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! ***

Review – Sad, the dog

Sad,the dogTrying new things can be an exciting, daunting and ultimately rewarding experience. Just ask Sandy Fussell, author of the acclaimed Samurai Kids series. She is venturing into the fastidious and fascinating world of picture book writing and I have to say, has come up trumps.

TogetheSandy Fussellr with illustrator, Tull Suwannakit, Fussell has brought to life one of the most endearing little dog tales I’ve read in a while. Sad, the dog is a title immediately provoking thought and possibly interpretation as nothing more than a smaltzy, over-sentimental excuse for a cry. It does in fact start a little unhappily at least for poor pooch, Sad so named because his well-meaning but blatantly non-dog-people owners, Mr and Mrs Cripps neglect to give him an identity of his own.

Tull SuwannakitSad receives the basics from them but in spite of his doggedness to impress them with his dogginess, he is largely ignored and tragically unloved. Then they up and go, and leave, without him!

Misery and loneliness pile up around Sad like mounds of autumn leaves until a little boy named, Jack enters his life. Jack is patient and kind and is exactly the sort of little boy Sad needs. Ever so slowly, Sad learns to like his new situation and especially Jack, so much so that he re-discovers his inner dog and a new whisper in his heart that helps him banish his sad moniker forever.

Sad, the dog is a picture book that invites repeated readings because each time you do, you will fall in deeper in love with the indomitable black and white canine and comically drawn characters.

Sad dog illo spreadSad represents the unquestionable loyalty and willingness to please that dogs possess and suggests that they experience the same sense of rejection and loss as keenly as humans do. When Sad’s beliefs are shattered and abandoned, it takes him a while to forget his fears and learn to be brave enough to try that ‘something new’ again. However, with the help of a new friend, he does. Sometimes, that’s all it takes; a special someone to tease the real you back out into the open again.

I love this intimation and heart-warming message that permeates throughout this picture book, and is captured so beautifully by Suwannakit’s glorious watercolour illustrations. Muted tones, appealing detail and ridiculously funny characterisation (I was reminded of Gru from Despicable Me at times) provide plenty of balance and personality, and exude love in an otherwise sad tale about an unwanted dog.

Sad eventually finds love after hiding beneath his pile of unhappiness. It is red and wonderful (and incidentally the colour of Jack’s hair and the falling leaves) and is anything but sad. You and young readers from the age of three onwards will feel it too whether dog lovers or not. Highly recommended.

Fellow blogger, Romi Sharp is interviewing Sandy Fussell, soon. Be sure not to miss her revelations and insight into Sad’s creation.

Walker Books August 2015

 

GOLDEN BAT HAS PLENTY OF SHINE

Golden Bat is the sixth book in Sandy Fussell’s widely read Samurai Kids series and its lively characters, strong themes, fascinating setting and fast-paced action give the book sparkle from cover to cover.

Golden Bat features Sandy’s popular characters; Kyoko the albino girl, Mikko the one-armed boy, Niya, the one-legged boy who narrates the story, Yoshi the boy who doesn’t want to fight, Taji the blind boy and Chen, the young Chinese boy from the streets of Beijing.

Dreaded Oong, the feared pirate captain is holding Mikko hostage and wants to trade him for his own nephew, Yuri who has been kidnapped by a corrupt magistrate.

The Samurai kids have only eight days to complete their mission and their situation isn’t helped when Sensei is seriously injured by a rogue bear and they are forced to seek the help of the Mountain Healer Iseul. Never before has Sensei been so vulnerable or needed the will, determination and courage of the Samurai Kids.

Taji is the central character in Golden Bat and he faces major internal and external dilemmas. The Mountain Healer may be able to restore his sight, but what will that do to Taji’s other talents? He must decide whether to get his sight back and lose his spirit or leave things as they are.

What makes the Samurai Kids’ books unique is that although the character’s lives are far from ‘ordinary’, they face dilemmas and fears that are very real and believable.

Golden Bat is another action-packed Samurai Kids adventure to keep young readers turning the pages; wondering what will happen next and what new dangers await the young Samurais.

It’s an evocative book full of vivid descriptions that place you right into the setting:

“We walk with ears wide open. When you are wary, the night is full of shadows and the forest is filled with whispers. Even our ninja footfalls ring loud in the silence.

The characters are well drawn, each with their own particular talents and flaws – each unique in how they respond to the challenges they are faced with.

Author, Sandy Fussell is meticulous with her research and provides an authentic feudal Japanese setting for Golden Bat.

As always, Rhian Nest James artwork is stunning and beautifully compliments the text.

The Samurai Kids books are lively historical fiction for readers aged 8+. They are published by Walker Books Australia.

