Turn Back Time – Middle Grade Magic

If you could turn back time, erase your mistakes, remember what you did with your car keys or even better, find those missing precious memories and loved ones, would you? These two middle grade novels explore the premise of losing someone inexplicably and the emotions produced through relentless searching for those missing loved ones.

A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L’Engle

The IBBY International Children’s Book Day logo, ‘The small is big in a book’ certainly chimes true for A Wrinkle in Time. That it has stood the test of time is testament to this tale (first published in 1963), which I had never read as a child. If I had, I might not have recognised it as a bewitching hybrid of sci-fi, adventure, fantasy, and dystopia. For those living in another dimension like me or have not seen the movie yet, A Wrinkle in Time is a story of discovery and tenacity. It also (re)defines the power of friendship and love.

Continue reading Turn Back Time – Middle Grade Magic

Missing by Sue Whiting

Sue Whiting is a stalwart of Australian literature for young people. She writes across categories, including picture books, non-fiction and novels for children and young adults and has had a successful career in publishing for Walker Books Australia. Her most recent work is Missing, a novel for middle grade.

Thanks for speaking with Boomerang Books, Sue.

Where are you based and what is your background? 

I am based in a small coastal village about an hour south of Sydney. I started my working life as a primary school teacher, specialising in literacy education and Reading Recovery. In 2005, I left teaching to pursue a career in publishing and was Publishing Manager and Senior Commissioning Editor at Walker Books for ten years.

What led to your career in children’s books and what are some highlights? 

I developed a passion for children’s books as a young teacher and this eventually led me to want to write my own books. It took me about ten years before I was brave enough to give this writing caper a crack though. Editing, well, I fell into editing by extreme accident – through submitting a manuscript to a small start-up publisher and ending up with the job as editor of their children’s list – but once I started working in this field, I found that I loved this side of the process equally as much as writing. And I learnt a heck of a lot about writing along the way too!

Highlights! Wow, that’s really tricky, because there have been so many. Holding your book baby for the first time is always very special, but the unexpected letter or email or message from someone who has been touched by your work in some way is without doubt the best feeling ever. Just last week, I received a video message from a three-year-old boy telling me how much he loved one of my early novelty books. That was pretty awesome.

In terms of my publishing career, I think nurturing the early careers of wonderful writers such Meg McKinlay, Sandy Fussell and Anna Branford, to name but a few, stands out as a highlight and what I am most proud of.

Could you tell us about some of the books you’ve written? 

I write across many age groups and genres, from picture books through to YA. My bestseller is The Firefighters, illustrated by Donna Rawlins. It celebrates its tenth year in print this year, which is wonderful, as books don’t tend to stay in print for very long these days. My award winner is A Swim in the Sea, illustrated by Meredith Thomas and my last published book was the nonfiction picture book, Platypus, illustrated by Mark Jackson. It was such a joy to write because I was able to write lyrically about this unique Australian animal. The Firefighters, Platypus and my YA novel, Portraits of Celina have all been published in the US and Platypus has just recently been published in Korea. Missing is my first middle grade novel since Get a Grip, Cooper Jones, which was published eight years ago

What genre is your new book Missing and what is the significance of its title?

Missing is a contemporary mystery/suspense novel for readers 10+. The story revolves around the disappearance of the mother of my central character, Mackenzie. So the title refers directly to the fact that Mackenzie’s mother is missing. But the word “missing” has many connotations. I love that it also relates to Mackenzie missing her mother, her missing out on so many things because her mother is missing and also her quest to find the missing pieces in the puzzle of her disappearance.

Could you tell us about your protagonist Mackenzie and some other characters?

Mackenzie is a pretty typical twelve-year-old girl. She lives in southern Sydney and is caught up in the excitement of the last weeks of primary school when her mother goes missing. She loves art, particularly working in black and white.

Maggie da Luca is Mackenzie’s mother. She is a bat biologist and academic who works for a scientific magazine. She often travels to remote corners of the globe to study and photograph bats for the magazine.

Joe is Mackenzie’s father. He is an insurance salesman. He falls to pieces when Maggie goes missing. He is a man with many secrets.

Lois Simpson is Mackenzie’s gran. She is a scientist and academic and is the person who Mackenzie leans on as she tries to deal with this tragic situation. She too has secrets.

At high school, Mackenzie befriends Billie. Billie is lively and impetuous and a great foil to Mackenzie’s grief. In Panama, Mackenzie meets Carlo. Carlo is fourteen and helps his uncle at the hotel Mackenzie and her father is staying at. His indifference infuriates Mackenzie, but she eventually discovers that he is someone she can trust.

