Homeless in Australia: ‘Because of You’ by Pip Harry

Pip Harry is the author of three Australian YA novels, I’ll Tell You Mine; Head of the River, an unflinching look at elite school rowing, and now, Because of You which gives insight into people living on the streets.

Where are you based and what is your current role, Pip?

Currently I am based in steamy Singapore, where my family has been living for the past 18 months on an expat adventure. I had an earlier stint here when I was six years old … it’s changed a bit since then! I love the warm weather, the proximity to Asia for quick trips to exotic destinations and the food is so good. Satay, noodles, chilli crab, dumplings, I could go on!

How involved are you in Australia’s YA community?

I’m actively and passionately involved in Australia’s YA community, even from my Singapore outpost! Through the #LoveOzYA movement – which aims to promote local content to local readers – I’ve been swept up in support and love for Aussie YA. Wherever possible I review or promote other #LoveOzYA releases. We are one big YA family.

Could you tell us about your earlier books?

In 2012, I released my debut novel, I’ll Tell You Mine, about a goth teenager sent to a strict girl’s boarding school. In 2014, I followed up with Head of the River, about siblings competing in the high stakes annual school rowing race and putting it all on the line to win. 

Why is your new novel Because of You (UQP) important?

It’s important because it offers younger readers the opportunity to understand and emphasise with the daily struggles of street people. Many teenagers have little or no contact with the homeless community, except perhaps walking past them on the street, but this book tells their stories, reminds readers that it could happen to any one of us, and offers hope for change.

Could you tell us about your major characters, Tiny and Nola?

Tiny, 18, is sleeping rough and has fled her rural town for the city. Nola, 17, is drifting through her final year at school, unsure of her path in life or her friendships. When Nola is assigned to do 20 days of mandatory community service at a homeless shelter’s creative writing program, the girls meet and form a friendship that will change both their lives.

You have a cast of minor characters who help create the community setting. Who most pulls at your heart and why?

One of the things I loved most about writing Because of You was the supporting cast of characters. The one who captured my heart was Meredith, who runs the Street Library. I love her belief that “books can save anyone, if they’re the right ones,” and her passion to bring stories to the streets.

My son cooks burgers for the homeless in Sydney. What would you suggest ordinary Australians do for the homeless?

Does he? That’s so fantastic! There is so much ordinary Australian’s can do to lend a hand in the homeless community, from serving food in soup kitchens to supporting creative workshops or offering your time and skills in other ways. Check out govolunteer.com.au for opportunities in your area.

What hope do you see for Australia’s homeless in the near future?

It’s easy to get discouraged about the homeless crisis when tent cities are being dismantled and figures for homelessness are rising. But my hope is that we can take national action to end homelessness in this country through supporting our homeless organisations and investing in affordable, stable and permanent public housing.

Why have you incorporated Marcus Zusak’s The Book Thief and Cath Crowley’s Graffiti Moon into Because of You?

Those books are incredible and they’re written by Australian authors I admire, so I wanted my characters to read and adore them too!

What have you been reading recently?

I’ve been reading the chilling, ghostly Ballad for a Mad Girl by the brilliant Vikki Wakefield and I’m in awe of the backwards narrative in Everything is Changed by Nova Weetman. I really liked the passion and rawness of Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur. 

Thanks very much, Pip, and all the best with Because of You.

Thanks for having me!

Samantha Wheeler, Wombat Warrior

Samantha Wheeler writes informative tales about environmental and conservation issues. She frames these inside warm, child-friendly stories. They are also exciting.

Thank you for speaking with Boomerang Blog, Samantha.

My pleasure, thanks for asking 

Where are you based, what is your background and how are you involved in Australia’s children’s literature community?

 I split my time between our inner city home near the Brisbane CBD, and a small property we have near the Sunshine Coast. I came to writing quite a late, only writing my first story after completing the Year of The Novel course at the Qld Writers Centre in 2009. Prior to that I worked with farmers and taught agriculture and science in high schools. My first published story, Smooch & Rose, about koalas in Redland Bay, was accepted by UQP after I pitched to Kristina Schulz at the CYA conference in 2012, and was published in 2013. Being fairly new to writing, I’ve found the children’s literature community in Brisbane, and Australia wide to be incredibly welcoming and encouraging. I feel very lucky to have chosen this genre for my books. 

Do you give many presentations to children? How do you make them interesting?  Have there been any particularly memorable responses?

 Yes, I do, and with my background in teaching, I love this part of being an author. I hope I make them interesting by having fun with the animals and characters I’ve written about. Encouraging children to explore their curiosity is a wonderful thing. For example, who knew cassowaries had no tongue? Or that wombats had square poo? Nature is full of delightful surprises. One of the most memorable responses happened just recently at a local school. After I spoke about my latest book, Wombat Warriors, the whole school (including the principal) sang ‘Dig Like a Wombat’ – with actions!! It was fantastic!

 I can imagine children collecting and keeping your books. Could you tell us about your books?

 Aww! That’s a nice thing to say! Thank you. To be honest, I would collect my books (he he). I write exactly the type of book I would have loved as a child. I was really into books with an element of truth, so books like Gerald Durrell’s My Family and Other Animals fit that description. So when I write now, I try and satisfy that burning urge to find out more about nature while creating an adventurous ride for the reader. I usually choose stories after seeing things myself (e.g: when developers cut down all the trees where a koala lived: Smooch & Rose, or when I saw a newspaper article about wombats being buried alive: Wombat Warriors) or after talking to children about the problems facing our wildlife. (e.g: the cassowaries up in Mission Beach: Mister Cassowary, or the problem of plastic in our ocean: Turtle Trackers (coming 2018)). So if you’ve seen anything that worries you … let me know!

 What awards have they been shortlisted for or won?

 My first children’s book, Smooch & Rose, was shortlisted for the 2014 Queensland Literary Awards and the Readings Children’s Book Prize, and my third, Mister Cassowary, was shortlisted for the 2016 Wilderness Society Environment Award for Children’s Literature, the Readings Children’s Book Prize, Speech Pathology Australia Book of the Year Award and was commended in the Royal Zoological Society of New South Wales Whitley Award. It’s too early to say for Wombat Warriors, but fingers crossed!

 How do you combine information about Australian animals and environmental issues with a satisfying storyline?

 It’s a bit tricky! I usually do a lot of research before writing, and my early drafts can be a bit didactic. I sprout facts worse than an encyclopedia. Luckily I have very patient editors at UQP, who kindly point this out, and I have to switch things around to weave the facts more carefully into the story. It’s not always easy though. Endings are especially hard as, like my characters, I want to save all the cassowaries or all the wombats, which can be a bit unrealistic. I have to keep focussed on the ones in the story and think about how they might be saved in a practical and realistic way.

 What’s your favourite Australian animal? 

I think I’d have to say the southern hairy nosed wombat. So adorable! I loved researching them, and think a sequel to Wombat Warriors might be in order, just so I can research them again! I do have a soft spot for sugar gliders and willy wagtails though.

 What were you like as a girl?

I lived in Africa as a little girl, and although I loved school and reading, I think I was quite shy in class. Collecting interesting animals (like chameleons, tortoises and giant stick insects) and having adventures outdoors were by far my favourite things to do.

Who do you model your characters on?

Most of my characters are a mix of people I know. So Aunt Evie in Wombat Warriors was based on a colourful aunt of mine in England who didn’t have her own children and seemed to forget I was only a child. Staying with her was both scary and exciting, as she’d let me do things Mum would never approve.The shy Mouse in the same book is based on a young girl I know who always looks to her mum when I ask her a question, despite having very firm views on wildlife herself. Spud in Spud & Charli was a huge thoroughbred I used to own, who smelt terrible, and loved eating more than anything else in the world. And nasty Uncle Malcolm in Smooch & Rose, well … some things are best left a secret.

Are you aware of any progression in your books – writing style, intended reader, issues addressed …

My books have become a little longer since Smooch & Rose, mainly because there’s so much to say! But the overall style and intended audience has remained the same. I’ve tried to spread the protagonists out across the books so that I’m not always writing about girls or about boys, just trying to mix it up. The issues have no real pattern, just the ones that press most to be written. I’m always on the lookout for possible ideas, and most of our family holidays revolve around some sort of animal adventure, so all suggestions welcome!

What are you writing about now or next?

I’m editing my next book called Turtle Trackers, which is set up near Mon Repos in Bundaberg. Approximately 300-400 turtles come to the beaches in this area to nest every year. While I had the pleasure of watching baby turtles hatch last January, I was saddened to hear of all the problems they face. Many students I’ve spoken to have said that the turtle is their favourite animal, so I’m really looking forward to sharing this book with them early next year.

What have you enjoyed reading recently? 

I’ve just finished the most magnificent children’s book by my wonderful friend and colleague, Peter Carnavas. The Elephant. It’s also published by UQP and is beautiful, funny, and sad. It’s Peter’s first novel and boy, its good!

Thanks Samantha, and all the best with your wonderful books.

Thank you Joy, it was my pleasure. All the best with your wonderful blog.

Review – That Stubborn Seed of Hope

Human beings can be a tenacious breed. Our stubborn ability to cling to optimism often overrides unsolicited fear, which I guess allows us to fit in with the rest of the world’s species and, in short, survive. Brian Falkner artfully cultivates that seed of hope in a choice collection of short stories ideal for mid-grade to YA readers and beyond.

That Stubborn Seed of Hope Stories heralds what I hope is the first of more anthologies for children, depicting concise, gripping stories linked in theme and flavour. The tone of this collection is at times dark and sobering, sorrowful and desperate yet somehow also manages to leave the reader with a yearning to read on, to venture further into their own swamp of fears and to face those disquietudes with the help of another’s story.

Falkner addresses a number of fearful situations and occasions to dread with these stories: the fear of death, embarrassment, rejection, heartbreak to name a few. At times the obvious theme is enshrouded by a veil of less certain anxieties which combine to form complex and rich narratives. Continue reading Review – That Stubborn Seed of Hope

Review – The Elephant

It is a rare day on earth that I’m lost for words. Fortunately Peter Carnavas never seems to be. And he uses a few more than usual in his latest work, The Elephant.

Now it’s no secret I’m unashamedly enamoured by Carnavas’ work; his illustrated picture books embrace you like a warm welcome hug. This, his first foray into longer narratives, is a hug you can immerse yourself even deeper into but beware, you may not want to let go. I didn’t.

The Elephant is an average-sized, understated junior novel for people with small hands and large hearts. Even the cover is benign and quiet, muting the enormity of what’s to come. It reads with the elegant crispness of a verse novel using a collection of brief chapters to relay Olive’s story about her dad and the lugubrious grey elephant that plagues his every move. Despite the heavy nature of Olive’s situation, it’s this wonderful lightness of touch, Carnavas’ refined way with words to convey powerful meaning and Olive’s own irrepressible personality that add the light to her father’s shade and give this story a sunny disposition. Continue reading Review – The Elephant

Double Dipping – Meaningful Mindfulness

Mindfulness feels like the new catch cry. Its sudden appearance on school curricula and in children’s literature gives one the sense it’s a new concept but of course this is not one hundred per cent accurate. It’s more of a case of nudging empathy and caring within our next generations into a more prominent light, one that is accessible to them. Literature is one such way to improve accessibility and these two examples show how cleverly it can be done.

Ella Saw the Tree by Robert Vescio and Cheri Hughes

Picture books on mindfulness abound. This picture book by Big Sky Publishing is particularly special because of its gentle quality and strong connection with the everyday child. There is no overt preaching to relay the suggestion to pause for thought and take time to look around and notice the world. Hughes illustrations glow. Vescio’s narrative flows with an easy grace, reflecting the soul of this story, to remain calm and thoughtful.

Ella loves her backyard and fills her days playing in it but she overlooks the most obvious things at times, like the giant tree in the corner of her garden until one day, as the wind showers her with the tree’s falling leaves, she gets the impression it is crying. Despite reassurance to the contrary from her mother and Ella’s attempts to stem the downpour of falling leaves, nothing can alter nature.

Ella’s mother then teaches her daughter to see things in a different light by learning to sit still, observe, feel and ultimately recognise and appreciate all the many splendours, whether large or minuscule of the world. And this allows Ella to enjoy her world much, much more.

Ella Saw the Tree is a beautiful picture book to share, to keep and refer back to when needed. Whilst it focuses on an individual’s discovery of self-awareness, the implication that we should be more observant and empathetic towards our friends is also present amongst the swirling leaves of Ella’s tree.

Read Romi’s in-depth review of Ella Saw the Tree, here. For more insight into the story behind this story, read my interview with author, Robert Vescio, here.

Big Sky Publishing 2017

Too Many Friends by Katheryn Apel

This lilting junior novel is so on point with readers in this age bracket (6 – 8 years), it’s alarming. Apel reaches deep into the playground psyche of Grade 2s and extracts genuine emotion with the feather touch of verse.

The dilemma of having too many friends and those friends not all liking each other truly does germinate in the junior school years, quickly sprouting into an all-encompassing crisis, at least it can in the eyes of a seven year old. It’s a problem that often continues throughout the primary years as children’s social webs widen and become entangled by their developing emotions.

This eloquent verse novel more than ably addresses this social predicament from the point of view of Tahnee, whose pond of playmates is full to overflowing. How she works on retaining her bonds with friends she already has whilst inviting others she wants to befriend is skin-tingling touching and will no doubt strike a chord with many other children her age.

This third verse novel by Apel has a slightly younger, more playful feel about it than the previous, Bully on the Bus and On Track, which again suits the topic well. Tahnee is a warm, likeable character who epitosmises the concept of a mindful child. She shares her friendship woes with us in a series of short, elegant chapters that almost feel like standalone poems, perfect for readers to spend time with by themselves or as a sensitive shared reading experience.

Too Many Friends positively celebrates mindfulness and friendship for lower primary aged readers, demonstrating the power and beauty of these two concepts through the discerning use of verse. Highly recommended.

UQP May 2017

#byaustralianbuyaustralian

Animal Antics – Part 2

Well the animals still have it. This week we encounter more of their anthropomorphic antics between the covers of a veritable zooful of picture books.

Our Dog Benji by Pete Carter and James Henderson

Although cute and compact, this picture book features the large and lovely antics of Benji, a robust Labrador looking pooch whose insatiable appetite for anything and everything becomes a catalyst of encouragement for one fussy eater.

