I Want to Be Something – Picture Books with Inspiring Characters

Children have their whole lives ahead of them to do and be whatever they desire. Whether or not those wishes seem achievable, let’s encourage their dreams and aspirations and teach them that obstacles are an important part of the journey. Here are a couple of inspiring picture books that support the notions of following your heart and striving to reach your goals.

Eric the Postie by Matt Shanks is an adorable story about a little echidna stamping his mark on the small township of Wattleford in outback Australia. His ancestors, as seen in Eric’s own Hall of Fame-type gallery, had all achieved greatness in their own right. However, Eric’s dream is to be the best postie in town, and he has all the perfect attributes to prove it – dog protection, a really long tongue for licking envelopes, a sharp beak for opening the residents’ mail, and the ability to keep the letterboxes pest free. But when he realises he has no actual mail to deliver, Eric abounds an inventive delivery scheme that ensures a successful postal experience for everyone.

Matt Shanks’ ingenious story is heartwarming, lively and simple, and his illustrations on white backgrounds equally match the gentle, charismatic and uncomplicated nature of the book. I love his placement of the characters’ off-the-face eyes, and the endpapers are pretty special, too!

If you’re looking for a book that will get the seal the approval from your preschooler, then this one delivers! With sheer determination, tenacity and ambition, Eric the Postie addresses them all.

Scholastic Australia, July 2017.

Nothing says, ‘I’m the queen of the world!’ like the majestic stance of the small rhinoceros on her boat that graces the front cover of this book. And rightly so. In Once Upon a Small Rhinoceros by Meg McKinlay and Leila Rudge, this little powerhouse impresses us all with her spirited resolve as she achieves her dreams of seeing the world.

Against the belief of the other rhinoceroses, who only trust in mud wallowing, grass grazing, tree scratching and sun bathing, the small rhinoceros doggedly, yet stoically, fashions up a boat, waves goodbye and sails away into the distance. With the dreamy wording by McKinlay and Rudge’s equally dreamy watercolour, pencil and collage illustrations, we are allowed to share in the protagonist’s wonderfully dreamy and exotic adventures to “faraway lands and beyond.” The rhinoceroses are typically unimpressed with her stories on her return, but perhaps there is still hope for one inspired ‘littler’ soul.

This small character with big might is clear in her resistance to the adult’s pressures and expectations, without all the fuss. She is impressively composed, curious and adventurous, and doesn’t fall into the trap of accepting the everyday monotonous routine. So, take her example and create your own story… Once Upon a Small Rhinoceros is inspirational for all living beings, great and small.

Walker Books, August 2017.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Breathtaking Fantasy Adventures for Middle Grade and Young Adults

It’s not often I get the opportunity to delve into the depths of fantasy-adventure novels, so the change has been an interesting welcome. If you’re a thrill-seeker, a supernatural-hunting-wannabe, a mission-impossible-style adrenalin junkie or courageous-fugitive aspirant, then these following books are for you!

Fenn Halflin and the Seaborn by Francesca Armour-Chelu, July 2017.

Following its predecessor, Fenn Halflin and the Fearzero, this final futuristic fantasy takes the resourceful and brave Fenn Halflin to new depths of heroism. With fantastic, fast-paced action, Fenn and his loyal mongoose Tikki are at the forefront of saving themselves and the Seaborn people from the grips of the merciless Terra Firma and their evil leader, Chilstone. Haunted by his past and his pain, Chilstone literally drowns in his own hatred in response to the inner strength of our protagonist, Fenn. Uncomplicated but enough visualisation to get lost in, the dystopian Fenn Halflin and the Seaborn will sweep its middle grade readers into a spunky science fiction odyssey.

The City of Secret Rivers by Jacob Sager Weinstein, June 2017.

Twelve-year-old Hyacinth gains a lot more than she bargained for when moving from America to London; the place of her ancestry. Drawing on a wonderful mix of real life and an underground magical alternate reality, author Jacob Sager Weinstein literally sweeps us through a series upon romping series of adventure into tunnels, pipes and mazes in the secret sewer systems of London. When something as simple as washing her hands sets off a complicated chain of dangerous events, Hyacinth is thrust into a world of outlandish characters, including muddy Saltpetre Men, toshers and a bather-wearing pig, facing tests of trust, bravery and the acceptance of a whole new identity. All this to save her kidnapped Mom, oh, and the entire city from the Great Fire – plot by the conniving Lady Roslyn. With elements of suspense, humour, excitement and pure terror, The City of Secret Rivers combines the kind of complexity and ingenuity to that of Lewis Carroll and J.K. Rowling all rolled into a fantastical adventure for mid to upper primary-aged children.

William Wenton and the Luridium Thief by Bobbie Peers, April 2017.

First in this exciting new series is William Wenton; an extraordinarily talented codebreaker which lands him in all sorts of strife. Kidnapped by the Institute for Post-Human Research for his code-cracking skills, what follows is a series of mystery, adventure and secret discoveries. Wenton not only discovers the powerful substance, luridium whilst held captive, but also forges a path of self-discovery and identity, as most youngsters do on their journey into adulthood. With cryptic puzzles and fiendish mechanical inventions, the Luridium Thief is a captivating and enigmatic fantasy novel that will immediately hook those upper-primary readers.

The Traitor and the Thief by Gareth Ward, August 2017.

More secrets, spies and being hunted. Another thrilling steampunk story for older readers, The Traitor and the Thief is essentially about fourteen-year-old petty thief Sin, on his own mission of soul-searching, relationship-building, and becoming a saviour. Caught and recruited into the Covert Operations Group (COG), Sin is trained to be an agile spy with mastery in weaponry and technology in order to uncover truths and conquer dangerous adventures. With quirkiness and elements of imaginative realities, as well as a touch of budding young romance and navigating teenagehood, this fantasy novel suits those readers out for a good mystery mixed with adventure.

Alex Rider: Never Say Die (Book 11) by Anthony Horowitz, June 2017.

From the bestselling series here is a new mission for Alex Rider, a fifteen-year-old adopted into a writerly family, and recruited by the M16 agents. Intensely terrifying adventure leads to clues as to the whereabouts of his female guardian, Jack – ultimately held for ransom by a terrorist organisation. Set in Cairo, and packed with plot twists and turns, Never Say Die is an exciting and absolutely gripping explosion of action and adrenalin that will have its readers on tender hooks until the end.

Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy, including authors Cassandra Clare, Sarah Ress Brennan, Maureen Johnson, and Robin Wasserman, May 2017.

To fully immerse oneself in this latest volume of the ‘Shadowhunters’ series, background knowledge and loyalty to best-selling YA author, Cassandra Clare would be ideal. In essence of the Harry Potter-style ideology of mixing realms between the normal and the magical variety, these tales confront protecting the ‘mundane’ world from the dangers of the supernatural beings. With ten short stories written by four authors and varying in complexity, Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy fans will, I’m sure, relish learning of every new skill, memory and life discovery of its central character, human / vampire / Shadowhunter Simon Lewis.

Walker Books Australia

Picture Books to Help and Heal

When you’re feeling a little lost, a little broken, or need a helping hand, what better way to lift you up than with a few beautiful, encouraging books with a whole heap of sentiment and warmth. Here are a few newbies you’ll want to hold close to your heart.

The Whirlpool, Emily Larkin (author), Helene Magisson (illus.), Wombat Books, May 2017.

When one moment shifts into another, without warning, and your world suddenly seems like a foreign place. This emotional whirlpool, as it is described; can pluck you from a place of familiarity and warmth then spin you round until you’re left confused and displaced. The Whirlpool considerately and sensitively addresses this sentiment without needing a definite cause; there doesn’t have to be some traumatic event for us to experience those ‘bad’ or isolated days. Because we all know happiness, sadness, loneliness and love, and here they are expressed beautifully through the eyes of a young polar bear cub.

Emily Larkin’s words are poetic-like. In their very being they stir up emotions in your soul. The simple sentences are sharp and carefully crafted for dramatic impact. Helene Magisson’s breathtaking illustrations almost literally wrap you up in this sensational vortex. Specifically defining moments are highlighted through her choice of visual layout and colour. Vast scenes define both feelings of joy and desolation, and focal sequences display proudness and a tiring endurance. And with Helene’s characteristically alluring charm and symbolic nuances, the significance of the yellow scarf cleverly ties the changing moods and atmospheric conditions altogether.

The Whirlpool is, funnily enough, a gentle and hopeful tale, reassuring its primary school aged readers that experiencing a range of feelings and challenges in their life can be helpful in navigating their individual journeys. This is explained further by helpful notes at the back of the book. So, take a step back and watch a snippet of real life flash before you- this book is insightful, sincere and stunningly beautiful.

Nanna’s Button Tin, Dianne Wolfer (author), Heather Potter (illus.), Walker Books, June 2017.

The sentimentality of a little piece of plastic, primarily used to hold material together, may mean little to some, but for others, buttons hold a lifetime of memories. Nanna’s Button Tin is brimming with warm and fuzzy goodness, of special intergenerational bonds and precious reminders of the past.

For a little girl, Nanna’s button tin holds the key to healing her Teddy’s much-needed amending. And she has the added comfort of being fulfilled with stories of love as she searches for the perfect round, brown button for Teddy’s eye. The tiny yellow button reminds Nanna of the day the little girl was born. The bear-shaped button was worn on her birthday jumper when she was three. The sparkly green one signifies the connection between her grandparents. Whilst the silver angel button helped bring her back to health when she was sick. With Teddy finally fixed, the button tin and all its contents are replaced on the shelf for another day of memorable moments.

With heartfelt dialogue between the characters, and superbly detailed, realistic and warm illustrations, Nanna’s Button Tin contains a pile of love and a beautifully familiar homely feel. This book will be adored, shared and reflected upon by its preschool-aged audience, and their grandparents, many times over. Certainly one to replenish all the warmth in your heart.

Ava’s Spectacular Spectacles, Alice Rex (author), Angela Perrini (illus.), New Frontier Publishing, June 2017.

Another story told through the eyes of a child is Ava’s Spectacular Spectacles. And what a vision she has! Initially, though, Ava is self conscious about her glasses and won’t wear them in class. But with Mrs Cook’s bright and imaginative attitude, things have never looked the same. Presenting a page from various fairy tales to Ava, much like watching an oversized movie screen, the teacher explains how glasses would have helped the characters avoid their problems in the story. Featuring Little Red Riding Hood, Hansel and Gretel, Humpty Dumpty and more, Ava soon realises that in order to perceive the world clearly, she will need to ‘see’ the world clearly.

I love the enthusiasm and energy throughout the text, inviting readers and listeners to join in and ponder these sentiments. There is that subtle coercion that adults attempt to convince children of what is best, but the tale is written so playfully and creatively that it just feels like pure entertainment. The illustrations are equally jovial, colourful and expressive, and particularly visually large and easy-on-the-eye to suit its purpose.

Ava’s Spectacular Spectacles is fantastically fun, full of familiar fairy tale delights. It is perfect for children from age four, and especially providing a shining light for those with vision impairments to feel confident and secure.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Wally Turns 30! – New Editions

What a fantastical blast from the past! Those cherished days of pouring over Where’s Wally? scenes for hours on end, in search for that inconspicuously eminent character, and his friends, we all know and love so dearly. Allow your children the same pleasure with these marvellous 30th Anniversary Edition and brand new collector pocket books that will be sure to spin heads, strain eyes and tire fingers to their hearts’ delight.

The classic, world-wide phenomenon, Where’s Wally? (30th Anniversary, Feb 2017) by Martin Handford, is celebrating 30 years of magical, wondrous, time- and space-travelling zeal that, no doubt, is still burning strong to this day. With its large-face, portrait format, Wally-Spotters can partner up and share the scrutiny together. It is the observer’s mission to find five intrepid travellers; Wally, Woof (but all you can see is his tail), Wenda, Wizard Whitebeard and Odlaw, plus their precious items in every scene. But that’s not all! There are another 25 Wally-watchers and an extensive checklist of people, creatures and objects to be found, too!

Each scene is presented with a postcard from Wally addressed to us, the Wally fans, providing a snippet of his endeavours in that particular destination. All set with his walking stick and a bulky load in tow, Wally wonders through busy and colourful places. From a crowded town, to a packed beach, a snowy mountain, a groovy campsite, jostling train station, a manic airport, a mass of runners at the sports stadium, a jiving museum, the swarming sea, a bustling safari park, jam-packed department store, and a lively fairground. (Plus a bonus scene!)

Along with your keen sense of observation, you’ll also delight in the humorous and quirky details found in every picture. The vibrant illustrations teem with life and personality, every tiny character with their own hilarious story to tell. No wonder Where’s Wally? will forever be a global classic! A must-have for every home and school.

The Where’s Wally? The Totally Essential Travel Collection (June 2017) is certainly the fun adventure that never ends! Including seven of the classics in one travel-sized book, littered with colouring in postcards and adorned with gold foiled stripes, this will be your trusty travel companion wherever the destination. The handy elastic close is a clever way to return to your place, and fold-out checklists enable easy accessibility as you search and turn through each wondrous location.

If I were to choose my favourite edition I would have to say The Wonder Book definitely packs a punch with its uniform colour selections for each scene and its pages that are filled to the brink with the most minuscule of detail. And if you’re up for a real challenge try visiting The Land of Woofs! It’s a cracker!

The Where’s Wally? Colouring Collection (May 2017) is an absolute spectacular of Wally-related searches, games, jokes and creative tasks, all in black and white! Whilst colouring, doodling and sketching your way through the pages, astute observers also have the added task of locating Wally, his friends, his special lost paint pot, and other precious possessions. Plenty more hidden objects are compiled in the checklists, and the enormous lift-out poster creates even more colouring, searching and time-consuming goodness.

With heaps of inspiring, creative and thought-provoking activities, this travel-sized handbook with elastic close is an energetic bundle of joy (and a calming force at the same time!).

The great thing about this series is that they cater for every age group, starting with simple perusal to the more complex exploration. But there is no doubt, this is imagination, entertainment and brain-training at their best!

Walker Books Ltd., Walker Books Australia.

Hooray for Lucy Cousins!

Lucy Cousins is much-loved, highly acclaimed international author-illustrator best known for her beloved Maisy series. She is also creator to Peck Peck Peck, and Hooray for Fish! And there is always much excitement when her new releases are revealed, even if they are simply new editions of the old. Go wild for Cousins’ latest books! They will keep your little ones entertained for hours.

Hooray for Birds! is the extravagantly captivating sequel to Hooray for Fish! Not only is there an immediate hook with endpapers containing a wonderfully colourful menagerie of beaks a-squawking and wings a-flapping, but then read the opening line: “Can you imagine… You’re a busy bird?”. Well, can you imagine?! Those little minds will be racing, hearts fluttering and arms ready to soar! Reading and acting this book out with my four year old has been a pure joy, every time!

With the most vibrant, solid colours, enlarged bold text and a patterned array of bird species engaging every page in this large format book, it’s no wonder Hooray for Birds! is an absolute winner with young children. Its rollicking rhyming text almost literally escalates its readers to new heights, effortlessly inspiring them to perform in a fun-filled mimicking and imaginative role-play experience. Included are shouts of “cock-a-doodle-doo!”, there are hopping birds, pecking birds, ones with tall necks. There are parrots that talk, starlings that swoop, fly-catching birds, and ones that lay eggs. The list goes on with a cascade of onomatopoeia and lively action words, enough to make one exhausted as we reach a suitable ending when it’s time to say goodnight.

What a fantastically playful book with the massive potential for teaching and learning moments on the study of bird names, habitats and characteristics. Highly recommended, jubilant fun for all preschool aged children.

Maisy Goes Swimming was originally published in 1990, but here today we have a magnificently interactive new edition that is perfect for children from age three.

Your child may be a confident swimmer, or completely new to the experience. Either way, this book can be adopted as a familiar reference or as a simple introduction, both encouraging independence. Maisy is preparing for her visit to the pool, and with the reader’s help, she can dress appropriately for the occasion. The ideal size board book for small, busy hands, Maisy Goes Swimming is brimming with tactile goodness to entertain again and again. Large bold text in colours that match the clothing item of attention help little ones identify the correlation between word and picture. And most likely after just one adult read-aloud they will be able to ‘read’ it all themselves. From a wintery outfit of jacket, hat, scarf, gloves and boots, slowly but surely flaps are lifted, strings are pulled, parts are slid up or down and folds are opened. Watch out for the rudey-nudey Maisy when her layers are all off! Quickly slide that recognisable striped swim suit on and take Maisy for a swim.

The sturdy and high quality pages provide great comfort in knowing that for a book that your children will never get tired of, Maisy Goes Swimming is sure to be a classic for another 25+ years!

Maisy Goes to the Bookshop is still as relevant today as it was all those years ago. And we’re all for encouraging a love of books, right?!

