Greats Gift Ideas # 2 -Tweens and Teens

They may think they’re too old for Christmas but thrust one of these great reads into their Christmas stockings this year and your tweens and teens will love your forever, or at least have something incredible to tie them over until the turkey is ready. Here are some recent must-read middle grade and young adult fiction titles that make ideal gifts this season. There are literally dozens more, some featured already as full reviews this year. Check them out, here. Alternatively, visit the Boomerang Books Christmas gift books list for more literary inspiration.

His Name Was Walter by Emily Rodda

Historic, mysterious and crawling with supernatural scare. This is a consuming story within a story of love, embezzled fortunes and trust and old mysteries. Rodda enchants with her ability to knit the past with the present and overlay it all with a good old fashioned fairy-tale that lances kids’ hearts with imagination. Highly recommended late night reading for tweens and lovers of twisted fairy tales.

HarperCollins Children’s Books August 2018

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Meet Princess Peony this Christmas

Nette Hilton is a much-loved and rather wickedly humorous creator of books for children and young adults. She lives in northern NSW.

Her titles span the award-winning The Web, to picture books A Proper Little Lady, The Smallest Bilby and the Easter Tale and Little Platypus; junior novels Sprite Downberry, Star of the Show, Adventures of a Late-Night Swearer and the excellent, but disappointingly out-of-print, YA novel The Innocents.

Her latest book is The First Adventures of Princess Peony, illustrated by Lucinda Gifford and published by Walker Books Australia. Of all Nette’s books it is most like the evergreen A Proper Little Lady, illustrated by Cathy Wilcox. It is a little Dr Seuss-ish in size and style and could also be read alongside Babette Cole’s Princess Smartypants tales.

The First Adventures of Princess Peony is sub-titled ‘In which she could meet a bear. But doesn’t. But she still could.’ This adds intrigue to the tale because bears don’t feature at all as the story is set up. Instead we get to know the ‘dear little girl called Peony’ but it is Peony who is telling us that she is a ‘dear little’ girl. She is actually very bossy and one of her favourite things is ‘being obeyed!’. Peony is an unreliable narrator, full of personality, who addresses the reader at times.

 

The First Adventures of Princess Peony (copyright Nette Hilton & Lucinda Gifford)

Lucinda Gifford’s lively black, grey, white and pink illustrations tell another side to the story as well. Princess Peony tells us that she lives in a castle with her dragon Totts but the pictures show something else. She says that princesses ‘never lose their temper when things go wrong’ but the pictures show her looking far from serene.

She has trouble with Prince Morgan the Troll who is always interrupting, pats the Dragon under its wings and is building a bear trap. This is the catalyst for Princess Peony’s possible encounter with a bear. The illustrations again add to the humour with expressive eyes and partly hidden bears peering from the hedge. A chook also has a lively cameo.

This is a book to read multiple times. It is so engaging children will want to rush through it the first time but it is also a book to savour. The plotting, characterisation and humour are superb. It is a wonderful place for young readers to share and develop imagination and revel in pretend-play and role-play alongside Princess Peony. The First Adventures of Princess Peony is fun and exciting and has a most satisfying story arc. It is a triumph.

Great Gift Ideas – Entertaining Picture Books

There is no denying it – the countdown is on. We’ve got you covered for Christmas, though. Discover the fantastic array of kids’ stories between these covers. Every week until Christmas, I’ll be listing a selection of new releases and top-rate reads for children from pre-schoolers to new young adults. Here’s a swag of super entertaining picture books just right for sharing this summer.

The First Adventures of Princess Peony by Nette Hilton and Lucinda Gifford

I detest the colour pink and princesses who like to adorn themselves in it. However, I LOVED this supremely funny tale about a little girl named Peony who lives in a castle with her dragon, pink bits and all. Beautifully told from Peony’s unabashed point of view and illustrated with striking tri-coloured drawings, this is a joyful read about giant imaginations, dogs, family and princesses, of course. Highly recommended for pre-schoolers, early primary schoolers, emergent readers and those of us struggling to accept the little princess within. Watch out for following titles in this illustrated series.

Read Joy Lawn’s full review, here. It’s a corker.

Walker Books Australia October 2018

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Mentors in Writing & Illustration: Liz Anelli & Sheryl Gwyther

Liz Anelli and Sheryl Gwyther will be sharing their knowledge and experience of writing and illustrating with aspiring children’s book creators and other interested people in an event organised by CBCA(NSW) this week, the Aspiring Writers Mentorship Program.

Liz Anelli has been achieving recognition for her distinctive illustrations. Her picture books include Desert Lake, written in Pamela Freeman’s assured text. It’s published as part of the Walker Books ‘Nature Storybook’ series and shows how Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre changes when the floods arrive using texture, pattern and colour. It has been shortlisted for several awards, including the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards and the Educational Publishing Awards.

Ten Pound Pom, written by Carole Wilkinson (Black Dog Books, Walker Books), is another well-designed book from the illustrated ‘Our Stories’ series. It is a Britain-to-Australia immigration story.  Liz Anelli has created authentic detail, even using fabrics from her family to fashion the clothing.

Maddie’s First Day, written by Penny Matthew and also published by Walker Books, looks at the evergreen subject of a child’s first day at school.

Grace and Katie written by Suzanne Merritt (EK Books) is a wonderful vehicle for Liz’s skills as she shows the differences between these twin sisters. One is creative and messy. The other is ordered and tidy. Their map-making is a triumph.

Liz Anneli’s website

Sheryl Gwyther is an incredible support to the Australian children’s literature world. I know Sheryl from my years living in Brisbane and she is a wonderful advocate of children’s book organisations and those who are part of them. She is an active member of SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators), an excellent organisation for children’s book creators.

Sheryl’s work appears in the School Magazine and elsewhere.

Her books include the engrossing Secrets of Eromanga (Lothian Books, Hachette) about Australian dinosaur fossils and Sweet Adversity (HarperCollins), a historical novel set in Australia during the Great Depression with Shakespearian and theatrical touches.

Sheryl Gwyther website

Both Liz Anelli and Sheryl Gwyther will be speaking tomorrow night (Thursday 8th November) at an event for aspiring writers at HarperCollins in Elizabeth St, Sydney. Full details and booking information are in the flyer below or follow the link.

HarperCollins keeps our Australian children’s book heritage alive by continuing to publish and promote the works of May Gibbs and Norman Lindsay.

They recently published Emily Rodda’s The House at Hooper’s Bend, a brilliant book, which has been shortlisted for several awards including the 2018 CBCA Children’s Book Awards and the Qld Literary Awards. It is followed by His Name Was Walter, which I look forward to reading.

My other recent favourite from HarperCollins is Jackie French’s Just a Girl. It’s one of the best books I’ve read this year.

 

 

 

 

 

Fatherhood in Picture Books

What does fatherhood mean to you? Is it about the shared moments that make you laugh? Or the ones that incite your curiosity about the world? Is it teaching them a new skill? Or bestowing some secrets about life that you learned along the way? Is it simply being present to watch them grow and succeed? Whatever your definition, there is no doubt that gorgeous picture books can draw out and encourage special bonds in a way that is meaningful to you. Here are a few that do just that…

From Him, To Me, To You. This beautiful book is a lyrical dedication to our littlest loved ones. A book to be shared across the generations. And one that will bring a tear to your eye. Things My Pa Told Me is written with a wise and astute hand by Anthony Bertini, told in a gentle and pertinent manner. Illustrator Jonathan Bentley comes in with an interpretation of his own, brilliantly re-imagining the text to another level of wonder, warmth and adventure. His amazing sketch work creates this extraordinary atmosphere of movement, light and shade, colour and energy that perfectly reflects the perspective of a small child in a big world.

The message imparted is one of strength, support, security and love. Of a father reinforcing his little girl’s journey through childhood – all the growth, fears and challenges and power she is to face. The possibilities that await and the wisdom needed to set her own path. But most importantly, to “enjoy this brief time, just you and me.” One day she will be able to reach, and he (father) will remain in her heart, watching along the way.

Things My Pa Told Me accomplishes a profound and timeless tale of embrace and hope in a way that leaves the reader to their own interpretation and meaning. A stunning book for children from age four to share with their own Pa.

Little Hare Books, August 2018.

The title says it all – bonding with Grandpa, adventure, and the wildest of imaginations. Read on and you’ll find plenty of action, fun and play (including a brilliant play with words!). Grandpa’s Space Adventure is created by such a masterful duo following their Grandpa’s Big Adventure; Paul Newman and Tom Jellett hilariously bring this star-filled adventure rocketing into life.

Grandpa tells his grandson about the time he and dog Rover flew to the moon. He took his ‘launch box’, had ‘high tea’… ‘very high tea’ every day, and even split his side on laughing gas instead of oxygen. He played ‘fetch-the-stick’ with Rover, but it never came back. Joke upon space-themed joke float across the pages paired with Jellett’s characteristically comical cartoons that will literally have your own sides splitting with giggles. Grandpa makes the young narrator feel totally safe in the dark. Now, here’s to another ‘wild’ adventure…

Extremely clever, playful and absolutely cracking with humour, Grandpa’s Space Adventure will leave no space for fear of the dark when you’re sharing this planet-tastic book with your loved ones. For space-travellers aged three and up.

Penguin Random House, July 2018.

The oblivious dad. The one that thinks he knows it all. You know the one! What a glorious day out for Sally and Max in Sara Acton’s Dinosaur Day Out. Dad thinks he’s taking his children on a peaceful day trip to the museum, only to find the dinosaur exhibition is closed. Little does he know that, despite his efforts to treat them instead to a day in the park and a spot of ice cream, Sally and Max in fact encounter all the species of dinosaur listed in Dad’s book. How extraordinary! He’s got his head so engrossed in his ‘Did you know’ facts that he misses every trick, glimpse and illusion that only the children, and us readers, so astutely notice.

The little comical elements in the illustrative details give the text even more irony and humour. And Acton’s softly textured paintings and simple colour palette ensure a gentle and playful feel as opposed to some of those slightly scary dinosaur facts that Dad apprises.

Dinosaur lovers everywhere will adore this whimsical and informative story with all its comedy and adventure. Dinosaur Day Out is the ideal book for preschoolers to share with their ‘know-it-all-not-so-know-it-all’ dads.

Walker Books, September 2018.

This is the perfect guide for new arrivals. If you’ve just landed on this earth, you’ll need this handy manual to ensure you have the best stay possible. Totally brilliant – Welcome; A Guide for New Arrivals by Mo Willems – narrated by parents with wit, verve and unconditional love.

The guide begins with a mirror and a fact sheet on how YOU came into being: a unique combination of LOVE + TIME + LUCK. Filled with a range of enlarged headings, diagrams in the form of signposts, and bright, bold colours, the book humorously outlines a myriad of life’s pleasures and complications. For example, a few upcoming highlights include: Music. “Here is an example of a song” (insert printed music). Cats. “We are pleased to inform you there will be cats… And not just cats. There are Mountains + Friends + Bagels + Infinite Remarkable Things.” Stories. “There are True Stories + Made-Up Stories + Silly Stories.” Each identified by an amusing symbol, and completing the page with ‘while we read this book together.’ There is a guide on ‘We Regret to Inform You’, followed by ‘Rest Assured’. But there is a note for parents to absorb, too. And that is to simply ‘stop’ and ‘be’, because we all know this precious time in our little ones’ lives doesn’t last too long, so enjoy it.