Our Dog Benji is an animated account of a day in the life of Benji as told by his young owner. Henderson’s duotone illustrations rate highly for their detail, style, and humour illustrating Carter’s understanding of dogs well and their avaricious ways. This handy little book subtly supports the notion of eating well and exploring more food options for fussy eaters.

EK Books February 2017

Monsieur Chat by Jedda Robaard

This little picture book is oozing with charm and the exact sort of intimacy that young readers adore; they are privy to the outcome even if the story’s characters are not. Monsieur Chat is a cuter than cute little ginger puss living among the city roof tops of a French city.

Continue reading Animal Antics – Part 2

Doodles and Drafts – Nick Earls reveals his Top Secrets

word-hunters-and-nick-earlsA few years ago, I had the supreme pleasure of joining a world of word nuts who allowed me to accompany them on hair-raising adventures through time and reason; I discovered the Word Hunters – a trilogy of etymological enigmas by author Nick Earls and illustrator, Terry Whidborne. I carry on a bit about the awesomeness of their series, here. Although Word Hunters is more than satisfying and a dozen other superlatives to boot, I was left wanting more as many exhilarating experiences are wont to make you feel. And so, the trilogy has expanded with the launch of the Top Secret Files.

Top Secret Files is a sort of compendium of loosely connected thoughts and verbal exploration. It’s a journal of notes and taste bud temptations. It’s an explanation of even more philology through brief crisp narrative and pages of eye-catching sketches, drawings, and diagrams. It’s the journal of the great word hunter, Caractacus entrusted to the ancient librarian, Mursili who perhaps a little misguidedly assigns it back to our dauntless duo, Earls and Whidborne.

Today we have the auspicious pleasure of welcoming Nick Earls to the draft table to learn a little more about the custodian of the Word Hunters and how he is dealing with his Top Secret Files.

nick-earls-2017Welcome Nick!

Who is Nick Earls? Describe your writerly self.

Twenty-six books into the job, he’s an unkempt work in progress, growing into the thought lines etched deep into his forehead and still trying to get better each time he writes.

In a former life, your quest was to serve and protect or at least, make people feel better. How does your current occupational goal as a writer compare?

I now wear my underpants on the inside and don’t have a cape. Each job hinges on a connection with people. In medicine, it’s getting to understand them on their terms, so that the story they tell makes as much sense as possible. In writing the kind of fiction I mostly do, it’s about tapping into characters who, when read, feel as though they can’t have been made up. With Word Hunters there are other objectives too – there’s an adventure to be had and a world of mind-blowing words facts to play around with. My goal as the writer of this series is to entertain, but also be part of opening minds to the possibilities of history and the fascinating workings of the language. It’s too easy to fall into the habit of saying that English is a crazy language that makes no sense, but the more you grasp its 1500-year history (plus some back-story) the more sense it ends up making. And the more powerfully you can use it. ‘Night’ and ‘light’, for instance, aren’t spelled that way by chance, or because someone threw darts at a board – there’s a reason for it, and a really interesting one (featuring a now-lost letter), so we wrote about that in the new book.

wisdom-tree-novellasName three titles you have created that you are particularly proud of and why.

It’s not a thing I feel about anything I write. Which doesn’t mean I think it’s all awful – it’s just that ‘pride’ isn’t really the feeling. I love the process of exploring the story and its characters, and how they’ll all work, and then the job of working hard to get the details right and delivering them in a compelling way. If someone gets it, I feel good. It feels as if all that work was worth sharing. Okay, one example: Gotham, the first novella in the Wisdom Tree series. I had two story ideas that I wanted to give to one character, and I thought I could make them work together in an interesting way. So, the first two acts are essentially one of those story ideas, with seeds being sewn for the third, then act three really takes you somewhere, delivers something (I hope) you’re not expecting, and also casts new light on the earlier part of the story. It’s worked just as I hoped it would for quite a lot of people now, and I have to admit that’s gratifying, since I love it when fiction works that way in my head.

top-secret-files-word-huntersIt’s been nearly three and a half years since the Word Hunter series hit our bookshelves. Was a follow up compendium like Top Secret Files always on the cards? If not, what evoked the idea and need for it?

It was Terry’s idea, and he put it to me when we were driving between two schools, doing our live Word Hunters show when the third book came out in 2013. He wanted to do something more visual and less dependent on a big new narrative, and he wanted to explore some of the gadgets we’d included. In that conversation, I realised I’d found some excellent word stuff that I hadn’t been able to include in the other three books, and we came up with the idea of a kind of manual, or ‘a compendium of devices and methods’ as Caractacus rather self-importantly puts it. Living in the Dark Ages and seeing the consequence of knowledge loss, Caractacus puts a premium on knowledge and, unlike the rest of us, has a pipeline to the future. So, this is him trying to keep track of the info future word hunters bring back to him, some of which he adapts for use in his own time. Some of that presented a fascinating challenge. In book three, he’s created lightweight 21st-century ceramic armour for the hunters to fight in, and for Top Secret Files I had to work out how it was made, then work out how to adapt that to processes someone could use on a Dark Ages pig farm. I have to say, that stretched me. Then we paired that with the fun activity of making your own medieval armour from cardboard, using the fascinating terms for each piece.

What can Word Hunter fans expect from Top Secret Files?

Expect the unexpected. You’ll come out of this dressed in armour from the 15th century, making bread from 3000 years ago and able to navigate using the Ancient Phoenician alphabet (or, more correctly, abjad). And who doesn’t want that set of awesome skills? You’ll also understand why we score tennis the way we do, where cricket fielding positions got their names, and how our alphabet found twelve new letters and lost nine of them!

Top Secret Files reads as a combination of loose jaunty exchanges and solid historical fact. At times if feels even more revealing and fantastical than the Word Hunters storylines. (Are all those words that couldn’t be saved as part of the English language real? Sorry had to ask; I’m too lazy to research every groke, fudgel, and curglaff) Why did you choose this style of delivery over straightforward narrative?

Some of the most improbable things in the book are true including, yes, those words that couldn’t be saved (even the one that involves doing a distinctly weird thing to a part of a horse that’s best left alone …). When I was tunnelling around for material, I wanted the facts to be weirder than the fiction, so that the fiction seems all the more plausible.

We had this kind of style in mind from the start, for two reasons. First, not having to build a massive narrative to slip in one brilliant word fact gave us licence to include lots more stuff and focus on it. It would have taken several more of the original books and a lot of complicated storytelling to have created opportunities to use everything we got to use here. Also, Terry was very mindful of creating a different way into the word hunters’ world. This was deliberately compact, really visual and in short sections (with an overarching concept but not an overarching narrative) to provide a way into the world for kids not immediately drawn to 40-60,000 words of narrative.

We wanted to make the original three books accessible by telling the most engrossing time-travel adventure story we could, but this book is designed to increase the accessibility even more. We wanted to create something for, say, 9-10-year-old boys not yet hooked by reading big stories (while at the same time offering fascinating content for people who are). If they get into this, maybe they’ll pick up book one, and then book two and book three. And by the end of that, maybe they’ll have felt that buzz in their head that only books can put there, and they’ll want more. I got into reading as a kid, but Terry didn’t, and this is Terry coming up with the kind of book he thinks might have made a difference to him at that age.

word-hunter-sketchesIllustrator, Terry Whidborne receives equal airplay alongside you, Lexi and Al throughout this journal. What was the dynamic like working with him? How did it influence and or benefit this production?

Terry’s great. We met working on an advertising campaign in 2002. We’re friends and I’m also in awe of his skills as an artist – another reason to do this book: I want publishers and others to see just how talented Terry is.

We each bring very different things to a book like this, and I think that helps make us a great team. We also had a very clear shared vision of what we wanted the end result to be. And it was always clear that we would have the freedom to suggest possible topics to each other, and throw in ideas to get the other one thinking. Terry would say things like, ‘I reckon there would be some kind of portal-sniffing device,’ and I’d have to rummage around for the science to sort-of back it up.

And I’d often say, about something I was working on, ‘I don’t know what this looks like – could you show me?’ and he would. Or I’d say, ‘here’s some great content I want to use, but how do we make it visual?’ and Terry would say, ‘How about a map?’

And he’d hide small things and see if I’d find them. Once you find, say, the ink smudge that’s also a map of Iceland – in context – you realise this book has more Easter eggs than Coles in March. It’s a slim book, but there are about a zillion tiny details in there, and they reveal themselves in different ways.

What inspires you to include or exclude words for discussion in the Word Hunter books? What external forces such as travel for example, influence your writing direction?

This time, I got the chance to use things that had amazed me, but that I wasn’t in a position to devote 20,000 words of narrative to. So, that was fun.

It was very interesting plotting the big story that runs across the first three books, and that create the world that the Top Secret Diary lives in. I needed each of the first three books to be an entire satisfying story, but also part of a whole, and I knew each one would feature three word quests. I also knew I wanted to follow a bunch of different pathways – English is what it is because of that – so I needed a mix of Germanic and Norman French/Latin words and words with very different origins. And I needed to get the characters to certain places at certain times to tell the big story we were telling. That was an awesome puzzle to try to solve. In the case of the last word in book three, I decided I needed something that would take us to the earliest-known book in English, link with an epic Dark Ages battle and get there via Shakespeare and one other interesting step. No easy task. I got there though.

Whose genius was it to include the interactive app, LAYAR for kids to utilise? Do you think this is the way of future storytelling?

That was Terry. The moment he discovered LAYAR, I got fanatical about it. It’s perfect for this book. Perfect. Again, it’s a great way in for someone not rushing to read lots of text, but for whom the idea of using a gadget to reveal hidden content appeals. And no one had more potential hidden content than me. I instantly knew it’d add massively to the reading experience, and I’d get to use a lot more great stuff.

Is it the way of future storytelling? It’s part of it, I’m sure. Technology gives us more tools than we’ve ever had. We just have to be smart enough to use them judiciously. LAYAR would be a gimmick or a distraction for some things, but it’s ideal for this.

On a scale of Never-Do-It-Again to Most-Exhilarating-Audience-To-Write-For-Ever!, how do you rate writing for tween readers? What is most appealing about writing for this age group?

I’m still learning, I think. I’m maybe a more natural writer for adults, but with the right material, time and smart editing, I can end up with something that works for the tween brain, and I’m getting closer to some of the techniques becoming instinctive. Two things are massively appealing about this age group. It’s a huge buzz when a kid comes up to you and raves about their Word Hunters experience and starts sharing some great etymology they’ve dug up. There’s a 9, 10, 11, 12-year-old whose grasp of English, you know, has been altered for the better. I love that. The other thing I really love is going round the schools and doing Word Hunters events. We’ve come up with a show that we can do together or solo that includes loads of visuals, props, games and a lot of noise, and It’s way more fun doing it than I ever thought. Every time I front up to a school with all my Word Hunters’ gear, I’m excited.

word-hunters-the-lost-huntersNow that you and Terry have been entrusted with Caractacus’ archive of Word Huntery (and really really interesting recipes!) thanks to Mursili, and blatantly ignoring all warnings to the contrary, have exposed it to the world, what plans do you and Terry have for the journal? Are more copies likely to appear? In short, what is on the draft table for Nick?

I have a PhD to finish, so no new fiction this year, but in the meantime, I want to make the most of the new material we’ve added to our show and take it around the place. I know that’s technically part of the job, because it might sell some books, but I actually want to do it because of the fun we can have and because of the way it opens a roomful of minds to the prospect of actually looking at our language and how it works, understanding it better and ultimately using it with greater power than most of us grew up being able to. I’ll also be putting in some effort to avoid the wrath of Caractacus. He’s not one to understand that this stuff was just too good to keep hidden.

Just for fun question (there’s always one): Describe a guilty pleasure (of yours) incorporating three words that did not exist before the last century.

Brilliant question. I’ll go as recent as I can. I regularly google (2001, as a verb) idle factoids (1973, invented by Norman Mailer, though the meaning has evolved since) using Bluetooth (1997).

Super! Thanks Nick.

If you reside in Queensland,  you can catch Nick and Terry putting in some effort to avoid Caractacus’ wrath and share their Top Secrets at one of this year’s Book Link QLD’s Romancing the Stars events during March. For details on where they will be appearing (there are Brisbane, Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast venues), and how to book, visit the Book Links site, here.

The Word Hunters Series including the Top Secret Files is available, here.

UQP December 2016

Australian YA: Becoming Aurora and Elizabeth Kasmer

Elizabeth Kasmer’s debut novel Becoming Aurora has just been published by University of Queensland Press. It has a thoughtful, multifaceted storyline and deals with important issues. liz-author-portrait-oval

Thanks for speaking with Boomerang Books Elizabeth.

Where are you based and how involved are you in the YA lit world?

I live in a tiny town in the hinterland of the Sunshine Coast. Over the years I’ve met many aspiring and established writers through the annual CYA Conference in Brisbane, SCBWI (Brisbane and the Sunny Coast) and the occasional visit to the Write Links group. Children and YA writers sure are a warm-hearted and generous lot!

What’s your working background and how else do you spend your time?

My work background is quite varied. I’ve worked for the blood bank as a donor attendant (visiting just about every RSL and local hall in the greater Brisbane area), as a car park attendant and receptionist. When I was a student I worked in a recycling factory and I have also worked as a primary school teacher. Since the birth of my three sons I’ve helped my husband run his home-based business as a construction programmer. Any spare time is usually spent reading, swimming or catching up with family and friends.

What award has Becoming Aurora won?

Becoming Aurora (or, Aurora, as it was then known) was awarded the Queensland Literary Awards, Emerging Queensland Writer – Manuscript Award 2015.

auroraCould you tell us something about your main characters, and the genesis of Aurora’s name?

Rory is grieving the loss of her father and trying to fit in with a group of kids who resent the influx of migrants (known as ‘boaties’) into their town. Jack is a feisty former champion boxer and tent boxer and Essam is an Iranian migrant and boxer trying his best to fit into his new home country.

I named Aurora after a painting that hangs in the Queensland Art Gallery. I was in Brisbane for a meeting with my writing mentor to discuss story ideas when I decided to take the opportunity to stop by the gallery. Inside, I got talking to an elderly man who told me he had been visiting the (Australian) paintings every year since the gallery had opened there in 1982. He said his annual trip was like visiting old friends. I was on my way out of the gallery when I spotted Aurora by Edward Burne-Jones (one of my ‘old friends’). aurora-126x300As I have a niece named Aurora I decided to purchase a postcard of the painting to send to her. On the train trip home I knew the main character in my story was named Aurora by her father after the painting hanging in the gallery.