When Maisy enters the bookshop with teddy in tow, she is delightfully greeted with an abundance of colourful books filling the shelves. Immediately both Maisy and the reader are confronted with a very real circumstance in the need to make decisions. Which book will she choose to buy? Exploring the range from bears, to fish, trucks and art, it is the book about birds that catches her eye…it’s a book to share with her friend Tallulah. Some books are factual, and some can spark one’s imagination. This concept is neatly woven into the story as Maisy and her friends at the bookshop discover topics that fill their minds with wonder and excitement, and a bit of humour too. After storytime and a bite to nibble, Maisy makes her purchase and delivers her present to its new owner for a fun shared reading afternoon.

Making clear the benefits and many ways to enjoy books, Cousins’ text and illustrations prove equally as enthusiastic and simple. Maisy Goes to the Bookshop is obviously a pleasurable reading experience about a pleasurable experience with books! For book-loving children from age three.

Walker Books, 2017.

Collecting Klassen Classics

Whenever I pick up a Jon Klassen book it seems to have that super-power magic that thrusts it into classic-dom. So delectably simple yet surreptitiously clever and charmingly funny, it’s no wonder they are so well-loved around the world. The author-illustrator is the legendary creator of winning books including I Want My Hat Back, This is Not My Hat, and Sam and Dave Dig a Hole (Mac Barnett). Today we’ll explore the third instalment in the ‘hat’ series, We Found a Hat, and a newbie with supreme author Mac Barnett; Triangle.

We Found a Hat carries on the saga with hats brilliantly, this time featuring two principled turtles…and a hat. When stumbling across this abandoned item in the middle of the desert, the high-top headpiece soon becomes the turtles’ object of great desire. However, as there is only one hat, they agree to leave it alone. But for one turtle, the temptation of his new obsession is overbearing and he attempts a sneaky act of pilferage whilst his companion sleeps. Morality and loyalty surface when he hears of the marvellous dream with both turtles enjoying their fortune.

I love that this story is played out in Parts, giving it a movie-quality feel. So clever! Klassen’s ingenuity also strongly emanates through the use of simple narrative and monochromatic, modest images that both say so much. The unspoken words captured through the eyes of the devilish turtle brilliantly evoke humour and clarity into his thoughts. The sparseness and the speckles of the scene beautifully portray the given landscape and the underlying notion of keeping life free of complication.

We Found a Hat certainly explores some complex facets of behaviour, such as enticement and immediate gratification despite ethics, as well as aspects of trust, communication and compassion that are important in relationships. Yet its beauty lies in its simplicity, wit and charm, sure to allure readers of any age many times over.

Walker Books Ltd. UK, Walker Books Australia, October 2016.

With their wry sense of humour, rich messages and unsurpassed storytelling talents, Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen enlighten us with the first in a new trilogy and more sneaky characters; it’s Triangle.

This board book style picture book with its stand-alone, wide-eyed triangle on the cover is just sublime. Again, with Klassen’s mesmerisingly textured watercolours in earthy tones and unpretentious landscapes we are immediately drawn in to the action of each scene. Barnett’s narrative is straightforward, perfectly paced and inviting, enrapturing his audience with curiosity, excitement and absolute delight.

Triangle leaves his triangle house with one naughty plan in mind – he is off to play a sneaky trick on Square. His path through a shape-laden environment leads him to Square’s door, where he plays his cruel, snake-impersonating trick. When Square uncovers Triangle’s mean joke, he intends on revenge and chases him back through the shapes and to Triangle’s door. But what happens next comes an unexpected justice for both parties. You get what you deserve!

Stunningly captivating. Brilliantly played-out comedy. Triangle shows us exactly the result of a poorly thought-out and mischievous prank. Including themes of trust and social discrepancies, young readers are also pleasured with the exploration of shape and size, and the playfulness that is childhood. ‘Tri’-mendous fun for kids from age three. Out soon!

Walker Books Ltd. UK, Walker Books Australia, March 2017.

Animal World Problems – Laugh-Out-Loud Picture Books

Simply put, the following three picture books contain high degrees of absurdity, personality and fervour that turn logic on its head. But these animals with major problems will make you laugh til your cheeks hurt. You have been warned!

imagePandamonia, Chris Owen (author), Chris Nixon (illus.), Fremantle Press, 2016.

‘Pandemonium’: Wild and noisy uproar, rumpus, commotion, bedlam.
‘PANDAMONIA’: complete and utter chaos, often following the disturbance of a blissfully sleeping panda.

Beware! Take heed! This is a pre-empted cautionary tale about the absolute madness that is sure to erupt in the animal kingdom should you ignore the warnings to leave the peaceful panda be.

All is calm and tranquil when we enter the zoo with the introduction of the single, sleeping panda. Slowly but surely, page colours become bolder and more intense, and spreads grow thicker and fuller with an increasing number of creatures rampaging before our eyes. A fast-paced, rollicking rhythm escalates the chaos as a grumpy panda would undoubtedly hype up hippos, torment the toes of elephants, cause bottoms to jiggle and gibbons to giggle, jabirus to jabber, bats to swing and raccoons to sing, and generally create a deafening din. With every specie on the planet predicted to be in a raucous spin, the last thing you want to do is wake the panda. Oops…

Pandamonia is as good as having a wild party in your own bedroom, where the music, rhythm and crazy shenanigans come alive. Absolute fun, hilarity and joy exude from this book, preschoolers will be warning their parents to never put it down.

imageDo Not Open This Book, Andy Lee (author), Heath McKenzie (illus.), Lake Press, 2016.

Another fun book of precautions!
Children are so good at falling on deaf ears, rebelling, generally not doing what they’re told! So naturally, this book perfectly taps into the mischievous side of our little, cheeky ones. Television and radio personality, Andy Lee, together with master illustrator of all things comedy, Heath McKenzie, brilliantly entertain with this wise-cracking, hysterical imploration that is sure to leave its readers demanding more.

This character has a problem. The blue, long-legged creature continues to plead with us not to turn the page, and we just can’t help ourselves. So, all kinds of manic mayhem break loose. We get yelled at, lied to, ignored, threatened, begged, bribed and taunted. The enlarged and scattered text work a treat, as do the vivid, overly dramatic illustrations to keep us eagerly engaged in this theatrical pantomime. If you want to know the creature’s logical reasoning behind his lunacy, you’ll have to read the book…or don’t, your choice!

Do Not Open This Book will literally be a hit for pre-and early primary school kids. Extreme in all manners of impolite and inappropriate ways to resolve problems, it’s a fine example of literary perfection in promoting strong values, reading enthusiasm and lots of laugh-out-loud moments. Highly recommended.

imagePenguin Problems, Jory John (author), Lane Smith (illus.), Walker Books UK, 2016.

I love the cynical sarcasm emanating from this book. I love the not-so-likeable-he’s-actually-likeable character grumbling across the pages. That’s what makes this book so endearing. That’s why we are hooked from start to end.

One penguin, who looks and acts the same as every other penguin on the ice, has his own unique and individual perspective of the world. It is one of complete and utter pessimism and apathy. It’s too cold, the ocean is too salty, leopard seals, sharks and orcas want to eat him, he looks silly when he waddles, he is totally confused by the identity of his peers. Until one day, a wise, philosophical, rambling walrus enables the penguin to change his views… for a while.

From two bestselling creators, the text is sharp, witty and full of personality, and the illustrations express the same verve and panache with their speckled texture, cooling tones and diverse perspectives of this busy character.

Penguin Problems allows for a glimpse of optimistic light to shine amongst the gloominess, even if only a glimpse. Preschool and early primary children will find a punch of humour in this book about individuality and enjoying (or not) the simple pleasures in life.

For more great gift ideas check out The Kids’ Reading Guide 2016.

Treasured Books We Call Home

Home. A place of comfort, security, familiarity, belonging, warmth, and love. Our precious children and creatures of nature deserve this soft spot to fall, but what happens when these aspects are in question? Here are five beautiful books that address courage and hope in reuniting with the safest place in the world.

imageHome in the Rain, Bob Graham (author, illus.), Walker Books, October 2016.

Highly acclaimed and legendary creator, Bob Graham, returns with yet another philosophical journey of inspiration and enlightenment. In similar vein to Graham’s Silver Buttons and How the Sun Got to Coco’s House, Home in the Rain emphasises a snippet of a family’s life within the bigger picture of the outside world. The language is poetic-like, the message, tender, in amongst the dreariness of the exterior scene. Graham’s illustrations tell the tale of family bonding and protection in this haphazard situation with a striking juxtaposition of smoothness versus rough, and warming tones versus dull.

As Francie and her Mum brave the car trip back home from Grandma’s house in the pouring rain, as the animals shelter and the fishermen get soaked, the little girl has only her family on her mind. She ponders the name of her soon-to-be baby sister. It is by the oily rainbow puddles of the petrol station that this light of hope falls upon this loving family and a beautiful moment in time is born.

Home in the Rain is a thought-provoking, sentimental story of observation and anticipation, where the most important revelations occur in the most unlikely of places. A book with universal themes and the comfort of home. Recommended for ages four and up.

imageWhen We Go Camping, Sally Sutton (author), Cat Chapman (illus.), Walker Books, October 2016.

A home away from home. Award-winning New Zealand author, Sally Sutton, takes us on a rollicking, rhythmic trip to the great outdoors. Equally matching the exuberant verse is Cat Chapman’s ink and watercolour light-filled landscapes and spirited characters that fill the pages to their entirity.

A family day out camping becomes a sing-a-long adventure of all the fun and excitement, and nuisances, that coexist in this type of setting. From setting up tent, to racing friends, fishing for dinner and shooing away flies, bathing in the sea, using a long-drop to pee, and dreaming through the night, every turn carries forward the last with a whimsical one-liner to cap it off. “When we go camping, we sleep through the night, Sleep through the night, sleep through the night. And dream of adventures we’ll have when it’s light. Hushetty shushetty snore-io.”

When We Go Camping is a joyous treat for camp-lovers and for those adventurous preschoolers to understand there will always be a sense of safety even being away from home, as long as your family and friends are there with you.

imagePandora, Victoria Turnbull (author, illus.), Walker Books, November 2016. First published by Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, UK.

Absolutely exquisite. From its gorgeous silk cover to its mesmerising illustrations and smoothness of the words in the same silky nature, this memorable fable will be forever captured in your hearts. It’s How to Heal a Broken Wing (Bob Graham) meets The Duck and the Darklings (Glenda Millard and Stephen Michael King), with a splash of Adelaide’s Secret World (Elise Hurst); a story of loneliness, compassion, connection and life.

Pandora lives alone in a derelict land of broken things. In amongst the trash she has made herself a sweet, comfortable home, desperately eager to restore whatever treasures she can find. But it is when an injured bird arrives quite by accident that Pandora realises what her heart has yearned for all this time. Her charity fortuitously germinates the most unexpected and beautiful life, colour, warmth and music to Pandora’s world.

Pandora opens up endless possibilities to uncovering the magic and beauty of our natural surroundings, as well as providing us hope and wisdom in generating change for the better. A truly haunting and visually arresting book that early primary children will long to read and cherish for all time.

imagePattan’s Pumpkin; An Indian Flood Story, Chitra Soundar (author), Frané Lessac (illus.), Walker Books, September 2016. First published by Otter-Barry Books, UK.

Translated by storyteller, Chitra Soundar, is the flood story told by the Irular tribe, descendants of Pattan. Expressively written, and vibrantly illustrated with illuminating colours and a stunningly raw style by award-winning Frané Lessac, Pattan’s Pumpkin is certainly a feast for the senses.

Just like in the traditional tale, Noah’s Ark, the saviour passionately commits his energies into uprooting and rescuing the animals on his farm from a dangerous flood in the valley of the Sahyadri mountain. It is his good fortune that an ailing flower grows into an enormous pumpkin; the vessel in which he and his wife safely and generously nurture and carry all the creatures from the darkness to the light of the plains.

Pattan’s Pumpkin is a joyous retelling of a classic Indian tale. It signifies growth, heroism, and a respectful and spiritual harmony with fellow beings in one community.

imageTime Now to Dream, Timothy Knapman (author), Helen Oxenbury (illus.), Walker Books UK, November 2016.

Popular and critically-acclaimed illustrator, Helen Oxenbury (We’re Going on a Bear Hunt), together with children’s writer, Timothy Knapman, have produced this heartwarming adventure of family, home and belonging.

A secret lullaby unfolds as two children, brother and sister, set off to explore the mysterious sounds coming from the forest. Although the hidden dangers and the words of the song are unclear, it is obvious that with the gorgeously soft and serene watercolours, there is a definite purity and gentleness about this tale. The little boy is convinced there is a Wicked Wolf lurking in the woods, and wants to go home, but his sister assures him (and us) that “everything is going to be all right” and we continue forward. A surprising (or not) discovery ties it all together with the anticipated lullaby we can finally understand, settling all the babies in the story into their snuggly beds.

Unequivocally alluring and lovingly reassuring, Time Now to Dream is full of life, warmth and imagination. It will remind young readers that home is really where the heart is.

Review – Captain Sneer the Buccaneer

imageCaptain Sneer the Buccaneer, Penny Morrison (author), Gabriel Evans (illus.), Walker Books, September 2016.

Ahoy Me Hearties! Here lies a highly amusing nautical skit that is destined to take the world by storm. A rollicking clash of rhythm, sharpness and irony that will tie you in knots. Captain Sneer the Buccaneer by Penny Morrison and Gabriel Evans is a menacingly bold and brash tale with a sweet hint of naivity and insecurity that young readers will simply lap up at every turn.

Adept listeners will need to challenge their poetic knowledge as the text surprises with humorous twists along the way. Luring the reader forward on this tumultuous journey sailing the seas in search of gold, Captain Sneer boasts about his formidable courage, wealth and leadership prowess. However, despite overcoming wild waves, potential firings of coconuts, unbearable thirst, getting lost and ominous caves, this obnoxious pirate certainly devulges more inner secrets about his cowardice than he cares to admit… and we, and his crew, are all the wiser. But it is his final foolish act of attempted bravery and devotion where the rhyming sequence unfolds and it is ‘mummy’ dearest who is left the most scornful of all.

imageEvans’ combination of fiery tones against the soothing blue backdrops perfectly represents the juxtaposition of Captain Sneer’s hypocrytical attitude and the surprising nature of the text. His technique of splatterings and smudges of gouache and watercolour, roughly outlined in pencil, gives off a whimsically entrancing sense of movement and energy that pulls its viewers directly into the scene.

Captain Sneer the Buccaneer is a classically vibrant and comically shrewd book that will have preschoolers stealing plenty of shared, treasured moments with their own families for years to come.

Find Captain Sneer Activity Sheets at the Walker Books website, and teaching notes at Lamont Books.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Review – Little Lunch: Triple Snack Pack

imageLittle Lunch: Triple Snack Pack, Danny Katz (author), Mitch Vane (illus.), Black Dog Books, August 2016.

Since watching the popular ABC television series recently my Grade 1’er is obsessed with Little Lunch. And what a delight she received when the episodes arrived in book form on our doorstep! From the exuberant newspaper columnist, Danny Katz, and illustrator partner extraordinaire, Mitch Vane, Little Lunch: Triple Snack Pack; aka: “The Office, in the playground” (Canberra Times) is an unputdownable winner for all primary school kids.

With three shamelessly irristible “bite-sized stories” packed with drama, politics, mystery, complex relationships and absurd behaviour, not to mention the distinct cartoon-style pictures throughout, newly independent readers will devour every bit.

imageMeet the cast; daydreamer Battie, nerdy Atticus, bossy Debra-Jo, courageous Melanie, mischievous Rory, sporty Tamara, and their easy-going Grade 5 teacher Mrs Gonsha. The show unfolds in The Old Climbing Tree when, at ‘Little Lunch’ (or recess), clumsy Debra-Jo decides that it is her duty to organise to have the sticky-outy rooty climbing tree cut down. All her friends are utterly dismayed and form a petition to save their much-loved tree. Through a series of twisted consequences, including Debra-Jo and Rory receiving detention, Melanie and Tamara receiving Green Ambassador Awards, and the tree finally being cut down, a satisfying ending is reached with a tree replacement and one final mishap for our clumsy attention-seeker.

imageIn The Corridor Outside Class 6E, serious hall-monitor Debra-Jo diligently observes the unusual sudden disappearance of twins, Max and Elsa. At Little Lunch, her attempts to question her mates becomes a hugely sticky mess of unjustified assumptions and exaggerated stories. Battie is unable to speak with a mouthful of chewy muesli bar. Atticus concludes they had been expelled. Melanie and Tamara hypothesise that the white-jacketed woman they saw took them away for a medical emergency. Rory claims to have seen Max with handcuffs and a foreign police officer arresting him for the murder of Elsa. Hilarity follows as their imaginations go wild, and it is the final straw for Battie as he eventually manages to speak (or yell, rather) – the twins got braces!

imageThe final chapter is The Relationship, taking on the fickle nature that is upper primary school dating. Receiving an anonymous, folded note with the words, “Will you go out with me?” has left Rory totally stumped. How do you actually ‘go out’ with someone? Why is an older, Grade Six girl asking him out? And, who is she? Rory desperately tries to seek advice, but his friends are useless. Until Debra-Jo has a plan to help Rory advance in the kissing-department. Which, might I add, goes horribly wrong…or does it? Uncharacteristically, Rory cleverly combines the Science of ‘magnetism’ with relationship matters of the heart, which is not that scientific but receives a great applause, nonetheless.

