, 2014.

A foal born at midnight; black as coal, eyes glimmering in the moonlight. She is Midnight, the Australian Light Horse trained by Lieutenant Guy Haydon and gracious in her charge in the last great cavalry.
The first port of call for the soldiers is four months in the trenches at Gallipoli without their horses. Reuniting once again in Cairo, the relationship is further bonded as the pair endure the harsh conditions of the heat, scarce water supply and flying shrapnel. But still, soldier and mare commit to their duties, and to one another. In a devasting final battalion (Beersheba, August 1917), riders tumble and horses fall. Guy and Midnight are both struck; a heartbreaking yet poignant moment as the pair share their last breath side by side.
The succinctness of the text reads almost poetically, and the continual references to the affectionate bond between Guy and his beloved Midnight make this war story more of a tender account of their time on the battlefield. The gouache illustrations by Frané Lessac compliment Greenwood’s evocative words and capture the starkness of each war scene.
With notes referencing background information on the Light Horse and the details of Beersheba, ‘Midnight’ makes for a terrific resource for studying the war, as well being as a heartrending tale of love and dedication.    

9781742833477Anzac Biscuits, Phil Cummings (author), Owen Swan (illus.), Scholastic Press, 2013.

This book is probably my favourite of the Anzac stories. ‘Anzac Biscuits’ poses a lovely contrast between a child’s warm and safe home, and her father battling the cold and dangerous conditions out in the trenches.
Rachel and her mother spend time together baking Anzac biscuits. As pots and pans bang and crash to the floor, the soldier lays low as shots bang around him. As Rachel sprinkles oats like snowflakes, the soldier turns his back to the bitter cold. The little girl loves the smell of burning red gum in her stove, but the soldier will never forget the choking gun smoke drifting across the fields. Despite the treachery that the soldier has faced, we are given a heartwarming ending we can cherish; the soldier – Rachel’s father – loved the biscuits made just for him.
An endearing story of affection, commitment and sacrifice, with equally warm and gentle illustrations, ‘Anzac Biscuits’ is a beautiful way to introduce the topic of wartime to young children. They will also find little clues in the pictures upon revisiting the book, which make for wonderful discussions about what life was like for both the soldiers and their families at home (and the significance of anzac biscuits).  
Prized Notable Picture Book of the Year in the Children’s Book Council of Australia’s 2014 Awards.
 
resized_9781743317235_224_297_FitSquareI Was Only Nineteen, John Schumann (text), Craig Smith (illus.), Allen & Unwin, 2014.

The words versing the iconic song about the Vietnam War, ‘I Was Only Nineteen’ tells of the devasting loss, sacrifice and emotional impact an elderly man is reliving of his time as a teenager at war.
We travel with this veteran from the moment he set sail, to inhabiting a firey, orange scrub, battling for hours and weeks amongst bullets and grenades and watching mates hit by the blasts. No-one told him about the mud, blood, tears, rashes and chills that would haunt him until he was old.
These memories of the war, through these unforgettable words, have been beautifully illustrated by Craig Smith, rendering warmth and respecting the spirit of our soldiers – the fallen and the survivors. I love the clever connection between the past recount and the present with a touch of army green evident in each scene showing the veteran and his grandson.
‘I Was Only Nineteen’ is a poignant rendition of a groundbreaking song by John Schumann, with great historical significance and plenty of scope for wartime study.
Prized Notable Picture Book of the Year in the Children’s Book Council of Australia’s 2015 Awards.

LEST WE FORGET

Cracker 2015 CBCA Short List

ProtectedThis year’s Children’s Book Council of Australia short list is a cracker.

Older Readers

I’ve reviewed most of the Older Reader titles for the Weekend Australian, which means that I think they’re excellent. It’s a superlative list this year. Incidentally, most of these authors are relatively or brand-new published YA writers; and are women, representing the high number of YA Australian female authors published in recent times. The future of Australian YA looks exciting.

I reviewed Christine Bongers’s Intruder with Tristan Bancks’s, Two BleakboyWolves (Younger Readers) here last year. Great to see these Queensland/far north NSW authors acclaimed in the CBCA awards.

Younger Readers

Two Wolves is shortlisted in the Younger Readers category, along with a mixture of other first-time shortlisted authors, including Tamsin Janu for Figgy in the World, as well as names we expect to see such as Steven Herrick, Libby Gleeson and Bill Condon; Bill here with a novel for younger children, The Simple Things, instead of his usual YA. Judith Rossell won the Indies award for her gothic, Withering-by-Sea (see my review) and is deservedly shortlisted by CBCA.

Picture Books

The picture books form a strong list and include some newcomers such as Trace Balla with Rivertime and Michael Camilleri, with his outstanding illustrations for David Metzenthen’s Gallipoli book, One Minute’s Silence.One Minute's Silence

Freya Blackwood is shortlisted three times – here for illustrating Irena Kobald’s powerful Two Blankets. Stephen Michael King is also shortlisted three times, with Glenda Millard’s The Duck and the Darklings in this category.

 

Early Childhood

Stephen Michael King is shortlisted twice in the Early Childhood category; for the simple yet stunning Snail and Turtle are Friends and Lesley Gibbes’s Scary Night. Libby Gleeson and Freya Blackwood appear together twice, here with Go to Sleep, Jessie! and in The Cleo Stories, shortlisted in Younger Readers.

The Eve Pownall Information Books are another strong bunch, with my personal favourites Emu by Claire Saxby and Graham Byrne (we shortlisted Emu’s stable mate, Kangaroo, in the Qld Literary Awards), A-Z of Convicts in Van Diemen’s Land by Simon Barnard and Tea and Sugar Christmas by Jane Jolly and the brilliant Robert Ingpen. Tea and Sugar

It wouldn’t be a CBCA short list without evergreen favourites, Jackie French and Bruce Whatley, Fire; Margaret Wild, The Stone Lion; Alison Lester, Noni the Pony goes to the Beach; and Aaron Blabey, Pig the Pug.

It’s always disappointing for those excellent titles that miss out but many of these have been nominated as Notables. These lists are worth looking at.

Older Readers

Younger Readers (it’s devastating to see what missed out being shortlisted in this category)

Picture Books

Early Childhood

Eve Pownall Information Books

Congratulations, not only to the shortlisted authors and illustrators, but the judges and the CBCA for enabling these outstanding books to be widely acclaimed.

Alex Field’s ‘Mr Darcy and the Christmas Pudding’ is a Real Treat

1330-20120419211614-sophiaAlex Field‘s talents as an author, publisher and speaker, her love of Christmas pudding, and her overt enthusiasm for Jane Austen all cleverly amalgamate in the latest of her series, Mr Darcy and the Christmas Pudding. Having previously featured her beloved Pride and Prejudice characters in Mr Darcy and Mr Darcy the Dancing Duck, Alex Field, together with the ingenuity of illustrator Peter Carnavas, bring back the haughty but loveable duck in this Christmas tale about love and goodwill.

You may have already read Dimity Powell‘s fabulous review! Here’s some further promotion of this endearing book!

Mr Collins makes his debut appearance by pouncing on an innocent Maria, intended as a delicious ‘mousy’ feast. As punishment, Mr Darcy snatches her away and leaves poor Mr Collins out in the cold. It is Mr Darcy’s charitable friends that, after enjoying their pudding-bake time together on Stir-up Sunday, show concern for the cat’s wellbeing. Sweet Lizzy’s compassionate nature is finally rewarded on Christmas Day when she gets her wish under the mistletoe.