 

Chocolate cookbooks

CHOCOLATE! Is there anything in this world that can possibly compare? Well… okay… there is red wine and cheese, of course… and I’m sure that I’ll blog about them in the future, but for now — it’s chocolate! My last two posts have been about cookbooks and recipes, so it seems logical to conclude with the greatest of all dessert ingredients. It can be combined with so many different things — from fruit to cheese, from cake to cream — and, of course, it’s brilliant on its own.

In Australia, I guess, when you say chocolate many people immediately think Cadbury (even though the company originated in the UK). It’s not the greatest chocolate in the world, but I do rather like Cadbury Dairy Milk chocolate. It has quite a unique taste (maybe it’s that glass and a half of full cream milk the advertisements keep telling us about), and it can be quite good to cook with. Which brings me to Joanna Farrow’s book, Simply Cadbury’s Chocolate — one hundred dessert recipes, each and every one containing some type of Cadbury chocolate. This book also includes an introduction, with a very brief history of chocolate (less than one page, so it leaves out a hell of a lot), a history of Cadbury chocolate and some general instructions on how to cook with chocolate. It’s a pretty good basic chocolate cookbook. It’s been a while since I’ve used it, but looking through it now, I’ve found a recipe that I haven’t tried but would like to. “Millionaire’s Shortbread” is a biscuit topped with rich caramel and two different types of chocolate. I think I’ll try it this weekend.

Much as I like Cadbury, there is better chocolate out there. I’m thinking Lindt, Haigh’s and Koko Black, amongst others —or one of my favourites, Michel Cluizel. The darker the chocolate, the more pure the experience, in my humble opinion. While I enjoy most levels of chocolate from milk to 99% dark (white chocolate is an aberration, which can have a small place in cooking but should never be eaten on its own), my ideal approach is as follows: 70% dark chocolate when consumed with the accompaniment of milk; 85% with coffee; and 99% with single malt scotch whisky.

Just as there is more to chocolate than Cadbury’s, there is more to cooking with chocolate than Farrow’s book. And so we come to The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Chocolate by Christine McFadden and Christine France. While this book doesn’t really fulfil its title’s claim, it is a damn fine dessert cookbook… my favourite, in fact. It has over 200 recipes, including one of the best chocolate fudge recipes I’ve ever come across, and the rather brilliant “Malt Whisky Truffles”. It also devotes 23 pages to the history of chocolate, 6 pages to “Cultivation and Processing”, 6 to “Taste, Quality and Presentation”, 12 to a section on different chocolate from around the world, and a final 8 pages on “Physiology and Psychology”. Great reading!

Let me finish up with my thoughts on hot chocolate. I find most hot chocolate mixes a little too sweet. I prefer to make mine with plain cocoa, to which I add a little sugar, thus making a hot drink with a touch of bitterness. Of course, once upon a time, the ancient civilizations of Central America drank an unsweetened drink made from cacao beans called chocolatl. Where am I going with this? Well, I felt that I should link this whole self-indulgeant chocolate post to some good quality literature — in this case, Sand Fussell’s novel, Jaguar Warrior, which is set in Aztec times and in which the main characters make the aforementioned chocolatl. [Sandy Fussell has previously visited Literary Clutter to talk about Jaguar Warrior.]

Anyone out there have a favourite chocolate related book? Leave a comment and tell us about it.

And tune in next time for some random stuff.

Catch ya later,  George

PS. Send me chocolate… if you can’t send me chocolate, the least you can do is follow me on Twitter. 🙂

Following the blog posts to Origami Yoda

When it comes to tie-in merchandise I don’t think there’s anything out there that could possibly top Star Wars. The words “Star Wars” have been slapped on to everything from bed sheets to breakfast cereals. And it seems that every time I walk into a shop there’s another piece of Star Wars merchandise. Amongst all this merchandise are, literally, hundreds of books. I read a few of them when I was a kid, but I never really got into them. So I don’t actually pay that much attention to the release of Star Wars related books. But then, along came The Strange Case of Origami Yoda.

The first I heard about this book was via a short blog post by author Sandy Fussell (who writes the Samurai Kids books). I read the post and was intrigued. I mean, really… how can you not be intrigued by the title. Sandy’s post included a link to a guest post on the blog of author Cynthia Leitich Smith (author of numerous YA novels). This guest post was by Tom Angelberger, the writer of the Origami Yoda book. I followed the link and was delighted by Angelberger’s story of how the book came to be written and published. Go and read the post… it will persuade you to buy the book. I clicked away from that blog, straight to an online bookstore and purchased The Strange Case of Origami Yoda.

I received it in the mail, put it on to my must-read-soonish stack and forgot about it once I had placed a few review books on top of it. But a couple of weeks ago, I rediscovered it and read it. And glad to have read it, I am.

