Vanguard of Debut Children’s Authors

Tiger StoneA surge of debut novels by talented Australians for children and young adults may be on the way. Deryn Mansell’s Tiger Stone  (Black Dog Books), an original, intricate mystery set in fourteenth century Java for upper primary and junior secondary readers and Caro Was Here by Elizabeth Farrelly (Walker Books) are some forerunners.

Caro Was Here is also aimed at upper primary school children. Rather than a historical mystery, it is a cool, contemporary mystery adventure. It’s an addictive, pacey read and is today’s equivalent of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five but better written and with more depth of characterisation (not to detract from Blyton, whose books I, and practically everyone else, relished as a child).

Caro is a fascinating character – a bit over-confident, a bit opinionated and a rule-breaker. The novel begins just before the Easter break when twelve-year-old Caro inadvertently sticks up for ‘poached-egg glasses’-wearing nerd, Nigel Numbnuts on the bus. She’s not sure that it will help her chances of becoming Year Six Winter Captain but she has to do it. Her election speech is eclipsed by new American girl, Ellen Aurelia Dufresne, who later becomes part of the group who wag the last afternoon of term.

Ned, Caro’s younger half-brother, Nigel and Ellen, as well as one of her best friends, Tattie, follow Caro to Sydney Harbour. After Caro makes them put their phones in a locker at Circular Quay to enhance the adventure of their afternoon, they miss the ferry to Cockatoo Island and have to catch the boat to Goat Island instead. Some of the history of the island interests them but is convict Charles Anderson’s fate a foretaste of what might be lying in wait for them? Goat Island

When they miss the last ferry and have to spend the night on the dark island in the rain, they realise that they’re not alone. The author continues in the vein of contemporary adventure to create a deliberately uber-thrilling situation, while adding backstories and depth to the main characters.

The cover is perhaps the only downfall of the book. I assumed it signalled introspective realism because of the stylised images of a hand and matchstick, but these components do make sense when you read the story.

Overall, Caro Was Here, Tiger Stone, and other current works by debut writers, seem to be the vanguard in an exciting new era for children’s literature. And thanks also to the farsighted publishers who are delivering works by new authors.

 

Review – To Get To Me

To Get to MeI love going places and reading often takes me more places than mere physical effort alone. Imagination and desire help too. Not to mention having the odd pen-friend (remember those?) in far flung exotic locations. To Get To Me is Random House’s newest picture book encapsulating the essence of getting there via planes, trains and automobiles.

Sydney-sider Peter is going to the zoo and who better to share a day amongst the animals with, than his best buddy Ahmed. Never mind Ahmed lives in far North Africa, half a world away. Friendship knows no boundaries, nor crazy distances.

Peter carefully gives Ahmed directions over the phone, detailing each method of transport he’ll have to take for each leg of the journey.

Eleanor Kerr Eleanor Kerr skilfully explores nearly every mode of transport barring hot air balloon. Even the humble camel is depicted clomp clomp clomping through the sand dunes of Ahmed’s immediate environ. Her crisp, undemanding text is simple enough for budding readers to enjoy themselves yet fused with enough action-based onomatopoeia to ensure a fun and energetic read aloud experience for the younger audience. Camels clomp, buses vroom, ferries splish splosh. Sounds ingenuous, but To Get To Me is anything but pedestrian and coupled with Judith Rossell’s ebullient illustrations, easily convinces readers that Ahmed really will be able to make the journey.

Judith RossellRossell combines collage, real photos and pencil drawings to perfectly capture the heat of a Moroccan desert, the bustle of inner-city Sydney and the serenity of Sydney Harbour.

Look closely to appreciate how both we and Ahmed, are transported seamlessly from a world of Arabic influenced dialects to a more familiar western English speaking society through the use of written Arabic and cut out newspaper text. There are even a few stock exchange listings carefully insinuated as CBD buildings.

The concept of making a small world even smaller is strengthened by Peter waiting for Ahmed at the Zoo surrounded by a delightful cultural mix of African and Aussie animals. Thanks to Peter’s conviction in his clear instructions, we and Ahmed are left in a positive state of happy anticipation; ‘see you soon!’

To Get To Me provides a warm fuzzy, hands-around-the-world experience while at the same time is suitably chock-a-block full of mobility, machines, cultural glimpses, and even Kombis! Enough to satisfy young boys in particular and geography nuts like me.

You can view and purchase this book here.

Random House July 2013