Animals at Work – Picture Book Reviews

Kids are all too quick to grow up these days, but yet to realise the complexities and oftentimes, inequalities, that go with grown-up responsibilities. Sure, life in the playground can be tough, too. No doubt there will be times they feel under-valued, misunderstood or lonely. Whilst these references may seem quite grim, the following ‘adult-work-life’ picture books paint these dark hues to meet a bright and hopeful light at the end of the tunnel.

Ok. It will be called… Next award-winning picture book of the year. Phenomenal artist. Phenomenal storyteller. Shaun Tan wins over the masses with his latest picture book, Cicada. Considering its haunting themes, this book has a definite star-quality appeal that is sure to set a glow in every reader’s heart.

You heard it… ‘Tok Tok Tok!’. Time marches on for hard-working cicada. Seventeen years. Stuck behind his computer desk hidden amongst a concrete jungle of office carrels – hardly noticed, immensely unappreciated. Treated as sub-human, despite the fact he is not human at all. But honestly, his pay is docked for being forced to use the bathroom twelve blocks away! Work life for cicada is dire with no thanks, no living support (he lives in an office wallspace), colleague abuse and eventually a retrenchment with a figurative kick in the butt.

Seventeen years imprisoned in this grey, lifeless cell of despair. There’s nothing left… but to transform. And all you can do is laugh! Tok Tok Tok!

Cicada breathes intense concepts and colourless imagery that is far from dull, mixed together with sharp language spoken in a broken English. However, it embodies a fiery life within that speaks universally to humans about the power of self-worth, about courage and respect. An impressive, evocative picture book for older readers (5-9 years).

Lothian Children’s Books, June 2018.

Work life at Baggage Handlers United is pretty fun for Marvin. He loves the routine of putting things on and taking things off. He has friends that work there, too. But what happens when his ‘friends’ start laughing at his expense? Missing Marvin is a meaningful and sensitive story about the hurtful effects practical jokes can have when taken too far.

Sue deGennaro beautifully captures the heart and soul of this story through her gentle, multi-faceted illustrations and leading language that carefully directs readers to ponder the emotions being explored. When Barry, Shelly and Ivan set up what they think are amusing shenanigans, it is upon closer inspection that we see the heartrenching damage done to Marvin. “… he wonders if a joke is only a joke when everyone is laughing.” All too often, people (at work or at school) go about their day ‘pretending’ they are okay. And all too often, ‘the signs’ go unnoticed. Learning strategies to avoid emotional and physical isolation are nicely handled here when Marvin decides to come out of hiding (after succumbing to his bed) and open up to his friends about his feelings.

All it takes is a conversation. Missing Marvin brings about a light-hearted simplicity on the cusp of complex issues related to bullying and depression. Presented in a sweet and satisfying way, this book will help preschool-aged children find compassion, sensitivity and courage when needed most.

Scholastic, April 2018.

With a gorgeous setting based on the Greek islands of Andros and Mykonos, who wouldn’t love to live and work there? Originally from Greece, author illustrator Elena Topouzoglou paints a charming picture of friendship emerging out of loneliness.

In Mr Pegg’s Post, a little girl, Anna, longs for interaction from the outside world beyond her lighthouse home. The only visitor is Mr Pegg – the pelican postman. One stormy night, from the darkness Mr Pegg comes thumping into her life, serendipitously changing the world as she knows it. The ability to work effectively can be difficult when faced with a crippling injury. However, Anna’s eagerness to help deliver letters by boat serves them well in his recovery and her social connections. Anna receives more than just letters now. She has friendships, and a job!

The soothing blue wash of the water represents a beautiful link between the isolation of the lighthouse and the community spirit of the mainland. Mr Pegg’s Posts delivers a message of support, appreciation and value to the hearts of children from age three.

New Frontier Publishing, July 2018.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Indigenous Literacy Day & The Book that Made Me

Meet Judith Ridge, editor of The Book that Made Me (Walker Books)

Where are you based and what is your current professional role?

After living most of my adult as an “inner westie”, I moved to the north-west of Sydney 6 years ago. I currently work at Liverpool City Library, in Sydney’s south-west, where my title is Coordinator, Outreach Programs. People have mistaken me for a librarian for much of my working life; I actually started out as an English teacher, and have worked in publishing and arts projects for the past 20-something years. Working in a public library is a wonderful opportunity and one I am enjoying very much.

How did you select which authors to invite to contribute to The Book that Made Me?

Book that Made meI started out with a wish list, which was part of my pitch. That original list included writers whose work I knew and admired, and who I believed would have some really interesting and potentially unexpected ways of approaching the topic. I was also looking for a variety of contributors; not every person on the list was necessarily what we might think of as a writer of YA, but were writers who teens would likely have come across in other media, and whose work I thought was well worth bringing to their attention. My publisher also wanted to make sure Walker authors were well-represented, including authors from their New Zealand and UK lists.

I was also keen to include writers across genres, form (I would have loved to have had more visual artists involved) and from a range of cultural backgrounds. It was especially important to me to have Aboriginal contributors, and not just because the royalties from the book go to the Indigenous Literacy Foundation, but because there is no Australian story without indigenous voices.Ambelin

How was this title selected?

The Book That Made Me was only meant to be a working title until we all decided there wasn’t a better one that described what the book was. I can’t imagine it being called anything else now.

What brief/guidelines did you give the contributors?

I’ve actually quoted part of the brief in my introduction to the book: It may have been the book that made you fall in love. Made you understand something for the first time. Made you think. Made you laugh. Made you angry. Made you feel safe. Made you feel challenged in ways you never knew you could be; emotionally, intellectually, politically. Made you you.

How did you get a response from Mal Peet, who died last year? (has the book been awhile in the planning?) Peet

I think I first pitched The Book That Made Me in 2012 or 2013. The publication date was pushed back twice. This isn’t unusual in publishing, and it especially is not unusual for a book of this nature, with multiple contributors.

I met Mal and his wife Elspeth Graham several times when they travelled to Australia for writers’ festivals, and he was on that original wishlist of contributors. Mal was one of the smartest, funniest and most generous men I ever met, and I am honoured to have his witty and slightly angry piece in the book.

Was much editing involved throughout? If so, what type of edits?

Both a lot and not much! None of the contributions needed much in the way of a structural edit; most of the back and forth with the writers was to fact-check and clarify ideas, and also to ensure copyright clearance for works cited (when direct quotes were made). I came up with titles for most of the essays, which the contributors obviously had to approve, so there was also a bit of back and forth there. Copy-editing was done externally—fresh eyes!—and the final page proofs were checked by me, my fabulous in-house editor at Walker, Mary Verney and the contributors (and yet a few pesky typos slipped through nevertheless!).

How did you deal with authors who wanted to include more than one book?

With pleasure! There was never any expectation that the contributors would necessarily stick to one book, or even, as it turned out, to a book at all. I love that magazines, comic books and plays (for example) are honoured. I’m also thrilled that Ambelin Kwaymullina wrote so brilliantly about Aboriginal story and the oral tradition, which is, after all, where all stories started.

Was there anyone you wanted and couldn’t get – and could maybe include in another book? Or an author you want for the future?Freedom

Yes and yes—of course! In the natural way of these things, some entirely amazing people ended up dropping out of the project, or couldn’t do it in the first place (kindly expressing regret). If there were to be a second book, well, there are some really exciting new YA writers that have emerged in the last few years who would definitely be getting an invitation.

How did you organise the blend of Australian and OS material?

That was partly done in consultation with Walker Books Australia (see previous answer), although some of the OS writers were on my original list.

How did you sequence the chapters?