It is not a typical Star Wars book. It is not set in the Star Wars universe, or even in outer space. It is set in an ordinary American middle school where the kids encounter the wisdom and advice of an origami Yoda finger puppet.

Origami Yoda is brought to school by a particularly weird kid named Dwight. Any time anyone needs any advice, Dwight pops the puppet onto his finger and dispenses the advice with a very bad imitation of Yoda’s voice. Now, the thing is… Dwight is a bit thick, but Origami Yoda’s advice is wise. How could this be?

The book is a case file of incidents put together by sixth grade student, Tommy. As he says in the opening line, he wants the answer to “The big question: Is Origami Yoda real?” Or is Dwight just playing a joke on everyone? So he collects incident reports from a bunch of other students. Each student relates the story of when they got advice from Origami Yoda and what the outcomes were. It all concludes at a school dance, where Origami Yoda’s advice to Tommy will be put to the test.

It’s a really fun, unique book. Angelberger weaves a story with interesting characters, gentle humour, sage advice and a great deal of charm. Each of the kids in the story is well realised, but it is the character of Dwight who is the standout. His quirky personality steals the limelight, even from Origami Yoda. And the book concludes without too many explanations, which actually works really well. As I read the book, I was fearful that the author would be tempted to reveal too much… so was very relieved when he didn’t. The book was a joy to read and I recommend it to you, even if you’ve not much of a Star Wars fan.

Apparently, there is a sequel in the works, due out in 2011, and it looks like it will feature at least one other origami version of a Star Wars character. I must say that I think the book is perfect as it is, and I fear that a sequel may water down its effectiveness. But I’ll keep an open mind and read it when it’s released.

For more info about Origami Yoda and Tom Angelberger, check out the official website — www.origamiyoda.com

Oh, and just in case you’d like to make your very own origami Yoda, check out this video:

And tune in next time for some book trailers.

Catch ya later, George

PS. Follow me on Twitter, you will.

FRIDAY BOOK FEATURE – FIRE LIZARD REVIEW

The Samurai Kids and Sensei are on their way to the hwarang training village in search of Pak Cho, Sensei’s former teacher.

At first, Kyung, the guide with the gun is determined to stop them, but he soon realizes that the travellers are more than a match for him.

In their latest adventure, Niya,  Kyoko, Mikko, Yoshi, Taji and Chen must help the hwarang warriors rescue the Nine Valleys from the clutches of the corrupt Provincial Governor and power hungry Hypo Moon.

In the process, they learn some valuable things about themselves, about patience and not judging too soon or too harshly.

Fire Lizard is the fifth book in the Samurai Kids series and just like its predecessors, it’s fast-paced with great characters and eloquent writing. Fire Lizard is narrated by Niya (whose spirit is the White Crane). He is the Samurai who can read Sensai’s thoughts and in this book, he comes one step closer to discovering his teacher’s secret.

This is another action-packed adventure for 9-12 year-olds. I love the uniqueness of the six Samurai Kids, each with their own individual strengths and weaknesses – each with a quality that is essential to the wellbeing of the entire group.

Sensei as always is full of wise words “Just take one step. Every journey begins with one step. No matter how long or hard the traveling is.”

Fire Lizard, like all the Samurai Kids’ books is beautifully illustrated by Rhian Nest James and has been meticulously researched.  Author, Sandy Fussell has impeccable attention to detail, and it’s this description of food, terrain and weather conditions that allow the reader to feel as if they are actually going along on this journey too.

Young readers have been eagerly awaiting the release of this fifth Samurai Kids’ adventure and I’m sure they won’t be disappointed. Fire Lizard is published by Walker Books.

FIRE LIZARD – THE LATEST SAMURAI KID’S ADVENTURE

Earlier this month, Fire Lizard, the much anticipated fifth book in the Samurai Kid’s series was released. I know my boys weren’t the only ones who were really looking forward to it.

Today, Sandy Fussell is back at Kid’s Book Capers to talk about Fire Lizard and how she created this fascinating book.

What inspired you to write Fire Lizard?

As the fifth book in a series, it has a life of its own. I don’t really have much control at all. It was inspired by a combination of the readers and the characters.

What’s it about?

Sensei travels to the hidden valley of the Hwarang warriors in the Kingdom of Joseon, to visit his old teacher, Pak Cho. Much has changed. The villages of the Nine Valleys are terrorised by a corrupt governor and his henchman, Hyo Moon. Pak Cho is blind and frail, but still a powerful man. Sensei and the Little Cockroaches escort Pak Cho through the now dangerous Valleys to deliver a warning message to the governor in Daejeon City.

What age groups is it for?