In true, delectable style, Peter Carnavas creates expression, a sense of warmth and focus with the perfect variation of colour, plain backgrounds and page layouts.

Mr Darcy and the Christmas Pudding is a fun and charming story about friendship and kindness, is a seasonable reminder that Christmas is a time of giving, with a beautiful sentiment of family traditions.

New Frontier Publishing November 2014.  

856-20141023120845-Cover_Mr-Darcy-and-the-Christmas-Pudding_R Alex Field shares her Yuletide joys and her inspiration behind ‘Mr Darcy and the Christmas Pudding’ in this engaging interview. Thank you, Alex!  

Your books in the Mr Darcy series are all based on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice characters. What do you love about Austen’s stories?
The first Austen book I read as a teenager was Northanger Abbey. It is her one title that has a dark, gothic twist, something all teenagers gravitate towards. From there I was hooked. I read every one of her books and go back to them often. It is her characters I adore. In two lines she tells us everything we need to know about Mr Collins. “Mr. Collins had only to change from Jane to Elizabeth — and it was soon done — done while Mrs. Bennet was stirring the fire.” I was very keen to include Mr Collins in one of the Mr Darcy picture books. At last he makes an appearance in Mr Darcy and the Christmas Pudding!  

How did this inspiration turn into the development of your own picture books?
One of my friends named her family duck Mr Darcy. Sadly, much to the distress of the children, he died soon after he arrived in the family garden. I started thinking about the possibility of creating a character for children based on Pride and Prejudice. Romantically I thought I could put this character on the page and the children in the family, who had lost their beloved duck, would see he lived on in a book. Of course by the time the book was published the children were all too old for picture books!  

What challenges have you found referencing Pride and Prejudice in your Mr Darcy books when considering suitability for children?
The language was a little tricky. I wanted to ensure that Mr Darcy’s pompous manner came across in the story. He is a very polite duck.
The challenge I set myself for Mr Darcy and the Christmas Pudding was to create a Christmas scene true to the Regency era. This meant doing away with the usual trappings of Christmas such as a Christmas tree and Santa. However the Christmas pudding was around in Regency times as was mistletoe so both these make an appearance.  

Congratulations on your latest book ‘Mr Darcy and the Christmas Pudding’! How did you celebrate its’ release?
Thank you! I was in London at the time visiting my daughter who is currently studying there. We went to Selfridges, looked at the gorgeous Paddington Bear windows and indulged ourselves in the Food Hall. As Paddington was a favourite growing up I couldn’t resist also buying a jar of marmalade.  

What did you find the most rewarding part of creating ‘Mr Darcy and the Christmas Pudding’?
I enjoyed the research leading up to writing the book. It was fascinating to discover more about the Christmas traditions we all take for granted today.  

The story includes the characters coming together to celebrate the tradition of Stir-up Sunday. How is this event meaningful to you?
My sister and I always used to celebrate Stir-up Sunday with our nan. She lived in the countryside in Hampshire, very close to Jane Austen’s home. Every year we made the puddings with Nan and she then used to give them out to all the family to share on Christmas Day.  

mr darcy and the christmas pudding_page The illustrations have been consistently adorable throughout the Mr Darcy series by the talented Peter Carnavas. How do you find working with him? With ‘Mr Darcy and the Christmas Pudding’, how much of the illustrative detail did you specify and how much is left to Peter’s imagination?
I love working with Peter. Early on when he was creating Mr Darcy he watched the BBC adaptation with Colin Firth lots of times to ensure he got the hat right. When he was creating Mr Collins he sent me a few rough sketches before finalising the character. Most of it is left up to Peter. He is a genius.  

Besides understanding the meaning of Stir-up Sunday, what special message do you want your readers to gain from reading ‘Mr Darcy and the Christmas Pudding’?
When I was doing my research I discovered that charity was at the heart of a Regency Christmas. I hope this comes across in the book. I still think it is an important part of Christmas.  

What can all your ‘Mr Darcy’ fans look forward to seeing from him (and you) in the near future?
I have a few ideas for upcoming books in the series. Jane Austen has given me a wonderful array of characters to work with.
For the moment I am going to enjoy the festive season with my children. This weekend we begin making the puddings!  
(Stir-up Sunday falls on November 23rd).

Thank you so much for answering my questions for Boomerang Books, Alex! Wishing you and your family a safe and enjoyable Christmas!
My pleasure. I wish you and all your readers a Happy Christmas.  

Follow Alex Field via her facebook page:  
www.facebook.com/pages/Alex-Field

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

Renée Treml Reveals Answers About Her Picture Book, ‘The Great Garden Mystery’

meRenée Treml is a talented artist and author, originally from the States, now residing in Melbourne. She creates her stunning illustrations primarily using the scratchboard technique, setting her work apart with its unique qualities. Her artwork can also be seen at design markets and art exhibits through a range of gorgeous products. Renée has three equally delightful picture books published with Random House Australia; One Very Tired Wombat, Colour for Curlews, and her most recent, The Great Garden Mystery.  

Review – The Great Garden Mystery
thegreatgardenmystery9780857984166Those curious curlews are back, and already set on the trail to solving a most mysterious problem. A menagerie of suspects are called to order. Who is stealing all the beetroots? What a conundrum!

In playful rhyming prose, Renée Treml and her exquisitely drawn animals take us on a journey to decipher each clue as they add up to solve the case.

First, hare finds a sign. It’s a poo that is square. Clearly, he is not guilty. As they discover a hole under the fence, some snagged fur, a wide trail, and a dislike to beetroots, each animal gleefully asserts their innocence. But when the roo bounds away, humorously, those suspicious creatures believe the puzzle has been pieced together.

And when all is calm and quiet, in the dark of night, who emerges to fill his belly once more? Who could have guessed? Think back to the first clue and you will have your culprit!

I love the playfulness and adventure of The Great Garden Mystery, as well as Renée’s black and white scratchboard drawings against the soft, pastel background colours. Kids from aged three will delight in this curiously intriguing animal tale, too.  

I am so fortunate to have had the opportunity to learn about Renée Treml’s fascinating journey to creating her books, including her joys and challenges with illustrating The Great Garden Mystery.  

Your books all include a common theme featuring the adorable, sleepy wombat, a range of native birds and other creatures. What is the appeal of these Australian animals?  
I grew up in the States where I commonly saw little songbirds, woodpeckers, squirrels and deer – animals which probably sound very interesting to someone who is not from North America.  When we moved to Australia at the end of 2007, I was immediately smitten with the wildlife – here we have huge noisy parrots, sleepy koalas hiding in gum trees, teeny little pademelons and big bouncy kangaroos.    
The wombat that is featured in all of my stories is based on the very first wombat I ever encountered.  He was at a wildlife sanctuary in Brisbane and managed to sleep soundly despite being surrounded by noisy children, adults, cockatoos and kookaburras. Every time I went to visit the sanctuary, that wombat was having a good snooze.  I only wish I could sleep like that too.    

What do you love about creating children’s books?  
For many years I was unknowingly creating characters through my artwork – I kept drawing the same animals over and over and discovering their unique personalities.  When I wrote my first story it felt like I was rewarding my favourite characters.  It was so much fun.  I still maintain a sketchbook full of (mostly) patient characters that are waiting for their turn in a story.  