Welcome is a must-have book for every first-time father. Thank you for joining us.

Walker Books UK, July 2018.

Happy Father’s Day!

For more amazing Father’s Day Books for kids check back to read Dimity‘s reviews.

Big Cats and Small Cats – Picture Book Reviews

No doubt, cats have attitude – aka ‘cattitude’. They may tend to be arrogant, vicious or just plain naughty. But if you really think about it, they are in fact, loveable and soft-at-heart. The following few kitty-inspired picture books take a look at the different personalities of our feline friends.

The gentlest of the lot, Maya and Cat is evocative, heartwarming and heavenly. Caroline Magerl transcends beyond beauty with her poetic language and mesmerisingly enchanting illustrations in amongst a gripping tale of friendship, responsibility and trust.

The fine line and watercolour paintings in a style so charismatic aptly portray the dramatic moodiness and intense atmosphere of a lost cat drenched with rain and anguish. It is with her determination and good will that Maya searches for its rightful owners. Long, yellow scarf blazing behind her, Maya eventually follows Cat’s nose to an unexpected fate; where a long, yellow windsock atop a rocky boat leads Cat home and Maya a treasured reward.

Intriguing, beguiling and warming for the cockles of your heart, this loveable tale between Maya and Cat will be welcomed into your home with an outpouring of love and affection many times over. Beautiful for ages four and up.

Walker Books, August 2018.

Another cat to love, despite its size and demeanour. In It’s Hard to Love a Tiger by Anna Pignataro, a little girl knows all the difficulties associated with owning a tiger for a pet. The rhyming couplets and adorably hilarious illustrations actually make this story so endearing, that it’s hard not to love it at all. So much glorious detail hidden in the pictures demonstrate the very effect a roaring, growling tiger makes on a crowded street, when brushing his teeth, and feeding him sticky treats in a pastry store. The tiger carries on with his inappropriate gestures and anti-social behaviours that would make any small child cringe. But guess what? There’s plenty of love to go around.

I love the premise that renders It’s Hard to Love a Tiger so relatable for young children. The tiger could be a toddler or a kitten, both of which can be frustrating but oh-so charming and forgiveable at the same time. The text includes enlarged, bold words that literally leap out in a fashion to encourage terrific talking points. Deceptively loveable for children from age three.

Scholastic, June 2018.

Here you’ll find a most arrogant cat. A cat with only one thought. A narrow mind and a rumbling stomach. Cat Spies Mouse is a simple yet ingenious tale about the power of lateral thinking, tolerance and, well, copping a comeuppance.

Rina A. Foti writes a humorous dialogue with minimal text facilitating a curiosity for the nuances of our behaviours and encouraging challenge for streams of closed thought. In this case, Cat wants to eat Mouse because “that’s the way it is.” Cat is not open to Mouse’s positive suggestion for a possible friendship, and his stubbornness certainly lands him in a dark place.

The illustrations by Dave Atze create high impact with their bold and animated energy, brilliantly offsetting the wittiness of the tale and the deeper meaning of the underlying philosophy. Cat Spies Mouse would empower its early years readers to question the ‘why’s’ in life and how much of those can or cannot be controlled.

Big Sky Publishing, July 2018.

Another take on the trustworthiness of the stereotypical fierce character is this whimsical story featuring one big cat, a hat and an umbrella. The masterful Polly Dunbar nails the humour, the energy, the interactivity, all with a very important message to preschool-aged children – beware of deceptions and don’t fall for trickery. Trust your gut, and not that of a sneaky lion.

A Lion is a Lion sweeps us up in a rhyming romp of linguistic and aural goodness, questioning the real character of a ferocious lion. “Is a lion still a lion… if he skips down the street singing, “Hoobie-doobie-doo”?” Poshly dressed in hat and coat, the lion visits two young children and delights them with all the charm and savviness in the world. He treats them to a dance in their living room and requests a polite bite to eat… until the fiery redness of the pages emerge, and so does the true nature of the lion. It is pleasing to see that the children have just as much spunk and verve to show him who’s boss!

Splattered with spirit, fast-paced and funny, A Lion is a Lion is a charming delight with a big message (and a big appetite).

Walker Books UK, February 2018.

Did you love The Cat Wants Custard and The Cat Wants Cuddles? Of course you did! To jog your memory you can read my review here. The third instalment in this series with the wonderfully precocious feline fiend is The Cat Wants Kittens. What a surprise! Kevin is back with more grumbling ferocity than ever. He’s super unimpressed with the couple of balls of adorable fluff that invade his space, but we expected that, right?

Yet to be released but most anticipated. I would expect no less than brilliance once again from the dynamic duo, P. Crumble and Lucinda Gifford.

Pre-order your copy here.

Scholastic, August 2018.

Turn Back Time – Middle Grade Magic

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

A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L’Engle

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

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Missing by Sue Whiting

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

Thanks for speaking with Boomerang Books, Sue.

Where are you based and what is your background? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why have you given Mackenzie a gift for art?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How have you used bats as a symbol?

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

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

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

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

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

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

What have you enjoyed reading recently? 

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

What’s next workwise for you?

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

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

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

Small Spaces by Sarah Epstein

Small Spaces is such a riveting, scary story, I was worried that I would still be reading when night fell. I was still reading … but had to keep going even though I knew I would be terrified. Congratulations on your stunning thriller, Sarah, and thanks for speaking with Boomerang Books blog.

Thanks so much! It’s a pleasure to be here.

Where are you based and how are you involved in the YA literary community? 

I live in Melbourne, which has a thriving bookish community. There are always so many fantastic events, book launches and meet-ups happening, and I try to get along to as many as I can because I always come away feeling more connected and inspired. I’ve also been involved with the online YA community for the last decade, which is how I’ve met some wonderful critique partners and writing buddies, as well as participating in online conferences and pitching contests. Facebook groups and Twitter have been a fantastic way for me to connect with other kidlit writers and readers, not just in Australia but internationally.

What is the significance of the title, Small Spaces

For Tash, the protagonist of the story, it’s a very real phobia stemming from incidents that happened to her as a child. But from the opening lines of the novel it’s clear that it also refers to Tash’s psychological state and whether she can trust her own mind – the small space inside her head. In broader terms, it’s a reflection of how we all can sometimes feel isolated, lonely and vulnerable in our own small spaces, and forging connections and trusting others can often be challenging and scary.

You’ve used a distinctly Australian setting. Where is it set and why?

The story is set in two fictional locations – the small coastal town of Port Bellamy, and the rural area of Greenwillow and Willow Creek – which are about an hour’s drive apart on the NSW mid north coast. When I’m brainstorming a novel, I picture scenes very cinematically and start writing before I know exactly where the story is going to be set. Then I have to stop and start researching areas that tick all the boxes of my fictional setting and can feasibly accommodate all the major plot points and any secondary locations that are referenced in the story. I was born in NSW and wanted to set a story there, and having visited the mid north coast a number of times, it really helped me narrow things down, and became the perfect setting for the story.

Could you introduce your major characters to us …

Tash is seventeen and in her final year of school, craving independence and planning her future at an interstate university. But earning her parents’ trust is difficult because of childhood behavioural issues that seem to be cropping up again. Sadie is Tash’s best friend, the one who knows her best and her fiercest ally, trying to help Tash navigate through her phobias and unsettling memories. Two of those unsettling memories return in the form of Morgan and Mallory Fisher, a brother and sister who shared a disturbing day at the carnival with Tash nine years ago during a summer holiday at her Aunt Ally’s house. And then there’s Sparrow, Tash’s imaginary friend from childhood who looms heavily throughout all aspects of the plot, past and present.

Why have you given Tash an interest in photography and Morgan a gift in the visual arts?

This stems from my own creative background and the design degree I completed at university which included both visual arts and photography. I knew I wanted Tash and Morgan to collaborate on a project that played into the themes of the novel, and art was such a huge part of my life when I was a teen. It came very naturally to give Tash, Morgan and other characters in the story a creative outlet to express themselves.

Could you tell us about the ‘Now’ and ‘Then’ structure?

As soon as I started writing, I knew a large number of flashbacks would be required to properly explain what happened in Tash’s past. But I didn’t want to tell all of these in the passive past-tense voice of Tash recollecting them, because I felt this would dilute the tension and affect the pacing. Instead, I wrote these chapters in present tense using Tash’s childhood voice so the reader can see how things played out in real-time through her eyes. I also introduced therapy session transcripts and newspaper articles written in a clinical tone, so readers can form their own theories about what happened based on other evidence that isn’t skewed by Tash’s point of view.

As you wrote, how were you able to lay out the plot without giving too much away?

It wasn’t easy! I really had to think about the order I wanted snippets of information revealed because of how the past and present chapters feed into one another. There was a lot of shifting scenes and chapters around, and I had a large colour-coded plot outline which I’d lay out across my desk to give me a clear overview of what was happening and where. I had to pare back scenes and dialogue in revisions so as not to be too obvious, but at the same time reveal enough so that readers wouldn’t become frustrated about the storyline being too vague. It’s a real balancing act, and some days I cursed myself for choosing such a complicated narrative structure.

Without causing you to give away spoilers, which part of the plot, characterisation or symbolism was difficult to resolve?

I found the climax the most challenging part to write – I wanted it to do so many things while at the same time be fast-paced and absolutely gripping. I think endings are always tricky – they need to feel completely satisfying for the reader while tying up all the loose threads and illuminating the story’s themes. I never start writing a story until I know how the ending is going to play out. Then my challenge is figuring out how I’m going to get my characters there.

Carnivals and funfairs are some of my favourite locations in literature. They’re supposed to be fun but often are the opposite. What is so creepy about these places and what gives them (particularly derelict ones) such potential for horror?

I think for me the crowds and bustle of a busy carnival always poses the threat of a lost child, or the potential for someone to be swallowed up by it all before their companions even notice they’re missing. There are so many nooks and crannies to lurk and hide in! The noisy rides and all the squealing is so distracting and jarring, and there’s always exaggerated character art leering at you everywhere you turn. Carnivals are a bit too much of everything all at once, which makes us feel a bit queasy and disorientated. Derelict places add a whole other layer of creepiness because they conjure up ideas about ghosts and dead things. Plus, they’re deserted, so if anything bad happens, nobody’s coming to help!

What sort of movies do you watch?

I don’t read a huge amount of science fiction, but I absolutely love watching sci-fi movies! I also love anything with zombies, ghosts or aliens. I’m a big fan of bingeing a good Netflix series, and mostly enjoy intriguing supernatural shows like Stranger Things and The OA. I also love Nordic crime thrillers. I have a tendency to lean towards darker content.

Who have you written this book for?

It might be a cliché, but I definitely wrote this book for teenaged me. This is exactly the sort of story I was craving when I was a teen but had difficulty finding – something twisty and gripping, but with characters my age and themes I could relate to. I loved Christopher Pike’s books but struggled to find them in my school library and local bookshops (which was my whole world since the internet and online shopping didn’t yet exist), so I read a lot of adult crime and horror novels in my teens. But many of those stories were a hard slog with themes and situations that were very adult. I wrote this novel for teen readers who enjoy thrillers and creepy stories, but want characters and situations they can see themselves in.

