Ellie Royce makes History with ‘Lucas and Jack’

Along with a staunch group of Australian literary professionals, Ellie Royce is a strong advocate for promoting encouragement for families to connect with older generations, share love and facilitate the power of memory. Her latest picture book is one in a line up, not only involved in initiatives to create awareness of ageing people and dementia (Dementia Awareness Month), but also as a nominee for a prestigious award. Find out more about her gorgeous book, ‘Lucas and Jack’ and her significant contribution to the community in our captivating interview!  

I love Ellie Royce‘s passion for writing and the power of words. Combined with her absolute dedication to working with the elderly, her first picture book, ‘Lucas and Jack’ is a notable example of an award-winning piece of literature.
imageWith its delicate, picturesque style charcoal and watercolour illustrations by Andrew McLean, and gentle, endearing story, ‘Lucas and Jack’ represents connection, value and affection. The intergenerational bond between a young boy and his Great Grandpop is tightened after forming a relationship with another resident at the nursing home; Jack. When Lucas waits alone for the visit to end, it is Jack’s presence that ultimately gives Lucas the gifts of perspective, curiosity and appreciation. Jack is able to open Lucas’s eyes to the once beautiful and intriguing pasts of other elderly people, including detective Leo, ballerina star, Evelyn, and himself as a young farmer. His Pop may be wrinkled, old and frail, but with Lucas’s newfound regard he sees a once hard-working ice delivery boy. Now Lucas will have to wait until his next visit to find out more about Pop’s childhood adventures.
‘Lucas and Jack’ drives home the importance of engaging with and being empathetic to our ageing loved ones, particularly at difficult and confusing times. Royce cleverly integrates charming dialogue with prompts for readers to investigate the life stories of, and form further attachments with their own grandparents and great-grandparents. This heartfelt tale is a valuable addition to any home or classroom setting. A sincere delight!
     

imageCongratulations on your first picture book, ‘Lucas and Jack’ being shortlisted in the Speech Pathology Australia Book of the Year Awards! What does this honour mean to you?  
Thank you! I was so excited to hear that “Lucas and Jack” was a shortlisted book for this award. I am thrilled to have been able to collaborate with a gifted illustrator like Andrew McLean and I understand that a “picture” book is very much like a jigsaw puzzle as in all the pieces both text and illustrations are vital in telling the story so neither one is more important or works without the other BUT…. I have to admit I am a word geek. I adore words, I adore learning new and old words, making up words, reading and writing with them, sharing them, playing with them. So for me, having a story shortlisted which promotes literacy and speech is a massive honour, a truly magical experience.  

Who or what inspired you to write this story?
As an author who works in an aged care facility I was inspired by the fascinating life stories of my residents. I see their photos of them as dashing young things and hear their stories on a daily basis and it really fires my imagination! So often we make a presumption about people based on what they look like – in the case of “Lucas and Jack” it’s older people but this also applies to people with disabilities and people of other ethnic backgrounds- the list goes on. I would often see residents’ younger visitors hanging around outside, not engaging or interacting with their relatives because all they could see was what was on the outside, the wrinkles, the hearing aid, the wheelchair and the gap seemingly too wide to be able to connect. “Lucas and Jack” simply shows that each of us has at least ONE thing in common- we were all young once. Also that if we share our stories we can find connection with each other.
The characters in “Lucas and Jack” were inspired by real residents, some of whom have now passed away.  It’s been a real thrill for their families to have this book to share with their grandchildren and great grandchildren, keeping family history and family stories alive. It’s been a real thrill for me to be able to create that opportunity for them.  