You have a unique, beautiful style of illustrating. How did you develop your style?  
Thank you, but I think it is fair to say that my style found me.  My style developed from practicing, experimenting and attempting to master new mediums and subjects. Over the years my style has evolved into what it is now, but I am always looking out for new ideas, subjects and materials so I can continue growing and changing.    

What is your favourite medium to use?  
I love working with inks and paint on clayboard, although lately I have been trying to bring mixed media and collage into my illustrations.      

Who is your favourite artist/s?
Sorry – I can’t just pick one and if I tried to make a list I would worry and fret for ages trying to narrow down the list.    

the great garden mystery koalaWhat was your favourite part of The Great Garden Mystery to illustrate?  
My favourite scene to illustrate is where koala accuses the fox of stealing the beetroots.  I loved that koala – he was so sassy and never once thought he could be a suspect.  Trying to capture his brashness, the fox’s slyness and the roo’s discomfort was just good fun.  

What was the hardest part?  
To be honest, this book was a hard one to illustrate. This is the first time I have worked digitally to create my illustrations.  I had to teach myself how to make my digital artwork look indistinguishable from my scratchboard illustrations – that was so hard!  Also, drawing the garden without cluttering up the compositions and illustrations, proved to be a very big challenge for me.  Thankfully, I have wonderful editors, publishers and very honest friends who had excellent suggestions all along the way.  

What was the reason for the change in your process from the last two books?  
I created all of the illustrations for my first two books using clayboard. Clayboard is a masonite board that has been coated with a thin layer of clay. They are beautiful to work on, but only come in limited sizes, are a lot more expensive than paper or canvas, and aren’t really reusable (unless you paint over them completely). I squeezed as many drawings as I could onto each board, then sent the very heavy box to my publisher for scanning. A month later I received the digital images, which then required cutting and pasting each illustration back into my page spread. Working on clayboard added at least 2 months to our timeline and in the end was not the most environmentally friendly process.
I still prefer to work on clayboard when I’m creating art for galleries or shows, but for books digital scratchboard has its benefits:
(1) I can create artwork that looks very similar to my scratchboard drawings; (2) we skip the shipping, scanning and editing phase, which saves 1-2 months; and (3) I can add or change things quite easily, even after we are theoretically finished the book.  

How long did the process take you to complete all the illustrations for The Great Garden Mystery?  
Working part-time, the illustration part probably added up to about 3 months. I had a huge learning curve trying to master the software and we also experimented a lot with different styles. I am so happy with how it turned out that I have almost forgotten how hard it was to illustrate!  

renee treml owlWhich animal is your favourite to draw? Why?  
I am totally obsessed with owls – they have so much personality.  I am just waiting for the inspiration to strike for an owl story…    

What special message do you want your readers to take away from The Great Garden Mystery?  
As a scientist and wildlife lover, I would love kids (and adults) to become aware of all the clues animals leave behind.  Take the time to look at the ground for broken eggshells, scat or footprints – you might find yourself a little mystery (even in the city).      

What was the highlight for you in 2014?  
The highlights for me this year were the TGGM-events where everyone got to try their hand at scratchboard and we got to talk a lot about wombat poo.    

Are there any special milestones or events that you are looking forward to in 2015?
This year I am really looking forward to organizing a few primary school-visits. I love teaching and interacting with children and have some fun writing and illustrating workshops to present.  

Thank you so much for answering my questions for Boomerang Books, Renée!
Thank you for the opportunity!

Enjoy Renée’s stunning website at:
http://www.reneesartwork.com
http://www.facebook.com/ReneeTremlAuthorIllustrator

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

Kim Fleming Draws on Her Experience as Illustrator of ‘Mummy, You’re Special To Me’

Kim_Fleming_2010Kim Fleming knows how to tell a great story. She tells stories through pictures. Kim’s art creates a sense of affection, warmth and joy. Born in Canada, this now Melbournite has found her calling in illustrating children’s books. She has previously illustrated such picture books as the gorgeous True Blue Santa written by Anne Mangan, Cherish Your Skin by Amy and Jenifer Kuykendall, and Surprise! by Karen Andrews.

Her latest creation is the absolutely lovely Mummy, You’re Special To Me (Scholastic Australia) written by Laine Mitchell. Although released early this year for Mother’s Day, this book is on my gift list for Christmas.  

9781742839813Throughout the book, we meet a range of animal babies who give a sweet example of their extraordinary mummy. And each rhyming verse ends with the same ode, ”Mummy, you’re special to me.”  

”My mummy is kind. She makes hurts alright.
My mummy is brave. She’s as strong as a knight!
Mummy, you’re special to me.”
 

As we follow the little giraffe on its’ journey around the world, we encounter varied species of super-mums who are patient, entertaining, playful, artistic, smart, teachers, jokers and nurturers.
Kim Fleming so lovingly captures all the care and adoration between mother and child. From soft watercolour tones to gentle brush strokes, dabs and flicks, to the cutest of animal drawings, Kim’s illustrations are just magical.  

I’ve had the pleasure to be able to find out her perspective on being an illustrator; the talented artist behind Mummy, You’re Special To Me – Kim Fleming.     

You have illustrated many texts from picture books to chapter books, as well as educational resources. What do you love about illustrating children’s books? Which book type do you find the most rewarding, and why?
The majority of the books I have illustrated are picture books, which I definitely find the most rewarding as an illustrator. Whereas in chapter books or educational books the illustrations are adding to the story, in picture books the illustrations ARE the story. Building a visual narrative which augments the text, or subverts the text, or adds in a sub story not even mentioned in the text is incredibly fun and exciting to conceptualise. I love it when I can really sink my teeth into a project.        

Your illustrations are simply beautiful. Do you have a specific style or subjects that you prefer? Where do you draw your inspiration from?
First of all, thank you so much! I’d have to say that I most enjoy illustrating animals and themes stemming from nature and our surrounds. I also really enjoy travel in my own life so illustrations of different cultures where I need to do some “research” into different environments is always stimulating. Inspiration comes from all over – my collection of ephemera from travels and magazine flipping, a particular collage paper, an interesting billboard, a unique window display, and of course fellow artists and illustrators. Pinterest is dangerous!  

What is your favourite medium to use?
Definitely watercolours. I also add into that coloured pencils, collage, sometimes acrylics, and occasionally hand-carved stamps as well!  

Who is your favourite artist/s?  
I find it very difficult to come to a decision on my ‘all-time favourite’ artist, so instead I talk about my CURRENT favourite artists, because they are always changing:  
I love Pamela Zagarenski’s beautiful textures and evocative compositions.
I find Catherine Rayner’s fabulous characters and style are so charming.  
Fabulous surface designer (and friend) Rebecca Jones has a wonderful style and sense of colour, and her characters are so sweet.  

Octo-mama_cropWhat was your favourite part of ‘Mummy, You’re Special to Me’ to illustrate?  
The editors came to me with the idea of having a different animal mother and child for each page, so I think the best part was coming up with all of the different animals to illustrate each verse. The octopus mother enacting a stage play with puppets on each tentacle was a particular favourite. I also really enjoyed coming up with all the cheeky actions for the giraffe in the background.    

What was the hardest part?
This will sound trite, but there really was no hard part. Normally a book will have SOME challenge in creation, but this one truthfully flowed from start to finish and was a real joy to work on. I wish every book was like this one!  