The Samurai Kids series has found an audience across a wide age group. Perhaps this is best indicated by its selection on the NSW Premiers Reading Challenge for Years 5 -6 and the VIC Premiers Reading Challenge for Years 7 -10.

Why will kids like Fire Lizard?

First and foremost, it is an exciting action adventure, a struggle between good and evil with a martial arts focus. It has a cast of familiar and new characters, a slash of humour, a little cultural mysticism and mythology and an unusual setting.

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

One of the interesting things about the Samurai Kids series is there is no main character and different readers attach to different favourite Kid. Even though one-legged Niya is the narrator in all the books, he doesn’t assume a driving role except in the first book, White Crane. A different character drives the story line in each book, but not in a sense that I would call them the main character. One of the ongoing challenges of writing Samurai Kids is providing balance between six main characters.

The Kids are so familiar to me that in any situation I know who would be flicking their rice across the room, who wouldn’t be listening to me, who is poking the kid next to him…

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

The Samurai Kids series has a dedicated website www.samuraikids.com.au with a range of teacher resources – craft ideas, origami, reading notes, fact sheets, a one-act play, web quests and interactive quizzes.

Is there something that sets this book apart from others?

Each of the Samurai Kids books features a different Kid, a new location in their journey with Sensei and a new martial arts skill added to their repertoire. The story of Fire Lizard is driven by Mikko, who only has one arm and whose spirit guide is the Striped Gecko. This time Sensei and the Kids journey into the Kingdom of Joseon, now known as Korea. There they discover the elite Hwarang warriors, sometimes credited with developing the early techniques of tae-kwon-do.

What did you enjoy most about writing Fire Lizard?

I enjoyed exploring a new corner of history. I knew nothing about 17th century Korea and very little about its geography. I love the fact that each Samurai Kids book teaches me new things.

What was the hardest thing about writing this book?

Two things. It was much more difficult to find reference texts on Korean history than for my earlier settings of China and Japan and half-way through the story, the idea for Book 6 which is set on Cheju Island at the tip of Korea, began to push its way into my head. I wanted to get started on that and had to concentrate hard to finish Fire Lizard! I am easily distracted by the lure of a new story.

Tomorrow at Kids’ Book Capers, I’ll be doing a review of Fire Lizard. Hope you can join us then.

JAGUAR WARRIOR

Jaguar Warrior by Sandy Fussell begins with slave boy Atl imprisoned in a box waiting to be sacrificed.

When the Spanish invade a fast runner is needed to request help from the nearby city of Purepecha; Atl is released.

However, the Captain of the Temple Guard believes Mexica is losing the battle because Atl has not been sacrificed as promised and pursues him. Accompanied by two friends, Lali and Zolan, Atl races through the jungle. Unknown to him, the Captain is hunting not far behind. Atl must make the decision to run to freedom or to complete the task he has been given.

Sandy Fussell, the author of Jaguar Warrior has been fascinated by Mexica (Aztec) history, ever since she was a child.

It’s such a dichotomy – the advanced, intellectual society sacrificing people so the sun would rise. Mexica civilization is an interesting look at how different beliefs shape history. It’s always tempting to look back and judge based on what we know today or our modern day ethics and values. I wanted to put the bloodthirsty stereotype version of Aztec history into perspective for younger readers while using it as the historical backdrop for an action adventure.

Jaguar Warrior is for readers 9+. While it is set in a culture known for their bloodthirsty sacrificial practices,  Sandy says it is not a violent or gory book.

I am very conscious of historical context – the need to get the facts right and in perspective – as well as the age of my readers. This balance was one of the main challenges when writing the story.

The story seems to really resonate with young readers and I asked Sandy why.

Readers tell me the chase is very exciting. One reviewer thought the story was so action packed she compared it to an Indiana Jones plot! There are jaguars, crocodiles, ghostly figures in the mist, slave traders, ambushes and the ever present threat of being captured and returned to the Temple for sacrifice.

As a writer, I know I get very attached to my main character. I get to know them so well that they start to seem like a friend or even a family member. Atl, in Jaguar Warrior seemed very real to me, and Sandy obviously has a close affinity with him.

Atl has a lot to learn about himself and he’s not happy to listen to anything his companion, Lali, has to say on that matter. He thinks she is an annoying show-off. And sometimes she is but she is very smart. It hasn’t been easy living as a slave and Atl has to decide whether to put his freedom first or even whether he can be free if he runs away from helping Tenochtitlan. He can be pig-headed and stubborn. But he is loyal to his friends when he works out who they are, and that helps him make his decision.

THE RESEARCH PROCESS

The thing Sandy enjoyed most about writing this book was doing the research.

