Picture Books of the Curious Kind

I’m always up for a good imaginative mystery that gets my mind, and heart, racing. It must be that dopamine rush I get when experiencing something novel and exciting, the eager anticipation and engagement, and finding something I can relate to. For kids it would be no different and the following two picture books, not surprisingly, tick all the boxes in the ‘curiosity’ department.

imageArthur and the Curiosity, Lucinda Gifford (author, illus.), The Five Mile Press, 2016.

When adults are oblivious to the hidden secrets and wondrous treasures of the world because they are overly concerned with ‘moving on through’. That’s the situation that Arthur experiences on his school trip to the museum. His teacher takes little notice of the amazing artefacts and ancient wonders as she hauls her class across the landscape pages. But Arthur’s not so heedless. Amongst and within the exhibits Arthur notices a ‘CURIOSITY’ – a mischievous green creature that seems all but a figure of his imagination. Taking his time to examine his surroundings, Arthur gains much more than he bargained for than any of his bustling peers.  The final page leaves us with a sneaking suspicion that Arthur’s excursion has left him with a lasting impression!

imageLucinda Gifford‘s bright and colourful illustrations are playful and eye-catching, allowing readers plenty of scope for discovery and delight as they ‘move on through’ the book at a steady pace. Her text is equally joyful and witty with double meanings that are sure to set tongues wagging with the endless conversational possibilities. The ‘curiosity’ is “…the UNUSUALLY active volcano.” and “…an EXTRAORDINARY mummy in the Ancient Egypt exhibition. Poor Miss Blunkett was trying to wrap things up.”

Arthur and the Curiosity is a fun read to explore and enjoy with its elements of humour and surprise. Children from age three and up will also relish the opportunities to identify with and show ‘curiosity’ towards the diverse characters, topics and experiences that are fostered by this book.

Arthur and the Curiosity is being launched on April 16th at The Little Bookroom. See details here.

imageThe House on the Hill, Kyle Mewburn (author), Sarah Davis (illus.), Scholastic Australia, 2016.

‘Curiosity’ can present itself in many forms; and in this book it presents with a thrilling anticipation. Here is a story to send shivers of curiosity up your spine in the hauntingly stunning, The House on the Hill. With high levels of suspense to chill your bones, this poetic spookfest is a winner.

With Mewburn‘s ode to Edgar Allan Poe’s Raven, his romantically suave language and rhythmic canter beautifully rolls off the tongue. Sarah Davis‘s monochromatic, sepia toned imagery marries flawlessly with the spine-tingling lyrics to create an optimal intensity of creepiness and tension.

imageWhen two young ghosts are beckoned by the bell in the house on the hill, they find themselves “Upon the gate a portent hung, a dragon’s claw, a serpent’s tongue.” The initial terror slowly dissipates  with more and more clues being revealed as the characters edge closer to their destination.  Child-friendly hints dubiously lure us towards the dingy dwelling, like dancing moths, jack-o-lanterns and the characters’ outfits that appear distinctly like white sheets with cut-out eye holes. Davis’s striking illustrations with her extreme angles and perspectives, perfectly placed focal objects and effective use of light and shade draw us in with every breath as we follow the ‘ghosts’, and their cat, on their journey through the ‘haunted’ house on the hill. And just when our hearts can’t race any faster, we reach the final reveal and encounter the most ghoulish group of vile creatures – children!

imageIdeal for your Halloween thrills and celebrations, but equally fun-tastic all the year round. Behind the moodiness and apprehension, The House on the Hill takes preschoolers through an adventure of bravery, friendship and togetherness. There is loads of room for educational opportunities with its brilliant use of poetry, vocabulary, visual literacy and the arts.

You can watch the spooktacular book reading with Kyle Mewburn here.

Teaching notes are available at the Scholastic website.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

 

Leaving the Nest – Back to School Picture Books

Reaching a new milestone is one that comes with excitement, pride, aspirations and sometimes, trepidation. We’ve already been through the first year of school experience (with another waiting in the wings), but even so, starting afresh has its own set of rewards and challenges. From learning a whole new routine, to meeting new friends and setting new goals. Here are a few picture books that are sure to help your kidlets relate (and ease their minds) to what’s in store for their year/s ahead.

imageMy First Day at School, Rosie Smith (author), Bruce Whatley (illus.), Scholastic Australia, 2016.

“To all the mums and dads. It will be OK!”