All credit for that goes to Mary Verney. This final bit of the puzzle needed to be solved shortly after I started my new job at Liverpool City Library, so I handed that over to Mary, who I think did a masterful job in balancing tone, content and form. As an editor myself, I am delighted that the book was in the hands of such a skilful fellow editor.

Were you surprised by any of the responses?Gold

Only in an “Oh my, how delightful/ thrilling/ fascinating/ wonderful/ moving” way. I think, as an editor, that you don’t really invite/commission people who won’t surprise you in some way or another; at least, that’s how I like to work. And a book of this nature can only work if you allow people their head, so to speak—the freedom to explore and surprise. Otherwise, if you’re too rigid in your expectations and requirements, you end up with something homogenous and, dare I say, probably a bit worthy and dull.

I’d say I was surprised by the generosity of the contributors, but I’ve worked in kids’/YA lit for a quarter of a century and this generosity of spirit and the work from writers for young people doesn’t actually surprise me in the slightest.

What have you learned?

That there’s nothing more exciting than walking into a bookstore and seeing your book on the shelves; that there’s nothing more gratifying than reading the words of strangers who have read and appreciated and understood what you’ve set out to achieve.

What else would you like to share?Tan

If you like the book, please seek out the works by the contributors, and buy or borrow their books, and if you’re interested in my writing about children’s and YA literature, there’s more at misrule.com.au/wordpress

And please support the work of the Indigenous Literacy Foundation: http://www.indigenousliteracyfoundation.org.au/

A beauty – Rich and Rare

RIch and Rare cover Med ResThere really is something for everyone in Ford Street Publishing’s latest collection of Australian stories, poetry and artwork for teens – Rich and Rare. With pieces from almost 50 fab authors and illustrators, including Shaun Tan, Judith Rossell, Susanne Gervay, Gary Crew, Justin D’Ath and Michael Gerard Bauer (to mention a few), the anthology delivers tantalizing morsels to suit every reading taste. There’s an alien invasion, a Dickensian-style thriller, a warrior adventure in old Japan, a bushranger tale, intrigue in the cane fields of northern Queensland and much, much more.

Editor Paul Collins joins me ahead of next month’s book launch to take us inside Rich and Rare and to reflect on his own prolific and successful career as a writer, editor and publisher. Paul is best known for his fantasy and science fiction titles which include The Jelindel ChroniclesThe Quentaris Chronicles ─ co-edited with Michael Pryor, and The Warlock’s Child, done in collaboration with Sean McMullen. He also runs Ford Street Publishing and the Creative Net Speakers’ Agency.

JF: Congratulations, on Rich and Rare, Paul. What a line-up of Australian talent! What can readers expect from this collection?

PC: I’d like to think a sumptuous literary feast. No one will go away hungry, as the collection is a literary banquet with something for everyone.

JF: How does it compare to others anthologies you’ve edited?

PC: Anthologies aren’t as easy to put together as they might seem. An editor starts off with a list of potential contributors. I’ve been lucky in as much that most of my list this time around contributed illustrations, stories or poems. Across the three anthologies I’ve edited lately, I think everyone I’ve approached is represented. But not one of the collections has everyone. So too people reading Rich and Rare will be happy to see some contributors lacking in the other anthologies, but on the reverse mystified that others are missing. This collection is more illustrative and has longer and more varied works. This will please some, and perhaps disappoint others. So in answer to your question, it’s very subjective. A creator’s latest work is always their “best” work.

JF: What are the challenges of editing such a large collection of stories, poems and artwork?

PAUL-COLLINS-PC: Most contributors aren’t precious about their stories being edited. Those who are can be difficult. Working with up to fifty creatives can be challenging – remembering of course I’m working with many others at the same time. And because an editor says a story should follow this or that path, doesn’t necessarily mean the editor is right. It can be subjective. Stories especially vary in quality, and it’s the editor’s job to get some rough stones and polish them to gem standard. Hopefully, and with the help of several others here at Ford Street, I’ve managed to do this.

JF: You’re a writer, editor and publisher – how do you fit it all in? 

PC: I think I’ve edited around a dozen anthologies. This doesn’t include 45 collections Meredith Costain and I edited for Pearson (Spinouts and Thrillogies). I’ve published around 100 + books over the years, and written around 150. Running Creative Net Speakers’ Agency and the seminars/festivals does keep me busy!

JF: What are you currently working on? 

PC: Right now I have three plays and two short story collections (the latter in collaboration with Meredith Costain) coming out from other publishers. This year I published around 16 books. I have my first 2016 title, Dance, Bilby, Dance, by Tricia Oktober, ready to go to the printer.

JF: How did you get started as a writer and what led you to publishing?

PC: I self-published my first novel at the age of nineteen. Realising it wasn’t good enough, I figured I’d move into publishing other people’s work. I published Australia’s first heroic/epic fantasy novels in the early 80s. I also published science fiction books. Losing distribution I returned to writing. My first book was published by HarperCollins in 1995.

JF: You’re best known for your fantasy and science fiction writing – what appeals about those genres?

PC: They’re as far away from contemporary as you can get. I think we live the lives of those people we read in contemporary novels, so why read about them? I can’t imagine why people watch TV shows like East Enders and Coronation Street, or the spate of reality TV shows. Big Brother for example must have been one of the most boring shows anyone could watch. And that’s what I feel about contemporary fiction.

JF: Does your personal passion affect your publishing decisions?

PC: No. I have published contemporary fiction, for example. I don’t just stick to fantasy and science fiction. If I think something has quality and there’s a market for it, I have to make a commercial decision.

JF: What do you wish you’d known when you started?

PC: The massive database I’ve built up over the years, contacts with book clubs and others who buy bulk books. Basically, knowledge that you need to be successful. Alas, unless someone sits down and gives you a list, you need to find all this stuff out yourself. And that takes years.

JF: What’s your advice for aspiring writers?

PC: Persistence is the key. The Wizard’s Torment was my first book – that’s the one that sold to HarperCollins. I had written it in the early 80s. It took me around twelve years to get it published. I wrote another book at the same time called The Earthborn. That was rejected by just about every publisher in Australia. An agent sent it to TOR in the US and sold sold the trilogy over there. I mentally thanked every Australian publisher that had rejected it. Just never give up.

JF: Thanks Paul, and good luck with Rich and Rare!

PC: Thanks, Julie.

Paul Collins has edited many anthologies including Trust Me!, Metaworlds and Australia’s first fantasy anthology, Dream Weavers. He also edited The MUP Encyclopaedia of Australian SF&F. Paul has been short-listed for many awards and has won the Inaugural Peter McNamara and the A Bertram Chandler awards, both of which were for lifetime achievement in science fiction, and the Aurealis and William Atheling awards. His book, Slaves of Quentaris, features in 1001 Children’s Books You Must Read Before You Die (UK, 2009).

Paul Collins website.

Ford Street Publishing website. 

Julie Fison writes for children and young adults. Her books include the Hazard River adventure series for young readers, Choose Your Own Ever After, a pick-a-path series that lets the reader decide how the story goes, and Counterfeit Love for young adults. Her latest short story – Sugar is Sweet is in Rich and Rare.  

 

Australian YA and other fiction in London

I’m just back from a tour of (mostly indie) London bookshops.Children of the King

My visit to the Tower of London was enhanced after seeing Sonya Hartnett’s Children of the King, which alludes to the missing princes held captive by their uncle Richard III in the Tower, in a Notting Hill bookshop.

Australian YA, as well as children’s and adult literature, held its head high with sightings of Amanda Betts’ brilliant Zac and Mia, (which I reviewed here) and works by Kirsty Eagar and Melina Marchetta. I was so pleased to see my favourite Marchetta, On the Jellicoe Road on the shelves there. Watch out for the movie.Jellicoe

Karen Foxlee seems to be appreciated much more in the UK and US than in Australia. I saw Ophelia and the Marvellous Boy (for children) and The Midnight Dress. (I reviewed The Midnight Dress for the Weekend Australian here.)

