Kids Will be Rapt to Find these Wrapped this Christmas – Part 1

It’s time to get organised for the festive season so I’ll be beginning with Part 1 of my Christmas gift suggestions today! These selections are for the busy, hands-on builders in your life. For worldly explorers, air travellers, and magical realm inquisitors, there’s an interactive gift here for you.

The Discovery Globe Build-Your-Own Globe Kit is the perfect choice for an action adventure into exploring the world. Kitted up in a neat fold-out box with World Explorer’s Guide on the left and spinning globe pieces packaged on the right, you can study the world to your heart’s content…and even make your own!

The Guide consists of easy-to-follow instructions on building your globe, which then acts as the prop for all the amazing facts, natural wonders, famous faces and topics that you’ll be finding out about. Each piece fits together to represent an Earth consisting of different types of land (ie. oceans, freshwater, tropical rainforest, etc), and icons of the animal world and human life. The completed construction measures 47cm tall, and actually spins like any other globe!

Leon Gray and Sarah Edmonds cleverly designed the book with content divided into manageable parts and informative, colourful illustrations representing graphics, keys, diagrams and maps. Sections include The Earth in Space, the Sun, Land and Water, Biomes, Natural Wonders, Endangered Animals, Travelling the World, people, arts, food, plus more.

With fascinating information, glossary, interactive questions and things to find on your spinning model, The Discovery Globe is a marvellous cultural, scientific and geographical package that will have young curious minds enthralled for hours. For ages six and up.

Quarto Children’s Books and Walker Books, October 2017.

Next to fly into your Christmas stockings is the Busy Builders Airport kit. Build your own 92cm airport play set with punch-out models to put together, and fold out runways and puzzle pieces. You can construct everything from a jumbo jet to propellor plane, helicopter and ground controllers, the terminal, baggage truck and control towers. What fun!

The Awesome Airport Action guide, written by Timothy Knapman, includes everything you need to know about life around aeroplanes. It is a child-friendly introduction to airports and what to expect when travelling. The text is energetic and engaging, but also informative enough to provide children from age five a clear concept of the different facets of air travel. The booklet begins with checking in to the terminal and handling baggage and security, moving through to planes, vehicles, their parts and preparation, the roles of ground crew, take off and the in-flight adventure, and finally landing. Cute cartoon characters with their little speech bubbles and solid graphics with the various details to peruse give the feel of a fun advertisement that entices your interest.

Gorgeously packaged with a velcro tab, Busy Builders Airport encourages young pilot enthusiasts and world travelling wannabes, or even those yet to embark on any flying adventure, with plenty of knowledge and role play action that will have them soaring to great heights.

Walker Books Australia, October 2017.

Build the Dragon is a very cool gift to give a 7+ year-old fanatical about fantasy, myths and legends. Eye-catching from any bookstore shelf, this book and model kit will certainly spark a flame amongst dragon lovers.

Dugald Steer, fanatic himself on the subject of myths and legends with numerous books in his ‘Ology’ series, presents this spectacular world into dragons. In fourteen parts over 32 pages, learn about these beasts’ anatomy, their history, their worlds and their supernatural powers. A suitably archaic-type text is interwoven between the captivating multi-media illustrations by Jonathan Woodward and Douglas Carrel. This unique combination of artists brings this book to life with their mix of exotic drawings and realistic images.

And to add even more sensation to this already captivating non-fiction/fantasy resource is the 46-piece, 3D moving model of a Western dragon that you can build yourself! Kids will fall head over heels for this magnificent addition that includes 40cm of dragon goodness with its motorised flapping wings and gnashing jaws.

Build the Dragon is a highly appealing, interactive guide to living out one’s dragon obsessions. Primary school children will surely be able to show off their expertise in all things magical realms, and engagement with their miniature dragon replica will certainly enliven their imaginations even further.

Quarto Children’s Books and Walker Books Australia, November 2017.