How do your characters show kindness?

Rory tends to Jack in the aged care facility and takes the time to listen to his stories. Through friendships with both Jack and Essam, Rory learns to overcome her prejudices and preconceived ideas of what ‘old person’ and ‘boat person’ means. Essam teaches Rory how to box.

How is Becoming Aurora a very Queensland story?

The story is set in the (former) sugarcane town of Nambour. I tried to root the story in the landscape, using local features and icons such as the Glass House Mountains, the beaches and the Big Pineapple. The story is also set over the Christmas holidays which means there is plenty of heat, sweat and storms brewing on the horizon.

Have you received any responses from young readers about Becoming Aurora that particularly resonate with you?

Not as yet but I’m looking forward to hearing responses from young readers!

What are you writing at the moment?

A children’s novel also set in Queensland. This story revolves around a river, superstitious river folk, and two friends who live and fish there.

What have you enjoyed reading? deep

I’ve loved so many books this year but off the top of my head, Rebecca Lim’s The Astrologer’s Daughter, Claire Zorn’s One Would Think the Deep and Lian Hearn’s Tales of the Otori are standout reads. I’ve also just finished (and loved) Vigil by Angela Slatter where the world of the Weyrd collides with modern-day Brisbane.

It was great meeting you at the Brisbane Writers Festival and being in conversation on a panel of debut YA novelists with you, Christopher Currie and Mark Smith. What’s a strong memory of that day?

Meeting both yourself and fellow debut writers Chris Currie and Mark Smith for our discussion was a highlight, but my strongest memory of the day was when I went back to the green room to collect my bag before heading home. I slid open the door and inside, waiting to go on stage, was David Levithan, Meg Rosoff and Jay Kristoff! I stumbled into the room, smiling like a maniac and babbling about just needing to get my bag. David Levithan asked me a question, but it was at that point I got tunnel vision, grabbed my bag and backed out of the room, still smiling. I’m kicking myself now because, really, who wouldn’t want to say hi to a trio of awesome authors?

What a memorable green room encounter!

It was lovely to meet you and all the best with your books, Elizabeth.

Review – Little Wing

Little WingAuthor illustrator, Katherine Battersby has flown many miles in recent times, a bit like her latest picture book character, Little Wing. Little Wing catapults the connotation of taking a leap of faith into glowing picture book form that is a pure delight to read.

Little Wing is the smartest animal in the world. He owes his genius to good old-fashioned book learning, that is to say, he reads – a lot. Nearly everything he knows is attributed to the days he spends between the pages of dozens of books bequeathed to his island home by providence.

Little Wing illos spreadIt appears a satisfying way to spend his days; I mean who hasn’t dreamed of reading under swaying palm trees on a sun soaked faraway island as a full time occupation! I’d call that heaven but for Little Wing whose aspirations and yearnings clearly outclass mine, ‘something was always missing.’ So, he sets out to find it.

Turns out, it’s Little Wing’s sense of self that is absent and no matter how many books or alter egos he assumes, none of them provide the right answer, the perfect fit. Until one radiant morning, realisation dawns and Little Wing’s life transforms forever. His social circles are greatly enhanced, as well.

Little Wing illoThe wait for Battersby’s next picture book has been well worth it. Little Wing exudes all the warmth, charm and wit of her debut picture book character, Squish Rabbit whilst introducing fans and new readers to a wonderfully new winsome critter. He is difficult not to love with his little wings and clacky big blue bit (aka his beak). However, what makes Little Wing universally appealing to young and old is his quiet and unquestioning fortitude. Even when faced with one of life’s most prominent and niggling questions: who am I and why am I here? Little Wing diligently pursues the answer until the answer literally flies right over him.

His tenacity tells young people that being one thing is fine but if you want to try other things, new things, then that’s okay too; you just need to be brave enough to pursue your dreams, to make that first leap into the unknown. Youngsters are no strangers to change. In fact the leaps in their young lives are almost always forced and without negotiation: going to school, moving home, surviving decaying family situations, growing up…So it won’t be hard for them to accept Little Wing as someone they can emulate and learn from.

Little Wing is likely to resonate with adults just as strongly. We all want to learn to fly. How many of us really have the courage to look deep within ourselves, take that first big breath, and then, move forward, though? It’s a daunting prospect but like Battersby herself, Little Wing does it with admirable aplomb.

Battersby’s accompanying artwork for this story is nothing short of fabulous. Bland bookish concepts are captured in bold watercolour and pencil illustrations intoxicatingly combined with fabrics, textiles and scanned vintage books. The resultant collage effect is a cocktail of fun and colour. I love it! So does my Miss 10 who spent many joyful moments with me feverishly examining the end pages in an effort to match feather to friend.

Katherine Battersby & Little WingLittle Wing is a picture book experience that sings on many levels but most importantly gives children license to extend themselves and follow their most ardent callings in order to reach true happiness.

Little Wing is available now, here. For those fortunate enough to live in SE Queensland, Katherine Battersby is touring a number of local schools, accompanying Little Wing as he explores his new home.

Little Wing # 2Little Wing is officially taking off this Saturday August 13th at Riverbend Books in Bulimba, Queensland. Join Katherine, Little Wing, and special guest, Peter Carnavas from 10.30 am for lots of fun and feathers.

UQP August 2016

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

 

 

Review – One Would Think the Deep

One Would Think the DeepIf you thought Claire Zorn’s first two YA novels, The Sky So Heavy and The Protected, were brilliant, you’re going to need double tinted Ray Burns for her latest masterpiece, One Would Think the Deep.

Zorn manages to mould rough edged, grit-encrusted reality into exquisite accomplished prose with the mere flick of her fingers. One Would Think the Deep is a story that surges with emotion, confrontation, and ultimately, hope.

If I were to reflect on Sam’s story too deeply, I’d be overwhelmed with the melancholy of it, of him but this is not a tale of woe and hopelessness, in spite of its gently grim beginning. Its sincerity and swagger from the opening lines swept me along and held me afloat until the very end.

Shortly after one fateful New Year’s Eve, Sam Hudson finds himself suddenly orphaned, teetering on the precipice of shock, grief, graduation and homelessness. My stomach filled with sick ache for him as he called his Aunty Lorraine to inform her of his mother’s premature death.

With nothing more than his skateboard and a collection of 90s something mixed tapes (he listens to Jeff Buckley on his Walkman with the same obsession I did to ABBA), Sam lingers uncomfortably in the small coastal town of Archer Point with his aunty and cousins, Minty and Shane. He is caught in a turbulent no man’s land of past boyhood memories and buried family secrets, incapable of finding his fit. Grief and despair are his most loyal companions, second only to his cousin, Minty with whom he spent a chunk of his childhood.

Minty is the laWavetter day version of Taj Burrows, young, gifted, a surfing legend amongst the local crowds. His laconic life views and ability to work any wave endears Sam to the ocean. But it takes a few months before his newfound surf therapy begins to take effect. Despite the elegant monastic simplicity of ‘a life in the water’, Sam’s life continues its complicated hurtle toward (his) self-destruction. He pines for a past he doesn’t fully understand, yearns for the affections of a girl he can barely speak to and is constantly at crushing odds with most of his family members including, Nana. Sam’s emotional dichotomy of good boy battling the bad within is fascinating and heart wrenching at times. It’s impossible to dislike him because of what you feel for him feeling so much.

Sam’s story of hurt and healing is beautifully rendered. Even the most vicious of emotional situations are depicted with refined tenderness so that I found myself weeping emphatically throughout, not just at the end where you’d expect a need for tissues.

Each character is drawn with knife-edge sharpness. Each speaks with a clarity that never dulls. Every sense is heightened by the wrenching complexity of the lives of this very inconsequential, simple group of ordinary individuals. And it’s not just Sam who is damaged and vunerable. Each is noticeably flawed or at least weighed down by their own limitations to a point of exquisite confusion. I loved them all.

It’s not the surf, time, or chance or even family that ultimately saves Sam in as much as they all conspired to also undo him.  It’s that old chestnut love, which I believe is the true nucleus of One Would Think the Deep (the moments between Gretchen and Sam are incomparable).The ability to surf the ‘glistening wake’ of your leviathan fears and laugh about the results with people who love you is ultimately the key to surviving the ride.

If you are experiencing loss and your soul feels displaced, if you have a passion for the waves or you are still in love with the sounds of the 90s, then you must submerse yourself in this book.  I can almost hear Jeff Buckley crooning Hallelujah

UQP June 2016

Claire ZornStick around…in the coming weeks I’ll be chatting more deeply with Claire about her latest work and how she developed such impressive surfing lingo.  Meantime, you can find all her great reads, here.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Getting Serious about Series # 3 – Word Hunters

Word HuntersAll right, so it’s taken me a few years to share these ones but here are three of my favourite books of all time. I can’t even properly explain why but when a tale ticks multiple boxes so satisfyingly and engrosses you so completely whilst doing so, you can’t help but be muted into humble reverence. Ok, perhaps I’m trumpeting up the Word Hunters trilogy somewhat and confusing my metaphors but I reckon this series by charismatic collaborators, Nick Earls and Terry Whidborne deserves a little repeated airplay.

Therefore, from their cloistered position on my bookshelf, I reach for Word Hunters, The Curious Dictionary, the first in this divine trinity. Although in paperback, the book(s) has an alluring, timeless quality to it thanks to the cleverly designed leather-look cover and gilt bordering. But enough about aesthetics. Delve inside and you are immediately met with poetic riddles, dares, and definitions. You get the feeling you are entering hallowed ground, a place where time might lose itself, history may be rewritten and anything you say or do could alter anything you’ll end up saying or doing.

Nick Earls 2Confused yet? Well fear not, for Earls has enlisted the help of 12-year-old twins, Lexi and Al Hunter; to help save the English language and make sense of the fascinating etymological expedition they unwittingly embark on.

The Curious Dictionary, an ancient dictionary created by a chap called Caractacus and used for the last 1500 years by word hunters to protect word history, is the twins’ new Lonely Planet guide. With it they zip back and forth through the ages, hunting down words at risk of disappearing from the language and carefully tracking every step of their evolution in the past in order to keep them alive in the present (the words that is). The time travelling alone is enough to cause a bad case of chundering (the first new fact of many I learnt about time travel) and continually upset Doug, Al’s pet mouse. However, the sharp focus on the at-risk-words is what truly commands attention.

Word Hunters PegThe Dictionary’s definitions of endangered words are benignly simple as are some of the proffered words, hello and water for example. Thankfully (although at times regrettably), we are not over-flooded with threatened vocabulary which allows Lexi and Al plenty of time to visit ancient cities, meet great inventors and survive harrowing situations like the Battle of Hastings. In short, experience a really ripper world tour full of lumps and bumps and strange old men and curious gadgety golden peg things.

These books are pure essence of adventure for tween readers, enticing them into an historical literary experience they might not even recognise being in; the journey is so littered with quintessential Earls’ irreverent wit it is hard to believe we are learning something so vital, at least I felt I was. The historical detail is phenomenal. Moreover, it’s not just about the words.

As Lexi and Al hone their hunting skills and learn to cope with the time-slipping nausea, we are drawn into the engrossing world of UPPER and lower case, the timeline of printing, letter formation and so much more relating to etymology and philology. Now colour me dull, but I found this anything but dull!

Word Hunters Lost HuntersThe Lost Hunters involves more words, more battles, and alarmingly, a search for their grandfather who it turns out, is the lost hunter. Fortunately Whidborne’s beguiling illustrations heavily featured throughout the twins’ travels serve to lighten the mood, and push Earl’s acerbic historical observations (and some very gory situations) merrily along, albeit not so merrily for Doug the rat who firmly entrenches himself in my list of favourite characters in this volume. His contributions to sensory detail are Terry Whidbornepure brilliance.

By the third and final instalment, War of the Word Hunters, Al and Lexi are in full training mode owing to their impending battle with the armed and dangerous grey-robes, rogue hunters determined to thwart word history and so alter its course and irreversibly undo people and their cultures.

Word Hunters War of the Word HuntersThe Word Hunters series is not just a collection of etymological explanations and revelations, (although this was enough to captivate me long into the night), it is a gripping, exhilarating quest through time that at times makes your guts churn with dread and discomfort. The rest of the time, they’ll be dancing because you’re laughing so hard.

I loved all the characters: the good, the bad, the alive, the dead and the ones with unpronounceable names. I loved Earls’ wry union of our sometimes-inglorious past and our social-media ridden present. I loved Whidborne’s flamboyant execution of whimsy (and rats). And I loved the serious provoking of thought Word Hunters conjured and the passion for preserving words it stirred up in me. As Grandad Al said, ‘Every one of us is the consequence of a million flukes of history Word Hunter sketches– who met whom and where they went and what they did.’

It is kind of mind boggling but then, so is the Word Hunters series. Perfect for history buffs, word nerds, 9 – 13 year-olds and rat lovers.

Find all books, here. #ByAustralianBuyAustralian

UQP July 2013

 

 

Books with Bite – YA and MG reviews

Young Adult and Mid-grade novels are being gobbled up by kids and young adults almost faster than they can be cooked up. The exhilarating storylines and make-you-laugh-hate-cry predicaments I discover between the covers of YA and junior novels are repeatedly rewarding, and contrary to the views of some of my adult-only reading friends, capable of imparting deep satisfaction with tales of intense emotion and believable fantasy. These novels tell it like it is, with a no hold bars attitude and formidable spunk that instantly cements our dislike or admiration for the heroes within. They are quick and honest reads to invest in, which is why they are so perennially popular. Here are some you might like to eat up, if you can wrest them off your teenager’s bookshelf.

Mid-Upper Primary Reads

The Vanilla Slice KidThe Vanilla Slice Kid takes the custard-pie-in-the-face gag to a death defying new level. Chockers with slap stick humour and oozing with more pink spew than you can catch in a wheelbarrow, this midgrade novel is sure to crack a smile on the dials of 6 – 11 year-olds. Archie is a kid with envious abilities; he can shoot sweet sticky treats from the palms of his hands. Only trouble is he hates cakes and has a set of parents and one hysterically insane General bent on exploiting his super talent. As the General’s domination of the world draws closer and Archie’s own life hangs in a gooey mess of trifle and fruitcake, Archie must rapidly decide who to trust and what to eat. Deliciously good fun, Adam Wallace and Jack Wodhams know how to whet young appetites. Liberally sprinkled with wacky line drawings by Tom Gittus, The Vanilla Slice Kid is one satisfying read.