And Jaclyn Moriarty has had a strong following overseas, which her own country is finally catching up with now she is winning YA awards here. Her sister, Liane’s Big Little Lies, the best seller for adults, was everywhere.

Margo Lanagan’s The Brides of Rollrock Island, published here as Sea Hearts was visible and I also noticed another crossover series, Tales of the Otori by Lian Hearn.Red Queen

It was great to see some of the incomparable Isobelle Carmody’s stunning YA works. Along with many others, I can’t wait for The Red Queen, the final in the Obernewtyn Chronicles, which is being published this November. This series is world class and dearly loved. How will Elspeth Gordie’s story conclude?

Shaun Tan’s Rules of Summer rules the world. It was everywhere, and even featured in bookstore displays.

Marcus Zusak’s The Book Thief still has a high profile but Graeme Simsion’s The Rosie Project and The Rosie Effect for adults seemed to be even more popular. Like Rules of Summer, Rosie was everywhere, which makes me anticipate my upcoming conversation with Graeme at the Brisbane Writers’ Festival in September even more eagerly. It is so difficult to write humour and we spent a car trip recalling anecdotes from his books and laughing aloud.

Australian children’s books were highly visible, particularly multiple titles by Morris Gleitzman, including his holocaust series beginning with Once.

SoonThe latest in the series, the chilling Soon, is now available in Australia, although not quite yet in the UK. Andy Griffiths’ and Terry Denton’s Treehouse series was as ubiquitous as London’s red, double decker buses and John Flanagan’s Ranger’s Apprentice series was also popular. I spied books by Emily Rodda and it was a thrill to see Anna Fienberg’s stand-alone children’s novel, Louis Beside Himself, as well as her Tashi series, illustrated by Kim Gamble.

Some Australian adult authors taking shelf space were Peter Carey (Amnesia), David Malouf, Evie Wyld (All the Birds, Singing), Hannah Kent (Burial Rites), Tim Winton (Breath), Steve Toltz (Quicksand) and Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North.

A few standout OS YA authors on the shelves included Mal Peet (who I’ve written about here), Frances Hardinge (Cuckoo Song and Fly By Night) and Patrick Ness, whose latest YA novel, The Rest of Us Just Live Here, will be available in August. It’s one of his best. rest of Us Just Live Here

Show Books

Very Hungry CaterpillarIt’s holiday time so some shows based on outstanding children’s books are currently being performed in Sydney and surrounds, as well as in other cities around Australia.

A highlight is The Very Hungry Caterpillar (Penguin), a production created around four books by Eric Carle: The Very Hungry Caterpillar, of course, The Artist Who Painted a Blue Horse – my new favourite, The Very Lonely Firefly and Mister Seahorse. Literature is celebrated in the performance and the backdrop is an actual book with turning pages. The show will also be playing in Melbourne and Brisbane and will tour in 2016 if successful. Judging by the sell-out Sydney season, this will not be an issue.Blue Horse

Along with a couple of others, I am writing teacher notes about the play which will be available via a website linked to the show soon. This is a great opportunity to read and re-read Eric Carle’s stunning picture books. The production is excellent. The children (and adults) in the audience were besotted.

A second book-related show is The Gruffalo. This loved picture book by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler about a mouse in the woods has been playing around Australia.

GruffaloAs well as reading the book itself, this is an opportune time to read other books by this creative team, including The Gruffalo’s Child, Tiddler, The Snail and the Whale, Stick Man, Superworm and their most recent collaboration, The Scarecrows’ Wedding (Scholastic).

The Scarecrow’s Wedding is quite a sophisticated tale about a scarecrow couple, Betty O’Barley and Harry O’Hay who wish to marry but suave Reginald Rake interrupts their plans. It will also be enjoyed by Aaron Blabey’s legion of fans.Scarecrows Wedding

Another production inspired by a picture book is Kit Williams’ Masquerade. Unfortunately this 1978 book is only available second-hand. An enterprising publisher should re-publish it. Playwright Kate Mulvany was enthralled and comforted by this book when she was a child suffering from cancer. It is playing now at the Sydney Opera House and will be in Adelaide for the Festival and elsewhere, no doubt. I can’t wait to see it soon.

RabbitsGood luck getting tickets for The Rabbits Opera, based on the book by John Marsden and Shaun Tan (Lothian/Hachette Australia), with music composed by the brilliant Kate Miller-Heidke and libretto by Lally Katz. The Rabbits will play in Perth and Melbourne this year. Hopefully it travels further.

Where is Rusty? by Dutch author-illustrator, Sieb Postuma (Gecko Press) is about a curious young dog lost in a department store. It has aired overseas as theatre and television and is currently available as a picture book. Its themes of hiding, searching and safety are ideal for young explorers.

Another book recently published by exciting Gecko Press, although we perhaps don’t want to think about this subject quite yet, is I don’t want to go to school! by Stephanie Blake.I Don't Want to go to School

Boldly illustrated in bright colours and with some comic panels, this is a quirky, heart-warming story about starting school. And this diverts us to the many wonderful Australian and other books on this important topic, beginning with Starting School by Jane Godwin and Anna Walker (Viking/Penguin), the classic Starting School by the Ahlbergs and my evergreen favourite, First Day by Margaret Wild and Kim Gamble (Allen & Unwin).

First Day

Books of Summer – For Kids

In Australia we’re in the midst of Summer, although here in Melbourne we’ve already had all four seasons in one, sometimes even in one day! A great way to familiarise children with all that the season encompasses is through engaging language experiences. That means providing children opportunities to see, do, touch, listen, read and think about different activities (going to outdoor places like the beach, pool, etc), and then talk, write and create about them.   
I’ll suggest a few fantastic picture books to get stuck into following your outdoor Summer adventures, as well as some fun learning tasks to enrich and reinforce what your child has discovered.  

rules-of-summerRules of Summer, Shaun Tan (author / illustrator), Lothian, 2013. CBCA Winner 2014, Queensland Literary Awards Winner 2014.

Wow. Just wow! Shaun Tan has brought a truly fantastical, mysterious and somewhat dark version of what Summer means to a pair of young brothers. Amazingly thought-provoking and surreal, with spectacular, Van-Gogh-like paintings, this book promotes analytical skills in deciphering its’ content; both the text and the images.
Exploring the complicated relationship between the boys, each spread states a new rule to obide by. But failing to comply results in harsh consequences, particularly for the younger brother. In the end the pair join forces in an imaginatively delightful celebration of summer fruits and a beautiful sunset. And after all the emotion, conflict, darkness and out-of-this-world imagery, there’s still room for a little chuckle as seen in the endpaper.
Suited to primary school aged children who will enjoy adding their own interpretation to the depth and meaning that Shaun Tan has conveyed.  

2015-01-07-15-06-02--1990215886Granny Grommet and Me, Dianne Wolfer (author), Karen Blair (illustrator), Walker Books, 2013, CBCA Shortlist 2014.

An enchanting book about a boy narrator who delights at the sea’s wonders, with his Granny and her elderly, grommet friends (a grommet is a young or beginner surfer). There is much humour in watching old ladies twisting, turning, zooming through dumpers and riding a curler wave to the shore! However, the boy feels nervous about what he doesn’t know, but Granny reassures and shows him safe and friendly things in the sea.
Lovely, gentle text by Wolfer, from the perspective of a child, beach safety tips, and fun, colourful paint and pencil drawings by Blair, make Granny Grommet and Me an engaging and reassuring story to be read many times over.  

noni-the-pony-goes-to-the-beachNoni the Pony Goes to the Beach, Alison Lester (author / illustrator), Allen & Unwin, 2014.