Stay tuned for more Christmas gift ideas! 🙂

Reviews: Three More Titles in the Sage Cookson Series

I previously reviewed Sage Cookson’s Ring of Truth as ‘zesty and refreshing’ (here), and the next three titles in this lively series are no different. Sally Murphy pours heart and spirit into her chapter books for emerging readers as she takes her ten-year-old protagonist on more cultural, and culinary, adventures.

In Fishy Surprise, Sage is excited to be able to take her best friend, Lucy on their next trip, where her famous chef parents, the Cooksons, will be filming in Crystal Bay. White sandy beaches, turquoise seas, and lapping up the goodness of the best fish and chips in Australia sounds like the ultimate in travel adventures. But despite Sage’s media-shy character, she seems to uncannily draw plenty of attention when she gets herself into ‘fishy’ situations. Sabotage and jealousy of someone from the past cause clashing waves, but her calm, rational thinking sees Sage thankfully escape the unsavoury ordeal.
Friendship, rivalry and personal safety lead as the prominent themes in Fishy Surprise. It is told with energy and a propriety that children from age seven can understand. I’m sure it’ll hook them from the beginning!

Singapore Sensation delves into the mystery of the pink haired woman who seems to be following the Cooksons from their home town to Singapore. Sage’s suspicion of the shady Nancy from the previous stories is aroused, especially when TV chef Mum, Ginger’s cook book manuscript goes missing. In between the chaotic worries of cook book theft and plagiarism, we are delighted to some sensational Singaporian delights of satay skewers, curry and prata breads, tranquil rivers, old colonial buildings and Sentosa Island theme parks. Finally, Sage’s answers are uncovered – perhaps next time she won’t jump to premature conclusions.
Singapore Sensation explores all things ‘sensations’, including a myriad of fascinating sights, the tastiest treats, and an emotional rollercoaster of highs and lows. It is engaging, whimsical, and straightforward to read for those youngsters hungry for a cultural, and suspenseful, experience.

Sage’s confidence in the spotlight is tested in Literary Launch as she faces the terrifying prospect of public speaking. Highly relatable, I’m sure, to many readers, the nine short chapters capture a glance at the thought processes and preparations necessary to overcome this apprehension. With a school presentation and her Mum’s cook book launch fast approaching, the household is buzzing with nervous excitement. The sensitive girl wants everything to run smoothly, and when cracks, and crumbs, begin to appear, Sage is unsure if she can cope. Disaster with cupcakes and congestion of traffic might just ruin Mum’s big day. But what better way to deliver a great outcome than by volunteering to speak at the launch… with practise under her belt, she’ll nail that school assignment.
This story is about learning to deal with stressful situations and challenging oneself in managing personal hurdles. Literary Launch is a light-hearted, enlightening and encouraging story that middle graders will speak of highly.

The Sage Cookson series showcases a delightful character in Sage; a real kid who makes mistakes but also makes the best of every situation. They are best read in succession to follow Sage’s journey and to reflect on the connections from one book to the next. Celeste Hulme‘s black and white sketched illustrations delightfully pronounce the mood of each chapter, and the handy recipes at the conclusions, and on the website, brilliantly engage the audience with this series. Recommended for budding chefs and travel adventure lovers.

New Frontier Publishing, 2017.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Getting Serious About Series – Junior Novels for Little Misses

When it comes to captivating reads that snag interest and capture long-term readership, serial stories take the cake. Relatable incidents, swift moving plot lines and plenty of reasons to hang out with characters who become as close as real life friends all add up to serious series appeal. This winning combination works just as well for readers new to chapter books, too. Here are a few junior novels for younger children, chapter books if you will that are sure to tantalise.

Ginger Green Playdate Queen by Kim Kane and Jon Davis

Ginger Green is a foxy little minx in her first years of primary school. The thing she is most adept at this age is throwing playdates. Her winsome and extrovert personality allows her to make friends easily although not every person she tries to befriend has similar virtues.