Aptly dedicated to those nerve-racked, first-time school parents, experts Rosie Smith and Bruce Whatley send a most encouraging message from the outset. Then, warmly greeted by a little yellow duckling the first day routine begins.

Each turn of the page introduces us to another adorable creature as s/he embarks on an independent journey to life as a student. And no matter how complex the task might seem, such as a caterpillar dressing each of its many, many legs or a pig attempting to eat from an upturned bowl on its head, they are all completely doable.

Written in first person and with minimal text, both words and illustrations work beautifully together to showcase the variety of experiences yet keeping it simple and focussed at the same time. Soothing pastel coloured backgrounds allow the characters’ personalities and humorous antics to pop and burst in this utterly joyous and memorable occasion.

‘My First Day at School’ is the perfect companion that works in partnership with parents and children to successfully accomplish what may feel like a daunting experience. Children between 3 and 6 will fall head over heels in love with this fun, exuberant and relatable story about a typical school day.

imageBe Brave, Pink Piglet!, Phil Cummings (author), Sarah Davis (illus.), Lothian Children’s Books, 2015.

Setting off into unfamiliar territory, so to speak, definitely takes a lot of courage. For Pink Piglet, this is certainly true. When mother pig gives her babe the all-clear to expand on his horizons, he is less than confident. Poor Pink Piglet encounters some frighteningly large and noisy animals on his way around the farmyard. But his resilience and frolicsome nature prevail. Covered in brown worms in muck, red squished berries and green squelchy pond weed, the bedraggled-looking piglet is the scariest sight for sore eyes as he heads back home. Well, all the farm animals think so… except for his mum, of course.

The illustrations are beautifully textured and layered with a mix of oils on canvas and digital media in soft, pastel-coloured hues. The expressions and energy emanating from the pictures perfectly compliment the jolly onomatopoeia and animal sound effects.

‘Be Brave, Pink Piglet’ is a spirited read aloud story wonderfully capturing a serendipitous moment of bravery and playfulness. Another relevant read for your little school starter – your own ‘brave explorer’.

Watch Phil Cumming’s special video message to school starters here.

imageWhen I Grow Up, Andrew Daddo (author), Jonathan Bentley (illus.), ABC Books, 2015.

Capturing our attention from first glance is ‘When I Grow Up’ by much-loved duo, Andrew Daddo and Jonathan Bentley (Check on Me and First Day). With its scattered assortment of occupational items on the cover and bright neon colours upon entering the book, you know this story will be full of diversity and effervescence.

It’s not only children with aspirations for a glowing future. Adults, too can take inspiration to making their dreams come true. The teacher, as the role model, opens the story with the projection that she’d like to be the school principal. Then she facilitates open minds with the question, “What do you want to be?” Throughout the story, several children stand up and with the most imaginative and optimistic of responses as they proclaim their future desires. From a hair-raising hairdresser to a whizz-bang, supersonic-robotic inventor, an alien-photographing astronaut, writer of the most epic of stories, and an all-round stage performer. But in a tidy conclusion we learn, yes, we can be a multitude of things, but most importantly we should just be ourselves.

Whether realistic or far-fetched, the concepts and language are age-appropriate with an element of humour that kids will enjoy. Visually this book is captivating as the text weaves in and around the bold and colourful illustrations. Each spread captures that enthusiasm with its pictures that fill the page and extra hidden details to explore.

‘When I Grow Up’ will take children (and adults) from age four to big places, and all it takes is the power of imagination to turn dreams into realities. It is also a useful resource for learning about different jobs and their roles.

Books & Christmas with Anna Branford

I adore Anna Branford’s endearing character Violet Mackerel, who features in her own series for young girls, illustrated by Sarah Davis (Walker Books). Violet is written exquisitely and her empathy and kindness moves me even on multiple readings. The most recent instalment is Violet Mackerel’s Formal Occasion.Violet Mackerel's Formal Occasion

Thanks for speaking with Boomerang Books, Anna.

Such a pleasure!

Where are you based and how involved are you in the children’s lit world?

I live in Melbourne in a little apartment that looks down over a park. It is just about perfect for a writer as it’s very quiet but at the same time, I can see the world going by. As for my involvement in the children’s lit world, besides writing, I’ve been doing lots of school visits and touring this year and I’ve also had the opportunity to present at two writers’ festivals too, Brisbane and Melbourne, both of which were fantastic.