You are an active member in the aged care community. Can you tell us a bit about the work you do for the elderly?
I’ve worked in aged care for almost ten years. For five of them I was the person who received that first phone call “I need help to find out about aged care, Mum/Dad/I have been told I can’t stay at home anymore” or variations on that theme. What a privilege to have a job where you can help people who are confused, frightened, grieving and  feeling so many other emotions! My day was made when someone left my office saying “Thank you, now I understand how it all works. I’m so relieved.” As a communicator, there’s almost nothing better. When I say almost though, I have to say that the role I have now which is Communications Coordinator and engagement officer where I run our newsletter, website and social media outlets and liaise closely with our Lifestyle team to source and develop projects which allow our residents to connect with community, participate in arts and creative experiences that engage and inspire like storytelling (funny about that!), art exhibitions and intergenerational groups as well as running arts based programmes for our dementia specific residents to find out which strategies enhance their quality of life is the “dream job.” The only thing that could top it is if I were a full time author. But even then, I think I’d miss the day job, it’s such a rewarding and exciting area to be involved in.
A tiny vignette of my day springs to mind where recently I was able to facilitate access to audio downloads of classic books for a very academic and bright lady who is confined to bed, unable to move or verbally communicate  easily.  When she heard the first words of “Pride and Prejudice” the look of pleasure on her face brought tears to my eyes. It’s a small thing to us, but to her it is her whole world. Again, what a privilege!    

image‘Lucas and Jack’ emanates a beautiful message of celebrating and cherishing the ‘stories’ of elderly people and forming bonds with grandparents. What do you intend your readers to gain from engaging with your book?
I would love to see “Lucas and Jack” of course offering a good read, an enjoyable experience. But also I hope that the book will pave the way for the readers to share their own stories. I would love to think that after reading “Lucas and Jack” a young person will look at an older person, frown, wonder and ask the question “What did YOU do before you were old?” or “What was it like when you were a kid? Did you do the same stuff as me? What games did you like? What was school like?” and the floodgates of sharing, laughing, crying, remembering, honouring and connecting will open.
Because stories aren’t just stories are they? They’re bridges to things and ideas like empathy, literacy,  resilience, imagination and perhaps most important of all in today’s world they are bridges BETWEEN things and people who think they are too different to ever be able to connect.
There’s a great quote by Roslyn Bresnick-Perry “It’s hard to hate anyone whose story you know.”  I hope “Lucas and Jack” builds bridges between people.  

The sense of nostalgia and livelihood in ‘Lucas and Jack’ are expertly and gently portrayed in the illustrations by award winning illustrator Andrew McLean. How do feel his pictures best compliment your words? What was it like to collaborate with him?
Oh my goodness how does one express what a magical experience it is for your words to inspire such incredible responses from an illustrator? It really did feel like magic, watching the development from his roughs (ha, roughs? I couldn’t believe he called them roughs; they were gorgeous!) Perhaps that’s another reason why I love the picture book form so much. They are such evocative and beautiful images that resonate so much with everyone who sees the book. I was incredibly lucky to work with Andrew.  

World Dementia Awareness Month is held throughout September. Please explain the purpose of this initiative and how you are participating in raising its awareness to the public.
This year’s theme is “I Remember”. I’m excited to be collaborating with a fabulous group of Australian creators, both authors and illustrators to showcase their books about ageing and dementia for September’s World Dementia Month. The helplessness and confusion a growing number of children face when confronted with the decline of an elderly relative prompted these local literary professionals to create stories to provide encouragement and hope to families. Each of the unique and beautifully illustrated stories is based on personal experience and offers practical strategies to connect and share love with elderly grandparents even in difficult, changing, and confusing circumstances. The power of memory and remembering as a way to sustain a loving connection is a common thread and ties in perfectly with the “I Remember” theme for 2015.
imageAlong with “Lucas and Jack” we have Celia and Nonna (Victoria Lane and Kayleen West, Ford Street Publishing) where Celia brings memories of happy times spent together with her grandmother into Nonna’s new aged care home by making pictures and paintings to fill the walls. The grandchild mouse in Do You Remember? (Kelly O’ Gara and Anna Mc Neil, Wombat Books) uses artwork to honour Grandma’s memories. In When I See Grandma (Debra Tidball and Leigh Hedstrom, Wombat Books) Grandma’s memories are brought to life through her dreams as the granddaughter shares with her everyday things she enjoys doing and in Harry Helps Grandpa Remember, (Karen Tyrrell and Aaron Pocock) Harry shares coping skills to help his grandpa boost his memory and confidence.
These stories are humorous, at times poignant and always heartfelt. Our hope is that they will inspire and encourage children and families who are grappling with change and illness in those they love.    