Why have you given Mackenzie a gift for art?

I wanted Mackenzie to have a passion that was in opposition to her mother and grandmother’s love of science. Art was the obvious place and very early on I saw Mackenzie, in my mind’s eye, sketching bats. A trip to the NSW Art Gallery where I happened upon a sculpture of fruit bats hanging from a washing line was the moment that sealed the deal.

Much of the story is set in the jungles of Panama. It’s hard to believe you’ve never been there. How did you create such an exciting and authentic-seeming setting? What was your most surprising discovery about Panama?

I have to admit to feeling a tad guilty that I didn’t jump on a plane and spend weeks in the country to ensure I got it right, but truthfully, I just didn’t have the funds to do that. So I resolved to do everything I could to bring Boquete and Panama to life on the page through diligent research from afar. I researched Panama for about a year – mostly through the Internet. Boquete is a tourist town, which also has a large expat community, mostly American retirees. This worked in my favour as there were many blogs and vlogs I could access depicting everyday life in the town.

I also had two really lucky breaks. One was making contact with Dianne Heidke (sister of Australian author Lisa Heidke) who has lived in Boquete for a decade or more. Dianne was able to answer those questions I couldn’t find answers to on the Internet, and was able to give me access to that all-important local knowledge. She also read the final manuscript and acted as my sensitivity reader.

My second lucky break was the discovery that the local council streamed 24-hour feed of Boquete’s main square live on the Internet. I was able to watch the comings and goings across the square day and night. It felt slightly creepy and very stalkerish, but it really helped me to understand the rhythms of the town.

My most surprising discovery was the lack of resources of the police force in Boquete – to the point that sometimes they don’t have enough petrol to run their police car!

Why have you structured the story as ‘then’ and ‘now’?

Initially, I chose to structure the story this way so that I could move the story on from those early days when the family had just learned of the disappearance and when their grief would be too raw and impossible to bear. But as the story idea progressed, I quickly realised that the ‘then’ and ‘now’ structure was allowing me to create suspense and tension in an intriguing way. It was challenging to maintain, but I loved slotting in key information at just the right places.

How have you used bats as a symbol?

I used bats more as a link between Mackenzie and her mother than as a symbol. It was Mackenzie’s way to stay connected with her mother and her mother’s passion. However, bats do symbolise our ability to see our way through even the darkest times. Mackenzie and her family have to navigate through some very dark days through much of the story, but by the end, I hope to show them stepping out into the light. This was a happy accident that gave extra meaning to the final pages in particular.

During the novel you tantalise characters and readers with mention of gelatos. What’s your favourite flavour?

The gelatos were a nod to my time at Walker Books. There was an excellent gelato bar at the bottom of the building and we often had Gelato Fridays. My favourite was definitely salted caramel Greek yoghurt.

You are known for promoting your books in interesting and skilled interactions with children. How will you be promoting Missing?

Thank you for that! I love sharing my books and stories with groups of kids – it’s my favourite part of my job.

I am about to embark on a schools tour of Brisbane and Sydney, so have been busy preparing my presentations. My reasons for writing the story and my research and how I have used it will be the centre of my talks, as well as some scene-setting with a bit drumming, a lot of drama, and concluding with a “breaking news” report. I will also be doing writing workshops in Sydney and Melbourne – exploring how to create suspense in stories.

What have you enjoyed reading recently? 

I have just reread (for the fifth time) A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness. It is one of my favourite books of all time – so beautifully crafted and emotive. I also recently enjoyed The Golden Age by Joan London and All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr.

What’s next workwise for you?

I am working on a new middle grade novel with the working title of Chance. It too has a core mystery and is about truth and lies and the grey area between the two.

I also have a new picture book Beware the Deep Dark Forest illustrated by Annie White, which is due for release in October.

Thanks for your generous and enlightening answers Sue, and all the best with Missing. It is a gripping and original work with great appeal for young readers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read Dimity‘s insightful review here.

Walker Books, Oct 2015.

Thank you, Sandy for talking with me today!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review – A Swim in the Sea

My first foray into the sea was a moment in time I remember as vividly as a blistering Aussie summer sky. It was in the surf off Magnetic Island in a sea a mere metre high but to a person of toddler stature, the waves were mountainous. It was a character building exercise my mother seemed intent on, not relinquishing her grip on my wrist for a minute. As she dragged me further in, my apprehension escalated and I begged her not to let go.