Ford Street Publishing October 2015

CrossingCrossing by Catherine Norton had me engrossed from start to finish. This softly dystopian drama is an interesting reflective exploration of the corruption and discord that can develop in human society no matter how long we spend on this planet and an interesting suggestion that history is ever capable of repeating itself. Echoes of WWII communistic control reverberate throughout with the most obvious similarity being the Wall, which separates 12 year-old Cara’s reality from a future she has never dared think about before let alone attempt to strive for. Norton’s gripping narrative echoes with prophetic what ifs, encourages individualism, and reminds us to never ‘let them wall your mind.’

Omnibus Books May 2014

Upper Primary – 14+ Reads

Talk UnderwaterTalk Under Water by Kathryn Lomer is a breezy light-hearted read about a couple of teenagers facing not so breezy light-hearted experiences. Seems talking under water is easier than you think (especially if you are deaf), but talking above it about your innermost desires and trepidations is not quite as smooth sailing.  Life in the teenage world can be ‘as simple and as complicated as that’ accordingly to Will who is wrest from his mainland home to Tasmania on the whim of his disillusioned divorced dad. When he meets Summer, his world begins to brighten, however her reluctance to share her deafness with him for fear of thwarting their budding relationship creates confusion and misunderstanding deeper than the Bass Strait. Written in an expository and introspective style, Talk Under Water is a beautiful observation of being young and being deaf, literally giving diversity a face and voice.

UQP August 2015

OneOne by Sarah Crossan is searingly beautiful. I’m almost lost for words. Poignant, painful and playful, Crossan invites us to spend the end of summer and beyond with conjoined twins, Tippi and Grace. It’s an experience you are not likely to forget in a hurry. Explicit yet elegant, this verse novel has the power to move you effortlessly from mirth to heartbreak with a solitary syllable. Written with sensitivity and extraordinary candour, One is one of the more ‘grown up’ verse novels I’ve read yet possesses all the succinct expressive precision I’ve come to expect and enjoy of them. Crossan examines the one question: what does it mean to want and have a soul mate? Is the battle for identity and dignity worth the loss of sisterhood love? Unequivocally compelling and wrenching and highly recommended.

Bloomsbury Children’s September 2015

YA – New Adult Reads

The FlywheelFurther embracing the notion of diversity is Erin Gough’s *The Flywheel. This upper high school read is LOL funny and tummy turning cringe-worthy (Not because of the writing – Gough’s narrative is prose perfect. More because of the excruciatingly embarrassing and difficult situations 17 year-old Delilah must struggle her way through.)       I had not expected The Flywheel to delve head first into the impenetrable tangles of unwanted responsibility, sexual identity, social expectations and love with such wild abandon nor so entertainingly. Thoroughly absorbing characters, snappy wordplay and enough fraught situations coupled with realistic downers kept me guessing how life was ever going to pan out for Dancing Queen Del. The Flywheel (café) is the type of place I’d like to return to. Definitely worth a visit.

Hardie Grant Egmont February 2015

The Rest of Us Just Live HereIt is near impossible to put into words just how ingenious Patrick Ness’s The Rest of Us Just Live Here is. Ness writes with such acerbic wit and abandon in such an incredibly controlled, dagger-precise way, it actually becomes a sheer joy to be caught in the swirling angst of so many pre-grad teenagers. This is the penultimate tale of the underdog finessed with consummate care and at times an irreverence you cannot help but admire. Ness’s mixed posse of Unchosen Ones led by Mr McOrdinary, Mikey barely have to whisper for attention yet are heard with stinging clarity. They banally attempt to get on with their lives and graduate however, the Chosen Ones’ inability to deal with the Big Bad continually claims their attention. Explosively wicked, you must experience this (Ness) for yourself.

Walker Books August 2015

*You’ll note a fair whack of these terrific reads are by Aussie authors and for some, this is their first novel, made possible by such incentives as The Ampersand Project. When you purchase and read an Aussie title, you are not only supporting the further creation of more awesome stories but you are in no small way ensuring the survival of a distinctly unique and vital Australian industry. Read all about Boomerang Books commitment to #ByAustralianBuyAustralian here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DOODLES AND DRAFTS – Carrying on with Sam Wheeler and Mister Cassowary

Australia is home to some exceptionally strange flora and fauna. The ubiquitous tropical heat of Far North Queensland seems to accentuate oddities and none typifies unique peculiarities more vividly than Australia’s heaviest flightless bird, the Cassowary.

Sam Wheeler 2Beautiful yet deadly, the Cassowary is a natural magnet of mystery and misinterpretation so naturally is a prime candidate as the main character in Samantha’s Wheeler’s latest children’s adventure, Mister Cassowary. Wheeler meshes misinterpretation of our native fauna extremely well with action packed, character driven, and emotionally sensitive adventures for readers seven and above.

City bred Flynn, is on a mission to Mission Beach in North Queensland with his dad to ready his deceased Grandad’s decrepit banana farm for sale. He’d rather be anywhere else than stuck in this sweltering sultry backwater with a father he seldom sees and barely knows.

Then he meets Abby and two baby cassowaries that slowly help him peel back the layers of mystery surrounding Grandad Barney’s death and his relationship with Big Blue, the meanest, largest, scariest Cassowary in the district.

Mister CassowaryJammed with intrigue, adventure and more cassowaries than you will find in Australia Zoo, Mister Cassowary is an exhilarating and absorbing read for primary schoolers and animal lovers. I’m rating it as high as or higher than her debut novel, Smooch and Rose, on my got-to-read-animal-story list, and Smooch and Rose was sterling.

Today we trek down its creator, Sam Wheeler and discover even more about the enigmatic Cassowary.

After growing up rescuing animals, Samantha studied Agriculture, worked with farmers, and taught science. Writing children’s books inspired by nature, she hopes to prove that ‘anyone can make a difference’.

Welcome to the draft table, Sam!

Who is Sam Wheeler? Describe your writerly self.

I’m an animal lover and crave the outdoors, green spaces and nature. Given a choice of shopping in New York or trekking Blue Mountains, I’d choose the Blue Mountains any day.

Your books for children centre on animals endemic to Australia. Why is this element important in your writing?

My background is in biology and science, which gives me a strong interest in the environment, and when I hear about what’s in store for our precious wildlife, I feel driven to write about them. They say write what you love, and writing books about animals gives me an excuse to spend more time with the things I love. It’s all about the story I want to tell.

How did Mister Cassowary’s tale evolve?

Smooch and RoseWhen I was writing Smooch & Rose, I was working as a tutor with the Ronald McDonald Learning Program. One of my students had to give a PowerPoint presentation on an endangered Australian animal, and having chosen the cassowary, he asked me for help. But I didn’t know anything about cassowaries! As soon as I found out that the males raise the chicks, the story started swirling in my head.

Mister Cassowary addresses various sub themes such as the FIFO father son relationship. Why do you think this holds significant relevance amongst your young readership?

I loved the parallel: the way the male cassowaries are so close to their young chicks versus human fathers who, because of work and other reasons, can sometimes be absent and distant towards their sons. I think many children whose parents work a lot, or travel away, have felt like Flynn. They may relate to his feeling that his dad doesn’t know who he is, and what he’s capable of.

Do you actively research each of your stories before you write them? What is the most mind-boggling thing you have learnt during the writing of Mister Cassowary?

Yes, I love the research! I travelled up to Mission Beach (North Queensland) twice to research Mister Cassowary, and would go again in a heartbeat. The people up there are so passionate about this beautiful bird, and are trying so hard to save it. I learnt so many interesting things: cassowaries don’t have a tongue, they can swim really well, they can run up to 50km/hour (which is why you shouldn’t run if you see one) they were the most treasured gift an emperor or a king could receive. I also think they can tell the time. Up at Mission Beach, a local cassowary turns up at the local dump at one minute to 10 every morning. The dump opens at 10!

What is the hardest part about giving life and soul to stories like yours?

Making sure they aren’t too preachy and the characters are believable. I have to make sure they’re real people, not just tools to push the issue.

What is on the draft table for Sam?

Exciting times! Two more ‘animal’ books are in the making, plus another special story about a girl who can’t talk.

Just for fun question (there’s always one): If you could be any Aussie animal, which would you be and why?

I wouldn’t mind being a willy wagtail! They always look happy and cheeky, and imagine being able to fly!

spud and CharliOh I can, Sam, I can! Thanks for today. May your flightless bird take off for you, as well!

Mister Cassowary is out now and features in Boomerang’s Kids’ Reading Guide 2015-2016. A perfect stocking filler solution!

University of Queensland Press October 2015

 

Meet Cass Moriarty, author of The Promise Seed

 

Thanks for talking to Boomerang Books, Cass.

We met almost by coincidence at the recent Brisbane Writers Festival although I had heard about you through a mutual friend and had already read and admired your debut novel, The Promise Seed.

Promise seedThe Promise Seed (UQP) is your first published novel. How did you get published – an agent or through the slush pile?

I have been fortunate enough to have had a rather exciting path to publication. The first major encouragement was in 2012 when, through the Brisbane Writers Festival’s program ’20 Pages in 20 Minutes’ I was given 20 minutes of one-on-one critique and advice on the first 20 pages of the manuscript with Farrin Jacobs, then an Editor at Harper Collins UK. The following year, I submitted the completed manuscript to the Queensland Literary Awards, and was shortlisted in the Emerging Author category. As part of the prize, I was awarded 25 hours of mentorship with an experienced editor. I was lucky enough to be connected to Judith Lukin-Amundsen. Her thoughtful criticism and questions played a huge role in strengthening the structure of the manuscript and readying it for submission to University of Queensland Press, who then offered me a contract. Madonna Duffy and the team at UQP have provided me with incredible support and advice along the way.

So…no agent OR slush pile!

What is the significance of your title, The Promise Seed?

Each child is born innocent and vulnerable, entirely guileless. Each child is born full of promise. How that child develops depends on so many factors – physical environment, social nurturing and community support. What sort of adult that child grows into depends on the opportunities and love and care that are devoted to his or her growth – much as with a seed that will not sprout and grow without the right environment. Many of us are so lucky in the circumstances of our birth – we are born into a country without conflict or poverty; or born a gender or race that is ‘socially acceptable’; or have advantages and opportunities available to us that we accept as our right in the natural order of things. So many children do not have those advantages, and their promise is stunted before it really has a chance to grow.

Where are you based and how does this impact on the setting of your novel?

I spent my childhood in Stanthorpe, and I live and write in Brisbane. The Promise Seed is set for the most part in south-east Queensland. The sense of place is quite important in the novel because the old man feels a strong connection to the places of his youth. They are inextricably linked to the events of his past and the memories of his family.

For the boy, the sense of peace and calm he finds in the old man’s garden counterbalances his mother’s peripatetic lifestyle; it feels more like ‘home’ to him than the series of shifting houses and relationships to which she has exposed him.

cass-mor

You portray both an old man and a neglected (and worse) young boy. What inspired these characters?

The Promise Seed is very much driven by the two main characters. I recall quite vividly the day I sat down and wrote the first few pages – the old man’s voice was very strong in my head – and those pages have changed little from that day to this finished publication. The old man was perhaps a conglomeration of many elderly people I have known and respected in my life: my grandparents (I still have one grandmother alive, who is 107!), elderly neighbours, and others in my community. I find it fascinating to consider the lives these people have led, throughout world wars and other conflicts, depressions, and the many societal changes that have become commonplace as the years have passed. I think we sometimes forget the richness of the lives they’ve led.

The boy is also representative of the many children like him, who grow and develop despite the lack of love and care they should be afforded. Many years ago, I was a volunteer for Crisis Care, the after-hours section of the Department of Family Services, and I have no doubt that this has informed this aspect of my writing, along with topical issues such as the Child Protection Commission, and current investigations into institutionalised abuse. I strongly believe that how we care for and protect our most vulnerable is a mirror that reflects our society’s empathy and compassion.

How do these two connect in the novel?

The boy creeps slowly into the old man’s garden, and eventually into his heart. They connect through simple pursuits – gardening, playing chess, chickens – usually through the old man teaching the boy about these things. Older people have a lot to offer young people; even if they don’t have specific skills or talents, they are able to impart the wisdom of the life they’ve lived and the experiences they’ve survived.

Conversely, young people can offer older people youthful enthusiasm, naivety, and open, unsophisticated trust. Children can remind their elders of what it is like to be genuinely excited in the world.

Despite their differences, the lives of the old man and the boy intersect through their common experiences of betrayal and abandonment, and through their shared trauma. As the story progresses, the similarities between the past and the present become more apparent.

Life can be very hard. What would you like to see childhood as being?

This is an interesting question; it appears quite simple but is actually very complex, because of course the goal posts shift depending on who you are talking about. If you consider children in developing countries, I would most like to see them provided with clean drinking water, shelter and safety, and enough food and medical care. Those would be the priorities. In countries like Australia, we often take those needs for granted (although of course, we do still have families who struggle, particularly Indigenous children who still lack some of those basic provisions).

But in general, if we move beyond those primal needs, I would like to see all children be provided with the intellectual stimulation and support to engage their critical thinking; I would like children to feel safe and secure in their family and within the relationships they have with the adults that surround them; I would like childhood to be a place that nurtures tolerance, compassion, empathy and an acceptance of difference. I would like childhood to be a greenhouse for all those seeds of promise that are born every day, an environment where each child can learn, love and flourish, and grow to become a happy and well-adjusted adult member of our society.

I would like to see more insight into the needs of our children, and how they can be enabled to get those needs met, whether that’s through their own families, through external circumstances, or even through coincidence.

Your writing is assured, and lyrical in parts. Could you quote a few sentences or extract from the novel you are particularly pleased with and tell us why?

This extract actually follows on quite nicely from your previous question:

‘I thought about the luck of the draw in where you’re born, and where you end up. You draw the short straw, and what shred of hope do you have of a normal life? If you’re born someplace with none of the advantages that others take for granted, how do you get along in life? And if you don’t know any different, how can you hope for something better? How can you have a shot at what’s possible if you don’t even know what’s possible?

The families I saw around us gave off the simple comfort of loving and being loved. Of having the security to hope and the confidence to dream.

My sister had no chance to hope. No opportunity to laugh and grow and play. To love, to mourn, to take risks, to try. And my wings were clipped early too. No choice in the matter.