Brilliantly witty, entertaining and naturally fluid to read aloud or independently, Little Lunch: Triple Snack Pack is honestly realistic; embarrassing, nutty yet deliciously tasteful that will leave its readers hungry for more.

“A lot can happen in fifteen minutes!”  

Check out other Little Lunch books in the series, including Triple the ThreatsThe Monkey Bars, The Bubblers and The School Gate.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

The Latest in the Chook Doolan Series

Award-winning author James Roy has successfully developed this series particularly with boys’ literacy development in mind. The Chook Doolan series have been created with a most likeable and relatable character, themes of friendship, family and courage, and plenty of humour and action to captivate its emergent reader audience. With seven or eight short chapters, easy-to-follow language and support structures, and exuberant, witty black and white illustrations by the talented Lucinda Gifford, these books are winners for children aged five and up.

imageSimon, better known as Chook, is not very brave. That is, he is chicken. InChook Doolan Saves the Day’ (Book #3), we are privileged with Chook’s emotional conscience and his honest thoughts towards things such as his dislike for sports. His friend, Joe offers to teach him to play soccer to prepare for their school lessons. But in particular, Chook needs to learn to brave the unyielding stampedes of Ashton Findus and Marty Petrovic. Despite his woeful excuses, a pep talk from big brother Ricky encourages Chook to listen to his angry rooster head-voice (as opposed to his scared chicken head-voice), and he miraculously manages to save the day (the ball, that is!). However, although overcoming this huge battle; both on the field and inside his head, somehow I don’t think Chook Doolan will be changing his reluctant ways any time soon.

imageIn ‘The Tiny Guitar’ (Book #4), Chook’s busker friend, Eddie Two-hats, sits on the same corner every day singing and playing his ukulele. But one day, Eddie Two-hats is taken away by ambulance and Chook is left confused and extremely concerned. To be able to help out his friend, Chook needs to make some money so that Eddie can eat. With his new ukulele gift from Dad, many hours of video instruction and practice, and a whole bunch of courage, Chook delivers the musical busking performance of his life. It may not have been flawless, nor have generated much income, but his efforts proved successful in more ways than one…even if it was only a one-time show.

Young readers will easily identify with the feelings associated with sudden change, being challenged to learn a new skill, and one’s internal insecurities. These books also inject the comically relatable advantages and pitfalls to sibling support (or lack thereof), as well as highlighting the encouraging nature of a good friend.

The Chook Doolan books are complete with a smooth stream of emotional trials, sound messages of compassion, hope and triumph, as well as plenty of winsome humour to capture the hearts of all sensitive souls like Chook.

Walker Books, August 2016.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Discovering Adventure with Leila Rudge’s Picture Books

Her indelibly gentle style, warming tones, infallible use of mixed media, energetic and always gorgeous characters bounce from her pictures every time. Including titles such as Ted and Mum Goes to Work, illustrator Leila Rudge knows just how to capture the heart, soul and spirit of her characters in all of her books. Here are a couple of newbies to set you on course.

imageGiving preschoolers many themes and topics to explore, Leila Rudge‘s Gary, the racing pigeon, drives this adventure story home with its grit and determination. If he is a racing pigeon then why doesn’t he fly? That, we are unsure, but Gary finds other ways to get around. In similarity to Anna Walker’s Peggy’, this accidental hero breathes adventure and travel and no high rise obstacle will stop him.

The stories from the other pigeons and his scrapbook collection of mementos give Gary a sense of place in the world, even though he only knows his own backyard. Then one day he is mistakingly taken in the travel basket a long way from home. But how could Gary feel lost when he had already studied the city from back to front? Gary’s adventure concludes with a little ingenuity and a whole lot of inspiration.

imageI loved Gary’s accepting yet curious personality, and the way Leila Rudge has written his story with verve and sensitivity. Her illustrations are equally as charismatic and layered with their mixed collage and pencil drawings of maps, souvenirs and adorable racing pigeon outfits!

Gary is a sweet, charming story of passion and opportunity, and challenging one’s own abilities. I’m sure children from age four will be dreaming to accompany Gary on more adventures in the future.

Walker Books, 2016.

imageIf you ever want a book to test your dog-breed knowledge, your linguistic gymnastics and your wit, get The Whole Caboodle! Author Lisa Shanahan has lined up a beauty with this energetic and playful counting canine collection of cross-breed ‘oodles‘. And Rudge‘s illustrations achieve this characteristically zealous greatness in leaps and bounds. As the text bounces ahead, so do the characters across the softly-shaded mixed media, double page spreads.

The little dog (perhaps some kind of Terrierdoodle) wakes his peachy-pear, grizzly bear, fizzyjig, whirligig owner in a rush to visit the park. It takes from one to ten rollicking, rhyming, imaginative adjectives and dog breed terms to count from home, through the neighbourhood, across the fairground and in to the park.

With phrases like “Four tumbly-rumbly Goldendoodles” and “Six dizzy-whizzy Spitzoodles”, plus plenty of doggie shapes in the illustrations to find, The Whole Caboodle will certainly lead children from three into fits of giggles and thrills.

Scholastic Australia, 2016.

See Dimity‘s fab review here.

For more information on Leila Rudge visit her website and Facebook page.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Liz Anelli Brings Life to Desert Lake

imageLiz Anelli is the author and award-winning illustrator of many, many colourful projects including children’s books, magazines, advertisements and educational websites. Her stunning artwork extends to printmaking, graphic design, watercolours, gouache and collage. Howzat!, View From the 32nd Floor and One Photo are a few of the picture books she has illustrated. Today I am thrilled to welcome Liz to Boomerang Books to tell us more about her art work, research and the illustrative creation of her latest gorgeous book, Desert Lake.

The Review:

Desert Lake is a fascinating story of survival and prosperity amongst the flora and fauna inhabiting the seemingly barren land of Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre.

imagePresented with two narratives, Pamela Freeman‘s text poses as both a lyrical and animated format and opposite, a smaller font with interesting facts. She tells the story of the rains as they arrive from the north to awaken life beneath the salty surface and enable a propagating community of birds and other wildlife to the area. Liz Anelli‘s brilliant illustrations beautifully depict this contrast, intensity, warmth and spirit with her multi-textured and layered paint, lines, pattern and complementary earthy colours. Even as the birds migrate to more plentiful waters when the lake dries, Anelli’s images carry forth the promise and richness of this outwardly desolate world.

Desert Lake literally thrives on its magical presence. It is captivating, rewarding and exquisite on so many levels. This is one information book that all primary classrooms would benefit from in their studies of Australian topography, climate change and the arts, and for the simple pleasure.

The Interview:

Welcome Liz! You have a style of art that has a distinctive flair yet is diverse in its themes and technique. Did you always paint this way or has your art changed over the years?

My style has certainly evolved over the years. I started out as a line and watercolour wash girl, then discovered how beautifully gouache paint sits on grey paper and gravitated towards dabs of bright colour within a black ink line (which I still do now for some illustrations). About 15 years ago I started incorporating collage and printmaking and learnt Photoshop so that I could choose which elements to cut and stick manually and which to add using my computer. Now I dip into materials and techniques depending on the age audience, subject and purpose of the illustration.

Do you have a favourite piece or project that you have worked on? Why is it special to you?

imageSO hard to choose! I think I love my illustrated maps above anything else, especially the first one I made of Newcastle, NSW because it was my way of befriending my new city (and country). I cycled around the Port-side suburbs for weeks with my camera and sketchbook, stopping to record every interesting building and industry and asking millions of questions. I found myself helping a prawner boat unload its catch, scampering up the side of a grain ship, in awe under the massive stacker-reclaimer wheel at a coal terminal and whizzing round the docks with a minibus full of excited school children who all wanted to show me their ‘best place to play’.

How did you come to illustrating books for children? What do you love most about this industry?

I illustrated (and wrote) my first picture book whilst still an art student way, way back. But as a child I was much more into reading and writing stories than drawing. My sisters, brother and I indulged in hours of imaginative play. My favourite was the one where we acted out snippets of radio programmes, pretending the stations were tuning in and out as we drove on long car journeys… must have been VERY irritating for our parents (but they never did replace us with a real car radio). I got hooked on drawing at Art School. You walk along the street and see stories being played out all around you. I draw what’s going on and voila… a picture book emerges.

The texture, depth, symmetry and combination of colours and media in Desert Lake are simply divine. How did you plan your process? What were the most challenging aspects in creating this book?

imageThe hardest thing is knowing when to stop. I try out colours and textures on separate bits of paper (and sometimes scan them in when they work better than the ’real thing’). I do a lot of research drawing at the ‘roughs’ stage but then clear my references away to make the artwork more intuitively. There are so many choices to make but in the end each spread has to work as a whole picture in relation to its neighboring pages.

What was it like to collaborate with author Pamela Freeman? How much creative licence did you have working on Desert Lake?

imageWalker’s ‘Nature Story Series’ allow author and illustrator a more poetic approach than other picture books and I had the sense of a huge amount of freedom. The manuscript changed a lot along the way and although this entailed more work for both of us I think it made the book even better in the end. Our editor played an expert role as catalyst. My compositions come from a lot of real life observation (I had an ASA Research Award to visit the Outback) mixed up with a good shake of imagination. It was cold and dry when I went to the Lake so I also spent hours drawing and watching the colours on the water here in Newcastle Harbour.

What little secrets can you share about the making of Desert Lake? Any minute details that your audience should particularly be aware of?

An insect (that triangular shaped back and white one who appears on several pages) crawled into the seat of my jeans while I was drawing at the lake, I swallowed more than one bush fly and I went to sleep at night with all my clothes on… it was very, very cold. Can you see the little bug hiding on the night-time scene near the end of the book? Tracing paper collage makes very good frogspawn – just the right translucency.

Fun Question! If you lived in the desert which animal would you choose to be and why?

Hopping mouse – so sweet! NOT a bush fly.

You have recently launched a marvellous exhibition of your artwork at the Lovett Gallery in Newcastle. Congratulations! Please tell us a bit more about it. What have been the highlights so far?

We wanted to allow viewers inside the process of creating a picture book so have included the story of our research trips and examples of my storyboards as well as all the original paper artworks. Visitors can spot the variations between these and the printed pages, working out for them selves what parts I ‘collaged’ on screen. We deliberately asked the framer to include all my rough notes and workings around the edges of each piece and I love it when children ask me if I know there is an apple sticker on one… yes, I eat a lot of apples when I’m working.

imageI’m also enjoying watching another piece of desert floor come to life. We created a 4 metre long panel of one of my sketchbook paintings of the sandy ground with cracks and a few scrubby plants on it and I’ve been helping children make creatures using collage, paint and print in workshops. I think there are over 100 creepy crawlies on there already.

What would be your greatest piece of advice for emerging artists wanting to succeed in illustrating children’s books?

Don’t give up! Network, work hard and make pictures about the things you love not just what you think publishers would like to see. Be yourself, that’s the thing they won’t find anywhere else.

Thank you so much for talking with us, Liz! It’s been a real pleasure! 🙂

To connect with Liz Anelli please visit her website, Facebook and Twitter pages.

Her Desert Lake exhibition displays original artwork, sketches and studies of Liz’s research in the outback. It is being held at the Lovett Gallery in the Newcastle Region Library until May 14. Click here for more details.

Desert Lake is written by Pamela Freeman, illustrated by Liz Anelli and published by Walker Books, 2016.

Pre-order your copy of Desert Lake.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read Dimity‘s insightful review here.

Walker Books, Oct 2015.

Thank you, Sandy for talking with me today!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Australian YA: Sue Lawson and Freedom Ride

Meet Sue Lawson, author of Freedom RideSue Lawson

Thanks for talking to Boomerang Books, Sue.

It’s a pleasure, Joy, thanks so much for asking me.

Where are you based and how involved are you in the world of children’s and YA lit?

We moved to Geelong two years ago from a smaller regional town. Though we loved our life in that time, it was time to move, and it’s been a great move on so many levels. I’m loving the access to so many beautiful beaches, an incredibly sourced and staffed library, and, well, all Geelong has to offer. The proximity to Melbourne is another huge bonus, which not only makes catching up with friends easier, but makes attending many more literary events and festivals of all descriptions. And our friends from our old home are nearby.

I’m passionate about children’s and YA lit, the readers and connecting readers with books. I’m a member of wonderful organisations like SCWBI and CBCA Victoria, but my ability to support and be involved with them has been curtailed for health and family reasons of late. I’m hoping there will be a time when I can devote more energy to the CBCA, particularly. I’m fortunate to be asked to visit schools, present at festivals and other events, which gives me the chance to work with and listen to young people, and to spread the love about reading and writing. For me, it’s all about creating readers.

Freedom RideWhere and when is your most recent YA novel, Freedom Ride, (Black Dog Books, Walker Books) set and what is its major concern?

Freedom Ride is set in fictional Walgaree, a small town in country NSW, at the end of 1964 and start of 1965. It culminates with the Freedom Ride, led by Charles Perkins, arriving in Walgaree. The Freedom Ride was organised to highlight and protest the treatment and the living conditions of Aboriginal people.

It is an era I knew very little about, I’m ashamed to say. My research broke my heart, and angered me on so many levels, especially as I had no idea how bad it had been, and continues to be. I wanted to explore how a teenage boy, who knew so much of what was going on around him was wrong, yet didn’t have the power change anything, might behave.

How do you think Australian attitudes have changed since this time?

How long to do you have?

I think, hope, we are moving forward, but we have such a long, long way to go. Until Australia as a nation acknowledges the treatment, the abuse and wrongs Aboriginal people have endured, as painful as it is, true healing can’t occur. I am absolutely no expert, I just come from the belief it is the right thing to do.

How did you create your major protagonist, Robbie?

I knew I wanted Robbie to find the courage to stand up to not only his father and grandmother, but to his friends and the Walgaree community. I love that quote attributed to Edmund Burke, that the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. Though Robbie’s stand is tiny in the scheme of things, if each of us stood up, then it’s a start.

To create Robbie, I started with beliefs and attitudes, and how his conflicted with his father and grandmothers’ opinions. I wanted him to feel alienated at home, so that when he encountered the accepting and generous Barry, he was open to the contrast.

As always, I create character profiles and collages for my major characters. Doing this helps me get beneath my characters’ skin and know them as well as they know themselves.

What values or qualities are important to your characters?

That varies, depending on the character and the story. For Robbie, his sense of right and wrong was important, as was his honesty and courage. Hope was vital too.

Actually all my characters have buckets of courage and hope – they need it survive the turmoil I make them face!

It’s also important to for me to understand their motivations – from Robbie to his friends, to his grandmother – I need to know why they behave as they do. That helps me be more compassionate, especially when the overwhelming urge to slap them (Nan!!) is hard to control…and I am the least violent person!

Your writing is clear and engaging. Do you work to achieve this clarity or is it your natural style?

Oh, gosh, thank you.

My husband’s grandmother had an expression I love – talks as her guts guide her.

Well, I think that’s me. I write as my gut, or heart, guides me. I get it down then edit, edit, edit, and pare back as much as I can. I’m so lucky to have worked with and continue to work with incredibly supportive editors and publishers – Karen Tayleur, Maryann Ballantyne, Andrew Kelly and Helen Chamberlin especially – who trawl through the quagmire and find the essence of what I am trying to say. Sometimes they get it way before I do!

You’ve written many books. Could you tell us about some, including After, which is one of my favourites?After

Thank you! I love Callum and After. He is possibly one of my favourite characters…but then Pan is so damaged, and what about Dare You‘s Khaden?

All my books explore how young people cope in horrid situations, usually every day, situations. I love exploring that time when we discover who we truly are, and find the courage to be true to that. Pretty sure I’m still working on it.

After deals with a boy who had it all – popular, legend status at a big, city school etc, etc, but one incident changes his life forever. After was sparked by a 100 word newspaper report about a horrific incident, which I can’t detail without giving away the book. It started me thinking about how a young person ever came to terms with what had happened.

Pan's whisperPan’s Whisper was sparked when I started wondering why two people can live the same experience but remember it so differently. And what role does age play in the recall?

You Don’t Even Know is about judgements and stereotypes, fitting in, grief and courage. That Alex!

Yes, I do become very attached to my characters!

All of my books start with a question, or series of questions and develop from there.

Apart from writing, how else do you spend your time?

I work part-time for Bay FM, the Geelong commercial station. I was a radio announcer in a past life, as well as a teacher! The radio job is so much fun, and I get to do a book review and interview my talented friends!

I love to hang out with my husband and daughter and friends, read (surprise!) and watch movies. I have a serious stationery addiction, (the gorgeous staff in our Kiki K know me by name…I know!! It’s tragic!) and being at the beach.

Which books would you like for Christmas?

Right, strap yourself in!

The Strays – Emily Britto…I know, I haven’t read it yet!!!