A Swim in the SeaHowever high expectations can assuage fear and doubt and in A Swim in the Sea, Bruno experiences all these sensations. Bruno has never been to the beach before. He can’t wait for Mum and Dad to have breakfast and pack the car. He is simply busting to get there and searches excitedly for his first glimpse of ‘the big blue sea’.

At first it is every bit as exhilarating as he anticipated; all ‘sizzling sand’ and ‘salty breezes’. But Bruno’s enthusiasm soon ebbs as he is confronted by his first wave and alas, like me, is slightly overwhelmed and terrified by the huge, ‘white foamy wave monster’.

All that sparkled minutes before becomes dark and threatening for Bruno and no amount of exotic sea-creatures or rock pool treasure can entice Bruno out from his dread until his sister, Tessa, enlists him to help build the wall for the family sand castle.

Perhaps Bruno is feeling a little sheepish after his encounter with the big blue sea. Maybe it’s the sensuous feeling of the sand as he digs that lures him out of hiding. Or it might just be being part of a team that helps Bruno finally regain his sense of purpose and fun because soon the castle is enclosed with a magnificent wall, strong enough and high enough to withstand any rougue wave…almost.

This pic attributed to The Illawarra Mercury
This pic attributed to The Illawarra Mercury

 

A Swim in the Sea is as enjoyable to read as licking a cone-full of gelato. Sue Whiting neatly avoids the usual beachside unmentionables such as sea lice, sunburn, stingers and sand in your togs in favour of the less tangible emotions of excitement and anxiety. The naivety Bruno possesses not only fuels his expectations but also foments his apprehensions into something almost too gigantic for him to deal with; as gigantic as the ocean itself. Just as Bruno has us teetering on the edge of fear, Whiting draws us back with reassuring images of backyard paddle pools and ‘sparkly blue jelly’, images that any kid, even those who’ve never breathed in the briny scent of the sea before, can relate to.

The beguiling acrylic paintings used by Meredith Thomas to illustrate Bruno’s adventure swirl and surge across the pages providing bucket-loads of textural depth and fluidity.A swim in the Sea Jelly spread

I especially love Bruno’s faithful little unnamed brown dog who mirrors every moment of Bruno’s pleasure and pain, and ultimately relishes his swim in the sea as much as Bruno.

A Swim in the Sea is a superb little slice of summertime fun and perfect to read with pre-schoolers, beach lovers and those still slightly wary of the surf like me.

Because overcoming your fear and enjoying the moment is often just a matter of letting go, which thankfully my mother didn’t.

Check out more of Sue Whiting’s books and buy A Swim in the Sea here.

Walker Books October 2013

 

FRIDAY BOOK FEATURE – GET A GRIP COOPER JONES

When a story makes you cry, you know that it has touched you on a deep emotional level. Get A Grip, Cooper Jones, is Sue Whiting’s latest book for children and when I was reading it, I found myself both laughing and crying.

Set in an isolated “surfie” town wedged between the sea and the rugged escarpment, Get a Grip, Cooper Jones is a story about friendship and families; about fighting fires and facing fears; about growing up and finding where you fit.

Cooper Jones is the sort of character that gets under your skin. He’s a thirteen year old who doesn’t tidy his room, sleeps in late and has dubious personal hygiene, but is also extremely vulnerable. Cooper is at an age where he needs answers; where he wants to know who his Dad really is and what’s really going on around him.

He doesn’t always get things right and this makes for some great humour. There is plenty of action and intensity in Get A Grip, Cooper Jones, and the lighter moments add weight to the tension.

When gorgeous newcomer, Abbie comes to Wangaroo Bay and Mum starts acting weird again Cooper’s life begins to spin out of control and old fears and insecurities return to the fore. But when bushfire threatens and puts lives at risk, Cooper has to get a grip fast.

There were so many things I enjoyed about Get A Grip, Cooper Jones. Apart from the great characters, setting and humour there were the little things I found appealing – for example, the Mum who runs away to join the circus – the turning of stereotypes on their head.

Get A Grip, Cooper Jones is for readers aged 10-14 and has themes of identity, family, friendship, bushfires, survival, courage, beach, coming-of-age and adoption.

Sue Whiting talks about writing Get A Grip, Cooper Jones

I first started thinking about this story when I came across a very silly joke book. This book was filled with jokes like: “What’s the difference between a man and a piece of cheese?” Cheese matures. And “Why are men like snot?” They get up your nose.

As a flicked through the book, giggling, I started to wonder about what it would be like for a young boy to grow up in a household with a mum who felt this way about men. That boy became Cooper Jones. The story has changed enormously from this early idea, but it was the joke book that it all sprang from.

Why will kids like Get A Grip, Cooper Jones?