You write in a range of genres, including children’s and young adult books. Do you have a preferred genre? What do you love about writing for younger children?
I would have to say that I really, really love the picture book art form. I believe stories can change the world, I truly believe this and one of the most marvellous manifestations of story for me is the picture book. It can encompass any concept no matter how complex in a simple way. It is possibly the purest essence of story and if you want o know why, try telling a really good story in 495 words!
It also speaks to both sides of our brain, with text and illustration. I have two daughters, one who is a language child and one who is a visual. Picture books were the bridge between their learning styles which gave us the opportunity to share so many wonderful experiences as a family. Because it speaks symbolically through pictures as well as through words, a picture book resonates within our souls, speaks to our conscious and unconscious mind and stays with us in ways that other forms of story don’t. Younger children really ‘get’ this. They enter into the storytelling experience and totally become one with the story. It’s a beautiful thing!  

Besides writing, what other pastimes do you enjoy?
I love art and photography, to read, listen to music, work in my vegie garden, cook (then eat), sit around and yak with my daughters, spend time at the beach, to rummage for vintage treasures and to laugh. Laughing is good.  

What were your favourite books to read as a child? Any that have influenced you as a writer?
I find that everything I have ever read sometimes pops up to surprise me as a writer!  I suppose the most important influence is that I aspire to create the same magic for my readers that I experienced (and still do). 
One of my favourite books was and still is “The Phantom Tollbooth” by Norton Juster. In fact I recently read it again and every word still fills me with pure crystalline joy. It is an exemplary, beautiful piece of writing. It’s delicious and joyous and fun.   
I was an Enid Blyton child from day dot. I loved Pip the Pixie, Mister Pinkwhistle , The Magic Faraway Tree (er yes I am rather old hahaha!) followed by Famous Five, Secret Seven and then the boarding school books. I also loved everything Roald Dahl wrote and CS Lewis’ “Narnia” series. How can I pick just one? Alice in Wonderland, The Hobbit, Peter Pan! I also loved “The Railway Children” by Edith Nesbit, “The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew” by Margaret Sidney and the “Seven Little Australians” by Ethel Turner. I grew up with “Anne of Green Gables” and “Little Women” and here I fear I must stop because I’ll go on for hours. I was very lucky to have been encouraged to range widely and omnivorously with my reading as a child.  

What projects are you currently working on? What can we look forward to seeing from you in the near future?
I have a lot of half- finished work badgering me to get on with it at the moment! A couple of picture book texts are doing the rounds of publishers, a few stories are on their way to The School Magazine, two middle grade novels are yelling at me for attention right now, phew! I would love to not have to sleep; it would really increase my writing time. I admire those writers who get up at 3 am to write before they start their day and I may yet become one of them when my need to write becomes stronger than my need to sleep, probably in summer. In winter I hibernate a bit. So stay tuned…..  

Thank you for answering my questions, Ellie! It has been a pleasure getting to know more about you and your work!  
Thank you for having me :).

‘Lucas and Jack’ (available for purchase here), published by Working Title Press, 2014. Teacher notes available here.

Visit Ellie Royce’s website and facebook pages.

Visit Alzheimer’s Australia and World Dementia Month Aged Care Online, or World Alzheimer’s Month for more information on this initiative.

Picture Books for Stubborn Kids

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

keep-calm-and-be-positive-62

Stephen Michael King’s Triumphant Trio

29cde5eWhat is it about Stephen Michael King‘s illustrations that make his picture books so sublime? How can his drawings make us want to delve into those stories over and over again? Well, that’s just it! It’s the artwork that adds another dimension to those already meaningful stories, allowing us to dive right in with those characters; feeling what they feel – emotionally and sensorially. With a multitude of divine books under his wing, the extremely talented Stephen Michael King has three that are currently soaring to the top with their prize winning prowess, being shortlisted in the CBCA’s 2015 Early Childhood and Picture Book of the Year Awards and nominated in the 2015 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards.  

snail-and-turtle-are-friends-293x300Snail and Turtle are Friends, Scholastic, 2014.
CBCA Early Childhood Shortlisted Book.