The boy…what does he hope for? Where does he dream? How high will he fly without someone to show him the way?’

I think this encapsulates one of the themes of the novel – the chances life gives us, and what happens if life snatches them away.

How else do you spend your time?

Well, I have six children, so that answers that question!

I cherish spending time with my husband and our children, and with our lovely circle of dear friends. And I love to read!

What have you enjoyed reading?In the Quiet

I am a voracious reader and also write reviews on the books I’ve read, which I publish on my facebook page. Some of my recent reads by Australian authors which I have thoroughly enjoyed are ‘The Other Side of the World’ by Stephanie Bishop, ‘In the Quiet’ by Eliza Henry-Jones, ‘The Strays’ by Emily Bitto, ‘The Eye of the Sheep’ by Sophie Laguna, ‘The Night Guest’ by Fiona McFarlane, ‘The Light Between Oceans’ by ML Stedman, ‘This House of Grief’ by Helen Garner, ‘All the Birds, Singing’ by Evie Wyld, and ‘The Narrow Road to the Deep North’, by Richard Flanagan. Some of my favourite authors are Kate Atkinson, Rohinton Mistry and Boris Akunin.

So many books, so little time!

All the best with your new book and thanks very much, Cass. Your responses are generous and thoughtful and reflect the high quality of your writing.

It’s been a pleasure talking ‘writing and reading’ with Boomerang Books. Thank you so much for inviting me to participate!

Eye of sheep

Poetry here and on the way

Subject of feelingAustralian readers overlook poetry to our loss. Fortunately there are a number of excellent publishers who publish poetry either exclusively or as part of their list.

Many of our literary awards have poetry sections and these remind us that poetry deserves attention. The Queensland Literary Awards shortlist, for example, will be announced this Friday, 11th September.

Australian publisher Puncher & Wattman has a fantastic crop of poetry appearing between August and the end of the year. Highlights are John Tranter’s twenty-fourth collection, Heart Starter (August). This showcases old and new poems, some of which speak harshly about the nature of ‘poetic insight’. Philip Hammial, who has twice been shortlisted for the Kenneth Slessor Prize, had Asylum Nerves published in August. Anna Kerdijk-Nicholson’s very topical Everyday Epic about asylum seekers and reconciliation will be launched in Sydney in September. CLOUDLESS_Front_grande

UWA published The Subject of Feeling by Peter Rose (ABR Editor who appeared at last week’s Brisbane Writers Festival), and Happiness by Martin Harrison in August and will publish Cloudless, a verse novel by Christine Evans in September.

UWA Publishing and creative writing journal Trove are also co-hosting quarterly Sturmfrei poetry nights. “Sturmfrei” is a German word for “being without your supervisors or guardians and therefore being able to do as you wish.” The idea is that UWAP and Trove have fled the UWA campus for the wider Perth community for nights of poetry, conversation and ideas.

On BunyahOn Bunyah, follows Les Murray’s recent Waiting for the Past (both Black Inc) in October. Les has lived in Bunyah all his life. We were fortunate to host Les Murray in our home when he spoke at our inaugural ‘Be Inspired’ series, which aims, as the name implies, to inspire our friends and family. Our other presenters have generally been from the arts, including singer Kate Miller-Heidke; theatre company, Crossbow Productions; and authors Nick Earls and Shaun Tan. Our other poet/author inspirer was the esteemed David Malouf.

Best Aust Poems

Black Inc’s Best of Australian Poems 2015, edited by Geoff Page is also eagerly anticipated in October, as is Falling and Flying: Poems of Aging, edited by Judith Beveridge and Susan Ogle and Idle Talk – Gwen Harwood Letters 1960-1964. (both Brandl & Schlesinger).

My husband received Judith Beveridge’s Devadatta’s Poems (Giramondo) for Fathers’ Day, as well as former PM Poetry award-winner John Kinsella’s Sack (Fremantle Press).Devadatta's poems

Giramondo will publish The Fox Petition by award-winning Jennifer Maiden in November. “The fox” emblemises xenophobia and Maiden’s signature dialogues between notable people reappear. She also used this powerful structure in Drones and Phantoms and Liquid Nitrogen.

In case you missed them, UQP recently published Eating My Grandmother by Krissy Kneen and The Hazards by Sarah Holland-Batt. These writers also appeared at the recent Brisbane Writers Festival and both have won awards.

Robert Adamson was another popular figure at the BWF. He discovered poetry in gaol as a young man and his most recent publication is Net Needle (Black Inc). Just goes to show the power of poetry.Net Needle

Doodles and Drafts – On Track with Kathryn Apel

KatApelAn aphorism by Will Rogers has been rattling around on my train of thought recently: ‘Even if you are on the right track, you will get run over if you just sit there.’ One author who has not only found her right track but is chugging along it at an impressive pace is, Kathryn Apel. And with the recent release of her second verse novel, On Track just a year after her first, Bully on the Bus, Apel has certainly found her rhythm.

Both are extraordinary, breezy reads about not so light and easy life issues, eloquently told without a trace of tangled description. Each word reverberates with emotion, yielding characters of tremendous depth whose flaws are presented as poetically as their triumphs.

The thing you immediately notice about verse novels is their subtle power to deliver the weightiest message with consummate feather touch. Happy to report, both Apel’s novels reflect this promise.

Bully on the Bus follows the emotional downslide of seven-year-old Leroy, almost silenced into submission by the bully on his regular school bus route. Apel explores both the external extremes and internal conflict Leroy endures until he finally finds the courage to be a ‘bully-tamer’.

KatApelOn Track On Track looks at the relationship between siblings, Shaun and Toby; one with the ability to turn anything he touches into gold, the other a self-professed failure living in his brother’s shadow. Once the real reason for Toby’s weak links are identified however, he learns how to shine and in finding his own inner strength, ironically helps his brother, Shaun understand himself better too. Being imperfect is hard, but living up to the expectation of perfection is no walk in the park either, as this story so beautifully articulates.

There is plenty to cry over and love in these two novels. Apel allows her characters to endure uncomfortable situations that encourage them to hide behind bravado in order to cope or else withdraw into silence. Rather than let them flounder for the answers on their own, she nudges them in the right direction; shows them the safe places to head to for help and how to ask for it, so they are ultimately able to resolve their own problems. A purposeful message of empowerment if ever there was one.

Curious to know what keeps Kathryn Apel on track herself, I invited her to the draft table for quick chat. Here’s what she had to say.

Welcome Kathryn!

Who is Kathryn Apel? Describe your writerly self.

I’m that awkward balance of private person, public words. D.W. Winnicott said it so well, ‘Artists are people driven by the tension between the desire to communicate and the desire to hide.’ Writing is like peeling skin away to expose bones and pulsing heart – flaws and vulnerabilities. But I do it. Sometimes cringing. Always hoping that my words will resonate and make a positive difference.

What is your most outrageous writing goal (not yet achieved)?

Oh. Heh. Let’s go really outrageous and say book to movie. I don’t know if it’s a goal as such – more an impossible dream. But PlaySchool happened – and I’d never imagined that. (Kathryn’s picture book, This is Mud was read by Justine on Playschool in 2010! DP)

Why did you choose to tell Bully on the Bus and On Track in verse instead of straightforward prose?

KatApel Bully on the Bus Bully on the Bus started life as a chapter book. As I was mulling over it, I read my first verse novel – and loved it. Had to try one! I started writing what I dubbed (for many years) my ‘verse novel about training’, but had only written 139 words when I got a little overwhelmed and put it away. (I’m not a planned writer, so this ‘put it away’ stage happens frequently during my writing process.) It was at that stage that I took my ‘completed’ chapter book to my crit group. And there the strangest thing happened! A critter-buddy made a suggestion about the placement of some words in the text… and in that moment I realised that Bully on the Bus wasn’t the chapter book I had written, but the verse novel I wanted to write.

Turning the chapter book into a verse novel was one of the most exquisitely right things I have ever done. (So right, that I started at 10pm that same night, and kept going until my eyes wouldn’t stay open about 3am.) Once I started, there was never any doubt that it was meant to be a verse novel.

And I’m happy to say that the ‘verse novel about training’ did get there, and is now called On Track.

As to why verse? I love that writing in verse lets me find my voice and express things that I don’t think I could say, in a novel. My picture books tend to be quirky, humorous tales (though there are a few serious MSs in my files) – but my verse novels are all heart.

Do you find it natural writing in this style or is it harder to convey what you want in verse? What elements, if any do you have to sacrifice or conversely, incorporate to produce a winning verse novel?

I’m a very disciplined rhyming poet/picture book author. But rhyme can tangle your brains into a seething pot of worms – whereas free verse unravels the snarls and lets the story flow.

To me, there is no sacrifice in writing free verse. I often hear comments like, ‘After the first few pages I forgot it was a verse novel …’, or ‘Don’t be put off by the fact it’s a verse novel …’ – like it’s a bad thing to be a verse novel. But that’s usually followed by positive comments – that are perhaps twice as nice given their reservations in the first place.

As to what elements to include? Verse novels are almost illustrations with words. As in – your words ARE the illustrations. Consider your readers – their ability to make meaning from your words – but be adventurous. Let the words dictate placement and alignment, so that they speak for themselves. When I read verse novels, the words almost take shape in my mouth.

But don’t forget physical character descriptions. And setting. I say this, because I do. Forget them.* Often! I get caught in the emotions and character development, and forget about physical attributes/descriptions. And writing them in later feels very much like tip-toing through the kitchen with a soufflé in the oven.

* At which point I stop and think and realise there’s not a skerrick of character description in my current verse novel WIP … and it’s 7142wrds long. (?!)

This is MudMany of my farm raised relatives devoured crates of books each month as their main source of entertainment. As a country kid yourself, what stories from your childhood have stuck with you as an adult and how have they influenced the kinds of tales you want to share now as a writer?

I was over-the-moon elated when I found a tattered copy of ‘The Cow that Fell in the Canal’ at a library cull recently. I loved this story – and was given it on my graduation from Preschool. So sentiment was running high that day!

When I was in Yr 3 our teacher read ‘Emma’s Story’ by Sheila Hocken, to our class. I remember being very moved. I may even have sobbed. And been saddened for days. But I also remember it as a special story.

And I was an Enid Blyton girl. When I was in Yr 7, our Librarian culled all Enid Blyton books from the school library! I brought multiple Enid Blyton books to school and friends did the same, then we shared them amongst classmates to read in protest in the library – slumped around in beanbags and on the carpet. (For some, it was more about the protest, than the books, but their support was appreciated!)

I loved getting to know characters in a series – and having them stick around for a long while! Pollyanna, Nancy Drew, Trixie Beldon and Elizabeth Gail were some faves. I think because of their ability to make a difference – for good.

I can’t believe I didn’t appreciate Dr Seuss until I was an adult … but it’s a sad truth.

What’s on the draft table for Kathryn?

Always so many things on the go – but the one that’s taking the most time at the moment is another verse novel for early readers – this one about friendships. On the surface it sounds sweet and light, but as with friendship it’s a balance of the good and bad.

And there’s another rollicking rural rhymer getting some attention, too.

Just for fun question (there’s always one!): If you could be any animal on the farm, what would you be and why?

The dog. Because dogs have such a joyful presence. They get in there and help, but their emotional engagement, affection and connection is their biggest asset.

Thanks for including me on the Boomerang Books Blog, Dim, and for the intriguing questions. I’m off to lightly sprinkle some character descriptions through that friendship WIP.

Fabulous, Kathryn! As are these books. Be sure to have a look soon.

UQP May 2014 & June 2015

 

Far out Fathers – Picture books to share with Dad

I bet your dad is not like other dads. It might be nice to remember this on Father’s Day – yes it’s just around the corner, but with fab picture books like these celebrating the quirks and qualities of fatherhood available now, why wait.

My Amazing Dad My Amazing Dad by the very amazing Ezekiel Kwaymullina and Tom Jellett team is a robustly illustrated, no nonsense close –up look at all of the pluses and minuses that are the sum total of fathers everywhere. And by ‘no nonsense’, I mean, hilarious. This picture book is rather like a collective expose of truths. Kwaymullina might well have spied on my own husband to gain these insights; the narrative rings so true!

For two children, a boy and a girl, their dad is not the best plumber, baker or time keep in the world but he can turn everyday normal into extraordinary exciting, simply by being himself and loving them; a trait unique to dads around the world. You’ll be laughing and nodding in agreement all the way to the end.

Little Hare Books – imprint of HE 2015

Time for Bed DaddyTime for Bed, Daddy by author illustrator Dave (Cartoon Dave) Hackett, is not as benign a bedtime story as the title suggests. For one, Daddy is behaving like petulant child and is painfully reluctant to perform the designated bed-time rituals required of him; having a bath, brushing teeth, changing into his jarmies and so on. It’s enough to test the patience of a saint let alone one little girl determined to get the job done.

Hackett’s turnaround tale and brilliant cartoon-esque illustrations are seriously kid friendly and provide plenty of comic spoof for parents as well. A rip-roaring read creatively flipping the cajoling and convincing routine that takes place at bedtime. Good to whip out when things are not quite going your way – or your child’s way! Pure enjoyment!

UQP August 2015

Fearless with DadDads can make you feel invincible. It’s possibly the best gift they pass onto their offspring. Fearless with Dad by Cori Brooks and Giuseppe Poli, is a beautiful affirmation of this notion.

A little boy’s world abounds with a strong sense of optimism and adventure based on the can-do relationship he shares with his father. Together they ‘travel to the moon and back’, ‘can do anything and be anything’ simply because of their instilled shared belief in themselves.

Poli’s illustrations are as stirringly positive as the evocative text. I was especially struck by the contrasting balance between pages with lots of white space denoting realisation and those of full glorious colour depicting actualisation of all the boy’s wondrous feats.

Fearless with Dad is a picture book about self-awareness, resilience, and endless possibilities with love at its core.

New Frontier Publishing July 2015

The very Noisy BearNot all dads are space heroes or saints, however. In fact, some can be downright cranky – like a bear. If you know one like this, why not offer him this little bit of fun, or perhaps slip it under his bedroom door on Father’s Day then run like crazy.

Nick Bland’s Bear is back, this time as The Very Noisy Bear. His old mates Moose, Zebra, Lion and Sheep and their rather loud jungle music, prematurely awaken bear one day. Some fathers will be familiar with this experience. Rather than risk raising Bear’s ire, they invite him to join them. Bear swaps his pillow for drums, then guitar, then the trumpet but playing instruments with any aplomb is not really Bear’s forte. The band mates decide to capitalise on Bear’s ‘awfully strong lungs’ in order for him to save face and them their sanity.