Continue reading Getting Serious About Series – Junior Novels for Little Misses

There’s no place like home – Aussie flavoured picture books

During my short sabbatical from all things digital over the festive season, I visited some exotic, mesmerising places, supped on mouth-watering local fare, and immersed myself in numerous colourful cultural experiences. It was invigorating and fun but like always after a hard stint abroad, it is great to be home, because for me, there is no place like home. Therefore, to kick off the New Year and in readiness for our annual Aussie Day celebrations, here are a few picture books to stir up your patriotism.

shearing-timeShearing Time by Allison Paterson & Shane McGrath

Nothing shouts Australia louder than sheep, blowies, and working dogs on bikes. I envy the ability the picture book team of Paterson and McGrath has at capturing the essence of the Aussie outback with such bold open sky appeal.

Colourful and engaging, Shearing Time begins during the school holidays with one farm girl’s exclamation, ‘I love shearing time!’ She goes on to explain why, inviting readers to share her shearing experiences from sunrise to sunset. Every aspect including herding cantankerous sheep, the arrival of the rowdy seasonal shearers, the racket and rumble of shearing time right up to the feeding of workers is ably depicted giving youngsters a realistic, close-up look of how wool is procured from paddock to jumper. The glossary of well-loved shearing terms is especially useful.

A great focus on rural life and one of our most significant primary industries for 4 – 8 year-olds.

Big Sky Publishing March 2017

gus-dog-goes-to-workGus Dog Goes to Work by Rachel Flynn & Craig Smith

Here is another picture book duo whose combination of imaginative images and engaging text I adore. Once again, there are strong visual and verbal connections with regional Australian life. Chock-a-block full of colloquial language and ribald observation, Gus Dog Goes to Work is an excellent read-aloud picture book allowing carers to inject plenty of iconic Aussie swagger in their rendering of it. Gus is your typical sheepdog who exists only to work and please his owner, Tom.  When he awakes one morning to find Tom and his Ute missing however, Gus decides to venture out on his own to work. His meanderings steer him a little off track and into some stinky, hilarious, quintessentially doggy dilemmas until finally he and Tom are reunited.

Dog lovers aged five and above will get a massive kick out of this entertaining expose of country life from a pooch’s point-view. Bursting with more Aussie flavour than a barbie full of beef sangers, Gus comes highly recommended.

Working Title Press February 2017

fabishFabish the horse that braved a bushfire by Neridah McMullin & Andrew McLean

This is a gem of a book that evokes considerable emotion; warm tears spring forth unbidden each time I read it. Based on the true story of the vicious bushfires that ripped through the Victorian bush in February 2009, this picture book introduces us to ex-thoroughbred racer, Fabish and his retired role as mentor to the younger flighty yearlings.

McMullin faithfully recreates the mood and atmosphere of that scorching summer’s day when fire menaced the region. Fabish’s trainer, Alan Evett released the yearlings and Fabish fatalistically to find their own way while he huddled with the remaining stock in the stone stables. Outside a firestorm blazed out of control. He never thought he would see Fabish and the yearlings again.

The next morning dawned charred and desolate. Not a single living thing remained and yet miraculously, through the choking smoky haze Fabish appeared leading his yearlings home. McLean’s raw rustic palette coupled with McMullin’s poignant interpretation of the tale is a beautiful tribute to human resilience, loyalty, the power of nature and a truly unforgettable horse.

Strongly recommended for 6 – 9 year-olds

Allen & Unwin July 2016

sparkSpark by Adam Wallace & Andrew Plant

I grew up in the Adelaide foothills and witnessed the horrors of several summer infernos like Ash Wednesday but never experienced one first hand as author Adam Wallace did. Spark is a fascinating picture book depicting Australia’s most recent and devastating bushfire event, Black Saturday but ostensibly describing the catastrophic destructiveness and formidable beauty of any firestorm. And, along with Plant, he does so indescribably well.