What books are you reading at the moment (or recently)? 

I recently finished The Dry by Jane Harper and Wimmera by Mark Brandi, both of which I thoroughly enjoyed, especially since I am working on another suspenseful mystery set in a small Australian town. I’m currently reading two #LoveOzYA novels: The Fall by Tristan Bancks and Untidy Towns by Kate O’Donnell. My favourite genres to read are contemporaries, thrillers and domestic noir, and I have Sarah Bailey’s Dark Lake and A.J. Finn’s The Woman in the Window next up on my reading pile.

Thanks for your illuminating answers, Sarah and all the best with Small Spaces (Walker Books Australia) and your next book.

Thanks so much, Joy. Great questions! I’ve really enjoyed answering them.

Secrets and Small Places – Sensational MG and YA reads

Being a Piscean, secrets and small spaces do not faze me much. I’m one of those little fishes who loves a bit of enigmatic seclusion and the stimulation of guesswork, which is why I absolutely, nuts and crackers enjoyed the following titles. Each possesses a fluidity of story and cast of characters so cleverly crafted, I felt like I was sharing their experience as if it were my own. These books take you in deep, which for me makes them terrifically satisfying and just a little be frightening – in a can’t-get-enough-of-way.

Middle Grade Fiction

The Secrets We Keep and The Secrets We Share by Nova Weetman

Fire – both compelling and repelling. Catastrophic and cleansing. This sums up the sweep of emotions and characters Weetman explores with Clem Timmins. Clem’s secret begins with a flicker but soon ignites into something she struggles to contain upon losing everything after her house burns down – her clothes, her treasures and her mum. Timmins and her pre-pubescent peers totter on the edge of change with remarkable poise and a raw, heart-wrenching genuineness that will bring the sting of tears to your eyes and a smile to your lips. They clutch at various emotional straws, each wanting happy outcomes but in Clem’s case, too frightened of losing even more, thus retreating into secrecy. This is good old honest storytelling, where enigmatic poignancy tempers robust reality.

Continue reading Secrets and Small Places – Sensational MG and YA reads

Birds in Flight – Picture Book Reviews

There’s something about birds in books that literally makes my heart sing, whether it be the pleasurable sense of freedom they so naturally possess, or their resourceful grit and determination, or their cheeky personalities that are just so loveable, or all of the above. Here I share some astounding picture books that soar with beguiling and triumphant goodness.

Bird to Bird, Claire Saxby (text), Wayne Harris (illus.), Black Dog Walker Books, March 2018.

The story of one bird, one seed, one tree.” We follow this enlightening path as a bird inadvertently helps to create a sapling with the drop of a seed, and that older, fallen tree thus serves many a use, finally being carved into the shape of a bird for a little boy to treasure forevermore.
A gorgeous collaboration between author and illustrator brings life to life in this tale of the journey of one tree. With an essence of Bob Graham’s perceptual and consequential nature, Claire Saxby writes her circular narrative with a similar gentle, poetic style and light repetition. Wayne Harris’ illustrations carry the story forward in a flawless sequence of artistic beauty, combining texture, movement, light and vivid colour with every page turn. Never feeling a dull moment, the story sets intrigue whilst subtly weaving important discussion themes around timber harvesting, usage and recycling, convicts, wool looms, and wood carving. It also acknowledges historical changes through time without ever losing focus on the tree and its transformations. Bird to Bird; a beautiful, thoughtful tale for primary-aged children, reflecting the value of nature, sustainability and art.

Bird Builds a Nest: A Science Storybook about Forces, Martin Jenkins (author), Richard Jones (illus.), Walker Books, March 2018.

Explaining science to preschoolers is not always easy, or fun. But here in Bird Builds a Nest, nonfiction expert Martin Jenkins (Fox in the Night and The Squirrels’ Busy Year) writes a fascinating and entertaining account of a bird experimenting with forces and the concept of pushing and pulling. The book is written with easy-to-follow dual narrative, one of Bird’s story building her nest, the other of smaller print, factual text describing each concept in simple terms.
Bird’s first mission as she awakes is to acquire her morning meal. By applying a force towards her, Bird attempts to ‘pull’ a big, strong worm from its tunnel. Her hunt for twigs is not always straightforward; she hasn’t got enough force to ‘lift’ the weight of the larger sticks. With trial and error, fetching and carrying, pushing and pulling, Bird manages to find suitable materials to successfully build her nest.
The illustrations by Richard Jones are both playful and artful with their mixed-media and mixed-technique sharp, contemporary style and modern colours. Bird Builds a Nest is a witty, clever and sweet approach to the science in nature and the everyday forces used all around us. This one will ‘pull’ little ones in, for sure!

Gary, Leila Rudge (author, illus.), Walker Books, PB, November 2017.

Originally published in 2016, Gary by Leila Rudge returns with his own paperback edition. This story, awarded Honour Book in The Children’s Book Council of the Year Awards 2017, never gets tired, no matter how many outings or roads it travels. We still love this tale of a passionate racing pigeon (with a difference) driving this adventure story home with his boundless grit and determination.
Recounts from the other pigeons’ expeditions, and his scrapbook collection of mementos, give Gary a sense of place in the world despite only knowing his own backyard. Then one day he mistakingly falls into a travel basket and is taken a long way from home. But how could Gary feel lost when he had already studied the city from back to front? How will he find his way back to the loft? Gary’s adventure concludes with a little ingenuity and a whole lot of inspiration.
Rudge’s sensitive and dynamic narrative beautifully marries with her character’s accepting yet curious personality. Her illustrations are equally as charismatic and layered with their warming tones, mixed collage and pencil drawings of maps, souvenirs and adorable racing pigeon outfits!
Gary is a sweet, charming story of passion and opportunity, challenging one’s own abilities and never giving up on one’s dreams. Children from age four will be dreaming to accompany Gary on his adventures time and time again.

Just a Little Bit of Love – Picture Book Reviews

There are a few ‘love-ly’ events about to reward us with their heartwarming presence, including Valentine’s Day, Library Lovers’ Day and International Book Giving Day. Yep, they all fall on the same day: February 14. So what better way to help your children fall, or continue to fall in love with books than to share one, buy one, borrow one or give one away. Here are a few with the themes of friendship, hope, compassion, and of course, love to make your hearts sing with an abundance of warmth and affection.

The Poesy Ring, Bob Graham (author, illus.), Walker Books, November 2017.

The perfect book to share this Valentine’s Day; a beautiful story of love, hope and the power of destiny. Graham’s poetic text alluringly ties in with his moving line and watercolour illustrations that sweep and navigate in succession across the pages. And aptly so. This is a story of the boundless journey of a symbol of love – a golden ring, inscribed with “Love never dies”, beginning its adventure with heartbreak in Ireland, 1830, and reaching its timely fate as a cherished jewel in New York City, 1967. Bound in a meadow for many a season, accompanied by many a creature and unknowing passers-by, the ring then finds its path to the bottom of the sea, only to be eventually discovered once more to where it meets its ultimate destiny. Graham’s touching account grips the heart and mind with his ponderings of one of life’s magical mysteries. The Poesy Ring is sure to win the affections of primary-aged children and rekindle fond memories for any adult who has ever been in love.

Ash Dresses Her Friends, Fu Wenzheng (author, illus.), New Frontier Publishing, February 2018.

Here is a gorgeous story of making connections; where loneliness is turned into fulfilling bonds. Author / illustrator Fu Wenzheng’s text explores the relationship between internal feelings and outwardly behaviour, with a character that reveals a change from sadness / being quiet to contentment / sharing with others. Wenzheng also showcases her talents with her multicultural and textural print and watercolour illustrations that emanate a beautiful Chinese flavour of pattern and dual-tone red and grey. The book’s theme is around sharing and helping others through generous and creative gestures. This is demonstrated by Ash, a shy, azure-winged magpie who discovers her immense satisfaction in tailoring clothes and other textiles for her new animal friends with her patterned material. And the love she receives in return is even more rewarding. Ash Dresses her Friends is a physically small book wrapped with big-hearted and indulgent goodness that will help young ones to open themselves up to loving friendships.

Fox & Moonbeam, Aleesah Darlison (author), Narelda Joy (illus.), Wombat Books, September 2017.

This sumptuously detailed picture book with its lush, digitally mastered illustrations and richly emotive text shows nothing less than a grand sense of faith and courage. Gerard Fox serves as a clock winder in the Queen’s palace. This unfulfilling job is only endured, for the moments he has time away he breathes in life through his violin-playing occasions in the park. Mademoiselle Moonbeam Lapin, famous ballerina, lives the high life of travel, glamour and lights, yet her heart is empty. The pair, upon meeting, lead us to a satisfying ending showing them both shining from the inside out. Darlison‘s narrative is thoughtful and provocative, luminously balancing with Narelda Joy’s intricate, layered collage in a traditional Victorian England setting. Fox & Moonbeam contains a wonderfully perceptive concept of entrusting in a friendship, but particularly in the self-belief and courage to be able to follow your passions and achieve your potential. Encourage your primary-aged children that it’s their ‘time to shine’!

What’s Your Favourite Colour?, Eric Carle and Friends (authors, illus.), Walker Books UK, February 2018.

What a brilliant explosion of diversity, flamboyance, life and love in this colourful book of art! If ever there was a time to appreciate all the colours of the rainbow, to accept and embrace our different preferences and what makes us happy, it’s right now. Eric Carle invites all his friends to choose, illustrate and describe their favourite colour in this glorious collection of artwork, poetry, and poignant little stories. Carle explains his love of ‘yellow’ for its challenge when mixing colours, but also for the yellow sun. The shades roll on, with Bryan Collier’s ‘blue’ awakenings opposite a collage of his little girl amidst blue balloons. Mike Curato paints a substantial picture of his favourite colour ‘mint’. ‘Purple’ reminds Anna Dewdney of her love of her old purple polyester trouser suit, and peacocks in her garden! In total, fifteen award-winning author/illustrators grace the pages with their marvellous textural, dramatic, effervescent and nostalgic pieces. One of our very own, Marc Martin vividly pops with his flock of magnificent watercolour crimson rosellas – his favourite colour is ‘crimson red’. A childhood photo and short biography of these diverse contributors complete this celebration of individuality coming together to form a colourful rainbow. What’s Your Favourite Colour? is beautiful, inspiring and mesmerising for any age.

 

Valentines Reading – Picture Books with Heart

Whether it’s about love unrequited, lost loves or welcoming new love into your heart, this collection of new children’s book releases are sure to melt your Valentines resolve.

Unrequited Love

I Love You Stick Insect by Chris Naylor-Ballesteros

Side-splinteringly silly, this jocularly illustrated romance features Stick (a stick insect) and his infatuation with the most beautiful stick insect he has ever laid eyes on. He immediately launches into a reverie of what ifs with his newfound love despite Butterfly’s repeated proclamations that it’s ‘just a stick’. Readers merrily hurtle along with Stick and his runaway imagination until he finally twigs his embarrassing mistake. Eye-catching candy that will tickle the funny bones of 2 – 5 year-olds.