Following the original Noni the Pony, the loveable pony is back and ready to set off to the beach with her companions; Coco the cat and Dave the dog. As far as cats go, Coco prefers to be nonchalant and stay dry. But like any typical energetic dog, Dave bounds off through the waves to find a whale, only to become stranded in the middle of the ocean. In her true heroic, caring manner, Noni is there to fish him out and return to the safety of the shore.
With Alison Lester’s characteristically gorgeous, endearing illustrations, and gentle, rhythmic wording, Noni the Pony Goes to the Beach is a fun, positive tale of friendship and all things magical about visiting the beach.  

a-swim-in-the-sea-1A Swim in the Sea, Sue Whiting (author), Meredith Thomas (illustrator), Walker Books, 2013. Speech Pathology Australia Winner 2014.

A gorgeous story of an excitable young Bruno who can’t wait to experience the big blue sea for the first time. Wildly eager to dive right in, Bruno suddenly halters at the loud, thumping, pounding waves, which frighten him. As his family introduce him to other fun beach activities, like rockpools and sand cities, Bruno eventually discovers that the big blue sea is far from scary.
Sue Whiting’s text is beautifully descriptive and engaging. I love the way she talks about the sea; ”wobbling like a sparkly blue jelly”. And Meredith Thomas’ illustrations are equally expressive, bold and moving with bright, complimentary colours that almost literally wash over the pages.
A delightfully sunny story about first-time experiences at the beach, and facing one’s fears.  

seadogSeadog, Claire Saxby (author), Tom Jellett (illustrator), Random House Australia, 2013. Speech Pathology Australia Winner 2013.

An adorably funny story about a dog who is not like other working, well-trained dogs that fetch sticks, sit still then roll over and stay clean. Their dog is a Seadog, a run-and-scatter-gulls, crunch-and-munch, jump-and-chase Seadog. And although he is not a bath dog, there comes a time to sit-still-till-it’s-done, until…
With Jellett’s characteristically boisterous and comical illustrations, Seadog is a great read-aloud book perfect for little ones who enjoy romping with their dogs at the beach.  

9781925161168_ONASMALLISLAND_WEBOn a Small Island, Kyle Hughes-Odgers (author / illustrator), Fremantle Press, 2014.

‘On a small island, in a gigantic sea, lives Ari.’ Ari lives alone, collecting objects and watching the large ships pass by. One day a captain visits and tells Ari of the wonderful and intriguing people, buildings and exceptional artefacts of a great land on the horizon. Ari longs for a place like this and feels alone on his island. Until he has a brilliant, creative idea which eventually attracts the footsteps of many, and he is finally able to appreciate his surroundings and frequenting company.
Exotic, Mediterranean-style paintings, packed with mosaics, pattern and texture, artist and author Kyle Hughes-Odgers has created a magnificent flowing story exploring isolation, friendship, creativity and recycling that is both sophisticated and unique.  

With a few more weeks of Summer school holidays left, there’s plenty of time to head outdoors and enjoy the sunshine with your little ones (and furry ones, too!). Then find a cool, shady spot like Coco the cat for some relaxing summertime reading!  
And for some fun teaching and learning activities related to the Summer theme, head to www.pinterest.com/mylilstorycrner.
www.romisharp.wordpress.com
www.facebook.com/mylittlestorycorner

Qld Literary Awards vs Prime Minister’s Literary Awards

Coal CreekThe winners of the Qld Literary Awards and the PM Literary Awards are being announced on the same evening – Monday 8th December. You can follow the PM announcements live at ‪#PMLitAwards  or tune into ‪@APAC_ch648  at 7:15pm ‪http://on.fb.me/1pPELkt .

It is fantastic that both these awards exist. They include outstanding Australian books and their shortlists promote these titles as well as our valuable book industry. Their prize money is very different, with the PM winners receiving $80,000 each and the shortlisted authors receiving $5,000 – the amount the winners of the QLA receive.

These two awards also have some shortlisted books in common (keep in mind that the awards have different eligible voting periods, causing some books to be shortlisted in different years).

The books shortlisted in both awards are:

Fiction

The Narrow Road to the Deep North, Richard Flanagan (Vintage Australia)

Coal Creek, Alex Miller (Allen & Unwin)

Children’s Fiction ROS

Rules of Summer, Shaun Tan (Hachette)

 

Young Adult Fiction

The Incredible Here and Now, Felicity Castagna (Giramondo)

History

Broken Nation: Australians in the Great War, Joan Beaumont (Allen & Unwin)

The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka, Clare Wright (Text Publishing)

There are no overlaps in the non-fiction and poetry categories, with strong, diverse contenders in both.

The Qld Literary Awards has some extra categories:

University of Southern Queensland Australian Short Story Collection – Steele Rudd Award

Letters to George Clooney, Debra Adelaide (Pan Macmillan Australia)

The Promise, Tony Birch (UQP)

An Elegant Young Man, Luke Carman (Giramondo Publishing)

Only the Animals, Ceridwen Dovey (Penguin Australia)

Holiday in Cambodia, Laura Jean McKay (Black Inc. Books)

Letter to George Clooney

Unpublished Indigenous Writer – David Unaipon Award

There is no shortlist for this category; the winner of the award will be announced at the Awards Ceremony on Monday 8 December.

Emerging Queensland Writer – Manuscript Award

3 for a Wedding, Julie Kearney

We Come From Saltwater People, Cathy McLennan

Open Cut, Leanne Nolan

And the People’s Choice Awards …

As a judge of the Griffith University Children’s Book Award, I would like to particularly mention our shortlist

Big Red KangarooRefuge, Jackie French (Harper Collins Publishers)

The Ratcatcher’s Daughter, Pamela Rushby (Harper Collins Publishers)

Nature Storybooks: The Big Red Kangaroo, Claire Saxby and Graham Byrne (Walker Books Australia)

Rules of Summer, Shaun Tan (Hachette Australia)

Smooch and Rose, Samantha Wheeler (UQP)

As it turned out, our top books are a combination of novels and illustrated works; from Qld, national, established and emerging creators; and include a non-fiction book, The Big Red Kangaroo, which is also a work of art.

The YA judges have also produced an excellent list

Griffith University Young Adult Book Award

Zac & Mia, A.J Betts (Text Publishing)

The Incredible Here and Now, Felicity Castagna (Giramondo Publishing)

The Accident, Kate Hendrick (Text Publishing)

Tigerfish, David Metzenthen (Penguin Australia)

The Cracks in the Kingdom, Jaclyn Moriarty (Pan Macmillan Australia)

The 2014 Prime Minister’s Literary Awards shortlists in full are at http://arts.gov.au/shortlists

And I’ve previously written more about the PM awards at http://blog.boomerangbooks.com.au/more-about-the-2014-prime-ministers-literary-awards/2014/10

Staff from the State Library of Queensland (also the venue hub of the BWF)  have taken over the administration of the QLA awards for the first time this year and have done a brilliant job. The awards had been coordinated by an extraordinary committee of volunteers for the past few years since the Qld Premier’s Literary Awards were axed by Campbell Newman’s government. The SLQ has also sponsored the poetry award and some Qld Universities such as the University of Queensland, Griffith University and the University of Southern Queensland, have also stepped in to sponsor awards. Enormous thanks to them all.

Congratulations to all of the shortlisted authors and to the winners of both these awards. We will know the outcome soon!

Incredible Here and Now

Review – Imagine a City

Imagine A CityThe sumptuous cloth cover and unfurling clouds swirling across the end pages indicate something special about Elise Hurst’s latest picture book, Imagine a City.