Wallace succeeds with what no other has attempted before, to give fire a voice.  From the uniquely omnipotent point-of-view of a tiny spark, Wallace characterises the burgeoning flame with an almost child-like persona, suggesting a helpless naivety that encourages an instant empathy. Together, with the growing flame, we are borne along with a capricious and irascible wind, intent it seems after at first befriending the flame, to cause as much upset as possible until all control is lost.

Exhilarating and wild, terrifying and violent, Spark rips through your emotions with a mere sprinkling of words but with the force of an atomic bomb. Soul serrating language is not the only draw card. Plant’s monochrome illustrations will make the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end. Textural and scented with the acrid bitterness of the aftermath of pure destruction, Spark ends on the same quiet unassuming note as it begins; with teardrops from above, a flash of light and glimmer of green hope, simply brilliant.

A potent and compelling picture book useful for prompting discussions on natural disasters, Australian history,  and looking at things unconventionally for older primary aged readers.

Ford Street Publishing imprint of Hybrid Publishing October 2016

Stick around for the next swag-load of Aussie titles coming soon.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

 

 

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

 

Muffed-Up Books And Motion Sickness

Deadly WatersIt’s been well documented that I muffed up the number of books I took to South America last year. In an effort to be a responsible packer and not load my luggage up with books in place of underpants, I took excellent books but not nearly enough of them.

It turned out that I didn’t take enough underpants either, and endured some embarrassing moments. The first was at the hostel reception, where the staff were trying to dissuade me from putting in a small bag of washing for 20 Reals, They were adamant (and hung up on the fact that) it was expensive for such a small bag of smalls. In the end I blurted out something that stopped every conversation and turned every head in the room: ‘I. Have. No. Underpants.’

The second was at the laundromat I eventually took my bag of smalls to. I’m not sure if it’s a Brazilian thing or just a that-laundromat thing, but they picked through, held up, inspected, and counted out every pair of undies before assigning them to a washing basket and me a pick-up time.

Note to self: don’t pack scungy undies for overseas trips where you’ll have to endure having them laundered in public. Note to you: they weren’t scungy so much as practical and cotton, honest. I was there for a football event, so packed the practical Bonds and left the impractical lace at home.

But I’ve gotten off track. The point of this blog is that these incidents were at the forefront of my thinking while I was packing for the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Germany. I’m here covering the Westfield Matildas’ World Cup campaign for such sites as Girls FC. I managed to pack plenty of the right undies, but the book packing once again stumped me.

Books

So many books, so little time to read them. Then having this compounded by the fact that a passionate hate for air travel ups the ante for requiring books that will grab and distract me from my motion sickness and claustrophobia means that the pressure was on to pick well.

What I realised is that although I have about a billion books on my to-be-read shelf, not many of them make for great international-travel reading. Sigh. I buy a lot of ‘serious’ non-fiction books. They’re brilliant, and I wouldn’t change that for the world, but there’s a reason why they’re not the bestsellers at the airport.

I mean, Half The Sky: How To Change The World, The Accidental Guerrilla, Slow Death By Rubber Duck, and Songs Of Blood And Sword, are incredibly worthy reads, and ones I absolutely cannot wait to tackle.

But they require more brainpower than I’m able to give them while hating being cooped up in a too-small seat next to a bossy woman with elbows that seek out parts of my body like sharp, probing magnets. It took all my willpower to resist buying new, different, air-travel-safe books at the airport: Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse series was top of the list.

It turns out that I didn’t get to read any books on the flight. Or, in fact, rue not buying any at the airport: I got spectacularly sick on the 15-hour leg to Dubai. Stress + motion sickness + sheer exhaustion are always a lethal, migraine-inducing combination for me. I almost fainted and vomited in the toilet, stripping to try to cool down and prevent both. Then the plane hit turbulence and the return-to-seat light went on. Doh.

I’d always wondered who pressed the call-for-assistance button in the toilet. Now I know. I put enough clothes back on so as not to appear entirely naked when the air hostesses burst in, and then spent a fair amount of time surrounded by not one but five of them as they tried to assess what to do with me.