Bloomsbury January 2018

Valensteins by Ethan Long

Valentine’s Day may seem an unlikely celebration for monsters and ghouls yet young Fran has other notions. He sets his heart on creating a pretty, pink paper heart for which he receives cutting ridicule. His vampish friends fear that Fran might be in love, that icky, gross, mushy, kiss-on-the-lips emotion that they frankly all find ‘terrifying’! Fortunately, for Fran, he turns the other bolted cheek and remains true to his real feelings. Despite its monochromatic overtones and comically Goth characters, Valensteins oozes charm and meaning, showing young readers that real love is about what you feel in your real heart. This is a lovely expression of being true to your feelings and creating meaningful relationships.

Bloomsbury January 2018

Continue reading Valentines Reading – Picture Books with Heart

Funny Holiday Reads for Kids

Whether relaxing at home, on the road or in the air, or sitting by the side of the pool at a fancy resort, your kids will need some great reads to keep them chilled and entertained all summer. Here are a few funny books from popular series for middle graders that will have them enthralled from start to end.

Logie-award-winning television series by Danny Katz and Mitch Vane, Little Lunch is the perfect school-based comedy to read when school is out. Triple the Laughs, fourth in the illustrated book series, contains three immersing stories that will have kids snorting and chortling all the way through.
In ‘The Ya-Ya’, Atticus learns to appreciate his grandmother’s cooking after a long episode of avoiding the small, brown, smelly things in his lunchbox that look and smell like something you scrape off the bottom of your shoe.
The Dress-Up Day’ is about Battie using the alias of superhero, Stretcho, to hide the fact that he is really scared of a lot of things, including moths, crabs, knees, and especially dogs.
The third episode involves Melanie being punished and unable to eat her piece of ultra-choco-happiness cake because Tamara has put ‘The Germblock’ on her following a visit to the toilets. But did Melanie really not wash her hands? Rory seems to know the answer!
Hilarious, authentically appropriate (and sometimes perfectly inappropriate) antics that readers from age seven will relate to or simply have a good old chuckle about, Little Lunch Triple the Laughs is a winner.

Walker Books, August 2017.

Number six in this comedic Timmy Failure series by Stephan Pastis is ‘The Cat Stole My Pants’. The injudicious boy detective is back with another mission to achieve Greatness, this time on an island in Key West, Florida, apparently NOT on holiday / honeymoon with his mum and new step-dad, Doorman Dave.
The graphic novel for tweens sets sail with a pair of missing (or stolen) pants whilst touring the house of famous author, Ernest Hemingway. It then takes us through a sea of laughter as Timmy’s scepticism and hypochondria are a consistent source of his ‘failures’. His social and relationship building skills are tested via interactions with Dave, and Dave’s nephew Emilio, which of course Timmy exploits, I mean, recruits as an ‘unpaid’ intern in his detective agency. Their mission is to solve the mystery of the mysterious note-dropper and a hidden treasure somewhere in the town, leading to a gloriously unexpected and emotionally imposing resolve. All the while, Timmy’s elusively illusive polar bear agent is apparently, according to Timmy, extorting money for a book report required for his summer school homework. But someone else more reliable is there to save Timmy from his unscholarly ways.
With its sarcastic and dry wit, quirkiness, unbelievable yet somewhat uncannily familiar circumstances, and comical illustrations, The Cat Stole My Pants delivers an unputdownable read packed with action, mystery and lessons in (perhaps how to not) handle new and estranged relationships. Set to steal the attention of children from age eight.

Walker Books UK, April 2017.

Laugh Your Head Off Again and Again! is the third in the super-charged, action-packed comedy series blessed with an unbelievably talented array of popular Australian authors. Featuring stories from the Treehouse’s Andy Griffiths, R.A. Spratt, John Marsden, Tony Wilson, Meredith Costain, Alex Ratt, Tristan Bancks, Deborah Abela and Alan Brough, plus fantastically funny sketches by Andrea Innocent.
Again, another ‘brilliantly coloured’ book; literally so eye-blindingly bright you can’t miss it on a bookshelf, but also contextually vibrant in nature to keep its readers totally entranced from neon-green chapter to neon-green chapter.
Nine stories cleverly unfold within the blood-orange cover containing a mix of the unexpected, frightening, enlightening and ridiculous. From a life-threatening shower ordeal, to three greedy pigs and a wolf pie, a psychotic childhood clown come back to life, a high-flying ‘Bum’, to an abandoned girl forging a life of cake and Royalty. Each one different, each with its own voice and level of intensity.
Recommended for middle graders, however make note, this edition is not for the faint-hearted! The authors have definitely turned it up a notch compared to the prequels in terms of ‘scare factor’ and complexity. Some truly nightmarishly frightening with others making you question who you can trust. But all in all, Laugh Your Head Off Again and Again! is a ludicrously entertaining collection of stories to thrill every sense of humour.

Pan Macmillan Australia, October 2017.

Now here’s a raucously Roman romp of colossal proportions! Julius Zebra: Bundle with the Britons! by Gary Northfield is the second hysterically historical book in the series, brilliantly mixing fictional absurdity with non-fictional goodness. It is charged with a chariot-load of droll, and senseless, humour, and insanely wacky black and white illustrations neatly slotting into the storyline throughout. There is also the inclusion of authentically pertinent details of the ancient era with its Roman numeral numbered pages and facts on what the Romans brought to Britain at the closing.
This is the story of The People’s Champion, gladiator Julius Zebra, and his animal cronies on a mission for granted freedom. Emperor Hadrian, the villain in this tale, has promised this outcome on the grounds that Julius defeats the Britons, to win governance of the Roman Empire. Led by Septimus, the boss of the gladiator school, the animals are taken unwillingly to the far-off land of Britannia for a final shot at victory, only to realise their perpetuated slavery will remain unless they stand up for themselves. This does not come without a series of daft and imprudently courageous attempts to outsmart Septimus, their opponents and the Emperor.
Teamwork, friendship and loyalty are at the heart of this fast-paced scramble to freedom. Bundle with the Britons is zany, zesty and zebra-tastic, seizing its middle grade audience with every rip-roaring joke and clanging bangs of energy.

Walker Books UK, May 2017.

Nostalgic about Aussie Summer – Picture Book Reviews

There’s nothing like an Aussie Christmas than the fresh scent of Summer mixed with a fragrance of fond memories and the savour of new ones. That’s how the following picture books will entice their readers, both young and old – with peace, unity and joy as we pleasure in the warmth of the festive and summery holiday season in Australia.

Corinne Fenton and Robin Cowcher return with another stunning ‘Little Dog’ story. From the iconic Melbourne in the previous, magical Christmas tale, Little Dog and the Summer Holiday takes Jonathan, Annie and their precious Westie, with caravan in tow, on holiday to the idyllic sites of Sydney. Immediately, Fenton paints a gloriously detailed adventure full of evocative language that is sure to bring about that nostalgic cue of wonderful family trips of yesteryear. Passing legendary landmarks such as the Dog on the Tuckerbox and Sydney Harbour Bridge, paddling at Bondi Beach and rattling “down the mountainside on the steepest scenic railway in the world” all make for an exciting, memorable holiday with family, friends, and of course, beloved pets.

Cowcher’s whimsical illustrations add a pleasurable sense of romanticism that capture the beauty and evocation of holidays like this. Parents and children will equally delight in Little Dog and the Summer Holiday, either reminding of the good old days, or enthusing a predilection for future family vacations. A beautiful book.

Black Dog Books, Walker Books, November 2017.

Summer – peaceful, tranquil, cheerful and contentment. Words that describe that special feeling of rest, fun and togetherness during the sunny season. And words that describe the special feeling emanating from this book by June Factor and sublime creator Alison Lester. Thirty years in print and Summer still feels as good as a homemade steamin’ puddin’ on a balmy Christmas Day.

Factor’s simple, silky and smooth Aussie voice shines through with robust rhyming character as we are swept up in a temperamental mix of family antics, Summer nuances and changing weather during the hot festive season. Lester’s legendary scenic art and winsome characters keep us occupied throughout with all the glorious combinations of farmyard outlooks and high-spirited busyness, respectively. From flies a gatherin’ to early morning rises, kin gatherin’ and present opening, pork a cracklin’ and raising glasses, clouds gatherin’ and making a bolt for cover, and finally napping and playing ‘til the stars are gatherin’ in the night sky.

Summer is a book of leisure, affection and ambience that will remain a classic to treasure and indulge in all the year round.

Viking Penguin Random House, November 2016. First edition 1987.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Walker Books Australia, October 2017.

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

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

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

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

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

Stay tuned for more Christmas gift ideas! 🙂

Picture Books Steeped in History

From sea to air and up into space. A substantial ship voyage. Amazing aeroplane feats. And a rousing rover exploring the red planet. Three different modes of transport literally transport us back in time with their historical significance, teaching us so much about how we got to where we are today. All inspiring, all empowering. Here are a few prodigious picture book stories steeped in history.

Ten Pound Pom, Carole Wilkinson (author), Liz Anelli (illus.), Walker Books, October 2017.

The true story of an almost thirteen-year-old Carole Wilkinson, Ten Pound Pom tells of the auspicious journey of a young girl and her family immigrating from England to Australia in the early 1960s.

Post World War II, under The White Australia Policy, a scheme called The United Kingdom-Australia Free and Assisted Passage Agreement promised emigrating British sunshine, plentiful food, higher wages and space to live. Ex-servicemen and children could travel for free, and other adults paid only £10, dubbing these migrants as ‘Ten Pound Poms’. The inclusion of facts explaining The £10 Migration Scheme, glossary, and the ship Arcadia, in which Carole’s family travelled, gives the book a depth and validity that is so neatly etched into this fascinating and personal story.

With a few packed boxes of furniture and precious belongings, and a small amount of knowledge about this foreign land, the dream of a new life for the Wilkinsons in Australia was to become a reality. A whole season and 11,397 miles sailed on the SS Arcadia later, the family had ventured into uncharted waters across the Mediterranean, through the Suez Canal, along the Red Sea, through the Indian Ocean and the roughs of the Great Australian Bight to their Adelaide destination. All the while, a young Carole learns of different cultures, experiences new sights and even makes a new friend.

Wilkinson re-lives her time on the “huge floating hotel” in her own childlike voice, and her impressions of life as a new resident in Australia clearly come from a place of fond memories. The illustrations by Liz Anelli superbly capture the elements of the era and the snippets of Carole’s diverse experiences. The pictorial features add energy and information, including maps, scenery and items of interest, breaking up the text to allow readers to absorb each part in manageable chunks.

As a part of the ‘Our Stories’ series, Ten Pound Pom is a valuable, appealing non-fiction/narrative resource for studying history and sharing migration stories. Capturing the hearts and minds of readers in middle to upper primary, and beyond, this book is perfect to pore over for the purposes of research and for pleasure.

Amazing Australians in their Flying Machines, Prue & Kerry Mason (authors), Tom Jellett (illus.), Walker Books, April 2017.

This time we travel by air as we explore the fascinating history of the development of aviation in Australia. In Amazing Australians in their Flying Machines, we are indulged with the stories of ten brave pilots beginning in 1851 through to 1935.