I discovered this wonderful book called The Broken Spears: The Aztec Account of the Conquest of Mexico by Miguel Leon-Portilla. It’s a collection of translated oral Nahuatl language accounts of the Spanish invasion – a perspective I hadn’t explored before. History is so often written by the victors and the Mexica people didn’t have a written language (although they kept hieroglyphic records) so it was the first real access I had to a native primary source. Plus some of the poetry is very haunting and beautiful.

THE HARDEST PART ABOUT WRITING JAGUAR WARRIOR

The hardest part was developing the reader relationship with the villain, the Temple Guard Captain, Huemac. I tell the story from two perspectives – that of the hero and the villain. I wanted the reader to know both equally well. But I wanted them to dislike Huemac intensely. And then, when I had achieved that, I wanted to turn the reader around and convince him/her to allow Huemac to be redeemed. (Which in Mexica culture meant to return to life for a brief period as a butterfly!)

Teacher’s notes and a web quest, Daily Life in an Aztec City are available on Sandy’s website www.sandyfussell.com

Tomorrow at Kid’s Book Capers, Sandy is going to talk us through the inspiration behind her much-anticipated fifth book in the Samurai Kids series, Fire Lizard.

SANDY FUSSELL – CINDERELLA AUTHOR?

Since her first book was published in 2007, Sandy Fussell has had four educational and seven trade titles published.

Sandy says she became an author after receiving some strongly worded advice from her son.

When he was in Year 4, my eldest son abruptly stopped reading because ‘all books are boring’. I couldn’t find anything he was willing to read so I challenged him to write a story to show me what wasn’t boring. To my surprise he agreed, only if I scribed the words. I tried to help. I tried to help once too often and was told to: “Go write you own story and leave mine alone.”

I took his advice, discovered how much I loved writing and haven’t stopped since then.

Sandy brings this sense of humour and wisdom to her popular Samurai Kids books and her stand alone novels, Polar Boy and Jaguar Warrior. She says that the thing she likes most about writing and being an author is the opportunity to engage with young readers.

As a writer for children, I spend many hours in schools speaking to kids about reading and my books, and running writing workshops. I could fill pages with their funny anecdotes and even more pages with thierinspiring stories. I have set up a blogging project, ReadWriteZone, where I blog with classes of children at www.readwritezone.blogspotcom.

She says that the hardest thing about being a writer is that it’s not a full-time job and she finds it difficult to squash family, work and writing into twenty-four hours.

Luckily I don’t need a lot of sleep. It gets particularly hard during a busy period like Book Week or if one of my children is sick or a major deadline looms. It can be quite stressful and I couldn’t do it if I didn’t love storytelling. Sometimes I wonder if I would write better if I was more awake. But then again, I secretly think: probably not!

Before she became an author, Sandy was (and still is) a systems analyst/computer programmer managing a number of large projects.

“This professional background has helped me develop interactive teaching resources to support the use of my books in the classroom and to maintain a dynamic web presence.”

SANDY’S GREATEST WRITING ACHIEVEMENT & CURRENT WORKS IN PROGRESS

I don’t think I have a greatest writing achievement, yet. It’s a work in progress. I haven’t been writing long enough to make comparative judgments. Probably in about ten years I’ll look back over my volume of work and feel comfortable with that.

I am a fiddler and a diddler. I doubt I would get anything done if it wasn’t for editorial deadlines. I am currently completing the final revision of Golden Bat, the sixth book in the Samurai Kids series and my first picture book, Sad the Dog. I am working on a young adult novel which is new territory for me and an exciting challenge. I am partway through another historical novel but have put that aside for the moment. Finally, the idea for a new fantasy series keeps poking into my thoughts but I am trying to push that one away for a while.

CONSISTENT ELEMENTS IN SANDY’S WRITING

To date most of my book have been historical fiction set in early cultures – feudal samurai Japan, the Mexica (Aztec) Empire and the 14th century Arctic. The locations are widespread – and I hope to eventually write my way around the ancient world – but there are symbols and themes common to the times such as animal mythology. In these centuries a child of twelve to fourteen was about to assume adulthood so there are also strong coming of age themes in many of my titles. I don’t create symbols or themes on purpose. It just happens while I am telling the story.

SANDY’S TIPS FOR NEW WRITERS

Read. Anything and everything. Read inside and outside your comfort zone. Try new authors, new genres and new directions. Wide range reading helps old and new writers absorb good techniques and look at ideas differently. It inspires and stimulates.

I used to say I was the Cinderella author. I felt as if someone had waved a magic wand over me and for at least a year I was really worried I would turn back into a pumpkin. I don’t worry any more. I feel like I have found a comfortable corner of the castle, surrounded by books and kids. I don’t have a ball gown or a glass slipper but I have a wooden practice sword and a gong. It’s heaps more fun! (I always think of my school visits as the ‘pointy sticks and loud noises tour’. I’m probably the only author to bang a gong in the NSW State Library!)