Mummy-You-are-Special-to-Me_24_giraffeWhich animal is your favourite to draw? Why?  
Funnily, I do love a giraffe. The giraffe has been a mascot of mine for many years, he appears on my business card and website and always has. So the fact that Mummy You’re Special To Me’s main character was a giraffe was perfect. I think they are just such funny animals. Natural selection is a curious thing!  

What was the highlight for you in 2014?  
The release of Mummy You’re Special To Me was definitely a highlight. I have also been getting back into animation for the first time in years, animating a children’s app which has been loads of fun!    

Are there any special milestones or events that you are looking forward to in 2015?
The announcement that Mummy You’re Special To Me will be released as a board book version in English and French by Scholastic Canada next year is such a joy for me, because I was born in Canada and speak French!   I’m also working on another book for Scholastic Australia at the moment, and I’m looking forward to the launch of the app I mentioned, with hopefully another app in the pipeline.  

That’s great! I look forward to seeing more from you! Thank you for your time, Kim! I really appreciate you talking with Boomerang Books!  
Thanks so much to you Romi and to Boomerang Books!

Have a look at Kim’s stunning website at:
http://www.kimflemingillustration.com
Follow Kim Fleming at:
https://www.facebook.com/KimFlemingIllustration
twitter: @lilkimfleming

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

Count my Cutest Children’s Books for Christmas

What a wondrous time for the kidlets; so much sparkle, magic, excitement and curiosity in the air. Christmas time is about bringing families together, and what better way to get close to your ‘little’ loved ones than to snuggle up with some adorable books. Here we count through three delightful books that foster a love of reading, rhyming, numbers and of course, the celebration of the festive season.

count-my-christmas-kissesCute Book #1: Count my Christmas Kisses by Ruthie May and Tamsin Ainslie.
Another adorable book from the creators of ‘Count My Kisses, Little One’.

”One kiss for baby, under mistletoe. Two kisses for baby, catching falling snow.”  

Baby is lucky to be kissed one time more each page, celebrating a joyous Christmas event or tradition, all the way from one up to ten. With pretty singing voices, toasty fires, busily making paper chains and rides on a reindeer. The children enjoy jingling bells and acting in a nativity play, lighting candles and snuggling tight in bed.  

Ruthie May has beautifully written a gentle rhyming lullaby to warm the heart and settle little ones to rest after a busy day. Including absolutely gorgeous illustrations to match the words, Tamsin Ainslie’s soft watercolour tones and pencil sketches create movement and fluidity, with lovely detailed textures and patterns for extra warmth.  

A counting book full of happiness, love and Christmas cheer, ‘Count my Christmas Kisses’ is perfect for sharing with babies and young children throughout the festive holidays.  

HarperCollinsPublishers Australia October 2014.  

w548932Cute Book  #2: This Little Piggy went Singing by Margaret Wild and Deborah Niland.
With a play on the traditional nursery rhyme about the little piggy who went to market, comes the fun Christmas tale, ‘This Little Piggy Went Singing’. It’s the perfect follow on from This Little Piggy Went Dancing’.

”This little piggy went singing
This little piggy stayed home
This little piggy had noodles
This little piggy had none
And this little piggy went toot, toot, toot all the way home.”  

The remainder of the book follows this cute rhyme about the five beloved piggies , incorporating funny, action-packed and tender Christmas moments each time.
Some piggies went shopping, delivering gifts, dining with friends, partying, riding and dancing.
Some piggies stayed home to create festive crafts, knit, play with toys, decorate the tree, read, bake and wrap presents.
Some piggies had delicious food, like meatballs, berries, candy canes, plum pudding, fruit and gingerbread cookies.
Some piggies had none.
And some piggies played on their instruments with a ratta-tat-tat, jingle, click, tra-la-la and ho-ho-ho all the way home.  

Margaret Wild so delightfully provides many variations of the song with all the fun, frivolity and excitement of the yuletide, including a universal connection with families celebrating Christmas anywhere in the world. With bold, colourful and oh-so-cute illustrations by Deborah Niland, ‘This Little Piggy went Singing’ is a classic that sure to appeal to the young, and young at heart, for many playful sing-a-long counting games.  

Allen & Unwin 2014  

the-twelve-days-of-christmasCute Book #3: The Twelve Days of Christmas, illustrated by Karen Erasmus.
If you’re after a traditional festive song in a book with gorgeous, modern Australian illustrations, here you have it!

”On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me a partidge in a pear tree.
On the second day of Christmas my true love gave to me two turtle doves and a partidge in a pear tree.”
 

Two children explore a nature park in the bright, sunny surrounds, discovering our beautiful wildlife and other kids playing as they progress from day one to twelve. What a ripper finding the four calling birds being laughing kookaburras, the five golden rings being cheese ring snacks and six geese laying in a native wetland scene. It’s bonzer watching eight little girls as maids milking the baby animals and ten school boys playing leap frog. With the final two days full of musical festivities, the crowd have an ace time celebrating a warm, Aussie summer Christmas together.  

Karen Erasmus’ soft watercolours, pencil lines and pastel tones perfectly suit the movement and activity of the park scenery, as well as the peace that this traditional song allows us to feel. ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’ is a lovely book to share with family members during the holiday season.  

Hachette Children’s Books 2013  

More great picture book recommendations still to come, perfect for gifts or just because we love children’s books!

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Christmas Collectibles

One NightA plethora of picture books about Christmas are published each year. Some are froth and bubble, as unsatisfying as cheap tinsel. Others are excellent, and should be shared with children and families in the lead-up to Christmas Day or join the collections of  avid Christmas book collectors.

Some standouts for 2014 that are already available are One Night by Penny Matthews and Stephen Michael King (Omnibus Books, Scholastic) and The Christmas Rose by Wendy Blaxland and Lucy Hennessy (Walker Books Australia). One Night is an Australian retelling of the birth of Jesus. Stephen Michael King’s illustrations illuminate this miraculous event. The Christmas Rose is a beautiful piece of art and writing which tells the story of a girl who follows the shepherds and the star to the stable to give the Saviour a gift.

Christmas Rose

 

A fun Australiana addition to Christmas this year is Colin Buchanan, Greg Champion and Glenn Singleton’s Deck the Shed with Bits of Wattle (Scholastic). It comes with a bonus CD. Effervescent musician and writer, Buchanan, is accumulating a significant body of work for children. Seek him out.

Some older titles for Christmas book collectors and aficionados that are worth a look if you haven’t already come across them are –

Applesauce and the Christmas Miracle by Glenda Millard and Stephen Michael King (who also illustrated One Night), a very Australian story which achieved the distinction of being a CBCA shortlisted book, rare for a ‘seasonal’ book.

The ABC Book of Christmas is distinctive because it features art by Australian illustrators, including Stephen Michael King (the king of Australian Christmas illustration), Ann James, Judith Rossell, Wayne Harris, Greg Rogers and Anna Walker.

Jesus’ Christmas Party by Nicholas Allan, is a very funny account of the birth of Jesus, told from the grumpy innkeeper’s point of view. For those scratching their heads for Christmas play ideas, this book can easily be adapted as a performance or readers’ theatre. The Nativity Play by Nick Butterworth and Mick Inkpen would also be helpful to read during the festive season. And Mem Fox and Kerry Argent continue the nativity play theme with the Australian contemporary classic, Wombat Divine.

jesus' christmas partyA Christmas Story by eminent UK illustrator, Brian Wildsmith, tells the Christmas story from the point of view of a girl and donkey. Other high-quality picture books told from animals’ perspectives are On This Special Night by Claire Freedman and Simon Mendez; and the original, humorous, The Lion, the Unicorn and Me by esteemed author Jeanette Winterson, illustrated by Rosalind MacCurrach.