How else do you spend your time?

I lecture in Sociology at Victoria University, teaching on topics like childhood and religion. And I also love making things by hand, especially dolls and nests. I love knitting and felting and that kind of thing.

What inspired you to write the ‘Violet Mackerel’ series?Brilliant Plot

In a funny sort of way, the inspiration actually came through doll making. I was selling my dolls at an especially beautiful Melbourne country market, St Andrews, which is outdoors and starts very early in the morning. It was during the winter so it was still dark. There was a fire and some people were playing fiddles and flutes, and even though the sun was coming up there were still stars in the sky. It was a bit magical really. I noticed that some of the people setting up their own stalls had children with them still in pajamas and half asleep, watching the market forming all around them. And as I was wondering what they thought about it all, somehow Violet and her family popped into my mind.

Could you tell us something about your main characters? Are the children or adults modelled on real people?

One of the funny things about writing is that for me, I often don’t realise where my influences and ideas come from until after I’ve finished the story. Then, as I reread, I realise how very much like my sister Violet is, or how similar Violet’s mum’s reaction is to something I have recently felt myself. Retrospectively, I can usually see exactly where each trait and characteristic comes from, but it’s never intentional at the time of writing. I see my sister, my friends (especially young friends) and sometimes myself in the characters I write about.

I love reading about Violet’s family’s creativity and involvement with making things and going to markets. Do you also like these things?

I absolutely love them. I grew up with parents who often made things and who encouraged my sister and I to make things too. And for me markets, and especially craft markets, are places where you get to see newborn ideas, fresh from people’s minds and hands. I also feel a lot of love for handwork with small and slightly uneven stitches and unintended fingerprints in clay – all the evidence of the love of human hands.

How closely have you collaborated with illustrator Sarah Davis?

I love working with her. In some ways you could say we collaborate closely in that we are absolutely co-creators of Violet and her family. But at the same time, many of the ideas in the Violet stories come purely from Sarah and are a wonderful surprise for me when I first open a set of illustrations for a new Violet story. Lots of the humour especially! In the later books in the series, Violet’s teddy bear has become a hilarious side character in the stories, reflecting Violet’s emotions and thoughts. That is purely Sarah’s doing and I enjoy it as much as any reader of the series!

Why is a different illustrator used in overseas editions?Personal space

Violet has actually had four different illustrators in her different editions! I believe that is pretty unusual and I’m not sure of the reasons behind the choices publishers make about these things, but my best guess is that an ‘ordinary family’ like the Mackerels is actually quite a specific idea depending on the culture and society it is being portrayed for. It has been hugely interesting for me to see both the differences and the similarities in the way the characters have been created in their various incarnations.

Have you received any responses from young readers about Violet Mackerel that particularly resonate with you?

One thing I would never have guessed when I started out as a writer is the wonderful mail you begin to get! I’ve received beautiful handmade gifts from children and lovely stories from parents telling me that a Violet book was the first their child read independently from cover to cover. That just amazes me. I’ve heard from a few young readers that they think of Violet as their own friend, and that resonates with me a lot. When I was young my family moved very often and I always has to leave friends behind, so I know how important portable book friends can be for children.

What else have you written?

Lily the elfJust recently I have been working on my new series about Lily the Elf. Lily lives with her dad and her granny in an elf house under a bridge, with a moss garden and a huge (to her) dandelion overhead. So she is an urban sort of elf who exists, as lots of us do, in the city but also in an incorporated natural world. And although there is a lot about her life that is elf-specific, such as her tininess, she is a relatable character too, and deals with lots of the same troubles and delights that children her age do. I’m having a lot of fun creating this series in collaboration with Lisa Coutts, an illustrator who captures Lily’s world so beautifully that I secretly suspect she may be half-elf herself.

What awards have your books won or been shortlisted for?

I’ve been very lucky in this department over the past few years! Violet Mackerel’s Brilliant Plot was Honour Book in the 2011 Children’s Book Council of Australia Book of the Year Awards, Younger Readers category. In 2013, Violet Mackerel’s Personal Space won the Young Readers/Picture Book Award category of the Australian Family Therapists’ Award and was short-listed for the 2013 Children’s Peace Literature Awards. And in 2014, Violet Mackerel’s Possible Friend was short-listed for the CBCA Book of the Year Awards, Younger Readers category.

What are you writing at the moment?