The Eye of the Sheep – Sofie Laguna – I read it a while ago and LOVED it. That Ned! He is unforgettable. I need to read it again…slowly and savour each bit.

All the Light We Can Not See – Anthony Doerr – a friend recommended it!

Zeroes – because Margo Lanagan is one of the authors. Her writing is incredible!Zeroes

Big Blue Sky – Peter Garrett – I am a Midnight Oil tragic.

The next Game of Thrones…for the love of God, George Martin…hurry up!!!!

Like one of those demtel ads, there is more, but that will do. Notice there aren’t many YA novels on the list? I buy them straight away. Just finished Vikki Wakefield‘s new one. Man, she is one hell of a writer!

(See my review of  Vikki Wakefield’s In-between Days)

All the best with Freedom Ride, and thanks very much, Sue.

Thanks, Joy!

It’s a Dog’s Life – Picture Book Reviews

If you’re anything like me you’ll love a good dog story, especially those feel-good ones of friendship, courage and love. Typically known as our best mates, the canine variety so often teach us about loyalty, responsibility and maintaining a zest for life, and these three picture books certainly contain these elements in their own gorgeous ways.  

imageBob the Railway Dog, Corinne Fenton (author), Andrew McLean (illus.), Walker Books, 2015.

Based on a true, moving story, Corinne Fenton uses a beautiful, poetic tone to tell of the history of the progress of railway tracks across vast Australian landscapes dating back to 1884.

Bound to be rabbit hunters in outback South Australia, a cargo of homeless dogs enter the station. It is Guard Will Ferry who spots a smiling, irresistible pup amongst them – Bob. Bob becomes the Guard’s travelling companion, covering areas from wheat fields through to mining towns, all the way from Oodnadatta to Kalangadoo. For years he’d spring on and out many a train; his experiences expanded along with the tracks being laid. Bob was a part of it all. He befriended many, and even attended a range of special events like the opening of the Hawkesbury River Railway Bridge in New South Wales. Bob was a wanderer. He had spirit and gusto. He was the railway dog that everyone knew and loved, and his photograph remains at the Adelaide Station still to this day.

A fascinating, delightfully written retell of an important part of Australia’s importing / exporting and travel network development, with the focal element being the adorable four-legged adventurer that brings life and excitement to this momentous tale. Matching the lively nature of the story are the watercolour, charcoal and black pencil illustrations with their fine details, movement and energy. Andrew McLean uses suitably muted colours with an almost sepia-tone representing this era with class and perfection.

‘Bob the Railway Dog’ features a strong, loveable character with extraordinary audacity. It is a great addition to any home or early years classroom with a wonderful Australian historical and social background.  

imageDog and the Lost Leg, Carlee Yardley (author, illus.), Walker Books, 2015.

With its charming sewn cotton and fabric characters, ‘Dog and the Lost Leg’ is a story with plenty of humour, interactivity and warmth.

It is always difficult to cope with the loss of something you’ve become quite attached to, particularly when it happens to be one of your legs! When Fox notices that Dog’s problem is caused by his missing leg, they embark on a mission to find it. Meeting other animals at their places of work, each one tries to help by offering a leg from the lost-and-found. Unfortunately, a motorbike boot from Bruno’s shop doesn’t quite fit, nor does a clawed foot from Harriet’s fruit market, and an assortment of tails from Pete the Peacock’s barber shop is definitely not right. A few giggles and some tears later, they finally approach Pip at her fabric shop. The leg that she sews looks a bit out of place, but it is perfect and puts the jiggle back in Dog’s tail.

A simple storyline with simple-looking yet adorable pictures (although I’m sure they would have been a lot of work to create) contains the perfect mix of laugh-out-loud moments and those of compassion from its preschool-aged readers. I can just hear those excitable shouts of “NO!” from the audience as they are questioned, “Is that Dog’s leg?”.

This book is an animated, engaging story of the case of a missing leg. With elements of problem solving, creativity, acceptance and wit, ‘Dog and the Lost Leg’ is a testament to the power of friendship and charity between diverse characters.  

imageThe Complete Guide to a Dog’s Best Friend, Felicity Gardner (author), David West (illus.), Lothian Children’s Books, 2015.

Here is another adorably funny book about dogs but with the inverse view of taking care of your best pet friend; the human.

Contrary to most picture books, this one is written for dogs. As an explanatory, informative text, the canine narrator describes all the important things there are to be known about ‘Best Friends’. But it is the way the pictures and words work together that capture humour and depth, and truly provide an eye-opening experience into the dog’s perspective. For example, apparently it’s alright to sit on the Best Friend’s face while they sleep because it is the dog’s job to wake them up if they sleep too long. Helpful gestures include taking out the rubbish, gardening, bringing in the washing and cleaning the toilet! All depicted with those cheeky, rascally behaviours that humans get annoyed about. But those astute pooches have perfect manipulation skills – the slight head tilt and the puppy dog eyes – works every time! And, dogs, even when the Best Friends do things that make no sense (such as strange haircuts and outfits), it’s your loyalty, protection, affection and love that will always get them on side.  

With vivacious, colourful illustrations that feature a mixture of media including watercolour, pencil and scanned newspapers and fabrics, this book captures a real sense of warmth, familiarity and truth. It contains the best elements about welcoming and loving a pet in your family, complete with all their accompanying antics.

‘A Complete Guide to a Dog’s Best Friend’ fosters an appreciation for our pets in a heartwarming, refreshing and ‘waggish’ way, sure to be adored by anyone from age three.

Forces of Nature – Picture Book Reviews

The scent of Spring is in the air. But that’s not all that’s lifting us up. From the tiny details to the wider world, our environment has so much to offer. For different reasons, these following picture books discover beauty and how the elements of nature can capture our hearts and strengthen our human kindness.  

imageHow the Sun Got to Coco’s House, Bob Graham (author, illus.), Walker Books, 2015.  

I patiently awaited its arrival. Now I’ve had my fix, and… it was worth the wait. This one effectively enlightened all my senses. With Bob Graham‘s natural poetic writing style, philosophical touch and emotive images, ‘How the Sun Got to Coco’s House’ is another classic to soothe the soul.  

In a consecutive movement, similar to the styles of ‘Vanilla Ice Cream’ and ‘Silver Buttons’, the story takes us on a journey with the sun around the globe. Starting from behind a snow-capped mountain, the sun begins to rise, giddily skidding across waters, catching glimpses in eyes, footsteps, aeroplane wings and over cities. In and out of proximity, the sun’s rays meet a vast array, from individuals, to small villages, and whole countries. Until, it barges in through Coco’s window. The sun becomes one with her family and friends, bringing with it a sense of togetherness, comfort and warmth.  

A gentle story of life, responsibility and peace, this book is adorned with Bob Graham’s characteristically whimsical and magical illustrative style, with a beautiful lolloping pace. ‘How the Sun Got to Coco’s House’ is a valuable asset aimed to inspire young readers to explore global environmental and social issues, as well as one that will simply light up their world! Once again, Bob Graham…brilliant!  

imageSeagull, Danny Snell (author, illus.), Working Title Press, 2015.  

Danny Snell brings us a heartwarming story of humanity and freedom, making clear our responsibility for appreciating the natural world around us.  

Beautifully descriptive yet simple language and serene backdrops allow its readers an intimate experience as a seagull tries to free herself from a tangled fishing line. Unable to loosen it herself, Seagull initiates help from the other creatures around the beach, but to no avail. The further she tarries, the heavier her load becomes as she catches a manner of litter in the line. Finally, it is the silent observer that enables Seagull’s wings to spread, and her heart to sing once more.  

Snell has cleverly and effectively used mixed media to differentiate between the elements of natural versus man-made / fragile versus harmful with paint for the scenery and animals, and colourless scanned images for the items of rubbish. His artwork is stunningly textured with varying sky hues to represent the passing of the day and the exhaustion, and eventual freedom, of the defenceless bird.  

‘Seagull’ is a gentle and significant story for primary school aged children to be aware of environmental issues and aims to empower control, kindness and compassion for our planet and our future. Definitely one that will pull on your heartstrings.  

imageOllie and the Wind, Ronojoy Ghosh (author, illus.), Random House Australia, 2015.  

Here’s a cheeky story of one force of nature; the wind. Treating the gust as an anthropomorphic, invisible being, young Ollie interacts with it in creative ways, hoping to be reunited with the hat and scarf that were snatched from him. Upon discovering that the wind is not naughty, but in fact playful, Ollie gestures some of his favourite toys. A nighttime kite-flying romp sees Ollie and the wind form a special bond, which, by the looks of the final image, seemed to put the wind in high spirits.  

The text is full with depth and life, and is accompanied by vibrant, textured and jovial illustrations. Ghosh‘s fine line drawings, minimal colour palette of bold greens and golds with statements of red, and cartoonesque style qualify for a unique and captivating reading experience.  

‘Ollie and the Wind’ will capture more than just your heart. It will encourage preschoolers to look at the world with a fresh perspective, investigate studies of meteorology, and explore friendships on another level.

Picture Books of Beauty

Finding the extraordinary hidden in the simplest of things is like discovering a little piece of magic. Take a moment to stop and breathe in the beauty around you. You’ll find wonder in the most imaginative places! Whether you enjoy time in solitude, with a partner or a group, these few beautiful books help remind us all of the treasures in our world; nature, love and friends.  

the-red-featherThe Red Feather, Ben Kitchin (author), Owen Swan (illus.), New Frontier Publishing, 2015.

With its calming and gentle illustrations using soft, muted beachy blues and yellows, and delicately written, warming story, ‘The Red Feather’ symbolises tenderness, resilience and autonomy.
When a group of young children visit the seaside, it is Claude who finds the red feather first. Wanting it for himself, he takes a light approach; patting it and wearing it in his hair…until he feels hungry and swaps it for a whole watermelon. One by one, the children delight in its flexibility, including singing, twirling, cuddling, dancing, and jumping with the small red quill. And one by one they take turns to trade it (although hesistantly) when something else is needed…until they feel lonely. Finally they discover that playing cooperatively is much more satisfying…until the red feather finds a new owner.

This simple story of resourcefulness, sharing and friendship stands out as one of beauty, just like the bright red feather that joyfully glides and swishes throughout the pale background scenery. ‘The Red Feather’ is an enchanting story to encourage preschoolers to see the value in togetherness; a single feather may look beautiful on its own, but imagine its beauty in full plumage.  

a-riverA River, Marc Martin (author, illus.), Viking Penguin, 2015.

This stunning book by Marc Martin encourages the solidarity of imagination in a world that is far greater, but no less beautiful, than a single feather. From the gorgeous, embossed front cover, to the endpapers that signify the beginning and ending of the story, with plenty of hidden clues to draw us in, it is easy to become totally entranced by this book.
A girl sits at her desk overlooking an expansive, crowded city with a single winding river flowing through it. In her little boat, she imagines floating amidst speeding cars on motorways, smoky factory buildings, patchwork fields of crops on farms, lush green valleys, gushing waterfalls, and through jungles and rainforests like the Amazon. And as the darkness sets upon her, she sails into open, and sometimes gusty seas until the raindrops on her window bring her back to the reality of her bedroom, and she notices the glimmering moonlight shining on her silver boat ready for another adventure.

Magnificently detailed, soothing landscapes on double page spreads and whimsically constructed poetic text beautifully compliment each other, effectively taking the reader on this tranquil journey with the little girl. Just divine!  

51CY7krRqaL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_Yak and Gnu, Juliette MacIver (author), Cat Chapman (illus.), Walker Books Australia, 2015.

In another river ride adventure, Yak and Gnu are the best of friends. In rollicking rhyming text, this unsual pair sing and row along peacefully in their kayaks, believing that their ingenuity is unlike any other beast known to…beast. Until they encounter a goat in a boat. Now there are no other beasts like them, except for Goat. Carrying on their journey to the sea, Yak and Gnu are surprised and disgruntled each time they meet other sailing, rafting, floating and hovercrafting wild animals. Initially able to count these intruders of the water, the numbers appearing, and the ways they travel become more and more ridiculous and overwhelming. Concluding with an exquisite sunset, Yak and Gnu come to realise the beauty of their friendship to each other overrides any notion of originality or superiority.

Wildly bold and animated watercolour illustrations and entertaining rhythmic, read-aloud language, Yak and Gnu will have young readers in bursts of giggles from start to finish.  

Teacup-coverTeacup, Rebecca Young (author), Matt Ottley (illus.), Scholastic Press, 2015.

In one word – breathtaking. The irrefutable talent of illustrator Matt Ottley is sublimely showcased with texture and depth in this profound tale written by Rebecca Young. Her poetic text has a sophisticated tone with its ability to evoke emotive feelings and strong imagery in one’s heart and mind.
Experiencing days of serene white backdrops, calming whale sounds and the gentle, whistling sea breeze, together with times of darkness and cruelty, a young boy has no choice but to flee on a courageous journey to find a new life. Memories from home flood his heart but these reflections carry him forward. Amongst his few possessions, a simple teacup filled with earth, becomes the fruitful treasure that ties the uncertainty of the sea to the prosperous future that was just a whisper away.

‘Teacup’ is a poignant, powerful story of displacement, change and hope. It is a stunning gem aimed to promote the understanding of social issues and human rights, and also one that primary school aged children are sure to appreciate for its majestic beauty.
Read Dimity’s captivating review of ‘Teacup’ here.  

small-and-bigSmall and Big, Karen Collum (author), Ben Wood (illus.), Windy Hollow Books, 2015.  

With large, clear font, this gentle story tells of two friends that are like polar opposites; a self-assured boy called Big and his little, timid lizard-like pet, Small. Their perspectives on the world differ greatly. Big bellows in the city streets, admiring the huge buildings and long streets. Small curiously observes autumn leaves and trickles of water. He ends up following slippery snail trails, a scampering mouse and a feather, until he realises he’s lost. In his desperate attempt to find his way back to Big, Small must think ‘big’ thoughts. It takes this near tragedy for both to realise what matters most in this life…each other.

With a gorgeous array of watercolours and pencil sketches, bright colours and mixture of busy scenes and stark, lonely white pages, the illustrations and narrative effectively capture moments of joy, wonder, urgency and despair. ‘Small and Big’ is a sweet, heartwarming tale of friendship, appreciating each others’ unique differences, and a world of beauty. Primary school aged children of any size and personality will adore this ‘little book with a big heart’.

Song, Poem and Rhyme Picture Books

Children connect with songs and rhymes. This innate quality allows young readers and listeners the ability to play and experiment with sounds with ease. Not only do these lyrical stories lend themselves to a range of engaging and interactive experiences, but their audience is also given opportunities to learn the mechanics of language, sequences and meaning of the text. The following few picture books explore some well-known tunes and traditional tales in new and innovative ways that will relate to their readers, both young and old. Some great for a giggle, some for a wiggle, and one for learning about things that jiggle!

The Croc and the Platypus, Jackie Hosking (author), Marjorie Crosby-Fairall (illus.), Walker Books, 2014.  

From the lyrical talent of Jackie Hosking, with the superbly detailed and dynamic acrylic paintings by Marjorie Crosby-Fairall, ‘The Croc and the Platypus’ bounds its way from outback Australia straight into our hearts.
To the age-old tune of ‘The Owl and the Pussycat’, here our water-loving, ‘Aussie’ pair set off, not to sea in their pea-green boat, but across the desert in their rusty Holden ute. Featuring typical Australian and Indigenous treasures and proper slang, including didgeridoo hullabaloos, sheep-shearing blokes, a cocky, lamingtons and the beauty of the Southern Cross above Uluru, the platypus and the croc embark on an extraordinary camping adventure.
‘The Croc and the Platypus’ is a charming Aussie rendition of the classic song with its romping, rollicking nature and perfectly suited sandy tones and animated characters. Primary school children will adore these unlikely mates and all that our native outback has to offer.  

8367940_ZSilly Squid! Poems about the Sea, Janeen Brian (author), Cheryll Johns (illus.), Omnibus Books, 2015.  

Following on from the ‘Silly Galah!’ poem book, award-winning Janeen Brian, together with illustrator Cheryll Johns, dive into more fact-finding fun with the wonderfully entertaining ‘Silly Squid! Poems about the Sea’.
Learning about underwater sea creatures in this book is far from boring. I love how Brian cleverly gets the reader involved. She doesn’t simply spill facts onto the page, but through a nicely cantered metre and interesting information, she encourages discussion with prompting, questioning and expression. Find out fascinating facts, like how a sea star regrows an arm, that a daddy leafy sea dragon helps the eggs to hatch, a squid is not silly because it can colour-change, and that fairy penguins don’t carry wands or grant wishes.
Discovering the world of sea life has never been more captivating with the fun poetry and vivid, bold acrylic paintings. ‘Silly Squid!’ is a valuable resource for primary aged children both in and out of the classroom.  

9781743623534The Cow Tripped Over the Moon, Tony Wilson (author), Laura Wood (illus.), Scholastic, 2015.  