Ex-convict Dr William Bland patented an idea in the 1850s for an Atmotic Ship to journey from England to Australia in a mere few days, as opposed to the norm of the exhausting three month sea voyage. The balloon flight was dubbed as dangerous, and so literally never took off.

We then discover the invention of the cellular box kites that Lawrence Hargrave believed could give the stability needed for flight in 1894. Following that came the glider of George Taylor in 1909, the first heavier-than-air flying machine successfully airborne over Narrabeen Beach. The narrated and factual absorbing text and images continue to delight us with stories from the brilliant air skills of Commanding Officer of the Australian Flying Corps, Richard Williams in 1917, Ross Macpherson Smith’s winning success in the 1919 Great Race from London to Darwin, plus more inspiring heroes including Nancy Bird, the youngest woman pilot in Australia to gain her commercial pilot’s licence at the age of nineteen.

Each double page spread is littered with interesting historical aviation information, speculative personal recounts, and amazing pilot and general knowledge facts. Tom Jellett’s retro-style cartoons interwoven throughout the army-themed coloured pages add the elements of character, humour and verve to support the material and collection of photos.

The authors, Prue and Kerry Mason, inspired to research Australian aviation history after purchasing their own vintage aeroplane, have provided a sterling non-fiction volume of interest for aeroplane enthusiasts and keen history buffs. Amazing Australians in their Flying Machines carries its weight in gold (or air) as an empowering and uplifting primary school vehicle.

Curiosity: The Story of a Mars Rover, Markus Motum (author, illus.), Walker Books, October 2017.

This is the story of Curiosity; a Mars rover sent to far-off places, and I mean far-off places, to discover whether there has been, or ever will be, life on Mars. Here is another out-worldly experience steeped in history that will not only fascinate, but enrich our imaginations and ‘curiosity’ with many unanswered mysteries of the universe.

With its illustriously large landscape orientation, varied text sizes and pictorial layouts, Curiosity certainly lives up to its space-themed nature. The spreads are generously ‘spread out’, leaving plenty of ‘space’ to digest and conceptualise the given information and images. Markus Motum’s diagrammatical, clean and aerodynamic style of graphics suitably provide the book its authenticity, effectiveness and allure.

So why the desire to explore The Red Planet? Scientists believed there was once life on Mars, but for humans to travel in a rocket would take 350,000,000 miles, and the possibility of not returning. That’s where the Mars Rover comes in. With NASA’s ongoing trials and tribulations of previous missions, a more advanced rover was designed and developed in California – the process of equipment and technology inventions are explained in the book. Curiosity, as she was named, was transported across the U.S to the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida, where she was launched into space in November 2011. 253 days later the rover carefully landed with precision. “Touchdown confirmed. We’re safe on Mars!”

With the well-considered inclusion of a timeline of Mars missions from 1964-5 to present to complete the book, the study into climate and geology and the preparation of human exploration shows there is hope still of answering those curious questions of microbial life. Motum’s celebratory book of Curiosity’s fifth year of exploration on Mars is targeted towards kids and adults alike, using a first-person voice from the rover’s perspective. The inclusion of facts is so comprehensive and never compromised, making this a valuable resource to study and treasure.

Fantastic Camouflages and Where to Find Them – Picture Books

Fascinating creatures and hidden characters reside in every nook and cranny in this wonderful world. You have the chance to discover their exact locations, even when cleverly camouflaged from plain view. Explore beautiful and exotic landscapes while you search through these delightful picture books.

Can You Find Me?, Gordon Winch (author), Patrick Shirvington (illus.), New Frontier Publishing, September 2017.

Widely acclaimed author Gordon Winch, together with the charismatic artwork of Patrick Shirvington, present this Australiana vision of beauty in our natural scenery.

From long, grassy tufts, to trees on the shore and nestled in amongst green leaves and winding branches are a secret collection of furry, feathered, scaly and ‘sticky’ animals just waiting to be uncovered. Whether it’s a grasshopper in the long grass, a king parrot within leaves and fruit, a leaf moth atop a pile of dead leaves, a gecko scampering on the muddy forest floor, a stick insect in sticks, or a seahorse weaving through the seaweed, the camouflage premise is the same. And Winch’s words hail clearly and repetitively; “I live in… I look like… That is why I am hard to see. Can you find me?” With their own distinction, the watercolour smoothness of fluidity and unifying tones cleverly mask each animal within its surrounding, however visible enough for young readers to play the game.

Can You Find Me? is an enchanting book for inquisitive early years children who will no doubt forever be on the lookout for hidden creatures wherever they may go.

Gecko, Raymond Huber (author), Brian Lovelock (illus.), Walker Books, October 2017. 🦎

As a part of the Nature Storybook sets, like Claire Saxby’s Koala, Emu and Big Red Kangaroo, author Raymond Huber and illustrator Brian Lovelock present this narrative non-fiction beauty, Gecko, that sleekly combines story and fact to create a most captivating read.

A scurrying gecko juts between sunning and guarding himself in the brightness of the day, but as the sun begins to set, food is on his mind. His food is also on his entire body as he peels and consumes his own skin! Apparently they shed their outer skin several times a year. Gecko also has clever ways to protect himself from predators as he alters his skin’s inflections, colours and folds to camouflage and hide his shadows. But Gecko becomes the target of a ferocious leaping rat, stealthily escaping the prying jaws by dropping his tail. And with one final defence of his territory, Gecko is safe and self-sufficient.

The illustrations are remarkable with their textured and vivacious watercolour and acrylic background speckles and splashes, beautifully replicating the gecko’s appearance and natural characteristics. Equipped with page numbers, information on geckos and an index, Gecko acts as a practical reinforcement for primary students to study different text types and the fascinating world of the lizard species. 🦎

Where’s Wally? Destination: Everywhere!, Martin Handford (author, illus.), Walker Books UK, October 2017.

“Have you found Wally yet?” If you haven’t had the chance to find the famous wanderer and his intrepid travellers, or if you just can’t get enough and want to share the experience with your young ones, now’s your time! I’m fully stocked up on Where’s Wally? books (see my post, Wally Turns 30!), but now with Destination: Everywhere, the magical search continues.

This beautiful, large square hardcover with embossed linen spine is a Wally-fan’s delight. It includes twelve of the classic scenes with brand new twists, turns and playful meanders across the globe. In The Great Portrait Exhibition, Wally-Spotters are asked to scrutinise over the individual paintings, and even spot something that can “go and come back again”. A new collection of fantastical creatures and phenomenal people are clustered together in a gazillion frames – your job to match a given set with those in the main scene. More scenes follow with identifying localised portraits in amongst the larger picture, such as particular dinosaurs in the Jurassic Games, finding the corresponding Wally silhouettes in The Land of Wallies, and conducting a one-eyed Jolly Roger flag spotting search in Pirate Panorama. There are other games like manovering through mazes and sorting shapes and symbols, to keep your eyes peeled and fingers dancing all through the book.

Once again, Where’s Wally? contains a pint of quirkiness and an ocean of vibrant colours and life. Destination: Everywhere! will transport its audience to the vastest of places only to get lost in the most minuscule of details. Still a classic!

Playful Picture Books to Explore

Whether relaying conceptual understandings, or understanding the minds of young explorers, picture books can take their readers on imaginative, sensory and mind-boggling journeys. Making discoveries through play and contextual language opens up a whole new way of perceiving the world. Just look at these new titles that inspire a range of learning adventures.

From Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury‘s classic quest, ‘We’re Going on a Bear Hunt’ comes the must-haves; My Explorer’s Journal and My Adventure Field Guide.

The latter includes the most fascinating contents that will keep you in good stead as you embark on your outdoor nature journey. Whether rain, hail or shine, a rainforest, caves, mountains or your backyard, there’s plenty to explore. Complete with planning and safety tips, the guide sets out to encourage a field of fun activities for children and adults to delight in together. Chapters include facts, questions and experiments about the Sky, Down in the Ground, the Field, Plants and Trees, Creepy-Crawlies, Extraordinary Creatures, Tracks and our climate. With adorable illustrations and liveliness in essence of the original story, plus a comprehensive glossary, the Field Guide exudes a glorious sense of wonderment, excitement and acumen for your brave expedition.

The Explorer’s Journal is the perfect accompaniment as a keepsake record of your fun adventures, but also ‘bears’ it’s own weight as a stand-alone resource. There is space for sketching, writing and pasting in souvenirs, as well as a handy elastic close to keep your place. Following the same chapters as the Field Guide, this journal allows its users opportunities to find objects or animals, and make and record observations with the guidance of the clever, leading questioning and tasks. From creative writing to rainy day crafts, nature games, making perfume and actively encouraging sustainable living, little minds will be brimming with motivation to learn more about our beautiful world.

The We’re Going on a Bear Hunt Field Guide and Explorer’s Journal are treasure troves of amazing information, inspiration and pure joy, perfect for any backpacker from age five.

Walker Books UK, Walker Books Australia, April 2017.

Double Take! A New Look at Opposites will have your brains charging and your hearts pounding with chaotic goodness. Author Susan Hood cleverly winds exact opposites through a range of divergent perspectives.

Travelling with boy and elephant we meander along and across the town, from crossing the street to watering different-sized plants, balancing up in the sky to flexing down in the sea, observing in galleries, standing in queues and riding a roller coaster. What do all these have in common? Differing points of view. “Who knows what is BIG unless there is small? Does short measure up except next to TALL?” With a collection of opposites, prepositional language, and relative words and comparable contexts, Double Take! is so much fun and encouraging of perceptual awareness. Jay Fleck’s illustrations in blocks of colour and shape with his retro-look characters are the perfect match for the rollicking rhyme, wit and acuity gracing the pages. I give it the opposite of a low recommendation for preschoolers and above (or is it below?).

Walker Books UK, Walker Books Australia, July 2017.

Jez Alborough is the phenomenal success of classics like Where’s My Teddy? and Hug. In succession, his newest story is an adorable mix of innocence, cheekiness and warmth; it’s Play.

Simple sentences in speech bubbles relay the conversation between mummy chimp and baby Bobo. The detailed illustrations are the driving force leading its young observers through the recognisable feelings of curiosity, frustration, exhilaration, disappointment, rebellion, fear, anxiety, relief and finally, comfort. With Mum repeating “bedtime” and “stay”, all Bobo wants to do is “play”.

Swinging out of his tree without permission, the tiny chimp is lucky to have the support of the other animals to allow him his adventure out and back again with safety. The episodic layout gives the book a natural sense of playfulness as well as the clarity pre-readers will benefit from in understanding the sequence of events. With a strong-willed, relatable and loveable character, Play will become a nightly favourite for any toddler resisting the bedtime routine (and the demands of their parents!).

Walker Books UK, Walker Books Australia, July 2017.

Amazing Creatures of the World – Stunning Non-Fiction Books for Kids

When non-fiction texts are presented in the most visually and perceptively- arousing ways that leave the mundane behind and turn into a curious adventure of the wild variety. That’s what these following graphic information books about nature’s amazing creatures do to nurture and sharpen our hearts and minds.

A is for Australian Animals, Frané Lessac (author, illus.), Walker Books, August 2017.