You’ll recognise Hurst’s illustrations from her other picture books such as The Night Garden, Flood and The Midnight Club to name a few. Imagine a City is a glorious collection of Hurst’s artwork woven together into a magical tale of surrealism that feels like a fantastic carpet ride.

Imagine a City illoTwo young children and their mother embark on a regular train ride into the city, which is where ordinary stops. All at once, their imaginations assume an Animalia magnitude with Mary Poppins possibilities as they meander through their day, stopping to admire, savour and marvel. I expect mother is on some sort of mission buImagine a City illo 2t this is happily forgotten as she joins her young wards in their jolly.

They are shadowed on every page by bunnies who surreptitiously guide them through fantastical locations and situations where ‘the fish fly through the sky’ and the world is ‘without edges’.

This is a picture book that takes little time to read yet entices you back for a closer look, challenging you to take another journey and seek out a different story. In the same vein as the wordless picture books of Shaun Tan, Imagine a City promotes out-of-the-box thinking, a sense of discovery and more than a touch of soul searching in readers of all ages.

Elise HurstCreatures of every description are featured in this whimsical world where the past is indefinable and readily defies magic. Hurst’s  spare narrative and colourless crosshatch pen and ink illustrations submerse you in fathomless detail and textures that will leave you breathless and wondering.

I recently shared this book with an older special needs reader who positively radiated from the notion that reality is simply the combined images of our own experiences and aspirations and therefore unique and different to each of us. But of course, imagination is not restricted to the imaginative alone and neither should this picture book. Imagine a City is an enriching exploration of dreams and possibilities that will mean something profoundly unique to each reader, each time they lose themselves in it.

Omnibus Books for Scholastic Australia June 2014

 

A Snapshot of Australian YA and Fiction in the USA

The Book ThiefI’ve just returned from visiting some major cities in the USA. It was illuminating to see which Australian literature is stocked in their (mostly) indie bookstores. This is anecdotal but shows which Australian books browsers are seeing, raising the profile of our literature.

Marcus Zusak’s The Book Thief was the most prominent Australian book. I didn’t go to one shop where it wasn’t stocked.

The ABIA (Australian Book Industry) 2014 overall award winner, The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion was also popular. And a close third was Shaun Tan’s inimical Rules of Summer, which has recently won a prestigious Boston Globe-Horn Book picture book honour award. Some stores had copies in stacks.

http://www.hbook.com/2014/05/news/boston-globe-horn-book-awards/picture-book-reviews-2014-boston-globe-horn-book-award-winner-honor-books/#_

I noticed a few other Tans shelved in ‘graphic novels’, including his seminal work, The Arrival – which is newly available in paperback.

All the birds singing

One large store had an Oceania section, where Eleanor Catton’s Man-Booker winner, The Luminaries rubbed shoulders with an up-to-date selection of Australian novels. These included hot-off-the-press Miles Franklin winner All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld and Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites, plus expected big-names – Tim Winton with Eyrie, Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North and works by Thomas Keneally and David Malouf. Less expected but very welcome was Patrick Holland.I chaired a session with Patrick at the Brisbane Writers’ Festival a few years ago and particularly like his short stories Riding the Trains in Japan.

Australian literary fiction I found in other stores included Kirsten Tranter’s A Common Loss, Patrick White’s The Hanging Garden and some Peter Carey.

One NY children’s/YA specialist was particularly enthusiastic about Australian writers. Her store had hosted Gus Gordon to promote his picture book, Herman and Rosie, a CBCA honour book, which is set in New York City. They also stocked Melina Marchetta’s Looking for Alibrandi and Saving Francesca, John Marsden, David McRobbie’s Wayne series (also a TV series), Catherine Jinks’ Genius Squad (How to Catch a Bogle was available elsewhere) and some of Jaclyn Moriarty’s YA. One of my three top YA books for 2013, The Midnight Dress by Karen Foxlee was available in HB with a stunning cover and Foxlee’s children’s novel Ophelia and the Marvellous Boy was promoted as part of the Summer Holidays Reading Guide.

The children of the king

Elsewhere I spied Margo Lanagan’s The Brides of Rollrock Island, published as Sea Hearts here (the Australian edition has the best cover); Lian Tanner’s Keepers trilogy; John Flanagan’s Ranger’s Apprentice and Sonya Hartnett’s The Children of the King. These are excellent books that we are proud to claim as Australian.

Doodles and Drafts – An Interview with Lucia Masciullo

At a time of year when there are more new children’s book releases than autumn leaves drifting about, it’s nice to grab a cuppa, sit back and remember that what makes a book brilliant is the genius behind its creation.

Lucia Masciullo Today we meet one of those geniuses, the quietly charismatic illustrator, Lucia Masciullo. Her story is fascinating. Her style is utterly beguiling. And thanks to her clever connection with my addiction to marshmallows, her name is no longer impossible for me to pronounce!

So grab that cuppa and prepare to be absolutely delighted…

Q Who is Lucia Masciullo? Describe the illustrator in you and what sets your work apart from other Aussie illustrators.

First of all I’m Italian and this is why you probably can’t pronounce my surname (by the way it’s quite similar to marshmallow but with no sugar: ma-shu-llo). I am born and bred in Livorno (Leghorn on English maps) on the coast of Tuscany and I moved to Brisbane in 2006 with my partner Vincenzo.

More than an illustrator I like to think I’m a visual explorer: I love to experiment always new styles and new techniques. Maybe because I started to work as illustrator only 7 years ago, but the more I learn about illustration and visual art, the more I want to know.

I’m also a Biologist and maybe that’s the reason why I like to study things I’m passionate about. I keep the same enthusiasm I had at the Uni, but instead of learning about cells, animals and plants, now I want to learn things like what the best color to represent an emotion is or how to balance words and images in a composition.

Family forest LuciaQ What is your favourite colour, why and how does it influence or restrict what you illustrate?

I have several favourite colors. It depends on my mood, I guess. I like Amber in the morning, Cool Grey when I’m wistful, and Apple Green when I’m hungry and so on.

I think your personal perception always influences your art, especially while working with colors. It’s inevitable. So I try to feel the same mood that I want to depict. The colors choice is easier this way and listen to music with the same mood I want to represent helps me a lot. It’s probably like being an actor: an actor can pretend to be sad or happy, but it’s way more believable if he can really feel the emotion he wants to convey.

Q What, whom persuaded you to illustrate?

When I was a child I was pretty good at drawing, but I was also good at swimming, math and amongst other things, sprinkling water from my mouth. So I wasn’t encouraged particularly to pursue art.

Maybe I felt that my dad wouldn’t easily accept me doing art as a job. Furthermore drawing was something so important for me, that I couldn’t accept failure or critiques: I didn’t want to show my drawing to anyone. So whatever the reason I ended up studying Biology.

But few years later I realized that if I wanted to do something useful with my life, if I really wanted to make the difference in this world, I had to do something that I really cared about. So I bet on my passion for art.

I would say that learning how to illustrate professionally has been a wonderful experience, but the truth is that the main reason I’m an illustrator today is because of my partner Vincenzo. He encouraged me and supported from the very beginning, giving me the strength to keep going the times when I wanted to give up.

Q Are you a natural or have you had to study your craft? If so where?

I have always been quite good at figuring out simple forms and basic lines out of complex images. Some people may look at a picture and imagine a story or (piece of) music. Others may look at a tree and figure how to climb it. When I look at utility pole, a building or a face of an old woman, I can easily imagine how to reproduce that image using simple lines and shapes. This is my natural talent and that’s probably why I’m good at drawing.

But of course this is only the beginning of the story. You need to perfect your skills: in other words you need to practice. A lot. I attended a three years course in Illustration in Florence and I started drawing and painting 24/7 since. I was caught by the art bug. And I still am.