Stephen Michael King’s distinctive style of sweet faces, with a combination of little dot eyes and large round ones, always seem to perfectly suit the mood of the story and personalities of the characters. In the case of ‘Snail and Turtle are Friends’, these two gentle animals emanate a feeling of peace and calm about them, but not forgetting a wonderfully whimsical touch of cheekiness. Even at their craziest moments, when Turtle sings in the rain and dives in the water, or Snail boldly chomps leaves and paints swirls, the vibrant colours, eclectic patterns and varying shapes fit together beautifully harmoniously.  
Just like Snail and Turtle, the illustrations display an eye-catching array of techniques to reflect aspects in common and those that are unique from one another. I love ‘Snail and Turtle are Friends’ for its ability to capture a sense of adventure, playfulness and its underlying message in friendship and accepting differences.  

9781921504631Scary Night, Working Title Press, 2014.
CBCA Early Childhood Shortlisted Book.

On a more dramatic note, but no less animated, is ‘Scary Night’, written by Lesley Gibbes. With his usual, striking use of pen, ink, brush and digital compilations, Stephen Michael King manages to tick all the boxes once again when it comes to creating just the right mood. The story, set in darkness as the characters journey through treacherous fields with only the glow of the pale moonlight to guide them on their way, is far from gloomy. Its upbeat rhythm, rollicking text and leading suspense are perfectly captured in King’s drawings. When the characters sneakily tip-toe through dark woods and crocodile-infested terrain, it is their wide, terrified eyes and the scenes’ cool, moody hues that keep the thrill-seekers in us entertained. When we turn the page to be blasted with a shock of bright orange and large ‘roaring’ font, it is not just the characters getting the most wonderfully horrifying fright of their lives.
The playfulness, facial expressions, effective use of colours and gorgeous Suess-like sketches are a real treat that will ensure young children want to journey on this most mysterious, spooktacular experience again and again.  

Duck and DarklingsThe Duck and the Darklings, Allen & Unwin, 2014.
CBCA Picture Book of the Year Shortlisted Book.
NSW Premier’s Literary Award Nominated Book.

In similarity to ‘Scary Night’, ‘The Duck and the Darklings’ is disposed to the darkness, with just a glint of a glimmer that so significantly paves the way to a brighter future. With more of a complex storyline than the previous two books, ‘The Duck and the Darklings’, is written creatively and almost poetically by Glenda Millard. Its message is strong with the metaphor of dark versus light to represent ‘disremembered’ yesterdays versus the glow of forbidden fondness (happy memories). With this theme, Stephen Michael King’s illustrations are spellbinding. He has created depth, texture and warmth amongst the darkness. His characteristically adorable characters are hand-drawn as outlines and set against the silhouettes of black and white; shadow and light, past, present and future, that hit Millard’s intention so brillliantly.
‘The Duck and the Darklings’ is a heartwarming story of family, friendship and optimism that is beautifully captured in its words and pictures. Primary school children will definately hold a candle to this shining star. Stunning.  

More information about Stephen Michael King and his books can be found at:
http://www.stephenmichaelking.com

Teaching notes for ‘Scary Night’ and ‘The Duck and the Darklings’ can be found at:
http://www.romisharp.wordpress.com/teaching-notes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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What will win YA Book of the Year?

 

Sky so HeavyThe CBCA (Children’s Book Council of Australia) winning and honour books will be announced on Friday 15th August. One of the most eagerly awaited categories (especially for bloggers) is the Book of the Year: Older Readers.

http://cbca.org.au/ShortList-2014.htm 

A surprise outcome in the OR category of this year’s shortlist is the appearance of FOUR debut novelists. The future of YA Australian writing seems very safe with this number of debut heavy-hitters.

The majority of the Older Readers’ shortlist is from the genre of contemporary realism, with two from speculative fiction.