Perfect for reading aloud and sharing with sensitively souled, outwardly vexed fathers searching for their true inner voices.

Scholastic Press July 2015

My Pop is a PirateAnd just because nannas and dads shouldn’t have all the fun, make way for the laugh-out-loud second picture book by Damon Young and Peter Carnavas, My Pop is a Pirate.

As left of field as Young’s former exploration of grandparenthood, My Nanna is a Ninja; Pirate Pop celebrates a little girl’s relationship with her grandfather and his swash-buckling standout differences from other pops.

He may be peg-legged, one-eye and prone to shark attacks but he shares the same love and devotion for his granddaughter as any other pop.

Carnavas’s pop portrayals are sensationally silly; echoing the refreshing absurdity of Young’s playful rhyming text.

Ninja Nanna even makes a furtive cameo appearance. Rollicking good fun and a perfect gift to get grandad grinning.

UQP March 2015Cranky Bear

Happy Father’s Day dads!

Cartoon Dave and Cori Brooke will be launching their books this month at Where the Wild Things Are in Brisbane. For info, dates and bookings visit their site.

 

 

 

Meet Kathryn Apel, author of On Track

Kathryn ApelMeet Kathryn Apel, author of On Track (UQP)

Thanks for talking to Boomerang Books, Kathryn. Where are you based?

I’m based in Queensland – most often in the Gladstone/Bundaberg Region.

What’s your background in books?

I haven’t always been a writer – but I’ve always been a reader!

As a teacher, books have always been an integral part of rich classroom units. Everything is linked to a book! This then carried over to my parenting – sharing that love of literature and literacy with my kids, and learning so much from their interpretations and engagement.

I thought the title of your new book, On Track, very clever. What does it refer to?On Track

Thank-you! I always think of the title as the ultimate short story. Ideally, it captures the reader’s attention, but also encapsulates the story in a nutshell.

A major theme of the story is the boys’ sporting pursuits, both on track and in the field. Both boys also struggle with self-worth and identity – as sibling rivalry clouds their perceptions of self. So they’re getting on track in pursuit of their sporting goals and in their interactions with each other.

How did you make brothers, Toby and Shaun’s voices distinct from each other?

Initially it helped to model their voices off kids I have known, who shared similar personalities. That way I got the right inflection of confidence/uncertainty. Before long, Toby and Shaun started to speak for themselves, because I know them so well. (Especially after 6 years of ‘writing’ (or not) the story.)

What sort of children would you like to see reading this book?

Because of the dual narratives – and the two very different perspectives – I think the story actually speaks to different people in different ways. And I like that – because it’s very much about empathy and understanding differences.

The verse novel structure also tends to reach two completely opposite ends of the reading spectrum. It engages/enables struggling readers, because the whitespace and alignment removes clutter from the read. But also extends/enriches able readers, because of the literary devices employed.

Of course, being a sporty book, I’m hoping that sporty kids will also enjoy the read!

Your adult characters are very supportive. How did you craft them?

I’ve been blessed by knowing some very beautiful people; who value kids, and invest time and heart into helping them achieve their best – at their individual levels. I hope that’s come through in the book. They’ve inspired many of the characters.

Sometimes I think, being a parent and a teacher, you encounter/experience both sides. That doesn’t mean you always agree with everything – but you have an insight into why some decisions (and mistakes) happen.

 Why have you used the verse novel form?

Bully on the Bus This is actually the first verse novel I started to write, after falling in love with the verse novel format. (Bully on the Bus just snuck in … and out … in the middle.)

To be honest, I actively set out to write a verse novel, to play with the form and see if I could do it. I chased down an idea that I thought would fit the format, and the story developed from there. I hadn’t realised the theme (training/sports) would grow to encompass so much (self-worth/sibling rivalry/acceptance) – or that the story would grow so long!

The beauty of verse novels is that, because they’re mostly written in first person, and because they’re almost distilled words and emotions, you step right into the characters’ shoes. Their heartaches become your tears, their insecurities become your introspections, and their achievements become your joy.

The first verse novel I read was an epiphany. The more I read them … the more I write them … the more I talk about them … the more I love them!

What else have you written?This is the Mud

What I’ve had published is;

a verse novel (Bully on the Bus).

a rhyming picture book (This is the Mud)

a chapter book (Fencing with Fear)

I’ve also written a squillion other picture books – and have two other verse novels that are works-in-progress.

All the best with your book and thanks very much, Kathryn.

Great questions, Joy. Thanks so much for inviting me onto the blog.

And here’s a link to the book trailer http://youtu.be/rkJsFSCT1Ec

Fencing with Fear

Review – A Curry for Murray

A Curry for Murray It is no secret; I am a glutton for a great plate of nosh. I love looking at it. I love preparing it. I love sharing it. And, I love reading about it. This is why I could gobble up A Curry for Murray by sensational new picture book team, Kate Hunter and Lucia Masciullo again and again. It simply is delicious!

Murray, Maureen, and Molly are neighbours. One day, Murray has some bad news. And what does one do when neighbours are in need? Why, they cook for them, of course.

With all the spirit and zeal of a junior Master Chef, Molly cooks up a storm, beginning with a curry for Murray. Her repertoire quickly expands into a mouth-watering menu of kindness with dishes for her best friends, family, pets, and even royalty. Until one day, an accident forces Molly to hang up her apron and accept kindness in return from her neighbours.

Curry for Murray illo spreadA Curry for Murray is a veritable feast for the senses. Clever word play and some incongruous combinations of dishes, exotic locations and occupations, brilliantly blends the concepts of being kind unto others and exercising charity together while introducing young palettes to many varied styles of cuisine. It’s fantastic to see the Toad in the Hole represented alongside Singapore Noodles!

Kate HunterHunter’s luscious and eclectic narrative not only tickles the tastebuds with its cute rhyming rhythm but also takes readers on a gastronomic tour that far exceeds Molly’s neighbourhood. However, we all know, we eat with our eyes, so it’s little wonder that the utterly delectable illustrations of Lucia Masciullo will have you drooling all over the place.

Masciullo’s watercolour and pencilled drawings ingeniously breaks down each concoction into its core components. Children are able to identify each ingredient of the dish and may even be inspired to recreate it themselves. What better way to encourage clean, healthy living.

Lucia Masciullo 2Masciullo defines herself as a ‘visual explorer’. A Curry for Murray takes this description to the nth level of satisfaction for me. Details such as a scattering of herbs, pinches of cayenne pepper and pasta glistening with olive oil are inspired and leave me salivating for more.

Fun, thought provoking and sumptuous. A Curry for Murray is a picture book with three Michelin star appeal.

Consume your copy here!

UQP  April 2015

 

 

Reviews – YA fiction addiction

YA stackAccording to teen author, Charmaine Clancy there are a few issues that rate more highly than others for teen readers of YA fiction. These include problems dealing with: sexuality, freedom, relationships and friendships, social power, anger, fear, risk taking, social responsibility and bullying, to name a few.

The following YA titles represent modern day takes on common reoccurring teenage dilemmas, ticking at least one or more of these boxes. They are all highly recommended reads for young people plummeting into puberty and new belief systems as they navigate the next course of their lives. All riveting, well-crafted stories that will leave your nerves tingling, your heartbeat racing, and your tears well and truly jerked. Enjoy!

Intruder Intruder by Christine Bongers

I ripped through this one like a dog on steroids at an agility trial. Terrific. Gutsy, three-dimensional characters displaying equal parts humility, vulnerability, and bravado while tossing around some cracker one-liners people this teenage angst-y tale about losing and finding.

Kat Jones is left exposed and violated after an intruder invades her home. Feeling alone and isolated after the earlier death of her mother, she must rely on her despised next-door neighbour, Edwina, and Hercules, Edwina’s ugly canine companion to overcome her current dread and face her former demons. Fortunately mutt love and new bloke on the block, Al all help to rebuild Kat’s fragile lines of defence.

Christine Bongers writes with dramatic heart and unabashed confidence. Her reference to devils-on-horseback was a marvellous slingshot back into the 70s for me too. Great that teens can be entertained and educated in one fell swoop of the pen. A pure pleasure to read. Teenage somethings will suck this up.

Woolshed Press imprint of Random House June 2014

Bleakboy and Hunter Stand Out in the Rain Bleakboy and Hunter Stand Out in the Rain by Steven Herrick

Eleven year-old Jessie is a boy with seemingly insurmountable problems not least of which is accommodating his square-fit self into the round-fit ideals of his communal-based school and community. Local bully, Hunter complicates the mix further until enterprising, Kate rallies with Jessie to ‘Save the Whales’ and inadvertently, Jessie’s sense of humanity and place.

Delightfully, Hunter proves that even the most malignly misunderstood antagonists can be real modern day heroes when ‘some things are too big for (one) boy to solve’ alone.

The conclusion was a little soft and spongy however, a sense of optimism as sweet as bubble bath fug hung about long after the end. Slightly eccentric, more than a little funny, warm, tender, and witty. The back cover blurb does not do this story justice; it meandered on a bit but I don’t think that will stop upper primary aged boys and girls thoroughly enjoying this sometimes acerbic, mostly uplifting read. I certainly did.

UQP May 2014

Sinner Sinner by Maggie Stiefvater

This is the fourth book in the immensely popular Shiver series. I can’t comment on the first three having dived into this instalment without preamble or past research, but found it stood proud and solid on its own and at no point whatsoever did I experience any confusion or wonder what had taken place previously in the lives of main protagonists, Cole St Clair and his love interest, Isabel. Like the storyline itself, they and the characters surrounding them are crafted with stinging conviction.

Cole has a secret that only a select few are privy to. He is the epitome of a genius, self-abusing, addictive personality, overachieving rock star whose Achilles heel is Isabel, a girl with a macadamia tough exterior he is desperate to crack. How Cole sheds his former demons and absolves his misdeeds with the help and hindrance of those he meets under the surreal light of California is page-turning material.

Stiefvater masterfully tells Coles and Isabel’s story in a raw and powerful way that often leaves you chuckling at their darkest hours. Thrilling stuff for older teens.

Scholastic Australia August 2014

State of Grace State of Grace by Hilary Badger

‘A utopian rose in a bed of dystopian thorns’ is a fairly accurate description of Hilary Badger’s (aka H.I. Larry of the bestselling Zac Power series) first venture in YA fiction. From the first sentence, an unsettled, creepy air descends upon the reader beautifully obscured by a veil of lush garden-of-Eden idealism. Since her creation, Wren has lived an idyllic life in a perfect paradise with life-loving companions and a deity like no other to worship, Dot.

However, not all is as ‘dotly’ as it seems (per the local non-negative lingo of the inhabitants of Dot’s Paradise). When cracks begin to appear in Wren’s memories and belief system, she and fellow creation, Blaze must decide whether to confront their horrid pasts or succumb to an unreal future.

A disturbing and illuminating combination of our not too distant future lives that rests lightly on friendship, authoritarianism, blind faith, and facing truths. There are zillions of twists, some no bigger or harder to appreciate than a butterfly but most are comfortably homed in a solidly built world thanks to Badger’s bright imagination. 14 + year olds will enjoy the mystifying experience A State of Grace provides.

Hardie Grant Egmont October 2014

 

More about the 2014 Prime Minister’s Literary Awards

PureheartIt is commendable that recent Prime Ministers have continued the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards even though, as with some other literary prizes, its future has often seemed under threat. It is a prestigious national award amongst the also-important state and other literary prizes. And it is lucrative, with winners receiving $80 000 and shortlisted authors $5 000 – the latter amount equal to winners’ prize money in some other awards.

The complete shortlist is listed here: http://www.pm.gov.au/media/2014-10-19/2014-prime-ministers-literary-awards-shortlists-0

I’d like to make some additional comments on some categories and specific titles.

It is excellent to see that poetry has its own category here, as in other awards. There is a thriving Australian poetry community and publishing output that readers might not be aware of. As a starting point, explore the Thomas Shapcott Prize, an annual award for emerging Qld poets, which reminds us of the exquisite poetry and prose of venerable Shapcott himself.

The fiction category includes the delightful Fiona McFarlane’s The Night Guest (Penguin: Hamish Hamilton), which may have been shortlisted for as many recent awards as Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North (Vintage). Australian writers and readers are still celebrating his well-deserved Man Booker Prize win, almost as though we won it ourselves. Moving Among Strangers

Gabrielle Carey’s Moving Among Strangers (UQP) about Randolph Stow and her family appears in the non-fiction category. I chaired a session with Gabrielle at the BWF several years ago and was interested then to hear about her research on this important Australian poet and novelist.

Merry Go Round in the Sea

Shortlisted in the history category, Clare Wright has been scooping awards for The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka (Text Publishing). She is also a knowledgeable and entertaining conversationalist.

The Young Adult fiction shortlist deservedly emulates some other YA awards, affirming Melissa Keil’s debut, Life in Outer Space (Hardie Grant Egmont), The First Third by Will Kostakis (Penguin) and The Incredible Here and Now by Felicity Castagna (Giramondo). It is great to see Simmone Howell’s edgy Girl Defective (Pan Macmillan) and Cassandra Golds’ groundbreaking Pureheart (Penguin) included. But where is Fiona Wood’s Wildlife (Pan Macmillan), which won this year’s CBCA award for Older Readers?

I have blogged about some of these books here: http://blog.boomerangbooks.com.au/what-will-win-ya-book-of-the-year/2014/07

Most State Awards have a children’s category, although it is inexplicably missing in the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards. Children’s books are the foundation of our publishing industry – and keep it afloat. If our children are not encouraged to read, who will buy and read books in the future? How literate will Australia be? Most of the PM children’s shortlist has been appearing on shortlists across the country this year, reinforcing the quality of these books. Barry Jonsberg’s My Life as an Alphabet (Allen & Unwin) has been straddling both the children’s and YA categories. This, as well as Kissed by the Moon by Alison Lester (Puffin) and Rules of Summer by Shaun Tan (Hachette) have already won notable awards. It is great to see Julie Hunt’s original fantasy, Song for a Scarlet Runner (Allen & Unwin) appearing on yet another shortlist and Bob Graham, Australia’s world-class author-illustrator, has done it again with his latest picture book, Silver Buttons (Walker Books).Song for a Scarlet Runner

Review – Sylvia

SylivaLike many, I have a vegie plot. It’s small and handy, full of kitchen herbs and beans mostly. It’s sustaining too albeit not so much for me, but to a host of garden creepers, crawlers and sliders. Long ago, I succumbed to the ‘live and let live’ theory, having exhausted beer and egg shell supplies to wage further battles against one of the most sluggishly sinister of backyard pests, the garden snail. Sylvia, the second picture book by author illustrator, Christine Sharp suitably celebrates my life style choice.