Q Was it a work opportunity that prompted your move to Australia?

Yes and no. It was a work opportunity for my partner: he won a European Endeavor Award in 2006 that allowed him to work at the University of Queensland for one year. I came in Australia as his partner, so you could say it’s love that brought me to Australia.

The initial plan was just to stay one year, but (lucky us!) things have gone differently.

The Boy and the Toy illoQ How do you develop your illustrations? Do digital computer programs feature significantly in what you produce?

For each illustration I start by drawing a rough sketch of the scene I have in mind with pencil and paper. Just to get the feeling of it and to evaluate if it’s a good idea or not. Then I draw the final scene, defining the characters and the background. Always with pencil and paper. I draw the same scene few times, until I’m happy with the composition.

At this stage I scan the drawing and refine it digitally using a tablet. It saves me a lot of time. I can change rapidly the scale of the elements, correct mistakes and balance the composition (when I’m not sure if an image is well balanced, I flip it right/left and make adjustments until the original and the flipped image look both nice).

Then, when everyone is happy with the drawing (myself, the publisher and the author sometimes) I make a few digital colored sketches and use those as a guide to paint the final artwork.

Different media may give different effects and moods to the same illustration. For picture books I like to use acrylics or watercolors to which I add details with pencil or ink.

I like the transparency of watercolors and the joyful effects water creates when mixed with pigments. I also love acrylics because they work on every surface and they are great if you want to add a textural element to the illustration.

Q Where has your work appeared?

I’ve illustrated six picture books, three young adults’ novels and I also did little black and white illustrations for the popular series Our Australian Girl.

I’m also the co-founder of Blue Quoll, a digital children’s book publisher company and I’ve illustrated the first two titles.

I have exhibited my works in Brisbane in a number of occasions and I’m very proud that two of my illustrations have been selected for a National exhibition titled ‘Look! The art of Australian picture books today’ that showcases the best of children book illustrations in Australia: my works have been presented among those of some of the most important names in the Illustration industry.

The Exhibition was set at the State Library in Melbourne in 2010, and has been moved subsequently to Brisbane, Canberra and to several Regional Galleries since. Now it’s going to be held for the last time at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery until April 2013.

Q What children’s books have you illustrated? Do you have a favourite?

These are the children’s books I’ve illustrated:

Queen Alice’s Palaces by Juliette McIver ABC 2013

Come down, Cat! by Sonya Hartnett Penguin 2011

Family Forest by Kim Kane HGE 2010

The Boy and the Toy by Sonya Hartnett Penguin 2010

When No-one is Looking – On the Farm by Zana Fraillon HGE 2009

When No-one is Looking – At the Zoo by Zana Fraillon HGE 2009

No, I don’t have a favourite. I always try to do my best when I illustrate picture books, so I really like them all: they are my little creatures.

Q How long, on average does it take you to complete illustrations for a picture book?

From the first sketches to the final artworks it takes four to six months.

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

I draw almost every day, but I also have a part of my day dedicated to the routine: emails, online activity, parcels to send, events and meetings to attend … even though I’m usually quite good at procrastinating all the things that do not concern drawing.

I think the best part of my working day is when I find solutions to my problems. It may be the right color palette for a scene, an original point of view, the right expression for a certain character. Sometimes problems seem complicated, they absorb all my thoughts and sometimes even my dreams. But the bigger the problem, the bigger the satisfaction when I find the right solution.

Oh and of course I like to receive positive feedback from publishers: I can’t stop smiling in front of an enthusiastic email!

The accidental Princess LuciaQ It’s accepted that writers often scribble ideas on the back of takeaway menus, napkins, bus tickets, whatever they can when ideas strike – is this the same for illustrators? When you get a shot of inspiration and desire to draw, what do you do?

Oh yes, it’s absolutely the same for illustrators. I always bring with me an A6 notebook where I can scribble and sketch freely. My favourite subjects at the moment are utility poles, people and cups. Leafs and trees, sometimes. I also take note of all the sensational ideas I have for my future best seller picture books.

Q I can barely master a stick drawing. Do you like to dabble in the written word and if so, have you consider writing your own (children’s) book?

To illustrate my own story is something I really would like to do. As I said I like to collect ideas for future books, but when I go to Libraries and Bookshops and I see all the amount of beautiful books already done, I just wonder why should I write another children’s book? I guess I’m waiting for the right story, the story I really would like to tell.

Besides I’m not very confident in my writing skills. Probably I’d use more pictures and no much text.

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

There are many Australian illustrators I like: Gus Gordon, Freya Blackwood, Robert Ingpen, Kerry Argent only to name a few, but the one I admire most is Shaun Tan, even though his books are technically picture books and not children’s books.

When I first arrived in Australia I found everything was different from my Italian life: food, buildings, trees and my English was quite poor and it wasn’t easy to make new friends. I felt a bit lost. So when I read The Arrival, it hit me personally: not only the pictures were astonishing and sensational, like the kind of pictures I’d like to create, but the story was my own story. I had the feeling that he had written this book for me!

Then I met Shaun in 2010 at the Bologna children’s book Fair and I really liked him as a person: he is a very nice guy, friendly and generous (he helped me in obtaining my Australian permanent visa). A truly inspirational illustrator.

Lucia Aurealia AwardQ Name one ‘I’ll never forget that’ moment in your illustrating career so far.

Well, of course I’ll never forget the moment I received the first ‘yes’ by two Australian Publishers. The first one was by Hilary Rogers at Hardie Grant Egmont; the second one was by Jane Godwin at Penguin.

In both cases they sent me a manuscript, asking me some preparatory sketches: characters design and a couple of background scenes. I did my best and I sent them back my sketches. Amazingly for me, they liked them and they asked me if I was interested in working with them, illustrating the entire picture book.

After years of frustration and hardworking, trying to refine my artistic skills, finally someone was giving me a chance. This was the only thing that I was waiting for, the possibility to show what I could do. I remember I began jumping all over the house because I couldn’t contain the enthusiasm. And I’m happy now Hilary and Jane couldn’t see my lack of professionalism.

Queen Alice's PalacesQ What is on the storyboard for Lucia?

In December (2012) I finished to illustrate a lovely picture book that will be published in April, titled Queen Alice’s Palaces, based on a hilarious rhymed story by Juliette McIver.

These days I’m working on a breathtaking manuscript by Sonya Hartnett, a challenging one. I love her stories, but I hate them at the same time, because they are so intense I can’t stop thinking about them until I’ve illustrated them.

I for one can’t wait to see them.

Something for Shaun Tan diehards

If you’re a fan of Shaun Tan’s work (and honestly, who isn’t?), this is news that is sure to get you salivating. Hachette have just announced that they will be producing a limited 1500-copy run of a The Arrival and Sketches from a Nameless Land Suitcase Collector’s Edition.

This exclusive edition includes hard cover limited edition copies of both The Arrival and its new companion title Sketches from a Nameless Land, along with a FIRST RELEASE SIGNED PRINT of an illustration taken from The Arrival. Each of the 1500 suitcases will be uniquely numbered and individually signed by Shaun Tan.

This deluxe clamshell box set opens like a suitcase, revealing a vintage pattern (worn and stained) interior.

For more information on how to order a copy (or to simply look at more pictures of it), click here.

Aussiecon 4 Memories

The 68th World Science Fiction Convention is over! Five days of panels, talks, signings, parties, awards and other related stuff, has ended. People from all over the world are making their way home… or perhaps sightseeing across Australia before departing our golden shores. I’m now sitting in front of my computer at home in Melbourne, still exhausted, trying to come to terms with the fact that it will probably be at least another 10 years before the Worldcon returns to our country.