I’m working on two things at the moment, a new Lily the Elf story about the trickiness of parting with old things even though you don’t really need them any more. And another thing that is top secret!

What have you enjoyed reading?Wind in the willows

My favourite book of all time is Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame. I read it when I’m feeling sad and it is like an old friend. I read it when I get sick and it makes me feel better. I read it at Christmas and it fills the time with magic. I think there will always be at least a bit of happiness with me all my life, so long as I always have a copy on my shelves.

More recently I have been some of Banana Yoshimoto’s books and enjoying them very much and wishing I could travel to see some of the places she is writing about.

Christmas is coming. How do you plan to celebrate and what books would you like as Christmas presents?

Magic Beach

I absolutely love Christmas! This morning my sister, my mum and I are also taking my three-year-old niece to ride the Christmas train at Myer and to see a gingerbread village. In the afternoon I am going to choose myself a Christmas tree. I celebrate non-stop all through December. I can never sing enough carols, or see enough lights and gingerbread creations, or wrap enough presents or light enough candles! But for Christmas itself my partner and I will disappear up into the mountains and have a couple of very peaceful days together, which is one of my favourite things of all. This year I would love to start sharing Alison Lester’s beautiful books with my niece so I am hoping for a copy of Magic Beach.

Where can people find you and Violet on social media?Neville

I have a website, annabranford.com, and can also be found on facebook.

All the best with your books, Anna. I’m looking forward to spending more time with Violet and Lily and later discovering your top secret project.

Thank you so much!

On My Bedside Table – # 3

Bedside Table books-lamp-diyBack by popular demand, the bedside table revelations of our literary heroes and heroines or as some of us like to address the towers of teetering titles yet to be tackled, the TBR List – To Be Read List. Be it on the bookshelf, coffee table, lounge room floor or humble little bedside cube like mine; where ever you stash your next-in-line-to-read reads, have a look through these. You might just have to make another pile.

Today we ask the burning question: Do illustrators make time to read? If so, who is it that these arty types curl up with and why…the answers are illuminating.

Sarah Davis SARAH DAVIS Multiple award winning children’s book illustrator who is as much at home drawing ghosts as bulldogs and is half the creative heart of the divine Violet Mackerel. A multitasking legend!

 Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, which is gripping – I can’t quite work out what her magic trick is for making her characters and situations so vivid and immediate.

Middlemarch by George Eliot for the third time, because I’d been thinking a lot about Mr Casaubon and Dorothea recently and wanted to go visit them again.

 Hiding in Plain Sight – Confessions of a Sociopath by M. E. Thomas, because I’m interested in abnormal psychology.Confessions of a sociopath

 Shriek by Jeff Vandermeer – set in the freaky crumbling surreal city of Ambergris beneath which lurk sentient fungi. (My upstairs book for when I take lunchbreaks)

I’m reading a chapter of To Kill A Mockingbird aloud to the kids every night, and usually listening to Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita on audio book while I work, although I’ll occasionally take a break to listen to podcasts.

I’ve got a story by Isobelle Carmody all lined up to listen to while I paint tomorrow.

And am dipping in and out of Pablo Neruda’s Residence on Earth.

When I’m stuck on the train or in a queue with nothing to read, I’m getting through The Count of Monte Cristo on my iPhone.

I don’t know what I’ll read after all that… I’ll just see what jumps off the shelf at me, I suppose. Whatever it is, hopefully it doesn’t hit me on the head.

James Foley  JAMES FOLEY Writer, illustrator, cartoonist, and part time Viking. A man with multiple awards to his name as well and a disparaging multiple-pile problem.

More Than This by Patrick Ness. Like the Chaos Walking Trilogy and A Monster Calls, this is incredibly suspenseful storytelling. Mr Ness strings you along, throwing questions at you but only giving the barest slivers of answers each chapter. The ending felt unfinished and under defined, but I guess that’s par for the course in a book about the (possible) afterlife.

I got some great left-field comics for my birthday, both from Nobrow Comics: Adventures of A Japanese Businessman by Jose Domingo and Dockwood by Jon McNaught.Adventures of a Japanese Businessman

I also topped up my Hellboy collection with a new trade paperback, The Midnight Circus by Mike Mignola, Duncan Fegredo and Dave Stewart – there’s some insanely good pen and wash technique in there.

One Soul by Ray Fawkes – The best graphic novel I’ve read this year – 18 separate characters living in different time periods have their life stories told in parallel. Each double page spread is arranged into 18 panels (6×3), with each character having their own panel.