Sylvia is a tiny terrestrial pulmonate gastropod mollusc aka garden variety snail. She inhabits the gigantic vegie garden of Simon Green with whom she is smitten beyond reason. She adores Simon, her love for him running deeper than her predilection for his ‘buttery beans and luscious lettuces’. Alas, the object of her ravenous desire sees only the result of her absent-minded obsession: ‘munched mushrooms and holey kale’, which for Simon amounts to the unforgivable wilful destruction of his market stall sales.

Sylvia illos 1He is determined to stomp out the perpetrator. Sylvia slogs on downhearted but undeterred. She finally hits upon a priceless piece of marketing prowess; she takes to the air to broadcast her love for Simon and in doing so unwittingly, raises unmitigated demand for his vegetables.

Simon’s feelings towards Sylvia morph; ultimately blossoming into adoration, although I’m not sure his affection for her is one hundred per cent true love or a more lusty mixture of gratitude and admiration for her determination and incidental promotional assistance. Either way, harmony amongst the fruit and veg is restored in this feel-good tale of love and yes, live and let live doctrine.

Christine Sharp 2 Sharp dedicates Sylvia ‘for the growers, gardeners and lovers of green’, but kids aged 3 – 6 years and above will get a kick out of the swirling text and close up, eye-level drama taking place in the vegie patch, enriched by Sharp’s animated, eat-me illustrations. Presented without a hint of gloss on matt, buff brown pages, each vegetable and invertebrate detailed adds a dynamic, organic quality to the story. Edible species are easily identifiable however children not familiar with ultra-fresh produce, the kind that comes with roots or grows on vines, can easily match narrative descriptions with the cross-section, above-below-ground pictures Sharp includes.

Carrots and coloured chards zing; purple-hearted cabbages hum under the moon’s midnight glow; all begging to be gobbled up, which Sylvia does – a lot. Particularly pleasing is the spread depicting how parsnips, beetroot and broccoli can actually be transformed into bowls of steaming soups, succulent salads and delectable smoothies, providing solid positive visual links for youngsters and promoting healthy attitudes. Great ‘thinking-outside-the-vegie-box’!

Sylvia illos 2At the very heart of it all is Christine’s great love of nature and sustained organic gardening. She states that, “In a world of large-scale commercial food growing practices that are often unkind to our health and the health of the planet, growing at home or buying from the local growers’ market can promote wellbeing and create community, while taking care of the Earth.’

For kids who find wonder where adults often only see wilt and woe, Sylvia is a marvellously refreshing avowal that tiny things really do matter. Makes me kind of, sort of, almost love snails too – well Sylvia at least. Snap up this garden fresh release here.

UQP September 2014

 

Review – Spud and Charli

spud and CharliDoes your imagination ever run wild? I bet kids will have no difficulty answering this one and for me that answer is still an empathic, yes! Horse-obsessed Charli finds it difficult to rein in her run-away imagination too in Samantha Wheeler’s new novel for primary-aged readers, Spud and Charli.

This story gallops full speed from the first page to the last and reminds me of my intense desire to own a horse of my own at Charli’s age. Being short on grass, (our backyard was a dustbowl) and unable to persuade my parents to invest in anything equine, I rigged up the dog’s lead to my bicycle handlebars as reins and rode for hours around an imaginary gymkhana in our backyard. It was an engineering and imaginary success, which thankfully Charli does not have to resort to because she is allowed to attend horse-camp and realise a dream come true; ‘to learn to ride a real, live horse!’

Nevertheless, dreams rarely come true easily and when camp show-off, Mikaela, snaffles the palomino Charli has her heart set on, she is crestfallen. Charli is relegated to Spud, an over-sized, unattractive ex-racehorse. It’s not the start of the stellar riding career she’d hoped for however Spud’s soft nature soon insinuates itself in Charli.

Not only does Charli have to adapt to the rigours and routines of horse care and the chequered, challenging personalities of her riding mates, she also has to contend with a newfound fear – bats.

Fruit bats surround the property filling Charli’s nights with disquieting noise and her heart with fear. She’s heard they spread disease and can kill horses and with her imagination galloping straight out of the paddock, she is convinced that Spud is in grave danger because of them. Not only are lives threatened, but Mrs Bacton, the camp organiser wants to cancel the gymkhana.

Are bats as deadly as Charli believes and if not, how will she persuade Mrs Bacton that she really does deserve a place at the riding comp?

Sam Wheeler 2What I loved about Wheeler’s debut novel, Smooch and Rose, was the bright and breezy way Wheeler portrayed a story big on heart and moral understanding. Spud and Charli is similar in its delivery with a little less eye-prickling emotion but just as much raw reality and enthusiastic narrative fluttering with enough funny and shocking moments to rein young readers in.

Charli is a character many young girls in particular will catch glimpses of themselves in whether they are horse mad or not. Her journey of self-awareness and gradual understanding of the truth about bats is neither too predictable nor obtuse. I am confident young readers will get Charli and admire her overall spunk and drive. It would be fantastic if more members of our society were as well informed (about the fruit bat / Hendra Virus situation) as Charli eventually becomes.

Spud and Charli is as entertaining as it is significant and for this reader who grew up in FNQ (far north Queensland) amongst thousands of flying foxes feasting nightly on our backyard pawpaws, it is a positive, feel-good story about two of my favourite mammals.

FruitbatsExtra golden horseshoes awarded to Charli who revisits after the story’s end to take us through some excellent info pages on interesting bat facts with no nonsense advice and useful online links; beautifully dispelling ugly myths while at the same time carefully educating our next generation of nature lovers. A joy to read in its own right, this book will serve well as a valuable prompt for classroom projects and discussion.

For those residing in SE Queensland, be sure to trot into Riverbend Books and Teahouse this Friday the 12th September for the launch of Spud and Charli. Plenty of room to tie up dobbin at the door. 6 pm. Or you can secure your copy of Spud and Charli right now here.

UQP September 2014

Doodles and Drafts – On a Quest with Rosanne Hawke

9780702253317Tales of aid working in disaster-ravaged lands may not be the first thing young readers reach for. However, Rosanne Hawke’s junior novel, Kelsey and the Quest of the Porcelain Doll is a captivating mixture of enchantment and adventure with the added bonus of being rich in cultural awareness and humanity, attributes Hawke is well known for.

Almost nine year-old Kelsey is plucked from her comfortable Australian existence and ‘stuck in Pakistan’ after her parents decide to help the flood victims there. She misses her friends and her Nanna Rose, and regards her temporary confinement within a remote country village as something of a jail-sentence.

Fortunately, first-world modern conventionality co-exists comfortably alongside third world simplicity and Kelsey is able to keep in touch with Nanna Rose through Skype and emails. Through these media, the two of them conjure up a whimsical tale about a beguiling porcelain doll called, Amy Jo who is searching for love and a place to call home. Amy Jo’s quest takes her through jungles, over waterways, and in and out of many hearts and hands until she finally discovers her true destiny and becomes intrinsically entwined with Kelsey’s own fate.

Rosanne HawkeFinding ones sense of place and belonging and feeling loved and appreciated are emotions every child will have little difficulty identifying with. Just how Rosanne Hawke manages to do that through the eyes of a doll is about to be revealed. Today, I welcome her to the draft table.

Q Who is Rosanne Hawke? Describe your writerly self.

I read a lot, think about things and love to write. If I don’t write I can become downhearted. I journal in order to work out who the characters are and what they are like. My research often goes in to the journal as well. Images help me with ideas and so I like to cut and paste (Always have since I could use scissors). Sometimes I draw (not very well). I like to go to a place which will be the setting of my story as it’s the fine detail like a flower or a certain animal that lives there which can bring a genuineness to the story, and it’s easier for me to visualise as I write. It isn’t always possible – I couldn’t go to Afghanistan when I wrote the Borderland series but I met many Afghans in Pakistan and poured over National Geographic issues and spoke to people who had been there.

Q You’ve written a varied collection of stories for children. Name some of your favourites. Why do you regard them as standouts?

Kelsey and the Quest of the Porcelain Doll as it is my youngest novel in print and gives young readers a taste of culture and adventure with a link to Australia. Also Zenna Dare for YA as it explores reconciliation on many levels and is set in Kapunda. There is so much of my family and myself in the book as is in The Messenger Bird, which is actually set in my house.

Q You were partly inspired to write about Kelsey by stories about lost things and being found like, The Lost Coin, The Velveteen Rabbit and The Tin Soldier. How strongly did Amy Jo want to be heard and have her tale written about? What makes her story special?

Amy Jo plaitsAmy Jo was lost and wanted to find someone to love her even while she was lost herself. What makes her story particularly special is that my daughter’s real doll is named after a person called Amy Jo who was my daughter’s friend. Years later Amy Jo died in childbirth and my daughter said how nice it would be to write the doll stories that I told her about Amy Jo when she was nine and to dedicate the book to the memory of the real Amy Jo.

Q I particularly enjoyed the way you dedicated different chapters to different characters depending on which part of Amy Jo’s adventure or Kelsey’s story we were in and who was telling it. How important was it for Amy Jo to have her own voice? Do you think this makes her quest more believable?

Yes, I think readers would want to know what Amy Jo was thinking and doing, so I put the storytelling in different chapters. Also I thought this may be less confusing for younger readers than having it all together in one chapter.

Q Your stories are often set in distant lands, introduce young readers to peoples and places, and food and customs they may not have encountered before or fully understand. How important is that for you as a storyteller? Why?

Firstly I loved stories set in diverse places when I was a child; secondly, because I lived in the Middle East I miss it and so tend to write about it. Also since I am interested in it I may hear or read of a topic like trafficking or a forced marriage and want to write to give a voice to children in the world who don’t seem to have one at the moment. In setting a story outside Australia I hope readers will be able to ‘see’ the characters and experience where they live, and discover that although the setting and problems are different the characters are not so different from themselves. In this way children may discover that knowledge dispels fear. I also write books set in Australia, especially with Cornish themes, as I am a fourth generation Cornish-Australian descendant.

Q Kelsey is an appealing character for 8 – 12 year-olds. Would you like to see her mature through further adventures or do you prefer to write stand-alone stories?

MustaraThank you, I usually write stand alone stories and because so much goes into them, they usually feel finished to me. When I wrote The Keeper I knew there was still unfinished business so when readers asked for a sequel I did so. There are three books now in The Keeper series. I had this same feeling about Mustara. The end papers show Taj and the explorers setting off which is a new beginning, so that’s why I wrote the novel: Taj and the Great Camel Trek.

Q What’s on the draft table for Rosanne?

I am finishing a children’s novel about an immigrant girl from Cornwall set in 1911 who comes with her family to farm in the South Australian Mallee. It’s a huge difference from Cornwall and she doesn’t like it. For YA I’m working on a novel about a high school girl in Pakistan who is accused of something dreadful.

Just for fun question: Have you ever encountered the Headless Nun whilst wondering around Kapunda?

No, I haven’t, but Kapunda has a ghostly reputation because of the mines and tunnels under the town. I live in a house with underground rooms too but so far it’s just us here.

Sounds thrilling nonetheless, thanks Rosanne!

Read a full review for Kelsey and the Quest for the Porcelain Doll here.

UQP June 2014

 

Pakistan for Children – Kelsey and the Quest of the Porcelain Doll

 

9780702253317It is rare to find an exceptional novel for children with the current emphasis on YA literature rather than on children’s books. Kelsey and the Porcelain Doll by Rosanne Hawke (UQP) is an exceptional Australian book for younger readers. With her background of living in Pakistan as an aid worker, Hawke has incorporated cultural and lifestyle details authentically into a perfectly formed story.

8-year-old Kelsey moves temporarily to Pakistan with her father who will help the people rebuild after a flood and with her mother who is a nurse. Pakistan seems like an alien place to Kelsey with its Bollywood music, mudbrick houses and ‘charpai’ woven beds. She particularly misses her afternoon teas with Nanna Rose. During their Skype sessions Nanna Rose, with additions by Kelsey, tells the story of a porcelain doll which is bought by an elderly lady and sent a long way by airmail. She is checked for bombs by customs, grabbed by a dog, dropped into a flooded river, stolen by a monkey and cared for by a couple of children.

The chapters about the doll, Amy Jo, alternate with chapters about Kelsey who has made a friend, Shakila, and is becoming part of life in her remote village school. She is able to demonstrate spoken English to help the students and asks her class in Australia to help raise money for pencils, exercise books and medicine. Even though Kelsey is comparatively rich materially, Shakila is rich in family, with multiple relatives. Rosanne Hawke doesn’t shy away from the gritty reality of life in Pakistan. One of the school girl’s sister drowned in the flood and the water shouldn’t be drunk – a problem for Kelsey when she saves Shakila’s little brother from the river. Urdu words are used thoughtfully throughout the book, and are also explained in a glossary. And Kelsey reads an ebook about a ‘girl who disappeared into paintings on the wall to save her family in the past’. (This book is outed in the ‘Acknowledgements’ as The Four Seasons of Lucy McKenzie by Kirsty Murray – an outstanding book published in 2013 which won the Children’s category of the Aurealis awards). In creating this tale, Hawke has also been inspired by The Tin Soldier, The Lost Coin and The Velveteen Rabbit and the illustrations have been thoughtfully drawn by award-winning Briony Stewart.

Review – Perfectly Poignant Picture Books Part One – Here in the Garden

Grief by any measure can be overwhelming. The grief one experiences after the loss of a family member never more so, even if that member happens to have whiskers and furry ears.Here in the Garden

Who knew I’d still be grieving the loss of my dog so intensely four months on? That the thinnest memory of him could unveil a mountain of yearning and loss and cause small avalanches of tears – again and again.

Then one of those inexplicably perfectly timed encounters in life happens; I read Briony Stewart’s picture book, Here in the Garden.