British artist, Christian Birmingham has illustrated some sumptuous Christmas books including The Night Before Christmas and A Christmas Carol. P.J. Lynch has also illustrated Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol exquisitely.

A Small Miracle by Peter Collington was shortlisted for the Kate Greenaway Medal and is a contemporary Christmas parable.

Newbery medal winner, Kate DiCamillo has crafted a profoundly moving story of a girl who cares for a stranger at Christmas time in Great Joy. It is superbly illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline.

And The Tale of the Three Trees, retold by Angela Elwell Hunt and illustrated by Tim Jonke, beautifully combines the Christmas and Easter stories.

Tale of the Three Trees

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

Feathers, Scales, Fur or Skin: Tales of Friendship and Being Yourself

The Lucky Country. That’s Australia. We embrace difference. Celebrate diversity. Stand up for what we believe in. Be ourselves. Show compassion for those in need.  

The following picture books, as chosen for the 2014 Speech Pathology Australia Books of the Year shortlist, all share common themes; diversity, friendship and uniqueness.  

the+short+giraffe The Short Giraffe by Neil Flory, illustrations by Mark Cleary, is a fun, humorous story that highlights the importance of inclusion, especially when one feels like an outcast. Boba the baboon is photographing the tallest animals in the world; the giraffes. But there is a tiny problem, Geri the giraffe is the shortest giraffe ever and is not visible in the camera shot. Instead of excluding Geri, the compassionate, accepting giraffes attempt various creative ways to bring him up to their height, all however leading to disastrous, yet comical circumstances. Finally, it is a tiny caterpillar that points out the most obvious solution; to bend down to Geri’s level, and they capture the perfect photo.  

bea_cover Now, here’s a character who is not embarrassed to be different; it’s Bea, written and illustrated by Christine Sharp. This whimsical story explores diversity of the mind, rather than physical appearance. Whilst the other birds peck at the ground, flock together, build nests, chirrup and hippity hop, Bea is most unusually baking biscuits, disco dancing, travelling the world in a hot air balloon, and bussing through the country. It is until Bea meets her friend, Bernie, then we realise that having ‘unusual’ tastes are not so unusual when they are enjoyed and shared with others. ”A joyful story about being true to yourself and daring to be different.”  

Jonathan Speaking of being ‘daring’, it’s Jonathan!, written by Peter Carnavas and illustrated by Amanda Francey. Engaging rhythm and action in the text, and pictures to reflect the same. Jonathan! is a cute story of a boy who certainly isn’t ‘afraid’ to be his cheeky self, but in a way that he has fun changing his persona with different costumes. As he consistently attempts to scare his family members with frightening voices and ingenious outfits, his efforts prove superfluous. Jonathan unexpectedly meets and befriends a large, teeth-gnashing dinosaur who helps him triumph with his pursuit. That is, until, in a twist of fate, we are surprised by both the dinosaur’s identity and Jonathan’s reaction.  

9780670076765In Starting School by Jane Godwin and illustrations by Anna Walker, we meet more excited children who are keen to have fun and discover new things. Tim, Hannah, Sunita, Joe and Polly are starting their first day of school. In a gentle, informative story we learn about each child and their perspectives on the routines and events that occur as they embark on a huge adventure that is primary school. Throughout the day we observe them organise their belongings, familiarising themselves with their classmates, forming bonds, exploring the school grounds, establishing rules and routines, learning new subjects, and reflecting on the busy day. Godwin makes learning fun with some funny mishaps like spilling juice, fiddling with a girl’s hair and losing a pencil case. Whilst Walker so beautifully ties in all the minute details with her watercolour and collage characters, school related belongings, food, furniture, real life pieces of work, toys and buildings. Starting School is a perfect representation of the importance of accepting others, getting along, individuality, responsibility and resilience.

davy-and-the-ducklingAnother tale of best friends is Margaret Wild‘s Davy & the Duckling, with beautiful illustrations by Julie Vivas. When Davy meets the duckling, they look deep into each other’s eyes. Already smitten, the duckling follows Davy around the farmyard and all the way back home. Davy shows true adoration and cares for the duckling like a baby. We watch as they both grow, and we see not only companionship, but empathy, support, pride and encouragement as Davy achieves special milestones. In a touching moment, an old, achy duck seems to regain some youth when it hears that Davy is to become a father. And it is so sweet to observe a role reversal to complete the story, as the duck now leads baby Molly around the farmyard and all the way back home.  

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Review – Perfectly Poignant Picture Books Part One – Here in the Garden

Grief by any measure can be overwhelming. The grief one experiences after the loss of a family member never more so, even if that member happens to have whiskers and furry ears.Here in the Garden

Who knew I’d still be grieving the loss of my dog so intensely four months on? That the thinnest memory of him could unveil a mountain of yearning and loss and cause small avalanches of tears – again and again.

Then one of those inexplicably perfectly timed encounters in life happens; I read Briony Stewart’s picture book, Here in the Garden.

Briony with WinstonPenned after the loss of her beloved pet rabbit, Winston, Here in the Garden is more than an inspired cathartic exercise. It is an exquisitely crafted passage-of-time tale that allows ‘anyone who reads it (a) way back to a loved one through (their) heart and (their) memories’.

A young boy loses his special friend, a pet rabbit and wishes fervently that they were still together in his garden. Seasons slide by with the passing of time yet his yearning never diminishes. The boy’s present day feelings are sensitively juxtaposed with each new season and the past memories they reawaken of his days shared in the garden with bunny.

Briony Stewart Stewart’s heart-felt narrative is poetic and poignant and at times a little tear-inducing. The evolution of the seasons is beautifully measured by her splendid illustrations; most notably, the stirring string of pencilled line drawings at the end leading us and the boy beautifully from grief to resignation to jubilation of better days. By the end of story and the passing of a year, the boy comes to realise that whilst not everything we hold precious and dear in life can remain with us physically, memories are forever.

Here in the Garden is ultimately a moving yet magnificent and uplifting testimony to life and that wondrous salve of all hurts, time. Older readers will need tissues. Younger ones will cherish the joy and hope hidden within just as easily as they will locate the leaf-shaped bunnies drifting throughout this book.

Highly recommended for healing and hope-seeking.

UQP April 2014 Available here, now.

Don’t put those tissues away yet! Stick around for Part Two of Poignant Picture books when we cast a look at The Stone Lion.

 

 

 

On My Bedside Table

Bedside read listWant to know who I like to curl up in bed with after a long day behind the flat screen? Curious to know how I spend the midnight hours? Well I can reveal that at least three of those listed below are amongst the many who keep me occupied into the wee hours of the night. But enough about the books weighing down my bedside table.

As a solution to my incurable curiosity about what  makes a good read and what is good to read, I will be featuring who and what some of Australia’s most popular authors and illustrators like to go to sleep with, or bathe with or dine with…you get the picture.

And so to kick off our inaugural On My Bedside Table post we begin with a clutch of very clever children’s authors and illustrators. Look carefully and you may just pick up an idea or two for your own reading list. Enjoy!

Susanne Gervay ~ Children’s and YA award winning author and patron, director and co-ordinator of numerous societies associated with Kids’ Lit.