But wait, there’s more! My recent picture book acquisitions: My Two Blankets by Irena Kobald and Freya Blackwood; I am Cow Hear Me Moo by Jill Esbaum and Gus Gordon.

Skullduggery Pleasant: Dying of the Light by Derek Landy; my current read.

There, done! Ooh! Ooh! On one of my bedside reading piles is Deb Fitzpatrick’s new one, The Break – it just came out last week

Christina Booth CHRISTINA BOOTH Enviable author illustrator whose latest picture book Welcome Home has just picked up the 2014 Environment Award for Children’s Literature. She hails from a small island to the south of Australia known as Tasmania and has a larger pile problem than James.

Christian explains: Well, to start with there are none on my table, you see, the pile became so large that I moved a big bookcase into my bedroom and that is where they now reside; my reading-to-do-pile, ever increasing,  those read and those in progress.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows highly recommended. As an author, I loved the banter between author and publisher and fans, and I learnt a lot about Guernsey, especially how they were occupied by the Germans during the Second World War.

My Place Nadia Wheatley & Donna Rawlins This picture book is part of my apprenticeship in writing a time line PB.The People Smuggler

The People Smuggler by Robin de Crespigny, following the life and journey of a man accused in Australia as a People Smuggler and how he was used as an example in the courts at great cost to the country only to be found innocent. Robin is an award winning script writer and this book is her first written as a biography but using the first person approach. It is a good read, though it is emotionally charged.

I have attempted to read Rohan Wilson’s The Roving Party, which seems to be a great story set in my home state of Tasmania. Alas, what does my head in is the lack of speech marks in the text. It requires more concentration to sort out who is saying what for my tired brain to deal with at present. It sits there, waiting….

Every night I (also) read my Bible, so much to contemplate along with words of wisdom from C.S. Lewis, and some other writers who refer to the passages I read. This is the most read of my books.

Maus is always close by as well by Art Spiegelman. Re-visited, browsed and remembered. One of the books that has changed me…. (Wonderfully tactile in hard cover with fabric spine).

There is a manuscript in varying stages in a folder that I review and reread, it’s almost there now; I’m starting to dream it instead.

On my ‘to get to ASAP’ list is Morris Gleitzman’s Loyal CreaturesJohn Green’s The Fault In Our Stars, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot is next for book club. The Roald Dahl Biography and also one on Michael Morpurgo await my attention. They are so patient with me, I want to read them all right now but alas, time isn’t my friend.

Phew! Is there anything they are NOT reading?! So it turns out, illustrators are just as voracious readers as the next bibliophile. Makes my pile of seventeen or so pale in comparison under the amber glow of my bedside lamp. Do any of these feature on your bedside table? So many books, not enough nights to get through them all…

Be further inspired. More great titles you may not have thought about adding to you pile from more great authors and illustrators.

Visit here and here.

 

 

 

 

YABBA 2012

The YABBAs have been announced! The winners have been hailed for their brilliance and popularity. And I’m going to tell you all about it.

There are lots of awards around in children’s publishing, but the YABBAs are special. The Young Australian Best Book Awards are entirely nominated and voted on by young people. These awards are not about grown-ups deciding on the worthwhile books that kids should be reading. These awards are about what kids are actually reading and enjoying.

I was lucky enough to be a guest at this year’s awards ceremony, along with lots of other authors and illustrators, including Carole Wilkinson, Gabrielle Wang, Corinne Fenton, Andy Griffiths, Karen Tayleur, Sue Bursztynski, Colin Thompson, Sarah Davis, Felice Arena and Oliver Phommavanh, to name a few.

Seeing the winners announced and the awards presented was great. But what was even better was witnessing the unbridled enthusiasm of the kids in the audience. They were excited about books. They were excited about reading. And that is AWESOME!

But who won? I hear you ask. And so, without further ado, the nominees and winners…

Picture Story Books…

WINNER: Fearless In Love – Colin Thompson / Sarah Davis

Fiction for Younger Readers…

WINNER: Alice Miranda At School – Jacqueline Harvey

Fiction for Older Readers…

WINNER: 13 Storey Treehouse – Andy Griffith / Terry Denton

Fiction for Year 7-9…

WINNER: Phoenix Files: Arrival – Chris Morphew

Congratulations to all the 2012 winners!