A hilarious version of the old nursery rhyme, ‘Hey Diddle Diddle’, with a most persistent, hard-working cow and his ever-so supportive friends. ‘The Cow Tripped Over the Moon’ takes us back on the journey of how the cow ultimately succeeded in jumping over the moon. With exuberant rhyme and comical, distinct illustrations, it takes this hapless cow seven moon attempts before he finally conquers this mighty challenge. From tripping over, to hitting a hot air balloon, slow run-ups, riding meteorites and blazing bottoms, Cow hits an all-time low. But the encouragement of his dog, cat, dish and spoon mates sparks the determination in this fiesty creature, and the rhyme ends happily ever after.
Adorably whimsical and witty with clever plays on the classic rhyme, ‘The Cow Tripped Over the Moon’ is perfect for a snuggle and a giggle before a preschooler’s bedtime.    

Some other great song books to add to your list:

10-cheeky-possums10 Cheeky Possums, Ed Allen (author), Claire Richards (illus.), Scholastic, 2015.  

From the crazy silly series from Scholastic and Ed Allen, including ’10 Clumsy Emus’, ’10 Spooky Bats’ ’10 Hooting Owls’, ’10 Silly Wombats’, and ’10 Funny Sheep’, is the latest in the collection; ’10 Cheeky Possums’.
Each book contains the same rhythmic style and format, taking the reader from ten animals down to one, to the tune of ’10 Green Bottles’. There are always lively scenes and funny ways that the animals disappear from sight, like being inauspiciously swept off into the distance.
Whilst some unconventional phrasing to fit the verse, this series is an entertaining and interactive concept aimed at young preschoolers and the development of number recognition and counting skills. There are certainly plenty of opportunities for exploration and manipulation in the areas of numeracy and the arts.  

little-barry-bilby-had-a-fly-upon-his-noseLittle Barry Bilby had a Fly upon his Nose, Colin Buchanan (author), Roland Harvey (illus.), Scholastic Australia, 2015.  

By legendary author and musician Colin Buchanan, and charismatic, witty illustrations by Roland Harvey, is the gorgeously humorous and charming ‘Little Barry Bilby had a Fly upon his Nose’.
Crafted from the classic ‘Little Peter Rabbit’ song, this Aussie version takes us bouncing and itching along as a group of helpless native animals escape the invasion of their bizzy buzzy bush bug pests by jumping into the creek.
With rollicking lyrics in three verses, repetition and alliteration, preschoolers can easily gauge the rhythm and language, allowing for a most appealing and engaging song (and dance) time experience. The bonus CD adds an extra dimension to the drama, particularly for those adults who may need some help staying on key!  

Margaret Wild Changes Lives – Picture Book Reviews

margaret -wild-300x0Margaret Wild is a much-loved, award-winning author with over 70 titles to her name, having great success with acclaimed books including Fox, The Very Best of Friends, Harry and Hopper, Lucy Goosey, Davy and the Duckling, and The Treasure Box. Her books extend to a wide range of themes, and are characteristically known for their exploration of identity, hardship and loss. The two current titles outlined in this article differ in their exposition and intended audience, but they comparably focus on the central themes of change, finding oneself and having a positive outlook on life.  

9781742978185The Stone Lion, illustrated by Ritva Voutila. Little Hare Books, 2014.

“COMPASSION IS A FORCE MIGHTIER THAN STONE”  

Shortlisted for the 2015 Children’s Book Council of Australia Picture Book of the Year Awards, The Stone Lion is undoubtedly a stand out. From the magestic, embossed front cover to the delicate, subdued pastel drawings and equally sensitive plot, this is a profound and powerful story to warm the heart.

Set to be a classic, this story tells of a fierce-looking stone lion with the desire to become a breathing creature, able to sense emotion like the human visitors outside his library pedestal. The need for freedom, even if only for a short while, grows immensely, and it is upon the devastating collapse of a cold and hungry homeless girl with her baby brother in the frosty winter that the lion feels his first flicker of emotion – pity. As fervent as his appearance, so is his desire to save the poor children, and with flexed claws, stretched legs and a beat in his heart, the now powerful lion carries the baby basket, and then drags the little girl inside the library. The flexibility of his muscles may not remain permanent, but the warmth, contentment and spirit in his heart does, as does the gratitude and love that Sara and her little brother share for the lion for years to follow.

Stone Lion 1Wild‘s sophisticated and elegant use of language, beautifully complemented with Voutila‘s Depression-era, breathtaking imagery, literally sends chills up your spine and sparks a fire in your heart both at the same time.

The Stone Lion will be treasured for its undeniable beauty and depth, with themes of kindness, compassion, optimism and sense of self at its core. It is an inspirational story for primary-aged children to be empowered to change others’ lives, whether it be a mighty, or mini gesture.

1431011577357Bogtrotter, illustrated by Judith Rossell. Walker Books, 2015.

Targeted at a younger audience, preschoolers will be immediately drawn to the adorable lime-coloured creature that graces the cover of Bogtrotter. Whilst soft and muted greys and browns suit the subdued mood in The Stone Lion, more vivid greens and splashes of watercolours wash over the bog in this lively, yet sensitive story of an energetic Bogtrotter.

Imagine living in a world of monotony, without ever taking the time to stop and appreciate the beauty that surrounds you, without realising there is a world out there full of opportunities. This certainly is reality for Bogtrotter, who spends his days awaking from his gloomy cave only to run across, up, down and around his bog, for days and years on end. But sometimes he feels bored and lonely without understanding why and how to change it. A small, lateral-thinking frog probes Bogtrotter, empowering him to alter his dull existence, even if it is as minor as picking a flower. And in that instant, the world becomes his oyster, and the possibilities are endless.
With hope and motivation in his heart, Bogtrotter replays his usual daily jog, but with a difference. He befriends a family of muskrats, swings from a tree, and makes a pink daisy chain. Delightfully, he doesn’t stop there. However, there’s still one thing missing. It is his discerning amphibian friend that leaves him with another thought to ponder, and Bogtrotter takes the biggest risk of his life. What he discovers is nothing more than remarkable.

Bogtrotter book imageWith Margaret Wild‘s simple yet multi-layered, philosophical tale and loveable characters in their mentor-student-like roles, paired with Judith Rossell‘s enticing illustrations, Bogtrotter opens up a world of new and exciting challenges for all its readers. I love the beautifully painted scene of this endearing character pining for more as he gazes into the starry night sky. This powerful moment literally shows us that the sky’s the limit.

There will definately be plenty of “Ah” moments upon exploration of this inspirational, enchanting story of self-discovery, courage and change. And perhaps adults will be more inclined to delve further into the answers to their preschooler’s favourite question – “Why?”  

Musical Book Beats for Little Ones

Music and books have many benefits in common for a baby’s long-term development. Learning about patterns and sequencing, counting, memory, expressing language and emotions are all powerful advantages to being exposed to these experiences. And when combined, this makes for a most engaging, dynamic and instrumental union. Here we explore a few upbeat and rhythmic books for toddlers and preschoolers that are sure to have them bopping away to their little hearts’ delights.  

Fish jamFish Jam, Kylie Howarth (author, illus.), The Five Mile Press, 2015.  

Who doesn’t love a scit-scatting-dooba-diddling jazzy sea-minor fish? Unfortunately, all the creatures in the sea. Toot the fish beep-bops his way around the ocean, only to be shooshed by grumpy seals, lobsters, penguins and killer whales. He is just too noisy. But one day he comes across a most unexpected surprise that changes his solo singing days forever!
‘Fish Jam’ is such a fun way to explore music through the instrument of your voice. Author / illustrator, Kylie Howarth has produced a bubbly and entertaining story through her minimal text and vivacious cartoon-style pictures.
Preschoolers will be ‘o-fish-ally’ overjoyed to chant along with Toot for plenty of pipe sessions, no matter who’s listening!  

Children's+Book+Review,+B+is+for+BedtimeB is for Bedtime, Margaret Hamilton (author), Anna Pignataro (illus.), Little Hare Books, 2014.  

Here we have a beautiful lyrical lullaby that sings us through an alphabetical routine from awake time to catching zzz’s. A little girl and her puppy dog settle for bed with the help of their loving family. A Book read by dad and a ticking Clock on the wall, “Dd is my Dog, who’s not sleepy at all.” Gran gives a Hug and mum gives a Kiss. The Moon shines on her Nose. Eventually she is Quiet and as she goes to Sleep, she cuddles her Teddy Under the covers, Yawns and hushes until morning.
Anna Pignataro’s illustrations are as sweet and harmonious as the gentle tempo of the words. I love the fluidity of the watercolours and gouache and the patterns of the collage.
‘B is for Bedtime’ is perfectly paced to soothe young ones into a cosy slumber, to be enjoyed each and every night.
CBCA 2015 Early Childhood Notable Book.  

Baby BeatsBaby Beats, Karen Blair (author, illus.), Walker Books, 2014.  

Toddlers will love joining in to the rhythm and beat with this group of young children playing on their instruments. ‘Baby Beats’ immediately sets the musical tone, inviting the readers to make sound with their hands and feet. We explore beats and booms on the drums, bangs and clashes on the cymbals, tapping sticks and the chick, chick, chick of the shakers. All the strumming and singing eventually exhausts these tiny superstars as they lay down to rest.
Gorgeous, soft crayon and watercolour paintings set against white backgrounds effectively gives focus to the performances of the characters. The little details in the pictures like the funny actions of the cat, and the additional ‘home-made’ instruments also lend themselves to further enjoyment and ideas on creating your own music at home.
‘Baby Beats’, with its inclusive onomatopoeia, is a perfect book of sounds and rhythm and the introduction to a range of musical instruments.
CBCA 2015 Early Childhood Notable Book.  

51wdwNe+JBL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_Chooky-doodle-doo, Jan Whiten (author), Sinéad Hanley (illus.), Walker Books, 2014.  

This one’s not musical as such, but is ideal as a preliminary to finger games and songs about numbers. ‘Chooky-doodle-doo’ is a whimsical counting story with some rhyming elements to keep little ones joining in all the way through. One chick finds what it thinks is a worm and gives it a good tug. Enlisting the help of another chooky chick, the pair huff and puff, struggling to get this worm free. The story continues with subsequent numbers of chookies pulling on a continually elongating worm. Five chicks and a rooster cannot shift the stubborn squirmer, and with a final flop and a chooky sprawl, they discover that the worm is not actually a worm afterall!
Adorable, funny and interactive. With colourful handcrafted and digital illustrations, young preschoolers will love the humour and playfulness of these cheeky chooks.
CBCA 2015 Early Childhood Notable Book.

Picture Books to Celebrate the ANZAC Centenary

In just a couple of days we commemorate the legacy of the brave soldiers and the tragic events of World War 1 that occurred one hundred years ago. A beautiful selection of ANZAC books for children have been reviewed by Dimity here, but here’s a few more that certainly captured my heart with their touching themes of heroism, love and dedication.  

9781921720628Once a Shepherd, Glenda Millard (author), Phil Lesnie (illus.), Walker Books, 2014.

Gorgeous in its lyrical prose. Devastatingly provocative. Stunning imagery. ‘Once a Shepherd’ is a war story of love and loss, sure to break its readers’ hearts.
It tells of a young shepherd, living amongst a backdrop of emerald green beauty. “Once Tom’s world was all at peace.” He marries his sweetheart, and all the world seems right. Until he is called to war and he bids farewell to his wife and unborn child. A stranger veteran calls upon Tom’s home once the war had ended, only to share the shattering news of his heroic fall with a now grieving widow. Of the hand-stitched coat she once darned, now a new toy lamb is mended for Tom Shepherd’s baby boy. And the world is at peace once again.
‘Once a Shepherd’, with its carefully crafted verse and exquisite watercolour images of greens and browns, is a powerful, moving tale of the heartbreaking reality of war and the inherent hope for peace.
Prized Notable Picture Book of the Year in the Children’s Book Council of Australia’s 2015 Awards.  

9781921977718Midnight: The story of a light horse, Mark Greenwood (author), Frané Lessac (illus.), Walker Books, 2014.

A foal born at midnight; black as coal, eyes glimmering in the moonlight. She is Midnight, the Australian Light Horse trained by Lieutenant Guy Haydon and gracious in her charge in the last great cavalry.
The first port of call for the soldiers is four months in the trenches at Gallipoli without their horses. Reuniting once again in Cairo, the relationship is further bonded as the pair endure the harsh conditions of the heat, scarce water supply and flying shrapnel. But still, soldier and mare commit to their duties, and to one another. In a devasting final battalion (Beersheba, August 1917), riders tumble and horses fall. Guy and Midnight are both struck; a heartbreaking yet poignant moment as the pair share their last breath side by side.
The succinctness of the text reads almost poetically, and the continual references to the affectionate bond between Guy and his beloved Midnight make this war story more of a tender account of their time on the battlefield. The gouache illustrations by Frané Lessac compliment Greenwood’s evocative words and capture the starkness of each war scene.
With notes referencing background information on the Light Horse and the details of Beersheba, ‘Midnight’ makes for a terrific resource for studying the war, as well being as a heartrending tale of love and dedication.    

9781742833477Anzac Biscuits, Phil Cummings (author), Owen Swan (illus.), Scholastic Press, 2013.

This book is probably my favourite of the Anzac stories. ‘Anzac Biscuits’ poses a lovely contrast between a child’s warm and safe home, and her father battling the cold and dangerous conditions out in the trenches.
Rachel and her mother spend time together baking Anzac biscuits. As pots and pans bang and crash to the floor, the soldier lays low as shots bang around him. As Rachel sprinkles oats like snowflakes, the soldier turns his back to the bitter cold. The little girl loves the smell of burning red gum in her stove, but the soldier will never forget the choking gun smoke drifting across the fields. Despite the treachery that the soldier has faced, we are given a heartwarming ending we can cherish; the soldier – Rachel’s father – loved the biscuits made just for him.
An endearing story of affection, commitment and sacrifice, with equally warm and gentle illustrations, ‘Anzac Biscuits’ is a beautiful way to introduce the topic of wartime to young children. They will also find little clues in the pictures upon revisiting the book, which make for wonderful discussions about what life was like for both the soldiers and their families at home (and the significance of anzac biscuits).  
Prized Notable Picture Book of the Year in the Children’s Book Council of Australia’s 2014 Awards.
 
resized_9781743317235_224_297_FitSquareI Was Only Nineteen, John Schumann (text), Craig Smith (illus.), Allen & Unwin, 2014.

The words versing the iconic song about the Vietnam War, ‘I Was Only Nineteen’ tells of the devasting loss, sacrifice and emotional impact an elderly man is reliving of his time as a teenager at war.
We travel with this veteran from the moment he set sail, to inhabiting a firey, orange scrub, battling for hours and weeks amongst bullets and grenades and watching mates hit by the blasts. No-one told him about the mud, blood, tears, rashes and chills that would haunt him until he was old.
These memories of the war, through these unforgettable words, have been beautifully illustrated by Craig Smith, rendering warmth and respecting the spirit of our soldiers – the fallen and the survivors. I love the clever connection between the past recount and the present with a touch of army green evident in each scene showing the veteran and his grandson.
‘I Was Only Nineteen’ is a poignant rendition of a groundbreaking song by John Schumann, with great historical significance and plenty of scope for wartime study.
Prized Notable Picture Book of the Year in the Children’s Book Council of Australia’s 2015 Awards.

LEST WE FORGET

Stories Behind the Stories; Interview with Acclaimed Author Libby Gleeson

A true master of her craft is one that writes to elicit a multi-sensory experience from the very sight and sound of her words. She makes you feel, she makes you ponder, she creates suspense, excitement, and sorrow. All aimed to tug at your heartstrings, and all equally gratifying. The acclaimed multi award-winning author that holds the power to harness our emotions with her stories is Libby Gleeson AM; Australian author of over 30 books for children and young adults. I am thrilled to welcome one of our greatest national treasures and inspirational advocate for children’s literature; Libby Gleeson.  

Libby Gleeson PhotoPlease tell us a bit about your writing journey. What have been your biggest obstacles, and greatest personal achievements?
I was trained as a teacher but wanted to be a writer and so began that transformation while living and working in Italy in the nineteen seventies. I then went to London and joined a writers’ workshop which was formative in teaching me about editing my own work. Subsequently, back in Australia I read my work with other writers and that helped me to refine the work to make it publishable. Obstacles are just life and family commitments, and getting published many times is always a great achievement.  

Which books did you enjoy reading as a child? Any that have influenced you as a writer now?  
I read everything as a child and particularly loved L.M. Montgomery’s work – Anne of Green Gables, etc.

You’ve been winning Literary and service awards, in Australia and internationally, for over 30 years. What do these honours mean to you? Are there any that stand out as most significant for you?
All awards make you feel affirmed and so I am very grateful when successful. I know how hard the judging process is so I also know; intellectually that not winning is not necessarily a judging that the work is no good. The Bologna Ragazzi for The Great Bear is one highlight, as is the PM’s award for Red. All CBCA awards are important and make you feel pretty excited. The highlight was also receiving an AM, a Member of the Order of Australia.    

You’ve written over 30 books including picture books, early readers, books for older readers, non-fiction and short stories. Do you have a preference for a particular age group or genre, and why?
No preference. All are very satisfying. Big novels take a lot out of you so they are usually followed by something shorter. (But not always easier!)  