Sandy’s websites include:

an author website (www.sandyfussell.com)
a website dedicated to the Samurai Kids series (www.samuraikids.com.au)
a personal blog (www.sandyfussell.blogspot.com)
a classroom blog (www.readwritezone.blogspot.com),
a forum under development (http://samuraikids.com.au/phpbb2/index.php)
a Facebook Fan page (http://www.facebook.com/pages/Writing-WA/129790767068358#!/pages/Samurai-Kids-Series/132997448255?ref=ts).

Do I need all these? Probably not but I find it heaps of fun.

On Wednesday, we’ll hear all about how Sandy Fussell wrote Jaguar Warrior and on Thursday, Sandy is back at Kids’ Book Capers with some great insights into how she created her latest Samurai Kids’ book Fire Lizard. Hope you can join us then.

Sandy Fussell and the Jaguar Warrior Part 2

Last time around Sandy Fussell told us a little about writing historical children’s novels, such as Jaguar Warrior. Today, she’s back for Part 2 of the interview…

My favourite character in Jaguar Warrior is the old priest Ichtaca. I especially love the passage where he explains to Atl that “A powerful religion must put on a good show for its people” and that “a good priest is a clever magician”. What was your inspiration for this character?

My historical novels usually have a strong, elderly figure advising the young protagonist because this is a key aspect of the social and religious structure of many ancient cultures. It also provides a vehicle for a touch of humour as the relationship between the young and the very old is a special one. In the Samurai Kids Series the samurai teacher is the wise and eccentric Sensei Kiyaga and in Polar Boy, the old shamaness Ananasaq (Nana) guides Iluak as he follows his destiny. In Jaguar Warrior I purposely avoided giving Ichtaca a lead role although he is obviously the influence who has moulded Atl. Ichtaca is an interesting character because he epitomises the paradox which inspired me to write about Aztec Mexica. Ichtaca saved slave-boy Atl’s life once and loves him like a son, but when the Serpent-Sun god selects Atl as a sacrifice, as High Priest, Ichtaca doesn’t hesitate to obey.

PS: I should point out that in the early times I write about, ‘very old’ would have been about 38.

Aside from the Aztec civilisation in Jaguar Warrior, you’ve also written about feudal Japan in your Samurai Kids novels. Is there any other historical period you’d like to write about?

Ancient times are fertile fiction ground for stories for middle primary to lower secondary readers – full of action, conflict and really big decision-making. Life and death stuff. This was a period when kids often had to cope by themselves and assume what we now consider adult roles. At fourteen, a boy was a full samurai and went to war. Twelve-year-old Iluak in Polar Boy is required to single-handedly face a polar bear. Jaguar Warrior’s Atl is expected to run for days on end through dangerous forest to deliver a message to save the city of Tenochtitlan.

There are so many periods I would like to write about. I particularly like civilisations that are unfamiliar to kids but are at the edge of those they know quite well. I am currently working on a story set in the Kingdom of Kesh, a black African nation that predated Pharaohonic Egypt and at one time enslaved Egypt. I think I will just write my way around the ancient world!

Finally, I just have to ask… Is this a stand-alone novel, or are we likely to get another adventure with Atl and Citlali?

I was surprised when the first two reviewers of Jaguar Warrior both commented they were eagerly awaiting the sequel, as I intended the story as a stand-alone. I read the last paragraph to my son and asked him if the story had closure. He rolled his eyes and said “It does but obviously you intended a sequel. Look at the last line.”

I think what is evident at the end is that I am very well-aware what happens next in my character’s lives. Atl, Lali and Zolan are running towards the fabled city of Atzlan to build a new world, where everyone is free and no-one is a slave. But history tells us that so often humanity repeats the mistakes of the past and Atl will find new threats to freedom, even in a world without slavery. I shouldn’t say more because if the opportunity arises, I would love to write a sequel!

Finally, finally… What’s next for Sandy Fussell?

Fire Lizard, the fifth book in the Samurai Kids series will be released in September and more titles are planned. I am working on another junior historical novel, a young adult novel with a supernatural twist (dare I say paranormal?) and my first picture book is due for release in 2012. The best part about being a children’s author is interacting with the readers and I am excited about my new classroom blogging project ReadWriteZone, aimed at engaging students in reading and writing related discussion via blog posts. Anyone interested can check it out here www.readwritezone.blogspot.com

My thanks to Sandy for stopping by Literary Clutter to talk about Jaguar Warrior. To find out more about Sandy and her writing, check out her website.