Now it’s on to 2013. Schools and students can get involved with the nominating process and voting in next years awards by checking out the YABBA website. The site also includes lots of cool activities and info, including reviews, puzzles and author/illustrator profiles.

Catch ya later,  George

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Review – Sounds Spooky

What’s that noise in the deep dark night? Something spooky? That’s for sure. Creaking, whispering, something dropping. Could there be a stranger creeping through the house?

When three little kids explore a creepy old mansion with torchlight and eyeballs wide with fright, they can never imagine their tentative meanderings may just be as scary – if not more so – for a resident ghost, happily minding her own business with her pet be-tentacled creature that lives under the bed.

Who could possibly be more afraid? The invading children? The ethereal little girl? Or the reader?

Using suspense-driven repetition, peppered with palpitating onomatopoeia, author Chris Cheng has penned a spooky tale that will delight children. A charming twist on typical ‘bump in the night’ fear lends whimsy and unexpected emotion to Sounds Spooky – especially when we learn about the death of our little ghost girl via newspaper clippings found in the house, and we can’t help but wonder where her parents are – and why she is all so sadly alone.

But not for long.

The illustrations in this extraordinary book are a feat in construction. Sarah Davis has created a palette that defies and tricks the eye. Has she used oil paint? Clay? Computer-generated art? Photography?

After spending considerable time examining the images in wonder, I raced to the back of the book, hoping for more information – and there it was … Davis has not only created models of each of the book’s characters, she even created an entire haunted house from cardboard and plaster! Combining photography, illustration and computer whizzbangery, the end result is an eye-fest that will entrance all ages. The fine detail is also extraordinary – from the detailed tiles in the kitchen to the gossamer ghost of a girl – this is beautifully-crafted work.

Although Sounds Spooky is an all-round delight, I must admit, the highlight of the book for me was the faces on the children (and the ghost) when they finally meet. Sarah Davis has admitted this is also her favourite page – and it’s no wonder. I doubt the face of a real child could capture more priceless emotion.

A breathtakingly book that’s at once laugh-out loud funny … and frightfully good fun.

Sounds Spooky is published by Random House. Be sure to check out www.sounds-spooky.com!

 

Whilst reading through this extraordinary new book, I found myself asking lots of questions (of no one in particular):

 

Paintings? Computer-generated art? Models? A blend? What the?

 

Already completely enamoured with the superlative talents of multi-tasking artist Sarah Davis, I was simply quite boggled as to how this picture book was put together.

 

It wasn’t until the end of the book that all was revealed (I love it when books reveal the artist’s medium!) 0 and quite astonishingly, Davis has not only created models of each of the book’s characters, she even created an entire haunted house from cardboard and plaster.


 

You will be boggled by the astonishing detail, from tiles on the floor to dishes and torchlight and the most incredible gossamer ghost of a girl, who floats through the rooms of the house, trying to not ‘be scared’ by the strange noises in the dark… noises created by three cute and very brave little ‘invaders’ keen to explore a local haunted house.

 

Yes, it seems Sarah Davis has scored the motherlode of artistic talent. Her sculptures in Sounds Spooky are extraordinary alright, but the highlight is the children’s faces, especially at the climax of the book – the emotion is breathtakingly good and laugh-out loud funny.

 

Chris Cheng has penned a suspense-driven tale that will delight children, using a clutch of divine and inspirational onomatopoeia that really sets the spooky mood as our dear little ghost girls navigates her fears and those bumps in the night. Repetitive story elements will keep kids guessing, and really effectively build the drama.

 

Spooky, charming and frightfully good fun.

 

Check out www.sounds-spooky.com!

REVIEW – VIOLET MACKEREL’S BRILLIANT PLOT

VIOLET MACKEREL  thinks she would QUITE LIKE to own the blue china bird at the Saturday markets.

This is not just a SILLY WISH.

It is instead the start of a VERY IMPORTANT idea.

But what she needs is a PLOT.

A BRILLIANT plot.

I wasn’t surprised to see Violet Mackerel’s Brilliant Plot win an honour book at this year’s CBCA awards.

Written by Anna Branford and illustrated by Sarah Davis, this book is one that I can see kids keeping on their bookshelves and handing down to future generations. (Yes I have faith that print books will be around for many years to come).

Violet Mackerel, the central character has a small goal, to own a small china blue bird she has seen at the market where her mother has a knitting stall on a Saturday morning.