Internationally renown for her striking illustrations is USA-born, Frané Lessac, artist to books including Pattan’s Pumpkin (by Chitra Soundar), Simpson and his Donkey, Ned Kelly and the Green Sash, and Midnight (all by Mark Greenwood). Her remarkable A is for Australia (review) precedes this stunning addition; the factastic tour, A is for Australian Animals.

A necessary introduction neatly begins the book at ‘A’; a map of Australia surrounded by general facts about the unique qualities of our native fauna. What’s to follow is a detailed alphabetic collection of fascinating facts and characteristics all the way through to ‘Z’. With one or two animals featured on each double page spread, this resource is a compendium of colour and life. Each page is divided with large, bold headers and accompanied by smaller font paragraphs interwoven between the pictures. Beautiful, vibrant earthy tones in a production of silky gouache and etched naive-style paintings capture the eclectic mix of wildlife characters in their surroundings.

Equipped with animal distribution maps in the index and enough mind-blowing information to forge the most knowledgable animal experts, A is for Australian Animals is a highly valuable and engaging learning tool for students in primary school. I am now a fan of the long-necked, mosquito-devouring oblong turtle!

Koala, Claire Saxby (author), Julie Vivas (illus.), Walker Books, August 2017.

One particular favourite is the native Aussie fluffball- the koala. With other best-selling Australian animal themed books by award-winning non-fiction author Claire Saxby, including Emu and Big Red Kangaroo (review), here is a gripping exploration of the symbolic Koala.

Written in both a story tale and informative format, and masterfully illustrated by the legendary Julie Vivas (Possum Magic), Koala’s journey begins high in a tree fork with his nurturing mother. But he is old enough to look after himself now, and being challenged by another male sees little Koala lost in search for another home. Factually, males fight in their need for a mate between late spring and the end of summer. Navigating his way around the bushland and avoiding dangers like predators and human deforestation, Koala eventually finds his own tree where he is safe and independently sufficient.

Here is a book that is so beautifully descriptive, with sensational watercolour scenes you could hang on your wall. Koala enforces enough compassion to reinforce proactive pledges for wildlife sustainability, but is also simply a pleasurable and captivating read for its primary school aged readers.

Rock Pool Secrets, Narelle Oliver (author, illus.), Walker Books, April 2017.

With her final contribution to the children’s literature world, the superlative Narelle Oliver leaves a lasting testament of her undeniable passion for the creatures of our world and her abundance of talent. Oliver has blessed us with numerous award-winning treasures, like Baby Bilby, where do you sleep?, The Best Beak in Boonaroo Bay, Sand Swimmers, and this last one; Rock Pool Secrets.

A scrupulously crafted linocut print, etch and watercolour portfolio of art make up this glorious exploration into the shallows of the pools. Each spread contains secrets nestled in and amongst the exhibition of line, shape, colour and texture. Cleverly integrated lift-the-flaps intersect between what is hiding and its unveiling. Whether it’s bubble-coloured shrimp tangled in seaweed, rock-fronting, ‘bumpy’ starfish, octopuses in ink clouds, or turban sea snails sealed in their shells with ‘lids called cat’s eyes’, there’s plenty to peruse and discover in this satisfyingly magical, concealed realm of the rock pool.

Beautifully descriptive turns and phrases add more depth and interest to the stunning visuals that facilitate factual knowledge about this richly diverse world of sea organisms. Huge amounts of detail to be learned about some of the smallest and most fascinating creatures! Children from four will absolutely delight in the Rock Pool Secrets search, but it will be no secret how much they love it!

Wild Animals of the South, Dieter Braun (author, illus.), Walker Books, June 2017. First edition by Flying Eye Books, London.

German author-illustrator, Dieter Braun, presents a spectacular array of animals from the southern hemisphere in this delectably gorgeous encyclopaedia-style graphic volume. Wild Animals of the South is the sequel to Wild Animals of the North.

A powerfully persuasive introduction leads the opening with a dedication to the wonderfully colourful, diverse, rich and rare wildlife that lives within these pages. Unfortunately, many will, and have already disappeared. What would the world be like without the power and beauty of these creatures in the animal kingdom? Despite their unique differences, their individual ways of living, it is with such importance that we take cognisance; “their will to live and their freedom” is what ties them together.

The book is divided into five regions; Africa, South America, Asia, Australia and Antarctica. Fun, fascinating and witty facts of various animals are explained in short paragraphs (just the right amount to prevent brain-overload!), along with its common and more scientific name, and striking, crisp and textured prints that fill the large-face pages. Meet majestic lions, impressive giraffes and even the unceremonious mantis in Africa, the glowing toucan and lazy sloths in South America, and zesty crocs, powerful kangaroos and our cuddly wombats in Australia, plus so much more!

There are 140 pages, including a pictorial index of each animal in their region, of breathtaking images and banks of useful, modest and age-appropriate information to add to your brain trust. Wild Animals of the South is a must-have resource for any home or school bookshelf.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Chook Doolan is Back

Award-winning author James Roy and talented illustrator Lucinda Gifford are back with another four sensational books in the popular series for junior readers, Chook Doolan. It is a witty and warm-hearted series suited to sensitive young souls navigating their way through challenging feelings of uncertainty and apprehension.

I reviewed two previous titles here (#3 and #4), outlining these creators’ ability to capture the heart, emotion and relatability sublimely to fit their emergent reader audience. Supportive language structures, short chapters and engaging illustrations allow children from age five to achieve success whilst absorbing every moral and humorous fibre of life within the pages.

Early primary-aged readers will relish the joy and culture shining from the pages in Let’s Do Diwali (#5). Venturing into unknown territory with a tradition he doesn’t know and a crowded event is a daunting prospect for timid Chook – aptly nicknamed for his tendency to scare easily.
When paired with the quietly-spoken Praj on a school task, Chook is presented with the opportunity to learn about Diwali. He is, however, apprehensive about attending the Hindu festival of lights, and subsequently performing well on the class talk. But by embracing the spirit of the culture by wearing a kurta, trying the Indian cuisine and engaging the happy crowd, Chook’s feelings of fear dissolve into excitement. He even feels confident at school to deliver his speech about the ‘awesome’ time he had at the Diwali festival.
This is a valuable story about understanding and welcoming other traditions, and overcoming feelings of anxiety with clearly accessible and supportive practices. Let’s Do Diwali is a jubilant celebration to revisit frequently!

On the Road (#6) is about a family trip to Aunty Liz’s home in Mount Frederick. Chook is unsure about spending time with his younger twin girl cousins. He worries about other things, too, like leaving his pets behind, and having to spend three hours in the car with his taunting older brother, Ricky. Luckily, Chook finds a mutual connection with one of the girls, Evie, through his favourite activity of chess.
This book provides a gentle encouragement that shows serendipitous moments can arise in a safe and supportive environment. A little bit of courage to interact with new or unfamiliar people can lead to some wonderful relationships.

In Un-Happy Camper (#7), Simon Henry Doolan; or Chook, expresses a range of emotions from anxiety to frustration to acceptance and relief. Finding out that his class will be attending a school camp, Chook is no more than unenthusiastic. Snakes and getting homesick are not his cup of tea. All he needs is a few gentle pushes from his mum to convince him that it will be alright. This sensitive, persuasive approach and positive attitude helps Chook through his anguish, and he thoroughly enjoys the school camp…even though they didn’t really go anywhere!
The focus on Chook’s feelings throughout his psychological journey is written effectively to help readers understand their own, sometimes mixed, emotions, and finding ways to ease those discomforts. At the same time the story is injected with humour and intuitively sharp black and white illustrations.

In Up and Away (#8), Chook has been given a school assignment to explore a job he might like to pursue as an adult. Naturally, he is drawn to the job of his father – a pilot. But, there are things about being a pilot that are scary, such as visiting new places and meeting new people. In a cleverly fun way, Chook’s dad teaches him a little about the structure and physics of a plane, which is somewhat reassuring. Whilst waiting for his dad in the Club Lounge, Chook is granted an opportunity to quash his own fears, and impart his knowledge, to help another in need.
This book beautifully showcases the fact that ‘ knowledge is power’, and stepping out of your comfort zone leads to a sense of empowerment and personal growth. Once again, relevant, entertaining and encouraging, young readers will delight in this gratifying story of developing independence.

The Chook Doolan series for junior readers, and in particular young boys developing their literacy skills, is absolutely addictive. These stories of overcoming internal struggles and developing self-confidence are highly relatable, uncomplicated and transparent, as well as pleasantly engaging. Five to eight year olds will definitely be clucking for more!

Author James Roy

Illustrator Lucinda Gifford

Walker Books Australia, June 2017.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Lily the Elf – New Releases

imageSo utterly adorable and perfect for exploring deep emotions, friendships, problem solving, confidence and adventure are award-winning Anna Branford‘s Lily the Elf series for emergent readers. All with five short, steadily-paced chapters, enlarged font and sweet, detailed illustrations by Lisa Coutts throughout, these books are irresistibly readable.

I read the latest two books with my six year old daughter, alternating pages as we like to do. She participated with confidence, both understanding the concepts as she read and enjoying the active listening role as well. The books also effectively engaged her interaction as chapter endings left us with opportunities for discussion.

imageIn ‘The Sleepover’, Lily’s cousin, Fern, is invited to stay for the night. It has been a long time since they have seen each other, but Lily is excited nevertheless. She helps prepare a delicious meal, some fun games, a special bed for Fern and her favourite bedtime stories. The anticipation is almost too much to bear, but when Fern finally arrives, Lily’s expectations for a fun evening are soon dashed. Fern dismisses all of Lily’s efforts, leaving her confused and disappointed. But despite Fern’s scornful attitude, Lily manages to cut to the core of the issue and gently reassures Fern, slowly but surely, that she is safe and welcome.

The themes of empathy and kindness are evidently clear but written beautifully to reflect associated feelings of misplacement, uncertainty and disillusionment. Intertwined are playfulness and familiarity to make this story relatable and relevant to its early readers.

imageIn ‘The Jumble Sale’ Lily’s elf neighbourhood is holding a Jumble Sale Day to sell their no-longer-needed belongings. Lily yearns to buy a dress-up mermaid’s tail with her elf coins. But when Dad and Granny begin to clear out some of their own old dress ups, Lily is cross, but not as devastated as the notion of selling her baby cot with the precious hanging cloud. The day turns from bad to worse when she discovers the mermaid’s tail is too expensive, and her cot is the only option for a couple expecting their first baby. With a little thought and a lot of courage, Lily’s generosity, resilience and willingness to part with the special treasures ultimately lead to the satisfying ending she hoped for…in more ways than one!

I love how this story focuses on sentimentality and how simple possessions can evoke such strong feelings deep within us. It also reminds us that we are still able to cherish our memories forever, and allow others to create their own memories with those passed-on treasures.

Totally age-appropriate with supportive reading structures, simple language and whimsical illustrations, children from age five will just adore this special, spirited and good-natured series with a whole lot of heart.

Walker Books, August 2016.  

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Review – Sad, the dog

Sad,the dogTrying new things can be an exciting, daunting and ultimately rewarding experience. Just ask Sandy Fussell, author of the acclaimed Samurai Kids series. She is venturing into the fastidious and fascinating world of picture book writing and I have to say, has come up trumps.