Since the convention finished, the blogosphere has been inundated with reports and reviews. Check out the report from Foz Meadows, author of Solace and Grief, for ABC Radio National’s The Book Show Blog. Also, check out the blog from Narrelle M Harris, author of The Opposite of Life. If you’re on Twitter, you can see posts about Aussiecon 4 at #Aussiecon4 and #Aus4.

The Dealers’ Room!

Reading the various reports, it is evident that different people had very different experiences. Some people partied; some people networked; some people collected autographs and listened to their favourite authors; some people promoted; some people shopped in the dealers’ room; and some people sat around chatting and drinking way too much coffee. I tried very hard to do a bit of everything! 🙂 And now it’s time for me to add my view of Aussiecon 4 to the ever-expanding blogosphere.

The Ticonderoga Publications table in the Dealers’ Room.

The writer Guest of Honour was Kim Stanley Robinson, author of numerous science fiction novels, including Galileo’s Dream and the Mars trilogy (Red Mars, Green Mars, and Blue Mars). I’ve never read any of his novels, as my taste in science fiction tends to lean towards lighter, adventure-based story-telling, rather than hard science. Despite this, I made the effort to attend his Guest of Honour speech… which was thoughtful, humorous and very entertaining. What I enjoyed most about it, was the insight into his non-writing life; and how he felt that one of the greatest things given to him by his writing career was the opportunity to work from home and watch his kids grow up. As a writer who is also a stay-at-home-Dad, this really struck a chord with me. I’m even tempted to go off and read one of his books.

Kim Stanley Robinson giving his Guest of Honour speech.

The artist Guest of Honour was Australian illustrator and author, Shaun Tan, creator of many wonderful books, including The Lost Thing, Tales From Outer Suburbia and The Arrival. I’ve heard Shaun speak numerous times over the years, but I never tire of listening to him. Given that my artistic abilities do not extend beyond stick-figures, I am in awe of anyone who can draw… and can this guy draw, or what? And he makes it look so easy. And he comes across as such a nice guy.

Shaun Tan (right) on a panel about art with D.M. Cornish (centre) and Richard Harland (left).

Now, let’s move on to Doctor Who, because as any regular Literary Clutter reader will know, I am a Doctor Who fanboy. Two writers who worked on the revived Doctor Who series were in attendance at the convention — Paul Cornell (who I’ve previously interviewed on Literary Clutter) and Robert Shearman (who wrote first season’s “Dalek”, the last truly awesome episode to feature this race of pepper-pot encased aliens). I got the chance to meet both of them, and even spoke on a panel with Mr Cornell — “Playing in someone else’s sandpit: franchise writing”.

There were a number of interesting Who related panels, including the one I was on, “We are all fairy tales: Doctor Who’s fifth season”, which was a discussion of how the series had changed with its new production team. It was during this panel that I referred to head writers Russell T Davies and Stephen Moffat as “Rusty and the SMoff” and made the grand statement: “I’d have the River over the Pond, any day!” — although I guess you’d need to be a fan to find any humour in this. Thankfully, neither Paul nor Robert were there for that one!

Of course, there was much discussion of both film and television during the course of the convention. One session I found particularly interesting was George RR Martin’s on-stage interview with Melinda M Snodgrass. Melinda is author of numerous novels (including the Circuit trilogy) as well as being a scriptwriter who has written for, amongst other shows, Star Trek: The Next Generation, SeaQuest DSV, The Outer Limits and Sliders. George is author of countless novels (including the Song of Fire and Ice series) as well as being scriptwriter of 14 episodes of the 1980s television series Beauty and the Beast. The interview worked extremely well due to the obvious rapport they have from being long-time friends and colleagues, and was a wonderful insight into the world of television writing.

And then, of course, there were books… many, many books! And much discussion of those books. Some of the panels I attended included “YA speculative fiction: industry overview and insights”, “Getting published in YA spec fic”, “Nuts and bolts: editing YA spec fic, an insider’s view” and “What’s hot and what’s not: trends in YA spec fic” — do you see a pattern forming here? There were also lots of great readings, by authors local and imported. The highlight for me was the tag-team reading session by Richard Harland and Jack Dann, each providing character voices for the other’s reading.

I’ve barely scratched the surface and I’m out of blog space. Tune in next time as I continue to ramble on about the awesomeness that was AUSSIECON 4!

Catch ya later,  George

PS. Follow me on Twitter… I’ve now got more than 100 followers, so I must be worth following. 🙂

Boomerang at the 2010 CBCA Imagine This! Imagine That! Conference

Boomerang Books is proud to announce that this weekend, not only is a member of our Boomerang Books blogging team speaking at the sold-out 2010 Children’s Book Council of Australia NSW Branch Conference, but we’ll be live-blogging the two-day event – with scheduled appearances by the big names in Australian children’s writing, including Libby Gleeson, Glenda Millard, Libby Hathorn, Jackie French, Melina Marchetta, Markus Zusak, Margaret Wild, Julie Vivas and Shaun Tan.

For program information, click here. Sad you can’t make it? Itching to ask a particular author a question? Well, send me an email, and I’ll not only be your eyes and ears at the Conference, but I’ll be your mouth.

Aussiecon 4

Aussiecon 4 is coming soon and I can hardly wait! “What is it?” I hear you ask. Aussiecon 4 is the 68th World Science Fiction Convention (Worldcon, for short). And it’s going to be in Melbourne. To say that I am excited, is an understatement.

Today, I’ve invited long-time Worldcon attendee, Laurie Mann, to tell you a little bit about this amazing annual event.

When the Worldcon comes to your neck of the world…
by Laurie Mann, longtime science fiction fan

For the fourth time since 1975, the World Science Fiction Convention is coming to Melbourne. Aussiecon 4 will be held at the futuristic Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre from September 2-6. If you love science fiction and fantasy, especially SF and fantasy books, this is the convention for you.

Aussiecon 4 has renowned guests of honour:  writer Kim Stanley Robinson and artist Shaun Tan, as well as fan Robin Johnson. [Note from George: Conventions like these have a long-standing tradition of inviting a fan guest of honour — someone who has contributed a great deal to the science fiction community, involving themselves in the running of conventions, clubs, etc.] Young adult author Garth Nix will serve as the MC for the Hugo Awards Ceremony.

Worldcon is an annual get-together of fans, writers, artists and publishers from all over the world. Worldcon members have the chance to choose from hundreds of panel discussions, readings and autograph sessions. You’ll be able to visit an Art Show with hundreds of pieces of original art, and a Dealers’ Room where you can buy, amongst other things, books, jewellery, DVDs, and T-shirts. You can attend a big event every night, including the Hugo Awards, a Masquerade and a gathering of horror writers.

Aside from the planned events, one of the great things about a Worldcon is the unplanned events: having a long discussion with other fans at a party about the current trend in dystopic fiction; running into your favourite author in a bar and buying him/her a drink; meeting a fan from Orlando, Florida who grew up down the street from you in Sydney.

Aussiecon 4 will attract a few thousand people from all over the world, including writers like Paul Cornell, Cory Doctorow, Ellen Kushner, George RR Martin, Sean McMullen, Robert Silverberg, Melinda Snodgrass and Ian Tregillis, and editors including Ginger Buchanan, Ellen Datlow and Jonathan Strahan.  Science fiction is often called the “literature of ideas”; at Worldcon, you’ll hear all kind of ideas discussed at great length.

Jim and Laurie Mann

I’ve been going to Worldcon since 1976, and this will be my first Australian Worldcon. Despite the fact that I’ve never been to Australia, I’ll probably know a couple of hundred of the attendees. That’s one of the great things about Worldcons; once you start going to them, you’ll always know people to hang out with, go to panels with, volunteer with…

George’s bit at the end

If you’d like to know more about Aussiecon 4, check out their website.