But this blue bird is special and it’s going to take a brilliant plot to make it hers.

Violet believes that collecting small things can lead to something big, even brilliant. In fact she has a Theory of finding small things and hopes that this will help her get her blue china bird.

Anna Branford really gets inside the head of a small child in this endearing story. I remember being Violet’s age and wanting a horse. There was one I particularly liked and I used to plan and dream about how I could get it to follow me home.

I think that every small child had goals and dreams that even their parents don’t know about and this is depicted so authentically in Violet Mackerel’s Brilliant Plot.

Violet is very endearing in that she is fiesty, determined, but honest in her goals and how she goes about achieving them. And just as small children do, she becomes totally distracted by another project and forgets about her original goal.

In the end it’s through her kind nature and generosity of spirit that Violet gets what she wants in the story.

Violet Mackerel’s Brilliant Plot is a sensitively told tale that kids will enjoy reading or having read to them.

Sarah Davis’s beautiful black and white illustrations bring Violet’s story to life, showing her character and the emotions and turmoil she is going through. They are lively and sensitive illustrations with a touch of humour and bring the reality of Violet’s emotions closer to the reader.

There are even instructions at the end of the book showing the reader how to make their very own Box of Small Things.

Check out Violet’s website, violetmackerel.com.au to find out more about her adventures.

Violet Mackerel’s Brilliant Plot is published by Walker Books.

 

ANNA BRANFORD HAS A BRILLIANT PLOT

Today I’m pleased to welcome Anna Branford to Kids’ Book Capers. Anna is the author of the highly acclaimed, Violet Mackerel’s Brilliant Plot. This beautiful book, written by Anna and illustrated by Sarah Davis was an Honour Book in this year’s CBCA awards.

How did you become a writer?

I suppose I’ve always been writing something or other ever since I first learned to write, but I started writing children’s stories right after I finished my Ph.D thesis. Maybe doing all that disciplined, analytical writing made me crave the opportunity to write something more creative and colourful. Also, as part of my Ph.D research I read lots and lots of children’s books, so my mind was brimming with stories and ideas.

What do you enjoy most about being a writer?

One of the most exciting parts is seeing the illustrations. There is something really magical about dreaming up characters and places in the privacy of your own imagination and then getting to see what they look in the imagination of another person – especially if that other person is someone like Sarah Davis, who is already a bit magical to begin with, I think.

What is the hardest thing about being a writer?

For me the hardest thing about being a writer is trying to be other things at the same time. As well as being a writer I am also a full-time lecturer at a university. So sometimes I’m right with Violet, figuring out one of her theories, and then the phone rings and I need to snap out of her world and into the world my students are in, of tricky questions and lost essays. At other times I’m in the middle of explaining a complex idea in a lecture and suddenly a good idea pops into my head for a story I’m working on. I love both of my jobs, but I don’t always love trying to do them at the same time.

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

For two very long weeks I was a truly dreadful waitress. Then for a little while I worked in an aged care facility, mainly delivering people’s lunches and making them cups of tea and cleaning, which I was a bit better at. Then for many years I worked in crèches and childcare centres and as a nanny, which I loved. And for the last few years, as well as my university job, I have been a maker of dolls and other things.

What is your greatest writing achievement?

Well, it was very, very exciting to be nominated in the CBCA awards and even better to find out that Violet Mackerel’s Brilliant Plot was an honour book. But I have also had two kind messages from people saying that the book was the first story their child read independently and that they had made it all the way through and enjoyed it. I vividly remember the satisfaction of the first book I read independently and I am very honoured that someone experienced something similar with Violet. I think that might be the achievement I’m most excited about so far.

What are you working on at the moment?

I have a few different projects I’m working on. One is a fairy book, which is a brand new genre for me, and another is a new installment in the Violet Mackerel series.

Do you have any tips for new writers?

Yes –read, read, read absolutely everything in the genre you’re working in. I think its good to read a balance of your own childhood favourites but also brand new books, to keep you in touch both with what you love in a story but also what others are loving.

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

I didn’t notice while I was writing them, but I think in retrospect that all my main characters share quite an important characteristic. They’re all people who think very hard and very resourcefully about the problems they need to solve and are brave enough to put their plans into action. Those sorts of people (whether child or adult) are my own favourite sort, so I suppose it’s natural enough that they should find their way into my books!

How many books have you had published?