And tune in next time for some info about the Aussiecon 4 programme.

Catch ya later,  George

PS. Follow me on Twitter!

Sandy Fussell and the Jaguar Warrior Part 1

Today, Literary Clutter will be taking a trip into the past — into a time of slavery and blood sacrifice; a time of exciting adventure and thrilling dangers. Today, we go back in time to the Aztec civilisation with Sandy Fussell’s novel, Jaguar Warrior.

Atl is a young slave boy in the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan, who has been chosen for sacrifice to the Serpent-Sun god. But when the Spanish attack, the high priest Ichtaca releases him, sending him on a mission — to get help from the city of Purépecha. On the way he meets up with a runaway girl named Citlali. Together, they race for Purépecha, as they are pursued by the ruthless Captain Huemac. Can this boy escape the Captain’s pursuit, save the City of Tenochtitlan and become a Jaguar Warrior?

This is an exciting children’s novel, which paints a vivid picture of the Aztec people and their civilization — not just the big picture stuff, like religion and sacrifice, but also interesting details such as what people ate and how they used cacao beans to make chocolatl drink. But it is not only a history lesson. Jaguar Warrior is an exciting adventure with an array of interesting, well-conceived characters. Although clearly aimed at children, the book has much to offer the adult reader. I enjoyed it so much, that I immediately emailed the author and asked for an interview. So, it is with great pleasure that I welcome Sandy Fussell to Literary Clutter

Hi Sandy! One of the first things that struck me about the Jaguar Warrior, was the amount of research that must have gone into it. Can you tell us a little about the research?

I usually know quite a bit about the historical setting before I begin my research. I have been collecting books about ancient civilisations since I was in primary school and studied Ancient History at university. My initial approach is to read widely, looking for interesting facts and trivia as well as story pieces and ideas. The Internet is wonderful for this sort of research as one link leads to another and what might start out as investigation into the significance of owls in ceremonial practices will end up on a page about making hot chocolate from chocolatyl beans.

I read a lot of historical non-fiction, both adult and junior titles. I find the latter particularly useful as they often contain large numbers of diagrams and pictures, which are excellent inspiration. One of my favourite research books for Jaguar Warrior was The Broken Spears by Miguel León-Portilla, which is an historical account from the perspective of the Aztec (Mexica) people. Most records of the fall of any civilisation are written by the victors, and often ignore the indigenous point of view.

What made you decide to set a children’s novel in the Aztec world?

My story ideas often begin with a paradox and the question it raises. For Samurai Kids it was: “Belonging to the samurai, the best warriors in the world at the time, is a consequence of birth. But what if you had a disability that made it really hard to claim this birthright.” For Polar Boy it was: “The Inuit people are very fearful and live in such a harsh, unfriendly environment. But at the same time they are joyous and celebrate the land. How can this be possible?” And for Jaguar Warrior it was: “How could the Aztecs be an intelligent and compassionate society but carry out such cruel sacrificial practices?”

The answer to the last question lies in what the Aztec people believed and how we interpret their actions based on our beliefs, not theirs. I wanted to communicate this to my young readers. The Aztec people believed without question that if blood sacrifices were not made, the sun wouldn’t rise and the world would be destroyed. While sacrificial victims were often prisoners of war, in times of peace cities would organise tournaments called the Flower Games, with the losers being sacrificed, to ensure the world was kept alive.

That’s all we’ve got space for this time… but fear not, Sandy will be back next post. To find out more about Sandy and her writing, check out her website.

And tune in next time for part 2 of this interview.

Catch ya later,  George

PS. Follow me on Twitter!

CBCA NSW 2010: Assorted Snaps

Some other snaps from the Conference:

Bob Graham took us through his life and his life’s works. He was then treated to orchestrated interpretations of four of his picture books (composed and conducted by George Ellis) including How To Heal A Broken Wing



Ursula Dubosarsky and Tohby Riddle took to the stage to discuss the process behind their smash-hit, The Words Spy, and its sequel, Return of the Word Spy.



Sandy Fussell, author of the recent Jaguar Warrior talked all things Internet…



… with Boomerang Books’ own Dee White, author of Letters to Leonardo and helmer of Kids’ Book Capers.

Queen Victoria made a rare posthumous appearance at the book launch of Queen Victoria’s Underpants, Jackie French and Bruce Whatley’s latest.

Okay… so I almost went a full festival without making myself the centre of attention – Margaret Hamilton looks on as I, the youngest member of the CBCA NSW Committee, and Maurice Saxby, the oldest living former CBCA NSW Committee member, cut the cake for the CBCA NSW’s 65th.

The cake in question before Maurice and I hacked it to bits. For the record, it was delicious.