Briony with WinstonPenned after the loss of her beloved pet rabbit, Winston, Here in the Garden is more than an inspired cathartic exercise. It is an exquisitely crafted passage-of-time tale that allows ‘anyone who reads it (a) way back to a loved one through (their) heart and (their) memories’.

A young boy loses his special friend, a pet rabbit and wishes fervently that they were still together in his garden. Seasons slide by with the passing of time yet his yearning never diminishes. The boy’s present day feelings are sensitively juxtaposed with each new season and the past memories they reawaken of his days shared in the garden with bunny.

Briony Stewart Stewart’s heart-felt narrative is poetic and poignant and at times a little tear-inducing. The evolution of the seasons is beautifully measured by her splendid illustrations; most notably, the stirring string of pencilled line drawings at the end leading us and the boy beautifully from grief to resignation to jubilation of better days. By the end of story and the passing of a year, the boy comes to realise that whilst not everything we hold precious and dear in life can remain with us physically, memories are forever.

Here in the Garden is ultimately a moving yet magnificent and uplifting testimony to life and that wondrous salve of all hurts, time. Older readers will need tissues. Younger ones will cherish the joy and hope hidden within just as easily as they will locate the leaf-shaped bunnies drifting throughout this book.

Highly recommended for healing and hope-seeking.

UQP April 2014 Available here, now.

Don’t put those tissues away yet! Stick around for Part Two of Poignant Picture books when we cast a look at The Stone Lion.

 

 

 

Review – My Nanna is a Ninja

With its incongruous title, brazen bright yellow cover and be-speckled bun-toting nanna leaping straight at you, this picture book is hard to ignore. I was suitably intrigued and barely aware of the smile creeping across my face as I picked it up. I don’t know many ninja nannas you understand. Actually, I don’t know any, but I am now busting to meet one.

My Nanna is a Ninja My Nanna is a Ninja introduces readers, young and old, to one of the most fearless, funkiest, formidable, and flexible nannas you’ve ever met. Author and illustrator team, Damon Young and Peter Carnavas are one of those combinations that work. Together, they have fashioned a laugh-out-loud picture book that captures the very essence of Nanna-Dom without once pigeon-holing our ideas of the beloved grandmother.

Damon YoungAlong with Peter Carnavas’s playfully contemporary illustrations, Damon Young delivers several colourful renditions of the modern day grandma. Some dress in blue. Some sing out-loud in their cars. Others are into high adrenaline pastimes. But our young narrator’s nanna demonstrates her love and affection for him in less conventional ways.

She dresses in stealthily black, eats with swords and prefers to juggle ninja stars to watching TV soaps. Yes, she is one nifty nanna, brought beautifully to life by Young’s cheeky rhyming text.

Young’s aim to find ‘just the right word for just the right image’ is commendably achieved. He sets the reader up comfortably by comparing three different nannas, each baking apple pies and reading books but then roundhouse kicks nanna-normality into oblivion with nanna-ninja’s extraordinary behaviour. However, we are never left feeling she is anything other than a worthy and loving grandparent, just like any other, only different. Here, black is different and different is cool and kids can’t help but admire that.

Peter CarnavasCarnavas’s gleeful illustrations match the spare text and provide plenty of extra colour and comedy. I love his interpretation of various nannas, at once unique and familiar. And I don’t think he will mind me comparing his own inimitable style with that of Bob Graham’s, which I found quite brilliant.

My Nanna is a Ninja is a breath of fresh air celebrating the difference and acceptance of nannas that will ring happy bells with primary school aged readers lucky enough to have grandparents. But I bet, Nanna’s everywhere will develop a case of the chuckles when they read this picture book as well.

Whether you are a nanna, nonna, grandma, nanny or gran, make My Nanna is a Ninja the next picture book you share with your grandchildren.

JonathanWant to see more of Peter Carnavas’s work? If you are in SE QLD, take the kids along to the Black Cat Café and Book shop for the launch of another of his inspired picture books, Jonathon, Sunday the 30th March.

UQP March 2014

 

Double Dipping – Two ‘Small but Special’ Reviews

This month’s double whammy review is courtesy of UQP. From their impressive collection for younger readers comes two new titles certain to cause a stir for primary aged girls in particular; Smooch and Rose by Queensland author Samantha Wheeler and Chook Chook Little and Lo in the City by Wai Chim.

Smooch and RoseA rose by any other name would smell as sweet as…strawberries.

Like many other SE Queenslanders, I live in a fairly koala sensitive area. Over the last decade or so, the bushland the koalas call home has been more and more frequently indiscriminately removed to accommodate our urban sprawl; a subject you can’t help but be a part of. We all desire to live in this beautiful part of the world as much as they, the koalas, need to.

Smooch and Rose is the tale of one girl’s courageous and staunch attempt to stand up to the big guns of development in hope of keeping at least part of the koalas’ habitat intact.

Orphaned school girl, Rose, may be awkward and less than dazzling at school but in the presence of animals, she shines. Being a wildlife carer is her greatest desire and after rescuing a baby koala and accepting the guidance of wildlife carer, Carol, Rose inches one step closer to her dream.

KoalaSmooch, the baby koala so named because he loves to snuggle, soon invades everyone’s affections. Even after he is released back into the bushland fringing Rose and her Gran’s strawberry farm, he continues to supply Rose with friendship and happiness.

However her contentment is shattered by the news from her real estate uncle, Malcolm, that she and Gran must sell their beloved farm. Sadly, no amount of delays and setbacks can stem the tide of progress and Rose is devastated to hear that it’s not only her home at stake but Smooch’s as well.

The bulldozers soon move in heightening Rose’s desperation and resolve. It becomes a tense fight against time and the developers for Rose but she perseveres in her pursuit to save everything she loves.

Samantha Wheeler Samantha Wheeler has a natural, fluid narrative style, used effectively to weave a tale rich in inspiration, hope, drama and, strawberries. Animal lovers, conservationists and plucky eight year olds alike will adore this feel good, do good story with its gentle but firm undercurrents about the virtues of tenacity especially in matters concerning the future of our environments. Generously endorsed by Deborah Tabart OAM, CEO Australian Koala Foundation and including thoughtful guidelines and useful websites for helping koalas and native animals, Smooch and Rose should be compulsory reading for 7 + year olds and featured on all classroom bookshelves.

Chook alert!

Chook Chook Little and Lo in the CityAddressing the same age group but set in a vastly different land and culture is the second instalment to Chook Chook Mei’s Secret Pets, Chook Chook Little and Lo in the City. This time Mei’s two beloved chooks, sweet hen, Little and larrikin cockerel, Lo, accompany young Mei to the city of Guangzhou, China, in the wake of her older brother, Guo’s departure from their village farm.

Mei’s sense of stability is challenged when her widowed mother decides to marry the one-eyed butcher. The reality of a new Dad, brother and their accompanying menagerie of pets is too much for Mei, who flees with her chooks in search of Guo.

Mei’s unfamiliarity with the big city soon sours her plans of independence and reunion. By chance, she teams up with a young runaway named Cap. Together they navigate their way around Guangzhou’s questionable characters and complicated metro system until finally, Guo is located in the University at which he studies.

Wai ChimBut travelling with chooks and someone you hardly know is not as easy as Mei imagined. Can Mei salvage Guo’s grades, Cap’s sense of security and her own diminishing inner peace from this tumultuous experience? Fortunately, Wai Chim manages to find a miracle for Mei and her feathered friends. Chim’s astute use of cultural authenticities, drawn from her own Chinese-American background, gives the Chook Chook books a pleasing depth and sincerity. Heart strings are genuinely pulled when Mei struggles against mounting odds and with her brother’s love. Funny bones are seriously tickled by the incredulous antics of Little and Lo.

I love chooks and am very partial to noodle soup with barbequed pork, so it was not hard for me to enjoy Chook Chook. Feed your curiosity and enjoy it too.

Both books ideal for confident 7 + year old readers.

Available for purchase here – Rose / Chook

UQP out now.

 

Just a Girl

Jane Caro’s amazing Just a Girl captures the fear and confusion, Queen Elizabeth 1 must have felt growing up as a teen in an environment where nobody could be trusted and beheadings were commonplace.

Just a Girl is historical fiction that tells a true story with elegance and sensitivity. It’s a novel for young adults detailing Elizabeth’s life up to the time she became queen.

Even though there is so much death and sadness surrounding the young Elizabeth, Just a Girl is an optimistic read. Elizabeth doesn’t give up hope that things will get better and she learns to handle the complexities and treachery of the world around her. She faces the circumstances of her birth and her life with courage and understanding.

From the moment her father, Henry V111 executes her mother, Anne Boleyn, Elizabeth is forced into competition with her sibling Mary and later, Edward for their father’s love. She is also in competition with them for the throne of England.

Even if you’re not a lover of history, you’ll be captivated by Elizabeth’s story. Without her intelligence and wisdom beyond her years, Elizabeth would not have survived the plots to get rid of her and the insecurities and treachery of her own siblings.

In the gilded corridors of the royal palace, enemies she couldn’t see – as well as those bound to her by blood – plotted to destroy her.

I loved the title of this book – its layers of meaning. Elizabeth has already lived a lifetime, even though she is ‘just a girl’. She also has to endure prejudice and opposition to her goal never to marry, simply because she is ‘just a girl’.

Author, Jane Caro has deftly crafted Elizabeth’s character. Elizabeth’s voice is authentic to the time in which she lived, and so believable that it draws the reader in, making you feel as if you really knew this young royal.

It was also fascinating to see other well known characters come to life on the pages of this book, and to be introduced in such detail to the era in which they lived.

Just a Girl is rich in language and setting, and full of historical detail that is both surprising and intriguing. Although the story is based on actual events that the reader may know the outcome of, there is still page turning tension to keep you hooked till the last page.

This book could be enjoyed by both teen and adult readers. Just a Girl is published by UQP

 

 

REVIEW – TAJ AND THE GREAT CAMEL TREK

I’ve always had a fascination for Leonardo da Vinci and camels. Leonardo, I understand – the camels, I can’t explain why. Perhaps it’s because camels are such a good example of nature’s ability to create animals with incredible skills and characteristics that enable them to adapt so well to even the harshest environments. How can an animal survive so long with such meagre food and water? For me, camels are a constant source of wonder.

Okay, so you know I love camels. So it probably comes as no surprise that I was enthralled with Rosanne Hawke’s new book, Taj and the Great Camel Trek from start to finish.

The book chronicles the adventures of explorer Ernest Giles on his second attempt to cross the Australian desert.

The expedition is based on historical fact and Rosanne has obviously done an incredible amount of research as demonstrated by the double page spread of sources and research materials quoted at the back of the book.

It’s rich in history, but Taj and the Great Camel Trek is told through the eyes of a fictitious character, Taj, the twelve year old son of the group’s cameleer.

It’s Taj’s perspective that makes this story so accessible to kids. Taj is desperate to be chosen for the trek with his beloved camel, Mustara but he soon discovers that an explorer’s life is nowhere near as glamorous as it sounds.

Taj and the Great Camel Trek has a strong narrative arc but it’s also an accurate account of Australia’s early exploration.

Seamlessly interwoven with the story of the expedition is Taj’s own personal journey and his discovery of family secrets and what really happened to his mother.

I love this kind of book for the fact that it teaches the reader so much about history and the human spirit without them realising they are learning. For the reader who doesn’t want to delve below the surface, Taj and the Great Camel Trek is a cracking adventure.

“wild dogs, scorpions, poisonous snakes and a constant shortage of water mean they are never far from disaster.”

This book also a tribute to the Afghan camel drivers who helped explore Australia and the beasts who endured such hardship on expeditions.

Taj and the Great Camel Trek informs and entertains. It is a captivating read for adventure lovers, historians and readers who simply enjoy a study of interesting and well crafted characters.

Taj’s voice is so strong that I found myself living inside his head as I followed his journey.

This exciting story by award-winning author, Rosanne Hawke depicts tough times in Australia’s history.

Taj and the Great Camel Trek is published by University of Queensland Press for 9-13 year old readers.

 

TAJ AND THE GREAT CAMEL TREK

Me riding a camel at Kings' Canyon

Anyone who knows me well will know that I have a fascination for camels so this week I couldn’t resist celebrating two great books for kids on just that subject.

Today, Rosanne Hawke is visiting Kids’ Book Capers to talk about Taj and the Great Camel Trek. I’ll be reviewing her book later on this afternoon at Kids’ Book Capers.

She is the author of 17 published books and consistent themes in her books seem to be about displacement and culture –  covered in Taj and the Great Camel Trek

ROSANNE’S TIPS FOR WRITERS

1.  Be persistent – if you feel this is what you were born to do, then keep practicing, reading, learning the market.

2.  Never compare your work to another’s unless it is to learn something for there’s a place for all of us as long as we’ve done our best. Comparing only leads to a lack of confidence and jealousy. When you read a book that is better written than yours, thank God for the talent of that writer and learn.

ROSANNE TALKS ABOUT AJ AND THE GREAT CAMEL TREK

What inspired you to write this book?

After I wrote Mustara, the picture book, I’d look at those beautiful end pages that Robert Ingpen painted and I’d think, This story isn’t finished yet.

What’s it about?

It’s the story of Taj and Mustara joining Ernest Giles exploring expedition to Perth in 1875 and what happens on the way.

What age groups is it for?

Ten plus.

Why will kids like it?

It’s an adventure, it’s exciting, and it’s basically true, except for Taj.

Can you tell me about Taj and what you like/dislike about him?

Taj is a twelve-year-old boy with an Afghan dad and an Irish mum. He does have a problem as he can’t come to terms with his mother leaving. He thinks she didn’t love him. This makes him a bit wary of making new friends and he can get a bit solemn at times. But there are other characters who teach him a lot about loosening up.

Are there any teacher’s notes, associated activities with the book?

Yes on my website there are teachers’ notes and other info. I’m still putting more of this up. UQP and Penguin also have the notes on their sites.

Is there something that sets this book apart from others?

It is totally based on a true event and I have tried to show the culture, language and thought processes of Taj and the other members of the expedition faithfully.

What did you enjoy most about writing this book?

Getting to know Taj better – he’s really nice and likes Emmeline so much. It would be interesting to see what they do when they are older.

What was the hardest thing about writing this book?

It was very difficult getting the balance of history and fiction right so that it would be an exciting read for modern kids. It took me four years to write.

Thanks for visiting, Rosanne and sharing your journey with us. This afternoon, I’m reviewing Taj and the Great Camel Trek here at Kids’ Book Capers.