Five of the six shortlisted authors are female. Bloggers who monitor the number of awarded female authors must be cheering. (It should be remembered, however, that the CBCA shortlist is judged on literary merit, not the gender of the authors or protagonists. The judges only have a two-year term so it’s hard to accept there may have been a gender prejudice in the recent past.)

Gay best friends or brothers are also punching above their weight in this category.

And a couple of the novels are very place-specific to Sydney and its surrounds.

Life in Outer Space by Melissa Keil (HGE) was one of my top three YA novels for 2013 as outed in the Weekend Australian http://www.theaustralian.com.au/arts/review/turning-romance-on-its-head-for-young-adult-readers/story-fn9n8gph-1226613224447

http://www.theaustralian.com.au/arts/review/hot-reads-for-summer/story-fn9n8gph-1226781555130

Life in Outer SpaceSo I’m obviously thrilled it has been shortlisted. It won the inaugural Hardie Grant Egmont Ampersand award and is contemporary realism, not sci-fi as implied by the title. Sam is an adorkable hero. He cannot believe that popular Camilla could like him. If you can’t wait for Melissa’s next book, The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl (Sept), read Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan.

 

Another brilliant novel is Fiona Wood’s Wildlife (PanMacmillan). Sybilla is a complex – introverted yet easy-going – character who discovers much about herself and her peers on her extended school camp.

WildlifeFelicity Castagna continues the realism in The Incredible Here and Now (Giramondo). It is of enormous appeal for anyone who knows Sydney’s west and for teen boys in particular.

Will Kostakis adds humour to the mix in The First Third (Penguin), a contemporary Greek tragi-comedy.

Claire Zorn seamlessly incorporates human rights issues into The Sky so Heavy (UQP). This is a fast-paced post-apocalyptic story which begins in the Blue Mountains. Her new novel, The Protected is even better.

Fairytales for Wilde GirlsAnd Allyse Near creates her own sub-genre in Fairytales for Wilde Girls (Random), which co-won the Aurealis award.

Everyone is disappointed when YA books they love aren’t shortlisted. Surprise omissions for me this year are Simmone Howell’s edgy Girl Defective (Pan Macmillan), Amanda Betts’ luminous Zac and Mia (Text) and Jackie French’s Refuge (HarperCollins).

Which Book of the Year: Older Readers do you think should win?

A joy to read. Pure reading heaven. I miss it already!

9781847088765

Review – The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton

This was such a joy to read. It is pure reading heaven. It is richly detailed yet highly readable and features a large cast of characters who are each flawed in all the many ways people can be. It is also an intricate mystery, a puzzle that each character (and you the reader) are trying to get to the bottom of.

The Luminaries is a monster of a book. The size of the book may put you off but don’t be! I stupidly let this sit on my shelf for months. I didn’t want to commit to a book so big. However, literally after the first page, I was so glad that this was a huge book because I just wanted to read and read. You honestly don’t want this book to end. When I did finish I instantly began to miss it and all it’s characters.

Eleanor Catton loses you in the story and, like the characters of the novel, sucks you in to the puzzle. Catton’s style and talent defy her years. Each chapter begins with a brilliantly penned synopsis, which I must admit I’d read at the end of the previous chapter like a ‘next time on The Luminaries‘. These synopses brilliant capture the mood and tone of the story and are just one of many hooks.

The story is set in the New Zealand Goldfields and involves a murder, an attempted suicide, a missing man and a pile of gold whose ownership is far from clear. The mystery unfolds from the perspective of 13 men who are each involved in the story in different ways. Each of these men piece together their stories but the truth is hiding behind miscommunication, misinterpretation and each person’s own intentions and stake in the events.

The Luminaries is totally absorbing, utterly original and a must for The Booker Prize! I am going to have an absolute nightmare putting together my top 10 of the year now (a good nightmare). Eleanor Catton is such an amazing writer (I already have The Rehearsal sitting in my ‘to read’ pile). Even without The Booker this is a book that deserves to be read, enjoyed, celebrated and read again.

Buy the book here…