The flight was choc full to the luggage cabinets and there weren’t any seats left in economy (even my promised aisle seat turned out to be a wedged-in-the-middle one instead). There was some talk of putting me in business class, but that was quickly kyboshed by the senior hostie: I think it was because I was likely to vomit. Note to self for next time you get a migraine on a plane: don’t admit you’re going to blow chunks.

But I’ve digressed again. Sadly between illness, jetlag, and hitting-the-ground-running work hectic-ness, I haven’t had a chance to read any of the books I agonised over when packing. Here’s hoping I find some time to do so soon, especially the review copy I have of Deadly Waters, which contains an in-depth examination of Somali pirates far exceeding what we see in news grabs. Heavy material though it covers, that one I’d be super, extremely keen to read.

Joel Magarey guest blogs on life, death, and EXPOSURE

Since Exposure has come out, a few journalists have asked me what my most extreme travel experience was, which has got me thinking about death – always good for a new perspective on life. At first I thought the answer to their question had to be the experience I had in a Bolivian desert: setting fire to my hand and then my tent while still in my sleeping bag – then knocking over a full bottle of fuel to really get that blaze going. That was intense. Then I realised that, for intensity, I couldn’t go past nearly drowning in a glacier-fed Alaskan river that was busy freezing over.

A young inexperienced American called Troy and I had flown with a kayak into the remote Chigmit Mountains too late in autumn, when it was so cold the glaciers feeding our watercourse were only giving off a shallow trickle. We tore gaping holes in the kayak scraping to a halt on the constant gravel bars. Then Troy broke both our paddles trying to push us off the bars. Then, when the river finally got deeper and faster, we shot into some tree branches and capsized. In the 3-degree water I went into shock, my feet got stuck in the kayak and my head was forced under.

I digress. These memories have reminded me of not only how intensely alive a brush with death can make a person feel, but also a broader, parallel irony I discovered on my journey: that the passionate high road of our greatest desires runs close by the forest of our worst fears.

At 25, with a mind filled with dreams and post-Catholic sexual hang-ups, I had left my wise and beautiful love of seven years, Penny – along with a promising career in journalism – for a limitless global journey I’d imagined since childhood. I was also leaving behind a recent and unpalatable diagnosis, of obsessive compulsive disorder, and an unfinished course of therapy for it.

Very soon I’d got myself into some interesting pickles, such as a three-week compulsive nightmare involving Los Angeles, my terror of Alaska killing me, and many, MANY sleeping bags. Then there was the climb into Arctic mountains I undertook in November with almost no relevant experience. The cold was so intense it snap-froze the drips from my constantly dripping nose. To get food into my mouth I had to break foot-long stalactites from my nostrils.

I thought I was moving towards what I wanted – wider experience of love and women, a richer entry into life, and the mental cure I thought I could find for myself. And it was an astonishing journey, filled with wonders, intensities and joy — but also longing and illness. Two thirds of the way around the world, as I fell victim to another OCD attack in Zimbabwe, I saw in a moment that in some of the deepest ways I’d been heading far from where I’d thought I was going. I’d been risking madness but not health. I’d been risking death in a kayak and a Bolivian desert but not life with a woman I couldn’t stop loving.

I can’t give away how it all panned out for me; but death, life, and risk bring me back to that Alaskan river.

As Adrenalin finally kicked in, I wrenched my legs out of the kayak. Troy and I hauled ourselves out of the water and lay on top of the upturned kayak as it began to pick up speed. True, we still had problems. And we were heading towards more – like a white, frothing rapid just downriver – but that’s another story, another brush with death. For the moment, we were alive, and we knew it in every nerve.

Praise for Exposure

‘An extraordinary story . . . wry, honest, amusing and evocative.’ Eva Hornung

‘A striking and substantial book, at once compelling, scary, delightfully comic and moving.’ Tom Shapcott