Conspiracy 365 (series) by Gabrielle Lord

Hey Baby! Corinne Fenton (picture book)

Trust Me Too edited by Paul Collins (anthology of stories)

Jandamarra by Mark Greenwood illustrated by Terry Denton

Lighthorse Boy by Dianne Wolfer illustrated by Brian Simmonds

Ten Tiny Things by Meg mcKinlay illustrated by Kyle Hughes-Odgers

Gracie and Josh• I have a pile of picture books and illustrated stories at the moment. Maybe because I’m into picture books – of course there’s my Gracie and Josh illustrated by Serena Geddes there too.

Anil Tortop ~ Illustrator, designer and sometimes animator

• The second book of A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket (via Kindle)

• SCBWI bulletin

• Nonstop Nonsense by Margaret Mahy

• Downloaded picture books (on my iPad to have a look at very often. But I don’t read all of them. Just look at the pictures…)

Maggot MoonMichael Gerard Bauer ~ Children and YA multi CBCA award winning author

Just last night I finished reading Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner. A powerful, moving book that I really liked. It’s set in what appears to be England but the country is under a vicious totalitarian rule as if it had lost WW2. The story centres around a young boy called Standish Treadwell and the horror of his life, and eventually his attempt to expose a fake moon landing which is about to be broadcast by the government as an example of their power.

I’m also at present re-reading Barry Heard’s book Well Done Those Men about his Vietnam experience and the terrible effect it had on his life. A great read and soon to be a movie.

Anna Branford ~ Writer for children, maker of things and bath tub reader

There is a funny selection on my bedside table just now! Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows is there because I’ve been recovering from a cold and it is always my best companion when I’m not feeling well.

The AntidoteOn top of that is a book by the hilarious and wise Oliver Burkeman called The Antidote, which is a wonderful critique of the practice of positive thinking.

And right at the top of the pile is Sue Whiting’s new book, Portraits of Celina, which is spooky and beautiful all in the same moment.

On my Bedside table Anna BranfordFeeling inspired yet? I am. Time to grab whatever is on the top of your pile and curl up together.

 

 

5 Faves from Afar

The volume of literary genius Australia possesses is staggering. Distill this down further to talented kids’ authors and illustrators and you’d still fill oceans, which is why I love showcasing our home grown children’s books.

But it’s impossible to ignore the magnitude of offerings from overseas too. So every now and then I’ll give you 5 Faves from overseas.

Here is the first fistful – all picture books this time round.

Waiting for Later1. Waiting for Later by Tina Matthews Walker Books Australia (OK published here but Tina is from NZ so sneaks in on this list). Nancy’s family are too busy to play with her. Each time she appeals for their attention, the reply is ‘later’. Nancy holds out for ‘later’ in a grand old tree in her garden with surprising results. An evocative cautionary tale reminding us of the precious brevity of childhood told in captivating book-end style.

2. Too Many Girls by Jonty Lees Eight Books Limited UK. Fun, frivolous and very pink in parts. Any Dad outnumbered by females will immediately sympathise with this poor fellow who is subject to an appalling lack of privacy, regular nail painting and indiscriminate hairstyling thanks to the females in his household. The crisis erupts in a ‘brush war’ resulting in some happy compromises and a lovely shade of purple. A lesson in the art of acceptance (and why men will never rule the world)Too many Girls

Fantastic Flying Books3. The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr Morris Lessmore by W E Joyce and Joe Bluhm. Simon & Schuster UK, originally by Athenum Books for Young Readers NY, USA. Immediately captivating. Glowing illustrations exude a burnished charm and warmth that complement the touching tale of Mr Morris Lessmore, a man who loved books and reading his whole life long. It’s a genuine never-ending story. Magnificently magic.

4. Blue Gnu by Kyle Mewburn and Daron Parton Scholastic NZ. Boo is not your average gnu. He’s blue for a start. And oscillates wildly betweenBlue Gnu yearning to fit in with the rest of the heard and being his own unique self. A warm and witty look a colours, patterns, differences and friendship.

This Moose belongs to Me5. This Moose Belongs to Me by Oliver Jeffers Harper Collins Children’s Books UK. Oliver Jeffers – enough said. One of my favourites of his. Illustrations divine enough to frame and hang on the wall plus a mockingly humorous story that questions the audacious assumption that we can really ever own anything outright in this world, equals pure genius. In the end, nature triumphs as does this must read picture book.

Do you have a favourite, unforgettable picture book? Let me know and it could make it onto 5 Faves.

Janeen Brian – Part Two

Janeen 2Do you have an all time favourite book character you secretly aspire to be more like? Discover Janeen Brian’s

Q Who or what was your favourite book character as a child? If you could incorporate that character into one of your own stories, which would it be and why? How would you adapt that character to suit?

I wanted to be one of the girls in the Enid Blyton’s Famous Five or Secret Seven series, because, having few books in my childhood, I felt as if I personally knew the girls. But as well, they were up front characters who had adventures and were at time, quite gutsy. I liked that! I think many of my girl characters have some of those characteristics!

Q Which Aussie children’s book author do you admire the most and why?

How can any reader or writer answer that! I love the work of my friend and poetry colleague, Lorraine Marwood. Her words sing to me or shake me about. Her work is so real and yet, magical. A bit like her.

Q How long does it take you to develop a children’s story? Does the time vary dependant on the genre: picture book, MG novel, script etc.Eddie Piper

I have recently compiled an anthology of my poems, entitled, As long as a piece of string. That will have to suffice for my answer to that one, because as vague as it is, it’s the truth. Sometimes picture books can take as long to write as a piece of fiction. Of course, you’re not necessarily slogging at it for hours every day, but developing it, shaping it and re-writing it over time.

Q Do you write every day? What is the most enjoyable part of your working day?

It’s rare that I miss a day where I’m not writing, even if it’s just catching up on my diary.

I'm a Dirty DinosaurQ What inspires you to write like nothing else can?

Certain words; strong, emotional situations; a state of tranquillity.

Q Do you have a special spot or routine to make the magic happen or can you write anywhere, any time?

I work mainly in my home office; and each morning I prime myself by responding to emails and getting lots of admin out the way first. It’s also a way of letting my brain know that I’m here and we’re going to do something to do with writing or brainstorming. I do a lot of brainstorming. I don’t tend to start putting anything on the computer until I’ve written enough, using pen on paper, and have a physical feeling that that I’ve captured the voice of the character or that I’m ready to start.

Q What is that one thing that motivates you to keep on writing (for children)?

I love the creativity; the tumble and jumble of words and feelings; the constant astonishment that so much of what happens in your life can become the story for another and the fact children seem to like what I write.

Shirl at the Show JBQ Name one ‘I’ll never forget that’ moment in your writing career thus far.

So many! I think being a writer is full of surprises, but a recent one was winning the Carclew Fellowship in the 2012 Adelaide Festival Awards for Literature. The Fellowship awarded me a sizeable amount of money to further research and develop a three-in-one-project. When the phone call came to say that I’d won, my first reaction was that I was going to be told my application was disallowed because it involved three proposals, not one. But instead, I was told I’d won!

Q What is on the draft table for Janeen?