I hope kids will like it because it is about them – about two pretty typical thirteen year olds facing life’s ups and downs.

But what I hope more than anything else is that readers will find new friends in Cooper and Abbie, and that they will be keen to hang out with them for a while. And as tensions increase and bushfires threaten, and Cooper’s life seems to be spinning out of control, they will be there, shouting – yelling – at Cooper, telling him he had better get a grip – and fast – because Abbie’s survival depends on it.

What Sue says about Cooper

Cooper is a great kid – he just doesn’t realise it! He thinks he is a big-time cowardly loser.

He loves the bush, hanging out at the Feral Tree and swimming in the Blue Hole. He is a strong competitive swimmer, who does early-morning swimming training three times a week. But he is terrified of the sea (and what lurks below the surface) and never swims in the surf. This is not ideal when you live in a town like Wangaroo Bay that is so “surfie”.

Writing Get A Grip, Cooper Jones

The thing Sue enjoyed most about writing this book was writing the bushfire scenes.

The words came out in such a huge rush I could barely keep up. I was on fire! (Sorry – bad pun alert!) When I had finished, I was spent, totally drained – emotionally and physically – and it was many weeks before I could continue with the rest of the story.

The hardest part was listening to my characters. I had a very clear idea about what I wanted the story to be about – but Cooper and Abbie had other (better!) ideas. It took me a long time to realise this and to work out what was really bothering them. Once I stopped and listened to them, the story fell into place.

More information about Sue and her books is available from her website: http://www.suewhiting.com/

A BURNING DESIRE TO WRITE KIDS’ BOOKS

Today I have a very special guest on Kid’s Book Capers. Sue Whiting is my wonderful editor at Walker Books – the person who patiently helped me shape Letters to Leonardo from a manuscript into a book.

Sue is also the author of more than sixty books for children and is here to talk about her journey and the release of her latest work, Get A Grip, Cooper Jones.

Sue didn’t start writing until she was in her late thirties, though she says that the desire and passion to write children’s books had been burning deep within her for more than a decade beforehand.

I had never thought of myself as a writer, so it took me quite a while to muster the courage to give it a go. But once I started I couldn’t stop and I spent every spare moment I had writing. It took me a couple of years of writing and submitting before I got my first acceptance for a children’s novelty book. That was a very special day, that’s for sure.

The thing that Sue enjoys most about writing is having the opportunity to share her stories with kids.

School and library visits and literature festivals are exhausting, but they are the best fun.

Before she became a writer, Sue was a primary school teacher and this is where she fell in love with kids’ books and developed her passion for writing. She says that the hardest thing is having the discipline to keep plugging away at your story even when the words aren’t flowing and all your ideas seem to suck.

My greatest writing achievement was writing my first junior novel, Battle of the Rats, as it was the first time that I had written something of that length (and I never thought I would be able to do that!) and also because a number of people have told me that this book was the first book that their son/daughter ever completed. And truly, there’s very little that can beat that.

Sue has lived close to the sea for most of her life, so it is no surprise that the sea, the beach and beach culture feature in many of her books.

It is very much part of who I am. But I have noticed lately that fire is another element that often makes an appearance in my stories. And I’m not sure why… In Get a Grip, Cooper Jones the sea and fire (in this case, bushfire) are both major players in the story.

Sue is currently working on a picture book about two mice that fall in love; a new Strange Little Monster story; and a YA thriller for teenage girls.

Sue’s Tips for New Writers

  1. Read widely.
  2. Write often.
  3. Write from the heart.
  4. Never give up.

On Friday, I’ll be reviewing Get A Grip, Cooper Jones and Sue will be back to talk about the writing journey that took this compelling book from initial idea to publication.

Hope you can join us then.

Boomerang @ Bookfeast 2009

Whenever William the author is invited to an event, William the Boomerang Blogger gets indirectly invited too. On Wednesday, NSW authors and illustrators braved the orange dust storm, and headed into the CBD for this year’s Bookfeast, a great event organised by Haberfield school librarian Michael Fraser.

Some Boomerang Books Blog alums were there, including Deborah Abela, Belinda Murrell, Richard Harland and Kate Forsyth. Also there was Susanne Gervay, whose I Am Jack’s stage adaptation by MonkeyBaa is on until October 2 at the Seymour Theatre and is the talk of the town, Duncan Ball, Sue Whiting, Jenny Hale, and my current favourite (and the insanely funny) illustrator Sarah Davies, who was just awarded Best New Young Illustrator by the CBCA for the powerful Mending Lucille.

Now, pictures!