TogetheSandy Fussellr with illustrator, Tull Suwannakit, Fussell has brought to life one of the most endearing little dog tales I’ve read in a while. Sad, the dog is a title immediately provoking thought and possibly interpretation as nothing more than a smaltzy, over-sentimental excuse for a cry. It does in fact start a little unhappily at least for poor pooch, Sad so named because his well-meaning but blatantly non-dog-people owners, Mr and Mrs Cripps neglect to give him an identity of his own.

Tull SuwannakitSad receives the basics from them but in spite of his doggedness to impress them with his dogginess, he is largely ignored and tragically unloved. Then they up and go, and leave, without him!

Misery and loneliness pile up around Sad like mounds of autumn leaves until a little boy named, Jack enters his life. Jack is patient and kind and is exactly the sort of little boy Sad needs. Ever so slowly, Sad learns to like his new situation and especially Jack, so much so that he re-discovers his inner dog and a new whisper in his heart that helps him banish his sad moniker forever.

Sad, the dog is a picture book that invites repeated readings because each time you do, you will fall in deeper in love with the indomitable black and white canine and comically drawn characters.

Sad dog illo spreadSad represents the unquestionable loyalty and willingness to please that dogs possess and suggests that they experience the same sense of rejection and loss as keenly as humans do. When Sad’s beliefs are shattered and abandoned, it takes him a while to forget his fears and learn to be brave enough to try that ‘something new’ again. However, with the help of a new friend, he does. Sometimes, that’s all it takes; a special someone to tease the real you back out into the open again.

I love this intimation and heart-warming message that permeates throughout this picture book, and is captured so beautifully by Suwannakit’s glorious watercolour illustrations. Muted tones, appealing detail and ridiculously funny characterisation (I was reminded of Gru from Despicable Me at times) provide plenty of balance and personality, and exude love in an otherwise sad tale about an unwanted dog.

Sad eventually finds love after hiding beneath his pile of unhappiness. It is red and wonderful (and incidentally the colour of Jack’s hair and the falling leaves) and is anything but sad. You and young readers from the age of three onwards will feel it too whether dog lovers or not. Highly recommended.

Fellow blogger, Romi Sharp is interviewing Sandy Fussell, soon. Be sure not to miss her revelations and insight into Sad’s creation.

Walker Books August 2015

 

Gillian Mears and The Cat with the Coloured Tail

Gillian Mears is an Australian writer, recognised for her award-winning literary fiction such as Foal’s Bread, The Grass Sister, Collected Stories and The Mint Lawn. It is well known that she battles crippling multiple sclerosis.Foal's Bread

She has now transferred her finely wrought writing to children’s books, beginning with The Cat with the Coloured Tail (Walker Books). This exquisite hardcover gift book is for children aged eight and older. It is a fable about love and healing and, although of great interest to cat lovers, it will appeal to a much wider readership, including adult readers.

The whimsical story, although with an ominous thread; as well as the memorable characters, are brilliantly brought to life by newcomer to children’s book illustration, Dinalie Dabarera dinalie.com. Despite the elegiac writing, this book would not be the exceptional piece of literature it is without these exquisite pencil-drawn illustrations. They seem to spring from an exemplary sensitivity and imagination. The combined writing and illustrations form a rare work.

Mr Hooper has a fanciful ice-cream van that resembles the full moon. He creates moon-cream ice creams with the intuitive help of The Cat with the Coloured Tail. This cat’s face is heart-shaped and, although his fur is usually silvery blue, his tail changes colour.

Together they love discovering heart shapes. Mr Hooper sings:

Hearts on footpaths, hearts in leaves.

Hearts in certain apple seeds.

Hearts in trees, in scabs on knees.

Heart-shaped whispers on the breeze.

They even find an ant’s nest in the shape of a heart and Mr Hooper leaves a tiny flag with his favourite colours of red and yellow to signpost the heart-shape to others.

They know which direction to take to sell their moon-creams because The Cat with the Coloured Tail’s tail points the way. But when the tail points upwards, they know that someone sad needs a free moon-cream. They find an old lady who needs a soft pink ice cream in the shape of an old-fashioned rose; an old man whose moon-cream looks like a lady beetle; a boy with a sea-loving dog whose moon-cream is so like waves lapping that it had even been a little salty; and bereaved twin sisters who receive fizzing firecracker moon-creams.

There is an ominous black heart of the world that The Cat with the Coloured Tail is following. This symbol casts a contrasting shadow over the positive itinerant healings, essential for dramatic tension and also for increasing the weightiness of the tale. The Cat with the Coloured Tail seems to sacrifice his own life to heal the heart of the world.

Australian poet, Geoff Page helped Gillian Mears with the cat’s songs, and Margaret Throsby interviewed the author on ABC Classic FM at

After reading this book you will feel like an ice cream, wishing it is a moon-cream, or quite possibly wanting to do something to show love to someone else.Mint Lawn

Review – The Billy That Died with its Boots On

Grade Four Brief: fill an entire exercise book with a collection of poetry based on the theme ‘Don’t’. ‘I hear don’t much more than do. I think that’s sad, how about you?’ was my interpretation of the theme. It featured on every page.

TBTDWIBOOutcome: I filled the book, each page boasting original arrangements of strangled rhyming verse duly supported by hand drawn illustrations. A masterpiece in my mind and possibly the last time I wrangled poetic devices into meaningful arrangements. Picture book writers like me, are advised to avoid them at all cost unless your name is Julia Donaldson.

So when The Billy That Died with its Boots On and other Australian Verse slid into sight, I immediately baulked. How does one comment on something she professes no expertise in? Am I even entitled to opinion? Could I appreciate this oral and written art form of storytelling despite my long absence from it?

Answer: Well, of course I am and I do, very much as it turns out because poetry above all else can cut straight to the heart and I’ve definitely got one of those.

Stephen WhitesideI’ve long known of Stephen Whiteside but had never had the pleasure of reading his work, hearing his recitals or understanding the man, until our recent encounter at the SCBWI Sydney Conference earlier this year.

From beneath his trademark straw sun hat, which incidentally is equally at home in a frosty marquee or crowded suburban watering hole, radiates a man of admirable intellect, quiet charm and palpable talent.

He’s been rhyming verse for over thirty years, sustained by the inspirational works of his childhood influences, poets; Banjo Paterson, Henry Lawson and CJ Dennis – all remarkable pens of the bush.C J Dennis

Whiteside’s work captures the essence of an eclectic variety of subject matter but harnessing the unique tenor and spirit of our Aussie bush and life style is what anchors him most firmly to his art and maintains his involvement with various folk-art festivals throughout the land such as the Toolangi CJ Dennis Poetry Festival.

Adults enjoy his poems but he has found his true metier writing and performing for children, particularly primary-aged youngsters. The Billy That Died with Its Boots On represents his first collection of poems for children garnered over the years and embodying our iconic outdoors, sporting life and flora and fauna, with the obligatory alien thrown in for good measure. It’s an absolute joy to read.

Much but not all of Whiteside’s rhyming verse favours a pleasant anapaestic metre, which he comfortably mixes up with longer, lyrical story lines and short snappy four-liners. Nearly all of them raise a smile; some will have you chuckling out loud. Occasional paper cutout illustrations by Lauren Merrick add pep and character. Enjoy them all with a cuppa in one session or better, at random, one or two at a time whenever your fancy calls. Great for tapping into the short term attention spans of young minds.

Personal favourites are; Dad Meets the Martians, The Saucing of the Pies (in time for the footy finals), The Ice cream that Hurt and Eating Vegies; all adroit mirth filled mirrorings of minute slices of everyday life. Other titles, Two Little Raindrops and The Mane of a Horse for example, are sensitive metaphoric masterpieces written from the point of view of their inanimate subject matter; a raindrop, a puff of wind… quite lovely.

Stephen Whiteside 2It’s poetic magic that should be gobbled up by young readers while their creative hearts and minds are still open to this style of sustenance. The Billy That Died with its Boots On and other Australian Verse would make a beautiful addition to primary class room book shelves too. Only one thing could improve this collection – to have Stephen Whiteside himself read each poem out loud, as intended. Now that would be worth sitting through Grade Four all over again.

To loosely quote French poet Charles Baudelaire: ‘It is the hour to be drunken! To escape being the martyred slaves of time, be ceaselessly drunk. On wine, on poetry, or on virtue, as you wish.’ For readers under 18, I recommend you begin with this, poetry.

Find this book here.
Walker Books Australia May 2014

 

Doodles and Drafts – Roses are Blue Blog Tour with Sally Murphy

Roses are BlueI promised myself I wouldn’t cry. Well, maybe a few tears towards the end might be acceptable, but of course, I was dealing with another verse novel by Sally Murphy, so dry eyes were definitely no guarantee.

Sally Murphy with gabriel evans croppedIt’s not just the subject matter of Roses are Blue that tugs at ones heartstrings. Murphy is simply master at massaging sensitive issues into refined, understated yet terrifically moving poetic verse. Her words whisper across the pages with the soft intensity of a mountain breeze. They are beautiful and arresting; a joy to read.

There are no chapters in this novel. The story ebbs and flows organically in a pleasing natural rhythm. Gabriel Evans’ tender ink and painted illustrations cushion the gravity of the story even more allowing the reader to connect with Amber and her world visually as well as emotionally. Youngsters cultivating their reading confidence will appreciate this generous visual reinforcement on nearly every page.

Amber Rose’s world is turned upside down when tragedy strikes her family leaving her mother devastatingly ‘different’. Overnight, everything is altered: there’s a new school, new friends, new home, new secrets and perhaps hardest of all, a new mum to get used to. Amber vacillates between wanting to fit in and appear normal, aching for how things ‘used to be’ and trying to reconnect with her damaged mum.

As Amber’s mother struggles to free herself from her new entrapment, so too does Amber fight to hang onto to their special shared love until, like springtime roses, hope eventually blooms. Roses are Blue addresses the complex issues of normality, family ties, friendships and maternal bonds with gentle emphasis on how all these relationships can span any ethnicity or physical situation.

To celebrate Amber’s story, Sally Murphy joins me at the draft table with a box of tissues and a few more fascinating insights on Roses are Blue. Welcome Sally!

Q. Who is Sally Murphy? Please describe your writerly self.

My writely self? I try hard to think of myself as writerly – but often fail miserably because I think of other writers as amazingly productive, clever , creative people, and myself as someone slightly manic who manages to snatch time to write and is always surprised when it’s good enough to get published.

But seriously, I suppose what I am is someone who writes because it’s my passion and I can’t not do it. I’ve been writing all my life, pretty much always for children, and my first book was published about 18 years ago. Since then I’ve written picture books, chapter books, reading books, educational resource books and, of course, poetry and verse novels.

Q. I find verse novels profoundly powerful. How different are they to write compared to writing in prose? Do you find them more or less difficult to develop?

I think they’re very powerful too. It was the power of the first ones I read (by Margaret Wild) that made me fall in love with the form. But it’s this very power that can make them hard to get right – you have to tap into core emotions and get them on the page whilst still developing a story arc, characters, setting, dialogue and so on.