I’ll be attending Aussiecon 4 in a triple capacity. Firstly as a long-time reader of science fiction and fantasy, eager to meet fellow readers and to hear some of my favourite authors speak. Secondly as an author myself, to speak on panels, do a reading or two and participate in book signings. Thirdly as a Boomerang Books blogger, to report on the event for those of you who can’t make it.

Thanks, Laurie, for stopping by Literary Clutter. I look forward to meeting you at Aussiecon 4.

Aussiecon 4 will be my third Worldcon. Has anyone else out there been to a Worldcon? Leave a comment and tell us about it.

Tune in next time to hear me ramble on about how much I love short stories.

Catch ya later,  George

The Star and Felicity Marshall

Last Tuesday I went along to the launch of Felicity Marshall’s picture book, The Star, which I reviewed a couple of posts back. Port Melbourne Prints and Framing (276-278 Bay Street, Port Melbourne) was a terrific location for the launch, which also doubled as the opening of an exhibition of artwork from the book. In my review, I mentioned how beautiful the artwork in the book was… well… seeing the original artwork up close blew me away. It is stunning! The exhibition is open until 27 April. If you get the chance, I’d highly recommend popping in to see it.

The launch was packed with people, food and wine – and Felicity spent quite some time trapped at the autograph table. With her successful launch now behind her, Felicity has dropped in at Literary Clutter to answer a few questions about The Star.

What came first, the pictures or the words?

The idea of a story about fame came first – in a mixture of pictures and words. Because I write AND illustrate, I find it quite natural to think in both images and words when developing the genesis of a story. I cannot honestly say one came before the other. I think most author/illustrators do this – jumping back and forth. However I did fine tune the text before the finished illustrations were all done.

What inspired you to tell this story?

It may well have all started in a doctor’s waiting room, looking at one of those magazines full of trivia and trash about the lives of fleeting stars. And yes, I realised I too can be a voyeur when flipping through page after page of articles about who has been dumped, who has bad dress sense, who is too fat, too thin, too old, or is now on the scrap heap. The celebrity culture is in our face – on radio, television, and in print. It affects young people profoundly. In many school visits I have done, and conversations I have had with young people (from age 3 to adolescents) I was struck by how often the question “What do you want to be when you grow up/leave school?” received the response “I want to be famous” or less often “I want to be rich”. Not even “I want to be a famous movie star / footballer / ballerina / astronaut / detective / fireman”. Fame, in their minds, was no longer attached to excellence in performance or human endeavour, but was now an entity in itself. Then I thought a lot about the famous Andy Warhol quote,  “In the future everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes”. I looked at those trashy magazines again. I decided we had a new phenomenon that I call pseudo-fame. The story of The Star grew from there.

What has been your biggest brush with fame?

My biggest brush with fame was when I shook the hand of Neil Armstrong, the famous astronaut who walked on the moon.

My biggest brush with pseudo fame occurred when I (unknowingly) was in the presence of someone from Big Brother. I can’t remember his name…

I think that The Star really has the potential to appeal to grown-ups as well as kids. Did you deliberately aim to do this?

I don’t think I consciously have done that. But I do believe that any good story for children will also appeal to adults, who may see a deeper layer of meaning. Not just in my books, but in all children’s books/stories, and for centuries.  There are many “children’s” books that are much loved by adults, and often adults overlook how profound children’s books can be.

Tell us about your favourite picture book?

Oh dear, I have so, so, many favourites, I can’t narrow it down to one. I will go for three – and this is a hard task you understand.

For very young children, I think The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle is one of my all time favourites. Simple illustrations and a beautiful story about the change from caterpillar to butterfly.

Princess Smartypants by Babette Cole is another favourite for all the fun and naughty rebellion that Babette does so well. Quirky, expressive drawings and a deliciously satisfying story. Especially appeals to my inner girl defying adult constraints!

The Arrival by Shaun Tan is a truly beautiful masterpiece of fine drawing and a universal tale told without any words.

Is there anything else you’d like to tell people about The Star?

Lots! But I would rather they read the book themselves. I will say, however, that there will be more about the story of Marion, Harley and Polka in the future.

Many thanks to Felicity for taking the time to visit Literary Clutter.

Tune in next time for the first in a series of posts about vampires.

Catch ya later, George

The Myth of the Children’s Book (Part 1)

If you read up on these kinds of things, you’ll already have been aware that the Hugo Award nominees for 2010 have been announced. Among them the name ‘Shaun Tan’ sits merrily, in the category of ‘Best Professional Artist’ . And if you’ve been hiding under a different rock from the one Shaun Tan’s been propped on, he’s the artistic genius behind such books as Arrival, The Red Tree, and The Rabbits.  I love them to bits.

But I have a confession to make. All those listed above are often marketed as children’s picture books. And I’m an adult.

Do you remember the first book you ever read (or had read to you)? There’s definitely an early one that imprinted itself on my brain: There’s a Hippopotamus on our Roof Eating Cake. And sure, I know that partly the reason I have loved this book every time I have opened it since, is that nostalgia for my 80s childhood. Yet there’s another larger part of me that can’t even remember what the book’s about – it’s the illustrations themselves that continue to draw me in. At the ripe old age of 26 (newly turned) I am still in love with the pink and purple colour combination! Seeing pretty colours together in print gives me some sort of weird inner peace and I immediately feel calm, as if all is right with the world – such is the power of illustration.

Shaun Tan himself is a master at wielding the power– his pieces are often dark and disturbing. Consider his use of colour in The Rabbits (written in collaboration with John Marsden). It’s a dark yet sensitive story about colonisation from the perspective of the ‘colonised’. The twist is that the colonisers are bunny rabbits.

The Rabbits cover itself could be interpreted by a number of perspectives:  the preschooler (happy, bright reds and blues), the agonised teenager (colours of rage and oppression), or the professional art critic (colonial imperialism, environmental destruction and cultural discord)! Even Mr Tan himself believes that his picture books are intended mostly for an older audience. In ‘Picture Books: Who are they for?’, Tan comments:

We [all] like to look at things from unusual angles, attempt to seek some child-like revelation in the ordinary, and bring our imagination to the task of questioning everyday experience. Why are things the way they are? How might they be different?
…But is this an activity that ends with childhood, when at some point we are sufficiently qualified to graduate from one medium to another? Simplicity certainly does not exclude sophistication or complexity; we inherently know that the truth is otherwise. “Art,” as Einstein reminds us, “is the expression of the most profound thoughts in the simplest way.”

In response to anyone who believes an imagination is ‘children only’ domain, I would argue that imagination never stops. An ‘innocent’ imagination transforms into a ‘critical’ imagination with age and experience, giving us the ability to explore abstract concepts and see them as capable of many meanings.

Having said all this, I don’t even want to PRETEND to think that there’s some ‘hidden meaning’ to that purple hippopotamus on the roof eating the pink cake. I think it’s a safe bet (though I could be wrong!) that for the little girl in the story, there really was a hippopotamus on the roof. And that’s it. If I probed very deep with my ‘psychology fingers’, there might be something to be said about the wider human need to create invisible friends to be different, or to be understood, or to never be alone. But really, my attraction to the book can be witnessed through the lullaby rhythm of the words and the pink and purple pictures. Plain and simple.

A continuous look back to the picture books of your early years, similar to the study of academic history, can reveal new things each time. To me, it’s the truest magic you can find in this world – a fantasy in reality, you might say. Perhaps for you, it will be a gentle meditation on a childhood lived. Perhaps it will reveal something about the person you are now. But if all you feel like seeing is the happy colours and playful words, then that’s ok too. No adult, no matter how old, smart or busy they are, should lose the urge to play.