Many of your books are touching tales with heartwarming, heartwrenching and real moments that leave a lasting impression on the reader. Which of your stories resonate most strongly with you?
Nothing is a favourite but close to that sentiment are The Great Bear, Amy and Louis and in the novels, Mahtab’s Story. The novel I am Susannah is also pretty special.  

Your writing style is gentle, carefully crafted and compelling. Is this something that comes naturally to you, or does it require many drafts to achieve this quality of writing?
It does take lots of drafts to look so natural!    

go-to-sleep-jessie--1Your long-standing collaborations with illustrator, Freya Blackwood, have been hugely successful with works including ‘Amy & Louis’, ‘Clancy and Millie and the Very Fine House’, ‘Banjo and Ruby Red’, ‘The Cleo Stories’ and ‘Go To Sleep, Jessie!’. How did the pairing come about and what aspects of her style do you think best compliment your writing?
I saw Two Summers by John Heffernan and Freya when I was writing Amy and Louis and I thought her gentle style and her palette would suit my story. Fortunately she agreed to illustrate it. I would always ask her to join me when the work is of small children in a domestic or playful context.  

‘Go To Sleep, Jessie!’ (see review) deals with the love and despair of a girl with her screaming baby sister. Did this story evolve as an influence from your own childhood upbringing with your siblings, or more as a mother of three daughters?
This one came from mothering 3 daughters and believing little children are happy sleeping together.  

In ‘The Cleo Stories: The Necklace and The Present’ (see review), Cleo is a loveable girl who overcomes some tricky concepts with creativity and a positive attitude. Is Cleo based on anyone you know? How did you develop this character?
Cleo is based on my own daughters Josephine and Jessica and Freya’s daughter Ivy: all very creative  

‘The Cleo Stories: Book Two’ is currently in the pipeline. Can you reveal anything about Cleo in this next chapter? Will there be more Cleo Stories in the series?
I’d like to write more stories about Cleo – she’s a charming character to work with. In Book 2 Cleo is desperate for a pet and she’s also lonely when her friends aren’t around to play with. She solves each issue creatively.  

mum-goes-to-work‘Mum Goes to Work’ (illustrated by Leila Rudge, see review) is a groundbreaking and reassuring story about adapting to the realities of working parents, and how children can positively manage this lifestyle. The original version was published in 1992. Why has it been re-released? How do you feel the impact of the message will compare nowadays with what it did 23 years ago?
The original version went out of print some years ago but Sarah Foster, the former publisher at Walker Books felt it should be brought back. I’m very glad she did. I think working mothers are much more of an ordinary part of life that they were back then, but I think children are very unaware of what that means in their mother’s daily life. And I think many parents aren’t really aware of what their child does during a day at childcare, although a lot more information is now provided.  

What brought about the inspiration to write ‘Mum Goes to Work’ all those years ago?
I had kids in Child Care and discovered that the 4 year olds knew what their dads did but described their mums only as cooks, dishwashers, etc – housework. All the mums would have been workers or students because that was the only way you could get a place at the centre. So I interviewed the mothers at our centre and built the book around that.  

What projects are you currently working on? What can all of us ‘Libby Gleeson’ fans look forward to in the near future?
‘Cleo book 2’ will be out in 2015 and I am busy researching and writing 1918, a book set during the last year of WW1. It is the final title in a series published by Scholastic. 1914 and 1915 are already in bookshops.  

What advice would you give to aspiring writers wanting to become successful children’s authors?  
Read an enormous amount. Write lots and try to find a course or a group that specialises in children’s books. Find courses at The Writers’ Centre or Community College or similar.

Thank you so very much for answering my questions for Boomerang Books, Libby! It has been an absolute pleasure.  

Libby Gleeson received the Lady Cutler Award in 1997, became a Member of the Order of Australia in 2007, and has won numerous awards here and overseas. Some of her picture book awards with the Children’s Book Council of Australia include ‘Banjo and Ruby Red’ (see review), ‘Shutting the Chooks In’, ‘Clancy and Millie and the Very Fine House’, and ‘Amy and Louis’, amongst others. Awards in various State Literacy Awards, Prime Minister’s Literary Award (‘Red’ won in 2013), and the international Bologna Ragazzi Award (‘The Great Bear’ won in 2000) are also prestigious prizes that she has achieved.  
Amy&Louis_cover

More information about Libby Gleeson and her books can be found at:
www.libbygleeson.com.au

Libby Gleeson’s Books in Review

With a multitude of Australian and international literary and service awards, and over 30 books written for children and young adults, Libby Gleeson AM has proven her commitment, talent and prestige in the children’s literature industry. Here we explore a few of her latest books for young readers; the most recent is the quintessential, ‘Mum Goes to Work’.  

mum-goes-to-workMum Goes to Work, Libby Gleeson (author), Leila Rudge (illus.), Walker Books, 2015.

Originally published in 1992, Mum Goes to Work is back in 2015. A story of the importance of mums and an awareness for the many hats they wear, including a view into the world of working mothers.
We are introduced to all the mums and their children as they congregate at the child care centre. The story continues with snippets into the busy days of each mum at work, and their child at care. Nadia’s mother is a student (of architecture, as seen in Leila Rudge‘s illustrations), and it is paintings of houses and building blocks that Nadia meticulously works on at child care. Laurence’s mother serves food and coffee in a cafe, whilst he makes a three-layer sand cake and lots of sand biscuits with his friend in the sandpit. We see mums as nurses, at-home mums, receptionists, retail assistants, office workers and teachers. Meanwhile, the children play with baby dolls, puzzles, construction, ride bikes and read books.
Libby Gleeson‘s text gives equal significance to the mother’s work as it does to the activities of the busy children. Leila Rudge’s illustrations perfectly suit the tender feel of the story, delivering a touch of humour and meaning to the words, and plenty of details to explore. Her gentle watercolour, pencil and collage pictures are gorgeously expressive and beautifully spread between the text.
Mum Goes to Work is a welcome insight into the daily lives of working mothers and children in child care. It’s a joyous story of identity and having a place in this big world. Readers can gain a greater appreciation for the commitment, sacrifices and pleasures that women achieve for their families. Equally, this resource allows mums wonderful opportunities to further bond and relate to their children. Fun, interactive and visually appealing; it’s a win-win for all!  

go-to-sleep-jessie--1Go To Sleep, Jessie!, Libby Gleeson (author), Freya Blackwood (illus.), Little Hare Books, 2014.

A little girl cannot sleep while her baby sister occupies the same bedroom…and screams. No amount of comfort and pats from Mum settle baby Jessie. No amount of sweet stories and lullabies from Dad settle Jessie. The girl is frustrated beyond words, but when Jessie is taken out and all is quiet, she still can’t sleep, and finally comes to realise the perfect solution… A little bit of sisterly love and affection goes a long way.
A really gentle and endearing story that delicately explores the struggles of sleep-time routines. I love Libby Gleeson‘s descriptions of the baby’s behaviour, paired with the raw emotions of the older sister. I also love Freya Blackwood‘s whimsical and dynamic images that show these feelings with vignettes and contrasting tones of orange and blue.
Go To Sleep, Jessie! will melt your heart. It is perfect as a bedtime story at the end of the day, and especially for children who understand the joys and angst of having a younger sibling.  

resized_9781743315279_224_297_FitSquareThe Cleo Stories: The Necklace and the Present, Libby Gleeson (author), Freya Blackwood (illus.), Allen & Unwin, 2014.

In two delightful chapters we meet a little girl named Cleo, who brilliantly solves some real life problems. In ‘The Necklace’, Cleo envies her friends as they show off their glamorous jewels, but all Cleo has to offer is a jumper she received at Christmas. Unable to wait until her birthday, Cleo takes the initiative to gather her resources and creates a beautiful, unique necklace on her own. The next chapter, ‘The Present’, sees Cleo desperate to give her mum a nice present for her upcoming birthday. She’s wracked her brains, emptied her piggy bank, and even got herself into a very sticky mess attempting to piece an old broken bowl back together. Finally, Cleo cleverly presents her mum with the best gift ever!  
Once again, this dynamic duo that is Libby Gleeson and Freya Blackwood have created a stunning book for young readers, with such a loveable and relatable character that is Cleo. Gleeson’s text is suited to both independent readers, as well as being an engaging read aloud story to those in the early stages of reading. And Blackwood’s illustrations are just gorgeous, soft yet complimentary of the energy and personality of the creative little girl.
The Cleo Stories is a charming short chapter book of a girl with resilience, ingenuity and flair. If she hasn’t already captured your heart, she will! I can’t wait to find out what she has planned in the next instalment of The Cleo Stories (Book Two coming out in 2015).  

banjo-and-ruby-red-1Banjo and Ruby Red, Libby Gleeson (author), Freya Blackwood (illus.), Little Hare Books, 2013.

Banjo the chook dog is very efficient when it comes to rounding the chickens… Except for Ruby Red. This obstinate chook would rather sit on the woodheap, staring at the sky. Then comes the day when Banjo discovers Ruby Red not on her pile, but rather flat on the ground with her eyes shut. Will his loyalty and commitment to his job see Banjo take on a new role? What becomes of this complex relationship between dog and chook?
A heartwrenching and warming tale all encompassed into one beautiful story of rivalry and friendship. Libby Gleeson‘s text is simple, yet compelling and evocative. Freya Blackwood‘s illustrations are equally expressive, fluid and powerful, creating both calm and chaos with her sketching, varied perspectives and earthy tones.
Banjo and Ruby Red won Honour Book in the CBCA Awards 2014, and deservingly comes highly recommended for anyone looking to engage in a touching, funny and energetic story.  

Love these books? How would you like to discover more about their remarkable author; Libby Gleeson? Stay tuned for a very special appearance on Boomerang Books! Coming soon!

Celebrating Mal Peet

Mal PeetMal Peet was a delight to read and meet. I can’t describe him as a YA author because he would loathe that description, refusing to see his writing pigeonholed into age categories. But clearly both young adults and adults appreciated his novels, and children his picture books.

He has left a legacy of memorable books (published by Walker Books) and is an author I collect, beginning with Keeper (2003), which won the Branford Boase Award in the UK and was shortlisted for the Deutscher Jungendliteraturpreis in Germany. Although I recall him saying that he never played the role of keeper/goalie in football, Mal created a vivid picture set against the backdrop of an imaginary South American jungle.Keeper

Tamar (2005) is one of his two books set around war and spying. It won the Carnegie medal and, like most of his novels, is for mature readers.

The Penalty (2006) and Exposure (2008) re-introduce journalist Paul Faustino, first met in Keeper. Exposure is a bold re-interpretation of Othello. It won the prestigious Guardian Award and was shortlisted for the Australian Inky Awards. This trilogy of sports novels achieves the distinction of having literary merit and also being interesting.

Life an Exploded DiagramLife: An Exploded Diagram (2011) is the partly biographical story of Clem who grew up in the 1960s in Norfolk, England. He outgrows his home, his parents and his place. He also outgrows his social status by falling for rich landowner’s daughter, Frankie.

At the same time that Clem is growing up, the Cold War, a time where the two superpowers, the USSR representing the Communist Eastern bloc and the USA, representing the Capitalist West, are playing a game of cat and mouse for high stakes – the safety or decimation of the world.

There are a number of explosions – actual and anticipated – while President John F Kennedy tries to stop his war chiefs from retaliating against the Russians and destroying Cuba.

When I first spoke about Life: An Exploded Diagram amongst other books, senior English teachers burned with curiosity. That was the book they wanted to talk about afterwards. I was incredibly fortunate to later chair Mal at the Sydney Writers’ Festival with the brilliant Ursula Dubosarsky. We explored rites of passage in the 1960s through Mal’s Exploded Diagram and Ursula’s The Golden Day. Mal described Ursula’s writing style as ‘elliptical economy’ and his own writing as ‘verbose’ but ‘generous’ may be a better description. He was a raconteur, sitting forward in delight at the questions and I treasure one email to me, which begins, I do so like using the phrase ‘Hello, Joy’. The opportunities are none too common.

Cloud Tea MonkeysMy favourite of Mal’s other books is Cloud Tea Monkeys, co-written with his wife, Elspeth Graham, illustrated by Juan Wijngaard and shortlisted for the Kate Greenaway Medal. It’s a poignant tale about a young girl who has to take her ill mother’s place working in the tea plantations.

Mal Peet was an ebullient, intellectually active and curious man. He wrote with a broad sweep, across WWII and the Cold War, the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Football World Cup – but still with intimacy by telling personal stories. He was an inimitable writer.

 

Books of Australia – For Kids

January 26th marks the date in which Australians reflect upon our cultural history and celebrate the accomplishments since the first fleet landed on Sydney’s shores in 1788. Here are a select few picture books aimed at providing children with some background knowledge of our beautiful land, flora, fauna and multicultural diversity. There is plenty of scope for teaching and learning opportunities under the Australian curriculum, and respectful inclusions of Aboriginal traditions.  

9781921966248An Aussie Year; Twelve Months in the Life of Australian Kids, Tania McCartney (author), Tina Snerling (illus.), EK Books, 2013.  

What a joyous celebration of all things Australiana, all encompassed in one gorgeous book; An Aussie Year. From January through to December, with every season in between, from Melbourne to Sydney’s City to Surf and the Great Barrier Reef, we get a taste of Australian life for five young individual children of different cultural backgrounds. Ned, Zoe, Lily, Kirra and Matilda provide us with snippets of their typical ethnic traditions, seasonal activities, food, terminology and special events that occur throughout the year. From icy poles, cricket, swimming and Australia Day in January, to back-to-school, Valentine’s Day and Chinese New Year in February. April brings Easter, Anzac Day and the Antipodes Festival, and creepy-crawlies and Mother’s Day breakfast are common occurrences in May.
Tania McCartney’s Aussie culmination continues with plenty more fun and interesting experiences as told by the kids, beautifully capturing our wonderful multicultural nation. The pictures by Tina Snerling illustrate that diversity perfectly; they are colourful, creative, rich and varied in what they portray, and very sweet.
An Aussie Year is a wonderful learning resource for primary aged children, as well as an engaging and delightful book just to peruse and reflect upon for both young and old.  

9781921504402Jeremy, Chris Faille (author), Danny Snell (illus.), Working Title Press, 2013.  

One of the wonderful elements of Australia is our exotic and amazing wildlife. The king of the bush is no exception. In ‘Jeremy’, a heartwarming story is brought to reality with the events of a growing baby kookaburra over the course of several weeks. Starting out as an ugly, featherless chick, Jeremy is brought in by the family cat and cared for by its loving family. Descriptive language allows the reader to learn his behavioural traits and aesthetic characteristics. As the story develops, we also become familiar with his personality; as an endearing and cheeky little bird, who loves to watch television and spy the goldfish for lunch. Stumbles and crashes are all part of learning to fly. But once established, a final kiss goodbye sees Jeremy reunited with his kookaburra family as they fly away into the sunset together.
Based on a true story, ‘Jeremy’ is a beautifully written and engaging information story by author Chris Faille. Illustrator Danny Snell has provided equally soft and detailed acrylic paintings. Preschoolers will adore learning about the kookaburra’s development and fascinating facts, as seen in the endpapers, as well as showing them the need to care for defenceless creatures.  

9780763670757Big Red Kangaroo, Claire Saxby (author), Graham Byrne (illus.), Walker Books, 2013.  

Another native animal to Australia is the symbolic kangaroo, and in ‘Big Red Kangaroo’ by Claire Saxby (author of other Aussie themed books including Meet the Anzacs and Emu), the typical behaviours of these large marsupials is explored in both a storytale and informative format.
‘Red’ is surrounded by his mob, and at nightfall they bound off in search of grasses. Did you know that kangaroos sometimes regurgitate their food to help with digestion? The mob are met by other creatures looking for water in the middle of the dry season. But they cannot settle when other male kangaroos are nearby. Red is the male leader, but is soon challenged by another to take over his mob. A brief fight for dominance sees Red retain his role as king, and he takes his followers to the safe shelter amongst the trees.
A compelling account, written with sophisticated, descriptive language, and enlightening charcoal and digital media illustrations to match. Equipped with an index and plenty of information, ‘Big Red Kangaroo’ is the perfect learning tool for primary school aged children.  

9781922081322Calpepper’s Place, Trudie Trewin (author), Donna Gynell (illus.), Windy Hollow Books, 2014.  

In ‘Calpepper’s Place’ we are taken on a journey with a range of Australian animals around our beautiful continent. It is an adorable story of acceptance, and trying new adventures.
Calpepper is a camel who decides one day that trudging through the hot desert just isn’t exciting enough. He jumps aboard a bus named ‘Adventure Tours to the Unknown’, and in a trialing series of experiences, Calpepper discovers these places are not the places for him after all. Whooshing down chilly ski slopes, being trampled by an avalanche of shoes in the concrete jungle, and tumbling off a wave onto the beach shore are not camely sorts of places. Finally, a little ray of sunshine gives him the comfort he needed and he returns back to plod along with the camel train once again.
A rhythmic story with fun, varied text and expressive language, gorgeously fluid and whimsical watercolour illustrations, make ‘Calpepper’s Place’ a truly engaging way to explore our scenic country and appreciate your own special place to call home.  