FRIDAY BOOK FEATURE – JAGUAR WARRIOR

In our house, reading is a big thing. I love that my boys love books and I love that family discussions take place at our dinner table about what is the latest ‘must read’.

I love that even though he is eleven, my son and I can snuggle up on the couch together before bed, and read a book like Jaguar Warrior.

I even love it that he got impatient and went ahead and finished the book before me.  That’s how engrossed he was with the story of Jaguar Warrior, and when you read it, you’ll see why.

The book’s hero, Atl has been imprisoned in a box for seven days and is waiting to die. He is about to be sacrificed to the bloodthirsty Mexica gods, but Atl has a strong heart and he refuses to give up.

When he is unexpectedly released and sent on a mission, it’s not the mission that has him running, it’s the chance of freedom.

But he has to stay one step ahead of his mortal enemy, The Captain. The Captain believes that Mexica will fall if the Serpent-Sun god is not appeased by a sacrifice. The Captain is determined to bring Atl back to fulfil that role.

Atl’s travelling companion, Lali fears The Captain – and for reasons that are revealed in the story, she should know him better than anyone. Lali says The Captain is “more terrifying than the armies of Spain and Mexica marching together.”

The tension and pace of this story keep you turning the pages, but for me, it was the well drawn characters and vivid detail that kept me reading when there were many other jobs I should have been doing.

Here’s an example of the evocative narrative – Atl is eating tortillas.

Eyes closed, I listen to my stomach purr. Old men say the jaguar spirit lives in a young warrior’s heart, but when I listen to my gut grown with contentment, I know that’s where the big cat crouches. And it likes corn cakes.

Humour and a strong character voice also endeared me to Atl and made me eager to know his fate.

The tension of the story is enhanced by the dual narrative. The point of view alternates between Atl and his foe, The Captain. The reader is given information that neither character knows and this also helps build up the suspense.

Set in Aztec times, Jaguar Warrior is a work of fiction but it has been so meticulously researched that I felt like I had stepped into the story.

Jaguar Warrior is Sandy Fussell’s sixth published book and she is fast becoming known for her fast-paced but beautifully descriptive historical fiction works. Sandy is the author of Polar Boy (shortlisted for a 2009 CBCA Award) and the Samurai Kid’s Books: White Crane, Owl Ninja, Shaolin Tiger and Monkey Fist.

Both my sons can’t wait to read the fifth Samurai Kid’s Books, and I’ll be eagerly waiting with them in the queue.

Dee Watching

Those who have been keeping themselves up to date with our new blogs will already know the fabulous Dee White, she commands the good ship Kids’ Book Capers. Well, she’s going to be busy Festival-hopping in the coming few weeks, so new fans, it’s time to get better acquainted with Dee White, and here’s how:

On 29th May, she will be on a panel at the Emerging Writers’ Festival called ‘Never Surrender’ talking about the path to publication for her young adult novel, Letters to Leonardo. For more information, click here.

On 19th June, she will be at the CBCA Imagine This Imagine That Conference in Sydney, presenting with Samurai Kids author, Sandy Fussell about Authors & the Internet.

Attention Patrick Ness Fans: April Book Giveaway

Ness-philes, get excited – this month, each of our Boomerang Books Members are in the running to win a signed copy of 2008 Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize Winner’s latest, and a signed preview of his upcoming trilogy-ender. The full prize list includes:

Not a member? Sign up today.

APRIL FACEBOOK GIVEAWAY

Are you on Facebook? Don’t forget to join our Group for your chance to this prize pack that includes:

A big thanks to our friends at Celapene Press, Ford St, Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, Pan Macmillan for supporting our giveaways this month. and Walker Books.

BONUS GIVEAWAY

You have until Friday 9 April to enter a special Patrick Ness competition. We’re giving away… an extract. While it doesn’t sound like much, this is actually a special preview of Ness’ yet-to-be-released Monsters of Men, and it’s signed! All you have to do is email me, and in 20 words or less, tell me why you should be the lucky Patrick Ness fan that gets it.

KEEP AN EYE OUT…

Those that have been reading the blog know how enamoured I was with the Gone book trailer, well, later in the month, we’ll be giving 10 copies away to Boomerang loyalists, so keep your eyes peeled for details.

BOOKS! BOOKS! BOOKS! August Book Giveaway

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

AUGUST MAJOR GIVEAWAY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another Way To Love by Tim Costello and Rode Yule

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

AUGUST FACEBOOK GIVEAWAY

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

Shakespeare Third Transmission A Tale of Two Women Shaolin Tiger

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

BONUS AUGUST CHILDREN’S GIVEAWAY

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

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

The Little One The Chimpanzee Book Penguin Book At The Zoo

Section B: Fiction 10+

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

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

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