Three books due for release within the next six months – so, much admin, media promotion and launches to organise. The books are: A picture book for the very young, called I’m a dirty dinosaur. (illustrated by AnnMeet Ned Kelly James and published by Penguin group Australia). An Australian historical picture book for the young called Meet Ned Kelly (illustrated by Matt Adams and published by Random House) and an historical, adventure novel for upper primary, called That boy, Jack.(published by Walker Books) I also have a number of other projects out with my agent or publishers.

My next project will be another picture book. I have vague ideas, but will need to do more research first.

Can hardly wait. For a full list of this year’s releases visit Janeen’s website too.

Review – Not a Nibble!

Not a NibbleFamily holidays are the stuff many childhood memories are forged from. With just a couple more weeks of summer holidays left, I revisited an old favourite and evoked some happy would-be memories (if mine had been the type of family to embark on seaside camping trips).

The excitement is palpable as Susie’s family head to the beach, car packed to the roof racks. They soon set up camp and immediately immerse themselves into all things seaside: hunting in rock pools, feeding seagulls, swimming the surf, and of course, fishing.

Led by over enthusiastic Dad, Susie, her brothers and cousins begin each day with great expectations, but for Susie, catching fish proves as elusive as keeping waves upon the sand. Her determination however never wanes, not even when her brother Alex taunts and teases her with fake-fish-hope. It’s not until the last day of their holiday that Susie glumly concedes defeat. Not everyone is lucky with fishing. She appears to be that luckless somebody.

Incredibly, Susie’s luck changes. She catches a glimpse of two Southern Right whales off the jetty much to the disbelief and delight of the surrounding crowd. She, her Dad and a dozen fascinated on-lookers, unite as they share a few special moments together watching mother and calf frolic in the waters before them. It’s a holiday memory bigger than any fish her family have caught before and one Susie won’t easily let get away.

Elizabeth HoneyElizabeth Honey’s entrancing sojourn to the beach captures precious familiarity and the exuberance of youth with playful grace. It is a story we can cherish for years to come much like a treasured cowrie shell. Honey’s spirited prose makes me want to kick off my sandals and grab a rod and bucket of bait. Susie’s Dad’s regular morning wake-up calls, addressing his kids as various species of marine-life, caused me to smile often. And who doesn’t delight in a big frothy milk shake from the local beach town café?

Each page drips with Honey’s sparkling watercolour illustrations, capturing the very essence and light of the seaside. Vintage Honey and deserved CBCA Picture Book of the Year.

Ideal to share with primary-aged readers.

Published by Allen and Unwin 1997

Review – Peggy

PeggyIt is little secret I love chooks and pigeons. So when I noticed this lovely new picture book featuring a little black hen and her feathered friends, there was instant grab appeal.

Peggy, a beguiling little black hen, lives a contented albeit somewhat isolated life in the burbs until one day she is unceremoniously whipped up by a fateful gust of wind and dumped in the middle of a strange new world, the city.

Peggy embarks on all the things an out-of-towner in the big smoke might be expected to do; she shops, dines on new cuisine, feasts her senses on curiosities of all shapes and sizes; thoroughly enjoying her big adventure until homesickness suddenly strikes.

When she spies a familiar sight, a sunflower like the one from her yard, she pursues it tenaciously; her only tentative link with all that she knows and misses. But the sunflower soon disappears. Alone and forlorn, Peggy waits in an empty train station until salvation appears; the pigeons, the very same ones she used to observe from a distance. They show her the way home.

Peggy passes her days now as before only now she shares her existence with the pigeons, even taking the occasional outing with them – via train to the city.Peggy and pigeons

Anna Walker has deftly created a simple little tale of a brave chook on a big adventure with the use of ink and photo collage. Her economic of words ensures we keep turning the pages, keen to keep up with Peggy’s exciting explorations.

The use of photo imagery adds marvellous depth, and warm authenticity to the lusciously thick pages in spite of the chilly damp of autumn the illustrations suggest. Muted background colours ensure details are highlighted with sensitive playfulness: the bunch of bright, yellow sunflowers, brown, wind-blown autumn leaves, and cherry-red umbrellas.

I especially loved Peggy; plucky, stoic, simply black, with that inquisitive look that only a chook can wear. A look that wonders; Can I eat this before it eats me? Peggy gently suggests that it’s worth expanding your horizons from time to time, and that this is not as scary as you might think it is because there are always friends around to help you, if you keep an eye out for them.

Recommended for pre-schoolers and appreciators of avian.

Peggy is published by Scholastic Australia 2012

 

Doodles and Drafts – An interview with Michelle Worthington

Welcome 2013! No bangs and whistles to launch the New Year this time. No arm-long lists of resolutions (fitted most of them on the back of my hand). Time to just buckle in, knuckle down and devote more hours to all those things we should actually be devoting more time to. One of them being more posts!

And so I embark on what I affectionately term Doodles and Drafts: snap-shot peeks at some of our most notable and most inspiring authors and illustrators. Some you will know intimately already, some are not so well-known but are creating impressive upward spirals; because all great writing starts with that first scrawled idea and all wonderful art begins as a mystic scribble… We kick off with a Drafter.

My first encounters with children’s author Michelle Worthington were at the usual haunts; children’s writing festivals and conferences. I was struck by her vivacious zeal and enthusiasm when asked anything about the craft of creating children’s stories. I’m delighted to feature this young, vibrant writer in my first author interview. Enjoy.Promo Photos 001

Who is Michelle Worthington? Describe your writerly-self for us.

My name is Michelle Worthington and I am a published Australian author. The stories I write are like the stories I used to read when I was little and they have what may now be seen as an old fashioned feel, but they have a timeless message. My goal is to be a successful Australian author known for uniquely Australian, classically elegant and compassionate stories for young children.

You’re a published author of several titles. What are they?

Picture book, The Bedtime Band, illustrated by QLD wildlife artist Sandra Temple was released by Wombat Books in November 2011.

Adult nonfiction book Practically Single was released by Mostly for Mothers Publishers in June 2012.

Picture Book, The Pink Pirate, published by Little Steps Publishing in July 2012, illustrated by New Zealand artist Karen Mounsey-Smith.

Yellow Dress DayPicture Book, Yellow Dress Day published by New Frontier Publishing in September 2012 which is illustrated by emerging NSW artist Sophie Norsa.

Why do you enjoy creating picture books? What other genres in children’s writing interest you?

As a mother of two rapidly growing boys, I am often asked why I write picture books for young children, especially young girls. The answer is simple; believe it or not, mothers were once little girls. More than that, I am a mother who wants my sons to grow up and marry strong, independent women. I write stories that empower little girls to believe they can be anything they want to be, as long as they believe in themselves. We live in a world where children are often asked at quite a young age to decide who they want to be. I want the children who read my books to decide to just be themselves. I would like to write a chapter book for boys one day.

 We know you love high heels but what’s your favourite colour, why and how has it influenced your writing?

My favourite colour is pink, of course. I love pink shoes.

Your recent release of the picture book “The Pink Pirate” was written for you niece. What message did you want to convey to her and your readers with this book?

The Pink Pirate was written for my niece, Georgia. I wanted her to know that she could be anything she wanted to be, regardless of her gender or the opinions of others. Books teach us so much about ourselves, the world we live in and the world that exists in our imagination. Every time you read a good book, you should get just a little bit smarter. It is very important not to underestimate the intelligence of the next generation, but at the same time, it is even more important that we pass on the right messages and lessons to them, in a way they will accept and understand.pink pirate

What does the term, ‘Power of Pink’ mean to you and why is it important for you to relay this belief to young readers?