9781922179760A is for Australia, Frané Lessac (author / illus.), Walker Books, 2015. (See also Midnight and Ned Kelly and the Green Sash). 

Described as a ”factastic tour of Australia” and a ”celebration of Australian people, places and culture.” Exactly that, Frané Lessac’s ‘A is for Australia’ is a colourful, informative and truly engaging book visiting various locations around our amazing country. With each letter of the alphabet, we are introduced to many of Australia’s fascinating and iconic landmarks, covering every state and territory. From our beautiful beaches, to the dry outback, busy major cities and temperate rainforests, this book provides ample opportunity to get to know more about geographical places and the flora, fauna, people and structures that can be found there. Riveting facts accompany each location, including indigenous and cultural history. For example, the Sydney Opera House, designed by Danish architect Jorn Utzon, took 16 years to build and opened in 1973.
There is plenty to experience with this bright, aesthetically pleasing and engrossing information book about our special continent. It is perfect for families to share (and create) their own memories and experiences, and for primary school children to utilise for their Australian studies.  

So, after travelling through the alphabet, the seasons and across Australia, you’ll be able to say, ‘I’ve been everywhere, man. Here, there, everywhere, man!’

Happy Australia Day, Australia!

Books of Summer – For Kids

In Australia we’re in the midst of Summer, although here in Melbourne we’ve already had all four seasons in one, sometimes even in one day! A great way to familiarise children with all that the season encompasses is through engaging language experiences. That means providing children opportunities to see, do, touch, listen, read and think about different activities (going to outdoor places like the beach, pool, etc), and then talk, write and create about them.   
I’ll suggest a few fantastic picture books to get stuck into following your outdoor Summer adventures, as well as some fun learning tasks to enrich and reinforce what your child has discovered.  

rules-of-summerRules of Summer, Shaun Tan (author / illustrator), Lothian, 2013. CBCA Winner 2014, Queensland Literary Awards Winner 2014.

Wow. Just wow! Shaun Tan has brought a truly fantastical, mysterious and somewhat dark version of what Summer means to a pair of young brothers. Amazingly thought-provoking and surreal, with spectacular, Van-Gogh-like paintings, this book promotes analytical skills in deciphering its’ content; both the text and the images.
Exploring the complicated relationship between the boys, each spread states a new rule to obide by. But failing to comply results in harsh consequences, particularly for the younger brother. In the end the pair join forces in an imaginatively delightful celebration of summer fruits and a beautiful sunset. And after all the emotion, conflict, darkness and out-of-this-world imagery, there’s still room for a little chuckle as seen in the endpaper.
Suited to primary school aged children who will enjoy adding their own interpretation to the depth and meaning that Shaun Tan has conveyed.  

2015-01-07-15-06-02--1990215886Granny Grommet and Me, Dianne Wolfer (author), Karen Blair (illustrator), Walker Books, 2013, CBCA Shortlist 2014.

An enchanting book about a boy narrator who delights at the sea’s wonders, with his Granny and her elderly, grommet friends (a grommet is a young or beginner surfer). There is much humour in watching old ladies twisting, turning, zooming through dumpers and riding a curler wave to the shore! However, the boy feels nervous about what he doesn’t know, but Granny reassures and shows him safe and friendly things in the sea.
Lovely, gentle text by Wolfer, from the perspective of a child, beach safety tips, and fun, colourful paint and pencil drawings by Blair, make Granny Grommet and Me an engaging and reassuring story to be read many times over.  

noni-the-pony-goes-to-the-beachNoni the Pony Goes to the Beach, Alison Lester (author / illustrator), Allen & Unwin, 2014.

Following the original Noni the Pony, the loveable pony is back and ready to set off to the beach with her companions; Coco the cat and Dave the dog. As far as cats go, Coco prefers to be nonchalant and stay dry. But like any typical energetic dog, Dave bounds off through the waves to find a whale, only to become stranded in the middle of the ocean. In her true heroic, caring manner, Noni is there to fish him out and return to the safety of the shore.
With Alison Lester’s characteristically gorgeous, endearing illustrations, and gentle, rhythmic wording, Noni the Pony Goes to the Beach is a fun, positive tale of friendship and all things magical about visiting the beach.  

a-swim-in-the-sea-1A Swim in the Sea, Sue Whiting (author), Meredith Thomas (illustrator), Walker Books, 2013. Speech Pathology Australia Winner 2014.

A gorgeous story of an excitable young Bruno who can’t wait to experience the big blue sea for the first time. Wildly eager to dive right in, Bruno suddenly halters at the loud, thumping, pounding waves, which frighten him. As his family introduce him to other fun beach activities, like rockpools and sand cities, Bruno eventually discovers that the big blue sea is far from scary.
Sue Whiting’s text is beautifully descriptive and engaging. I love the way she talks about the sea; ”wobbling like a sparkly blue jelly”. And Meredith Thomas’ illustrations are equally expressive, bold and moving with bright, complimentary colours that almost literally wash over the pages.
A delightfully sunny story about first-time experiences at the beach, and facing one’s fears.  

seadogSeadog, Claire Saxby (author), Tom Jellett (illustrator), Random House Australia, 2013. Speech Pathology Australia Winner 2013.

An adorably funny story about a dog who is not like other working, well-trained dogs that fetch sticks, sit still then roll over and stay clean. Their dog is a Seadog, a run-and-scatter-gulls, crunch-and-munch, jump-and-chase Seadog. And although he is not a bath dog, there comes a time to sit-still-till-it’s-done, until…
With Jellett’s characteristically boisterous and comical illustrations, Seadog is a great read-aloud book perfect for little ones who enjoy romping with their dogs at the beach.  

9781925161168_ONASMALLISLAND_WEBOn a Small Island, Kyle Hughes-Odgers (author / illustrator), Fremantle Press, 2014.

‘On a small island, in a gigantic sea, lives Ari.’ Ari lives alone, collecting objects and watching the large ships pass by. One day a captain visits and tells Ari of the wonderful and intriguing people, buildings and exceptional artefacts of a great land on the horizon. Ari longs for a place like this and feels alone on his island. Until he has a brilliant, creative idea which eventually attracts the footsteps of many, and he is finally able to appreciate his surroundings and frequenting company.
Exotic, Mediterranean-style paintings, packed with mosaics, pattern and texture, artist and author Kyle Hughes-Odgers has created a magnificent flowing story exploring isolation, friendship, creativity and recycling that is both sophisticated and unique.  

With a few more weeks of Summer school holidays left, there’s plenty of time to head outdoors and enjoy the sunshine with your little ones (and furry ones, too!). Then find a cool, shady spot like Coco the cat for some relaxing summertime reading!  
And for some fun teaching and learning activities related to the Summer theme, head to www.pinterest.com/mylilstorycrner.
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What I’m reading this Christmas: Claire Smith, Walker Books

Thanks for talking to Boomerang Books, Claire Smith. Spark

You’re the marketing assistant at Walker Books, Australia, and you’re going to share your Christmas picks with us. But first let’s find out about you and some books you’ve been working with.

Walker Books  (based in Sydney)  is known for its children’s and YA books. Which do you work on/prefer?

Being in marketing and publicity, I’m lucky enough to get to work on most books that we publish. Children’s publishing is one of those great industries where you really do see a variety of work from a wide variety of people. We often have to stop in meetings and ask “Are we really having this intense discussion about a book on the history of poo?” It really does make for some good stories when people ask what you do. From a reading perspective, I really get into our dystopian YA like Rachael Craw’s Spark, but I also love a beautiful picture book and am a big Jon Klassen fan.

This is not my HatYou’re a marketing assistant – what does a marketing assistant do?

A marketing assistant is really a team all-rounder. I get to liaise with our international offices in London and Boston which allows me a sneak peek at some of the great international titles we sell. I’m also lucky enough to work on our community partnerships and get to donate our books to amazing causes and help to get our authors out to smaller community festivals and charity events. The children’s book industry is so incredible and supportive, it is amazing to be a part of and to keep meeting so many great people in the industry.

How did you get this job?

In 2012 I completed a Masters of Publishing at Sydney Uni. This involved getting to know the business and allowed me to complete an internship as part of my studies. I interned for a few months in the publicity department at Hachette and fell in love with the hustle and bustle of being part of a marketing and publicity team. That experience helped me get the job at Walker, which I am incredibly grateful for. For anyone looking to work in publishing, an internship really is the way to get your foot in the door and find out if this industry is one you can see yourself in.

I suspect you love all the books you promote, but could you tell us about some that you are particularly proud of.

I do love all the books we promote! I am especially proud of Spark by Rachael Craw. It was one we all loved as soon as we got our hands on the manuscript. After some incredible work by our editorial team, it was even more spectacular. And my friend Amy did an amazing cover for it that everyone raves about. We met with Rachael and talked about what we can do for her marketing wise, but also what she can do for herself. She took like a duck to water with social media and has been winning fans left, right and centre. We are all really proud of how well Spark and Rachael have done, and so excited for the next book in the series!

What is different/special about Walker Books? 

Where to start with what is special about Walker?!? It is honestly one of the most inclusive and joyous places to be. The people are hard-working, funny, kind and above all so passionate about what they do and the children’s book industry. It is these wonderful people that really help to make the books what they are – their creativity, their eye for quality and their drive to produce the best children’s books available. We are all grateful for the opportunity to work and learn at Walker, and even if we sometimes feel tired or busy, we will all strive to do the best work we can. It really is an awesome place to work, especially for someone just starting out in the industry – getting to learn from these people every day is so wonderful. And getting to be friends with them? Cherry on top!

What are some awards Walker has won that have particular significance for you?

I recently got to attend the KOALA Awards with Bob Graham who won Honour Book for A Bus Called Heaven. It was so A Bus Called Heavenexciting to attend an awards ceremony in a hall full of kids who had been reading all year and who had voted for their favourite books. That really is why we do what we do – so kids can continue to read quality books. It was also really exciting to get to spend time with Bob Graham – who is an absolute master at what he does and one of the sweetest people you will ever meet.

What do you see as the way forward in the book industry?

I think the book industry – especially the children’s industry – has a bright future ahead. Seeing how hard authors, illustrators and publishers work can only mean good things for the industry in general and great things for readers. The children’s industry is also so well connected that everyone who is a part of it is constantly doing their part to make it vibrant, inclusive and fun to be a part of.

What are some must-reads over Christmas?

Christmas reading for me is always those big tomes that were a little too daunting earlier in the year. Last Christmas I managed to get through The Luminaries before the new year started – it’s great to be able to give all your attention to a book without anything else getting in the way.

The LuminariesWhat is your secret reading pleasure?

At the moment I’ve become a little obsessed with crime fiction. I flew through all three Gillian Flynn novels, including Gone Girl, and am now reading anything I can get my hands on by the wonderful Irish author Tana French. Her prose is fantastic and I love anything with a good twist at the end. I don’t know that much about Ireland, but her novels are great regardless.

Thanks very much for speaking with us, Claire. The Secret Place

 

 

 

Hey Corinne Fenton, What’s Your Christmas Wish?

Corinne's Launch of Little Dog-5842Corinne Fenton is established as one of Australia’s treasured authors of beautiful picture books. They often contain an element of social history, and her knowledge and passion for writing is regularly shared in schools, libraries and workshops.  
This Christmas, there are TWO Corinne Fenton picture books that are unmissable and will have children from birth to eight feeling enriched and cherished for all of the holiday season; Little Dog and the Christmas Wish and Hey Baby, It’s Christmas! Let’s find out a little more about Corinne Fenton and her books!  

What do you love about writing children’s books?
I love being taken away with the words, those times when in my head I’m spinning and flying on a carousel horse, but really I’m at my desk staring into space.  

queenieMuch of your writing involves a great significance to social history. Is there an element of personal meaning when incorporating these topics?
Yes, in a way I believe I write about animals whose stories must be told – for me there’s a certain responsibility to tell them. When I visit students in schools it gives me a great feeling to share information with them through my stories. I strongly believe that children are learning this information in an enjoyable and almost effortless way. This is another reason why I feel so strongly about picture books.
Queenie: One Elephant’s Story came about by accident (I was actually writing a story about sparrows) but when I found her I knew immediately her story had to be told. Her story raises many issues about animals in zoos today, compared to what zoos were like back when elephants were giving rides not only here in the Melbourne Zoo but in zoos all over the world. Queenie walked for almost 40 years through the depression and through two world wars carrying up to 500 people a day.
The Dog on the Tuckerbox tells of a dog called Lady and her loyalty to her master, but there is also a host of information about bullockies, bullocks, wagons and pioneers and what it was like to live in the days when it took a bullock team up to 4 months to travel a journey which today takes a truck only 4 hours!
Flame Stands Waiting is a fictional story about a carousel horse called Flame, set in a real place – on the carousel at Melbourne’s Luna Park. This story takes place in the years of the depression, the bright lights and happiness of the carousel contrasted strongly with the drab clothing worn by the children. The discussion about this story centres on being different but students can take it further by comparing carousels throughout the world and their differences and by studying further about the depression.  

little-dog-and-the-christmas-wish[Little Dog and the Christmas Wish is a truly charming book. It is a story of loyalty, love and family belonging. This gentle, beautifully written tale is set in 1957, with Corinne Fenton’s own nostalgic memories evident, as is her love of dogs!
Little Dog, a white West Highland Terrier, escapes from home in a thunderstorm on Christmas Eve and finds himself in the heart of the city. He passes familiar Melbourne landmarks, scouring through the tall buildings, watching people bustling around, searching for his best friend and owner, Jonathan. With the hope of finding his way back home, will Little Dog get his Christmas wish? With stunning drawings by illustrator Robin Cowcher, appropriate for this setting and era, readers will enjoy the soft watercolours, smooth lines and textures of every scene.
Little Dog and the Christmas Wish is a heartwarming, engaging story that will have children from aged three, as well as older generations, in anticipation of the ending’s reveal and for future readings every Christmas.
Black Dog Books 2014]  

Your current story, ‘Little Dog and the Christmas Wish’ is set in Melbourne in the 1950s. What does this time and place mean to you? What was your inspiration behind the story?  
This book is special to me for many reasons. A child of the 50’s, it was actually nice to know, first hand, what I was writing about – to remember the enormous Foy’s Santa on the corner of Swanston and Bourke Streets, calling children toward him like this . . .. (finger) and to remember coming into the city on the green and cream rattly trams to marvel at the Myer windows every year – and walking under the portico of the Melbourne Town Hall. I also remember the clip-clopping of the Clydesdale horses as they delivered milk or bread to our front gate.
I believe I am privileged to have such precious Christmas memories and to be able to tie that in with a lovable ‘Little Dog’ character was a special Christmas gift for myself.  

The illustrations by Robin Cowcher are simply stunning. How much of the artistic content is based on your own ideas, and how much came from Robin?
As with all of my books I did a lot of research on this particular book, which Robin was able to refer to. The story is set in 1957 so the Myer windows that year displayed The Nutcracker Suite and on Christmas Eve that year the Regent Theatre were screening An Affair to Remember (one of my favourite old movies) so I imagined all of this when I was writing. Yes, Robin did a magical job on telling the other half of the story with her superb illustrations.  

hey-baby-it-s-christmasA love letter became ‘Hey Baby!’, dedicated to her own babies. ‘Hey Mum, I Love You’ was written for her own special mum. ‘Hey Dad, You’re Great’ was released in time for Father’s Day and is dedicated to her ”dad, grandpa, pop, great grandpa, all of whom I was privileged to know, and to my husband for being such a great dad.”
”This final book (‘Hey Baby, It’s Christmas’) is dedicated to my sister and brother who shared with me wonderful and precious childhood Christmases, which are printed on our hearts.” – Corinne Fenton.
Hey Baby, It’s Christmas includes an adorable array of animal images, accompanied by equally beautiful text by Corinne Fenton about enjoying the exciting lead up to Christmas.
”Hey Baby. Hang on tight, count the sleeps. Christmas is coming.”
This book touches the heart with tender moments between mother and baby, with cute, cuddly ducklings and a ‘quiet as dreaming’ sleeping puppy. There are also moments that make you giggle. Hey Baby, It’s Christmas is perfect for those calm, soothing times, when you can steal plenty of sneaky kisses and cuddles with your little one, whilst teaching them the true meaning of Christmas… Love!
Black Dog Books 2014]  

Congratulations on the release of your most recent book, ‘Hey Baby, It’s Christmas’! How did you celebrate the launch?
This launch was celebrated on Sunday November 9 at the Watsonia Pre-school with readings, books, babies, small children, cake, Christmas crafts, face painting and lots of laughter. It was the perfect place to launch such a book.  

What has been your favourite part of creating this book, and all the ‘Hey Baby!’ books in the series?
In all picture books I believe each word must earn the right to be there and in these short books (the original Hey Baby is only 53 words long) it’s even more important that each word is as perfect as it can be and that’s my favourite part, finding that perfect word, no matter how long it takes.  