So far I’ve had four books published – Sophie’s Salon, Violet Mackerel’s Brilliant Plot, Violet Mackerel’s Remarkable Recovery and Neville No-Phone. The next book in the Violet Mackerel series, Violet Mackerel’s Natural Habitat, will be out in October.

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

Perhaps just that I have a blog of my own at http://annabranford.com which, in addition to all sorts of random thoughts and ideas and updates, has a few detailed posts on how I came to have my stories published that I hope other new writers might find helpful.

VIOLET MACKEREL’S BRILLIANT PLOT

What inspired you to write Violet Mackerel’s Brilliant Plot?

I first had the idea of the Mackerel family when I was at an early morning market selling dolls I make. It’s quite a special market just beside the Yarra Ranges in Victoria called St Andrews, and it feels particularly magical there very early in the morning when it’s still dark and everyone is unpacking and setting up. Some families who work there have children with them who I got to meet and chat to a little bit. They were lovely and they gave me all the ideas I needed for the characters in the book.

What’s it about?

The book is about a girl called Violet whose family works at a morning market. She has spotted something there that she really wants. It’s a blue china bird, just the right size to fit in the palm of her hand. But it costs ten dollars and she doesn’t have any money, so she goes about devising a plot.

What age groups is it for?

I wrote it with seven-year-olds I knew in mind, but it could certainly be read aloud to smaller children and I’ve been lucky enough to have lovely emails from adults who enjoyed it too.

Why will kids like it?

I think children will like it because Violet is the sort of character who helps you to think differently about things, because she has an interesting sort of family who are fun to meet, because her plot takes all kinds of unexpected twists and turns and because Sarah’s illustrations are so utterly exquisite.

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

I don’t think there is anything I dislike about Violet! She is exactly my favourite sort of person – a deep thinker, a noticer of small things, someone who acts bravely even when she is nervous or disappointed and someone who has excellent ideas.

Is there something that sets this book apart from others?

In some ways I hope not. I would love it to slip in among the sorts of books I read as a child and carry children some of the way along the same journey I was lucky enough to travel. But I do think the Mackerels are quite a unique family and that Violet in particular has an unusual and special way of viewing the world. So I hope perhaps the book might offer something new in that respect.

What did you enjoy most about writing Violet Mackerel’s Brilliant Plot?

I especially enjoyed sharing it with my Granny who lives in England and is nearly a hundred years old. Violet Mackerel’s Brilliant Plot is dedicated to her. Sending her new drafts as I wrote them, then copies of new illustrations as Sarah drew them, then a copy I bound together myself and finally the real thing – perhaps that was the best part of all.

What was the hardest thing about writing Violet Mackerel’s Brilliant Plot?

I think it was just that I kept having to stop – to go to work, to feed the cat, to make the dinner, to answer the phone. There was nothing hard about the project itself. I loved every part of it.

 

Marmaduke Duck and the Marmalade Jam

I loved the rhythm and humour in Marmaduke Duck and the Marmalade Jam.  This book is cleverly written by Juliette MacIver with beautiful illustrations by Sarah Davis.

There are plenty of tongue twisters in this chaotic adventure to delight both the reader and the listener in Marmaduke Duck and the Marmalade Jam.

All a-quiver by the river where Marmaduke swam,

Marmaduke Duck

eating Marmalade jam.

Marmaduke’s marmalade isn’t ordinary marmalade, it’s made from grapefruit – quirky, just like everything else in this book. There’s a llama with a panorama, a farmer in pyjamas, a ram named Sam and a lamb named Pam and they’re all

In haste for a taste of the marmalade jam.

Marmaduke Duck’s jam is unique and all the other animals and birds seem to think so too, and they want to help her eat it.

Young kids will love the liveliness and fun of this book. It’s a great one to read out loud and  Sarah Davis’ beautifully drawn characters are full of amazing expressions guaranteed to make you giggle.

Apart from the colour and hilarity in Marmaduke Duck and the Marmalade Jam., kids will be drawn to the food references and the ‘hearty old party’ with the ‘might feast’.

There’s plenty of movement in this book as the animals sway, swim and dance their way across the pages.

Kids will love the language and vibrant pictures in Marmaduke Duck and the Marmalade Jam.

With its themes of friendship, ownership and sharing, this book also paves the way for discussion on these topics.

Marmaduke Duck and the Marmalade Jam is published by Scholastic.