There are not enough picture books that allow girls to be the hero of their own fairytale. Our children are growing up in a different world and they need to learn how to save themselves, instead of waiting to be saved. Writing my adult non-fiction fiction book about my divorce taught me that.

What inspires you to write? People, places, occasions…

I love writing stories for my family and friends, because I get my ideas from them. Words are like music to me. The right combination can sing in your brain as you read aloud. I write my books with that in mind. Books are best shared and if the reader enjoys telling it, it gives so much more pleasure to the listener. It is very important for me to feel like I am fostering a love of words and appreciation of good writing in my readers.

Where is your favourite place to create stories?

Practically SingleI write stories in my head all the time. They tumble around in my head until they are ready, then I write them down on anything I can find; bus tickets, napkins, back of my hand. Being a busy mum, it is hard to find an exact time to spend writing, so I let the ideas flow when and where they will.

Is illustrating your own picture book stories something you’d ever contemplate?

I can’t even draw stick people, so no. But I love working on books with talented illustrators, it makes the experience doubly delicious.

What is the one thing that motivates you to keep on writing (for children)?

I believe in the power of words, the power of sharing and the power of hope. Picture books encompass all these things and they are the perfect medium for teaching children about different people, places and challenges that they wouldn’t normally experience in their day to day life. I am not a doctor, scientist or any other professional that could help make a difference in the lives of children with disabilities. I am a writer. I can only use the gifts I have been given to help others to the best of my ability. If we all focus on what we are good at, we can all help each other in our own special way.

What is on the horizon for Michelle?

I am working on my first book app called Captain Cody, another picture book about the ocean, a fairy book with magic sparkles and a book about blended families, all to be released in the next 18 months. Watch this space; you never know what I will get up to next.

About Michelle

Best described as an Australian author with a penchant for high heels, Michelle is passionate about her kids and what she writes for them and kids like them. She’s won several poetry awards and is a regular presenter at schools and early learning centres.

Mini review of The Pink Pirate– Miss 6

Did you like the book? “Yes!”

What was the best bit?  “The girl saved the ship.”

What message do you think there was? “That girls can’t be pirates, but they can! When they grow up they can be whatever they want.”

Would you change anything in the book? “That the girl didn’t have to fight Blackboots, because she could have been hurt.”

Anything else you want to say about the book? “The two mice and the cat were doing swords as well.” (so clearly mice and cats can be anything they want to be too)

 

 

Interview – What Makes a Great Picture Book, with Adam Wallace

Welcome Adam! So lovely to have you join us on Kids’ Book Capers to talk to us about what makes a great picture book. You’ve been writing some pretty great picture books for a while now. Why did you start writing them?

Well I sort of had no choice. I started writing for children, and what burst out of me were picture books. The rhymes and images were in my mind and I had to let them out! I always wanted to write for children, possibly because they are closest to my maturity level. Writing in rhyme was exciting for me, so picture books were the perfect fit.

Which part of the PB writing process do you like the most?

The first draft. Just seeing something take shape before your eyes is awesome. But even the editing is kind of fun, when it’s not boring, because that’s where you get to the stage of reading it out loud and having that moment of, “Yes! That is how it has to be!” And then seeing the pictures is amazing too, seeing your words come to life through someone’s images.

So basically I think I have covered the whole process. To cut a long story short, I love it all!

What three elements do you think comprise a well-rounded PB?

Gold, silver and potassium. Are they all elements? I think so. How embarrassing, I used to study Chemistry!

Anyway, I think humour is number one for me.

Having the illustrations and text complement and bring the best out of each other would be next. If one is much stronger than the other, the book doesn’t sit as a whole piece of art.

Last, but most definitely not least, I would have to say respect for what children enjoy. I think picture books can get lost in being written for awards and adults rather than kids. These books are for children, and to write for children well you have to respect them and what they like.

Why is humour so important?

Because it’s relaxing. Because it opens up doorways for children to discuss things they may otherwise  feel uncomfortable discussing. And because when children are being introduced to books and reading, you want them to enjoy the experience and laughter is not only the best medicine, it is the best thing ever. When children realise that reading and books are fun and interesting and exciting, that is what is going to make them want to read more books. Humour can do that.

Do you think PBs should be heavy on lesson-learning and morals?

No, says he who has written picture books on sharing, healthy eating and being positive. Look, morals and lessons are important to have in books for children, but not as a preachy, overbearing presence. If the lesson/moral is cloaked in humour and fun, that is even better. Dr Seuss was the master of this.

Do you ‘test’ your books on kids before they are published?

Sometimes, and sometimes I will read at poetry nights to adults as well. I have a couple of excellent readers for nephews, and they are always great to chat to for ideas and feedback, although I still haven’t finished one story I sent them the start of! Cathy von Chatterbox. I have to get onto that one day.

How do the kids react to your books?

By laughing like crazy … I hope. As most of my books are soaked with a good dose of humour, laughter is the main response, although I also get quite a few “eeeeewwwwwwwww!”s when reading them Better Out Than In. Just ‘cos there are a couple of mildly gross elements to the stories.

What other elements do you use to make a picture book special for kids?

Hooks? Plot twists? Marshmallows?

Marshmallows help, but usually sugar free ones (is that even possible?). Twists are great. I am just reading Paul Jennings’ biography, and it discusses his use of twists. Kids like to be led the wrong way, especially if they can work out the twist before it comes. I think rhyme is a big thing I use too. For me, I like being able to punch a joke every second or fourth line. Rhyme also often helps the adults who are reading to the children get into a rhythm, and makes it more fun for them.

Where do some PBs go wrong? What style do you NOT like?

I don’t like picture books that seem more for adults, or awards, than for kids. I also don’t like really bad, forced rhyming. Or picture books that talk down to kids rather than treating them like the awesome, amazing human beings they are, capable of so much more than they are often given credit for. Or picture books that give children nightmares and they’re only five for crying out loud why was it so scary and it makes them wet the bed when all they wanted was a cheerful goodnight story with their … oh. Wait. I have said too much.

What’s more important – the text or the illustrations?

Oooh, tricky one! Both are so important, although as The Arrival showed, sometimes text isn’t needed for a picture book to be amazing. I don’t know the answer to this one, and I have just gone cross-eyed. Okay. I think both are equally important, but both must do the job they are there for. We don’t need the story describing everything we can already see in the pictures, and the pictures must bring the text to life, not go off on tangents.

When they work together and are both as strong as each other though, that’s when magic happens.

What are some of your favourite PBs?

There are SOOOOO many, but I grew up on (as in read while I was growing up. He wasn’t on the floor of my house or anything) and still love the master, Dr Seuss. My two favourites of his are The Lorax and Oh, The Places You’ll Go.

Another author from my childhood I am still a massive fan of is Bill Peet. My faves of his are Huge Harold, The Pinkish, Purplish, Bluish Egg, and The Whingdingdilly.

Shall I go on? Okay, I will! Just one more. I also love The Short and Incredibly Happy life of Riley.

Which PB do you absolutely wish you’d written and why?

Harry Potter. Does that count as a picture book? There were pictures in some of them!

No, I’m just kidding, of course. I would have loved to have written a Dr Seuss book. Any of them really. Just to have that magic coming off the page, and I truly believe there is magic in the way he uses words. He was a genius.

See more on Adam ‘Wally’ Wallace and all the wonderful picture books he’s penned, at www.adam-wallace-books.com.