Did you have a long term plan to publish all your titles in the series when writing the first ‘Hey Baby!’ book?
Not at all. I actually wrote the first one, Hey Baby! as a dedication in another book, which is not yet published. It was one of those happy accidents that grew.  

What is your favourite thing about the festive season?
Christmas memories and making more and being with the people I love. This Christmas will be special writing-wise as I have many book signings and readings in the lead up to Christmas (see my website under events – and my regular Wednesday blog post.) http://corinnefenton.com/blog    

Thank you so much for sharing, Corinne! Wishing you a safe and joyous holiday season!  
And the same to you Romi. Thank you for this opportunity. Corinne  

Connect with Corinne:
http://corinnefenton.com/  
https://www.facebook.com/pages/Corinne-Fenton-Author/

Book it in! Sunday 30 November  – 11.00 a.m. –
Little Dog and the Christmas Wish Window Launch Event at The Little Bookroom, 5 Degraves Street, Melbourne –

Check dates for other appearances by Corinne Fenton on her blog: http://corinnefenton.com/blog  

Interview by Romi Sharp
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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

Vanguard of Debut Children’s Authors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Review – Vanilla Icecream

Vanilla Icecream 2You might as well know my weakness. It’s ice cream. Any flavour, most kinds, regardless of country of origin. I am extremely ice cream tolerant and I wonder if Bob Graham had similar thoughts when he penned his latest picture book masterpiece, Vanilla Icecream.

Vanilla Icecream is an eloquently articulated tale about a young curious sparrow whose world revolves around a dusty truck stop in the heart of India. He enjoys his existence and relishes his freedom with the blithe objectivity of all wild things until one day his pluck and appetite hook up with fate, which escorts him south across rough seas and through dark nights, eventually delivering him ‘into a bright new day’.

Unperturbed by his new environment in a different land, the truck stop sparrow chances upon a new eating hole and Edie Irvine, a toddler whose young life is inextricably changed forever because of him.

Bob Graham Graham’s dramatic narration of the little sparrow’s epic journey stuns you with its beautiful brevity and makes you want to follow the courageous new immigrant and know if Edie’s and his paths will ever cross again. This is a largely self-indulgent desire on my part as I get quite caught up in Graham’s snapshots of life, wanting them to never end. Nonetheless, end they must and this one’s delicious denouement is as immeasurably satisfying as a bowl of vanilla ice cream.

Vanilla Icecream EdieThere are numerous wordless pages in this picture book as Graham shapes much of the narration visually with his splendid, slightly sassy, culturally sensitive illustrations. Graham has the unique, unaffected knack of suffusing modern day nuances with old-fashioned appeal into his pictures that draw the eye of young and old alike deep into the story in spite of the apparent simplicity on shown on the page.

This story allowed me to sift through memories, mostly glorious of my own ‘firsts’ and it reminded me of my daughter’s wonderment when discovering her first time, life-changing tastes, notions, and realisations. What Vanilla Icecream evokes in you depends entirely on your own memories and attitude towards new people and new experiences, and your fondness for ice cream of course. However, you will be hard pressed to find a better way to introduce the complex ideals of human rights, fate, and immigration to young ones where a lightness of touch is more readily comprehended than harsh dry facts. As Amnesty International UK proclaims through its endorsement of Vanilla Icecream;

‘…we should all enjoy life, freedom, and safety. These are some of our human rights.’

Vanilla Icecream is quite simply a stunning picture book. Quiet and unassuming in its appearance. Complex and multi-layered enough to warrant spirited discussion with 3 to 103 year olds.

The perfect scoop.

Walker Books UK  2014

Bob Graham fans in our southern states should not miss the ACT Museum+Gallery Exhibition: A Bird in the Hand! Bob Graham: A Retrospective on now until 24th August 2014, in Canberra. A must see.bobgraham_banner

Meet Suzy Zail, author of Alexander Altmann A10567

Thanks for speaking to Boomerang Books, Suzy.

Alexander Altmann

Your second novel for young adults, Alexander Altmann A10567 Black Dog Books (Walker Books)  is a candid account of a Hungarian boy’s experience in the concentration camps of Auschwitz-Birkenau. In spite of the horrific events, you have crafted a story of human indomitability and hope. Was this a deliberate strategy?

Yes.   There’s no episode more grim than the Holocaust. Alexander Altmann A10567 doesn’t shy away from the fact that the world can be a bleak and crushing place, but I also wanted to remind readers that we’re capable of great things, that we can help – in big and small ways – and that our capacity for friendship can powerful.

 Why are you interested in the holocaust?

My father inspired me to write the book. I was a litigation lawyer when he was diagnosed with a terminal illness in 1998. My father had survived Auschwitz as a thirteen-year-old, but had never talked about his experiences. Once he was diagnosed he wanted to tell us everything. He didn’t want us to be victims or victimise others.

I left the law and spent the next 5 years writing his story, promising him, on the day he died, that I’d get it published. Writing The Wrong Boy and Alexander Altmann allowed me to remember him and pass on his warning never to forget.

Alexander Altmann was inspired by the true experiences of Fred Steiner, who worked in the elite horse commando at Auschwitz. What was the most disturbing thing he told you? The most hopeful?

The most disturbing episode was when he was forced to throw his baby cousin over a barbed wire fence hoping his aunt would catch him. (She did and that cousin is now living in San Francisco in her 60s.) The most hopeful was when Fred was severely whipped by the Commander but his wife called him by name and fed him cake.

How has the 2013 CBCA short-listing of The Wrong Boy changed your writing life?

wrong boy

 I came to writing fiction through non-fiction. It was a steep learning curve: from interviewing people to imagining them into existence. The short-listing allowed me to believe that my writing could touch people and I could master the craft of storytelling.

Why are you writing YA?

I didn’t pick YA. My stories did. Young adults are the next generation of leaders. They’re our future and the perfect audience for a story set in Auschwitz. The only way to prevent something like the Holocaust recurring is by trying to understand it and the best way to help kids do that is giving them a character to care about. Not millions of Jews – just one – a girl or boy their age with the same fears, dreams and insecurities.

I knew teenagers would relate to the stories because their lives, like Hanna and Alexander’s, can also involve betrayal, abandonment, loneliness and shame. They’re also discovering their identity, so a book that encourages them to examine intolerance and question how they want to live is powerful.

 

 

Five Faves (Picture Books) for Book Week

Here are 5 fantastic favourites you should reach out and grab onto with both hands – FAST!

Silver Buttons Silver Buttons by Bob Graham, Walker Books UK August 2013

Jodie draws a duck just as her baby brother, Jonathon, takes his first steps. An exquisite and poetic glimpse at a speck in time overflowing with life; beginnings and farewells, dramas and insignificances. Brimming with Bob Graham magic.

Banjo and Ruby Red Banjo and Ruby Red by Libby Gleeson and Freya Blackwood, Little Hero Books, August 2013 Antagonistic Ruby the chook is teasing, taunting, stubborn and disregarding. Old Border Collie, Banjo, is determined, loyal and equally as strong-willed. A sometimes smiling, sometimes heart faltering look at the love and friendship that ties two seemingly opposites together.

Omar the Strongman Omar the Strongman, by Gregory Rogers, Scholastic Australia, July 2013 A tender tale of a big man with an even bigger heart who eventually finds his perfect sense of place and value in the circus of all places. Sensitively and sublimely depicted as only Gregory Rogers can.

Davy and the Duckling Davy and the Duckling, Margaret Wild and Julie Vivas, Penguin/Viking Australia, July 2013 Perfectly orchestrated story of a duckling who imprints on a boy who becomes his everything even after the boy becomes an actual human father years later. A gorgeous cyclical life tale of enduring relationships and the power of the bond of love.

The Nelly Gang The Nelly Gang, The Adventures of Nelly Nolan, by Stephen Axelsen, Walker Books Australia, August 2013 Rousing adventure yarn presented as graphic picture book, set in the 1850’s and chock full of bushrangers, gold, and unlikely heroes.

Why are these books all worth a look? Because they are supremely strong tales, gently told by phenomenal story tellers and harmoniously illustrated by renowned illustrators.

There is something for every taste. View and buy any of these picture books simply by clicking on the title.

Happy Reading!

 

 

5 Faves from Afar

The volume of literary genius Australia possesses is staggering. Distill this down further to talented kids’ authors and illustrators and you’d still fill oceans, which is why I love showcasing our home grown children’s books.

But it’s impossible to ignore the magnitude of offerings from overseas too. So every now and then I’ll give you 5 Faves from overseas.

Here is the first fistful – all picture books this time round.

Waiting for Later1. Waiting for Later by Tina Matthews Walker Books Australia (OK published here but Tina is from NZ so sneaks in on this list). Nancy’s family are too busy to play with her. Each time she appeals for their attention, the reply is ‘later’. Nancy holds out for ‘later’ in a grand old tree in her garden with surprising results. An evocative cautionary tale reminding us of the precious brevity of childhood told in captivating book-end style.

2. Too Many Girls by Jonty Lees Eight Books Limited UK. Fun, frivolous and very pink in parts. Any Dad outnumbered by females will immediately sympathise with this poor fellow who is subject to an appalling lack of privacy, regular nail painting and indiscriminate hairstyling thanks to the females in his household. The crisis erupts in a ‘brush war’ resulting in some happy compromises and a lovely shade of purple. A lesson in the art of acceptance (and why men will never rule the world)Too many Girls

Fantastic Flying Books3. The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr Morris Lessmore by W E Joyce and Joe Bluhm. Simon & Schuster UK, originally by Athenum Books for Young Readers NY, USA. Immediately captivating. Glowing illustrations exude a burnished charm and warmth that complement the touching tale of Mr Morris Lessmore, a man who loved books and reading his whole life long. It’s a genuine never-ending story. Magnificently magic.

4. Blue Gnu by Kyle Mewburn and Daron Parton Scholastic NZ. Boo is not your average gnu. He’s blue for a start. And oscillates wildly betweenBlue Gnu yearning to fit in with the rest of the heard and being his own unique self. A warm and witty look a colours, patterns, differences and friendship.

This Moose belongs to Me5. This Moose Belongs to Me by Oliver Jeffers Harper Collins Children’s Books UK. Oliver Jeffers – enough said. One of my favourites of his. Illustrations divine enough to frame and hang on the wall plus a mockingly humorous story that questions the audacious assumption that we can really ever own anything outright in this world, equals pure genius. In the end, nature triumphs as does this must read picture book.

Do you have a favourite, unforgettable picture book? Let me know and it could make it onto 5 Faves.

Review – Gorilla

Hannah simply adores gorillas. She begs her father to take her to the zoo to see her favourite animal, but Dad is always too busy. During the week he is too busy. On the weekends, he is too busy.

The night before Hannah’s birthday, she asks her father for a gorilla and when she wakes, she does indeed find a gorilla on the end of her bed. A toy gorilla. Hannah is disappointed, but that night, something magical happens.

The gorilla becomes Dad-sized.

And he dons Dad’s coat and he takes Hannah on a nighttime adventure – to the zoo – to see the gorillas and all the other primates encased behind bars – so beautiful and yet so utterly sad. And then to the cinema and then for cake and ice cream and then dancing on the lawn.

Hannah has never been so happy. Until the next morning . . .

Anthony Browne’s iconic illustrations beautifully highlight the inherent magic in making wishes come true. Gorilla is subtle, tender, whimsical and engagingly beautiful.

Gorilla is published by Walker Books.

Review – Belonging


Next to Mirror, this is possibly my favourite of Jeannie Baker’s incredibly beautiful picture books. Not only is the imagery stunning, but the power of its wordless form is something Jeannie does with consummate style.

Belonging is deceptive in its simplicity. It features repeat double page spreads of a square window, showing an outdoor scene that truly affects the heart.

In the first double page spread, we see a young couple in the backyard with a new baby. There are lacy knickers on the line and a neighbour is planting in his garden next door. Behind the fence line of the house, we see an inner city scene, complete with a Smash Repair and a Pizza Hut.

As time goes by, the grass grows and so does the child and so does the city skyline behind the house. The weather changes, the toys in the window change. The hand-drawn height chart on the wall next to the window gets higher and higher as our young baby turns into a fine girl and then young woman, who one day has a child of her own.

So much changes over time – and our emotions change, too. We grow and feel and move with each and every page.

I love the cyclical nature of this book. I love the iconic detail which is truly astonishing in its variety, from a Picnic chocolate bar wrapper on the windowsill to the updated buses on the street. This 2008 version of the book – originally published in 2004 – has even been updated with some sky writing . . . the word SORRY appears in the sky on one page.

I most especially love the fact that as the story goes along, the streetscapes become more and more ‘green’.

This is a book of change, growth and hope. It is a wordless book but it speaks volumes about life and all its idiosyncratic beauty. It is a celebration of Australian life, of all life  – and it can be viewed and reviewed over and over – and each time the eyes are filled with more.

If you haven’t Jeannie-Bakered your life yet, start with this book. You won’t regret it.

Belonging is published by Walker Books.

Review – The Queen’s Maid

It may be a relatively low text book but this junior fiction title by June Crebbin ticked all the boxes for me. Sophisticated writing that is totally appropriate for the book’s 7- to 12-year-old target market, this is a fabulous read, least of all for its balanced, beautifully-written and edited prose, but especially for its rollicking storyline.

Crebbin has a real knack for creating luscious imagery with her words – and yes, children also deserve such clever writing – a clarity and sophistication that is normally reserved for adults. I love how she doesn’t talk down to her readers, but uses full, glorious wording and dialogue perfectly suited to the times – that of Queen Elizabeth I and the young Will Shakespeare.

Lady Jane Hargrave is thrilled to bits when none other than Elizabeth I pays visit to their family home in Dorsetshire, England. Astride her steed, Delphine, she waits at the top of the hill for the royal procession, which descends too quickly upon the house. Panicked, Jane flees back to the courtyard where she arrives just in time to greet the Queen.

Elizabeth I takes immediately to young Jane – and wants to learn more about her languages and horse riding and interests. Jane obliges in her candidly youthful way. Little does she know her candour is something the Queen covets and – much to her horror, at the end of her visit, Elizabeth asks Jane to become her sixth maid of honour. Of course, being so young, Jane is not ready to leave her mother, but her mother gently insists, for this is not an honour anyone could turn down.

Life at court is very different for young Jane, but she soon settles in and begins many a fascinating adventure. She even befriends a young stable lad who introduces her to William Shakespeare! Jane is fascinated with theatre life and manages to accidentally take part in a play at the Globe Theatre, much to her delight.

On her way back to court from visiting her ailing mother, Jane also finds herself aboard a ship in the midst of the approach of the Spanish Armada. So much excitement for such a young lass, and such a joy to be part of her adventures – and to feel first-hand the hot breath of history through Crebbin’s work.

Warm, clever, approachable and packed with superb line drawings that will keep more reluctant readers engaged, this is one of my favourite rapid reads this year.

The Queen’s Maid is published by Walker Books and is part of their Racing Reads series.

Review: The Greatest Liar on Earth

From tramp to world explorer extraordinaire, with adventurous tales to boggle the mind and cause the eyes to pop wide like saucers? Is it possible? Who was this man? Swiss-born footman, butler and jack-of-all-trades Henri Louis Grin – or world traveller Louis de Rougemont? Or both?

When an impoverished Henri began studying the diaries and tales of some of the world’s greatest explorers and travellers at the British Museum, an entire world formed in his imagination. Soon after, he began writing illustrated tales – The Adventures of Louis de Rougemont – for Wide World magazine, and soon became a sensation, attracting the attention of both the enraptured and the sceptical.

Claiming to have lived with Aborigines in the outback for 30 years, to have travelled to New Guinea in search of pearls and gold, to have seen monsters arise from the deepest oceans, flying wombats and fish falling from the sky, this formidable man even claimed to have the knack for riding sea turtles and wrestling crocodiles.

But was it all an elaborate hoax – or did he indeed pay witness to these stunning events?

Author Mark Greenwood explores the life of Henri Louis Grin with a gentle humour but moreover an innate sense of curiosity – a bit like the man himself. At the end of the book, he poses questions to the reader, allowing them to form their own opinion on truth v reality. I really enjoyed Greenwood’s use of sophisticated language and evocative wording, that not only help illustrate the complexity of Grin’s world, but stretch the reader.

Frané Lessac’s gorgeous, folksy illustrations similarly open Grin’s world to the reader and take them on a fantastical ride where the border between fact and fiction begin to blur. This combination of word and illustration by an award winning husband and wife team makes for a book that draws you in as effectively as the highfalutin tales of this masterful Swiss storyteller, who both delighted and appalled a rapt world audience.

“Truth is stranger than fiction but De Rougemont is stranger than both.” – The Wide World Magazine, June 1899

A curious, enriching and entertaining picture book for older readers.

The Greatest Liar on Earth is published by Walker Books Australia.

Truth is stranger than fiction
But De Rougemont is stranger than both

The Wide World Magazine, June 1899, No. 14