Are they more or less difficult? I’m not sure. For me I’ve been more successful with verse novels than with prose novels, so maybe they’re easier for me. But it is difficult to write a verse novel that a publisher will publish – because they can be difficult to sell.

Q. How do you think verse novels enhance the appeal and impact of a story for younger readers?

I think they work wonderfully with young readers for a few reasons, which makes them a wonderful classroom tool. The fact that they are poetry gives them white space and also, room for illustration and even sometimes text adornments.

What this means is that for a struggling reader or even a reluctant reader, the verse novel can draw them in because it looks easier, and gives them cues as to where to pause when reading, where the emphasis might be and so on. They will also feel that a verse novel is less challenging because it is shorter – there are less words on the same number of pages because of that white space.

But the verse novel can also attract more advanced readers who recognise it as poetry and thus expect to be challenged, and who can also see the layers of meaning, the poetic techniques and so on. Of course, once they’ve started reading it, the reluctant and struggling reader will also see those things, meaning there is a wonderful opportunity for all the class to feel involved and connected when it’s a class novel, or for peers of different abilities to appreciate a book they share.

Sally & Pearl & TopplingQ. Judging by some of your previous verse titles, Pearl Verses the World and Toppling, you are not afraid to tackle the heftier and occasionally heartbreaking issues children encounter. What compels you to write about these topics and why do so in verse? Do you think a verse novel can convey emotion more convincingly than prose alone?

Afraid? Hah – I laugh in the face of danger! (Sorry, couldn’t help myself). But seriously no, I’m not afraid, because I think these are issues kids want to read about. All kids experience tough times – sometimes it’s the loss of a loved one, or illness, or a tragedy like Mum being sick/injured/absent. Other times it’s a beloved pet dying, or a best friend who suddenly doesn’t want to be friends. Either way, these tough times can feel like the end of the world. I think when children read about tough topics they connect with empathy or sympathy, and thus have the opportunity to experience vicariously something which they may not have. And if they have been through those really tragic tough times, or they do in the future, I hope they’re getting the message that life can be tough but you can get through it. Terrible things happen in the world – but good things do too. It’s really important to me that my stories have happy times too, and even laughs.

For me the verse novel form enables me to convey that emotion, but I don’t think it’s the only way it can be done. If you look at the Kingdom of Silk books by Glenda Millard, for example, you’ll see how brilliantly prose can be used to explore emotional situations.

Q. Many verse novels I have read are in first person. Is this a crucial element of ensuring stories in verse work well or is it something that you fall into naturally?

Off the top of my head I can’t think of any verse novels written solely in third person. There’s no rule that they have to be in first, but I do feel they work best that way for me, although I’m looking forward to experimenting with point of view in a verse novel I’m planning. I think first works so well because it creates an intimacy which the poetic form enhances.

Q. I particularly loved your reference to the Bobby Vinton 1962 hit, Roses are Red. What inspired you to use these lines in Amber’s story?

It’s actually a bit of a nod to Pearl, from Pearl Verses the World, who writes a roses are red poem about her nemesis Prue – but surprisingly no one has asked me about the connection before. I was looking for something for Mum to sing, and there it was. Of course the fact that Mum loves to garden, and their surname is rose means it all ties together nicely.

Gabriel EvansQ. Gabriel Evans’ illustrations are very endearing. How important do you think it is for illustrations to accompany verse stories?

For younger readers, some visual element is essential, and I am delighted with the way Gabriel has interpreted the story. Who couldn’t love his work? Again, the illustrations can help struggling readers connect with the story, but they are also important for all levels of reading ability. Some people are much more visual learners and thinkers than others, and seeing the story really enhances the experience. And gosh, they’re so gorgeous!

Q. What’s on the draft table for Sally Murphy?

A few things. I’m working on a historical novel (prose), several picture books and lots of poetry. I’m also in the early stages of a PhD project in Creative Writing and, as part of this, plan to produce three new works, all poetry of some form, as well as writing about why/how poetry is important.

Just for fun Question, (there is always one!): If you were named after a gem or colour like Amber and her friends, which would you choose and why?

I can choose a name for myself? That IS fun. I was nearly called Imelda when I was born, and (with apologies to the Imeldas of the world) have been forever grateful that my parents changed their minds. Sorry, that doesn’t answer your question. I think if I could name myself after a colour I’d be silly about it and say Aquamarine, because surely then no one else would ever have the same name as me. It’s also a lovely colour, so maybe some of that loveliness would rub off on me and make me lovely too.

Thanks so much for having me visit, Dimity. It’s been fun, and you’ve kept me on my toes!

An absolute pleasure Sally (aka Aquamarine!)

Be sure to discover the magic behind Roses are Blue, available  here now.

Walker Books Australia July 2014

Stick around for the rest of Sally’s beautiful blog tour. Here are some places you can visit.

Tuesday, July 22nd Karen Tyrrell
Wednesday, July 23 Alphabet Soup
Thursday, July 24 Kids’ Book Review
Friday, July 25 Write and read with Dale
Saturday, July 26 Diva Booknerd
Sunday, July 27 Children’s Books Daily
Monday, July 28 Boomerang Books Blog
Tuesday, July 29 Australian Children’s Poetry
Wednesday, July 30 Sally Murphy

 

 

 

Review – The Croc and the Platypus

The Croc and the Platypus I commented recently on the Further Adventures of the The Owl and the Pussy Cat by Julia Donaldson and Charlotte Voake. Donaldson’s ineffable lyrical style does indeed take Edward Lear’s nonsense tale one step further and is a jolly expedition for the reader to navigate through. As you’d expect, it’s a very good picture book. Then I found an even better one.

Jacki HoskingWith ute-fulls of respect to Donaldson and Voake, Jackie Hosking’s and Marjorie Crosby-Fairall’s debut creation of The Croc and The Platypus is a very, very good picture book.

Fans of Lear’s will relish the lilting musical quality of Hosking’s verse as she transports us as effortlessly as Julia Donaldson through the Australian outback with as an incongruous couple as the Owl and Pussycat; Croc and Platypus.

Hosking is spot on with this ingenious retelling of a childhood classic however, somehow makes it feel much more loose and flowing and bizarrely, even easier to read than the original. Her narrative sings with a down-to-earth gritty realism but is delivered with Lear’s same congenial, nonsensical joie de vive. Hub caps ring and didgeridoos blow as Platypus and Croc ‘play up a hullabaloo…baloo.’

I love Hosking’s incorporation of recognisable Aussie icons; Uluru, tea and damper and lamingtons to name a few as Croc and Platypus trundle across the plains eventually camping under the Southern Cross after cleverly procuring their tent. For those not so familiar with ‘click go the shears’ terminology, there’s even a neat little glossary.

Extra applause must go to Marjorie Crosby-Fairall for her truly epic acrylic and pencilled illustrations. The outback is vast and engulfing as are the illustrations of this picture book with gorgeously generous helpings of full colour, movement and sparkle on every single page.

Hosking’s appreciation of, commitment to and finesse with the rhyming word are self-evident. She works them all to perfection in this richly Aussie-flavoured celebration about embracing unlikely friendships and sharing stellar moments with those closest to you whilst enjoying a good old Aussie road trip.

The Croc and the Platypus has every reason to glow proudly alongside The Owl and the Pussycat, and dare I suggest outshine it. Croc and Platypus launch invite June 2014

Discover and rediscover all three books here. For those in Sydney around early July, make sure you don’t miss Jackie’s launch of The Croc and the Platypus.

Walker Books Australia June 2014

Review – Lilli-Pilli’s Sister

Lilli Pilli's SisterNot another Zombie story! Well, not that I don’t mind a dose of eye-bulging, brain-slurping fun now and then, but, “When was the last time you read a really nice story about fairies?”, so asked my other half when reading Lilli-Pilli’s Sister for the first time.

“It’s full of heart and joy,” he added. “And I really like the illustrations.”

What else is there to say? End review. But wait, there is more.

Lilli-Pilli’s Sister by Anna Branford and Linda Catchlove is one of Walker Books Australia’s first, new sparkly picture book releases of 2014. And how it shines.

Anna Branford Anna Branford of the adorable Violet Mackerel series has spun and woven her word-magic into a beautiful tale about a strawberry-blonde haired young fairy named Lilli-Pilli, who is eagerly anticipating the arrival of a new sibling. Lilli-Pilli is convinced the new family member will be a sister, because she ‘can feel it in her wings’.

As Mum’s belly swells and the day draws nearer, Lilli-Pilli helps her be-speckled Dad make a crib for the new baby fairy. Regardless of their time shared together, Lilli-Pilli is impatient for her sister’s arrival. She can’t wait to have someone new to play with. She is also a tad concerned that the crib will be too wide for one little fairy baby, so on her Mum’s suggestion, she flies off in search of soft things to put inside the crib.

Kookaburra, the painted apple moth and the white-winged triller all come to her aid but each adds to her growing uncertainty about the new baby for each of them ‘feel a brother in their wings’, and their wings are seldom ever wrong.

Crestfallen and laden with doubt, Lilli-Pilli returns to her red-gum home with her bounty of soft things just in time to discover a tree-full of squeaking and squawking. It’s exactly what she has been waiting for, or is it?

Lilli-Pilli’s Sister is an appreciatively longer picture book than we’ve become accustomed to in recent times. However each of Branford’s carefully crafted word-images creates a pleasing sense of homeliness, warmth and fun. It is hard not to be swept along by the melodious narrative all the way to the delightful twist at the end. Primary aged readers will find the story full of allure but it’s the luscious illustrations that will captivate the very young (and 50 somethings as it turns outs).Linda Catchlove

Linda Catchlove has created a collection of water-coloured mini-masterpieces, each oozing with soft dreamy detail, reflecting all the charm of the Aussie bush and its characters in much the same way May Gibbs managed to capture their very essence with her pictures and stories.

Lilli-Pill’s Sister is definitely a picture book the whole family can and will enjoy and a cracker of a way to start off the New Year, unless you’re still more into zombies than fairies.

Available here from February 2014.

Walker Books Australia February 2014.

 

 

Review – A Swim in the Sea

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Walker Books October 2013

 

Review – Somebody’s House

Somebody's House PBHave you ever wandered down your street and wondered who shares it with you? Do you like to let your curiosity conjure up interesting occupants based entirely on the external appearance of a dwelling? I do. I’m not sure if young children do this as consciously as us more questioning grown up types but Katrina Germein’s newly released picture book, Somebody’s House, allows them to do just that, and absolutely guilt-free.

At the bottom of a little girl’s town by the sea is ‘a long, looping street’. I immediately want to visit this street and find out who we’ll meet. As the little girl drifts along it, she passes houses of every size and description and colour. She catches glimpses of the occupants’ lives from the objects she spies in their gardens or poking out of windows or perched up in trees. Each page poses the enigmatic question, ‘who do you think is inside?’

The speculative answers are the result of her assumptions and vivid imagination and, quite possibly true, although I’m not sure if scarf-knitting ewes and high-heel wearing peacocks are your run-of-the-mill suburban types.

Katrina GermeinIt doesn’t matter a pip because this is a joyful exploration of colours and rhythms, and shapes and forms that will entertain readers from 0 – 5 years and give beginner readers hours of fun as they navigate their way through the musical text.

It’s easy to wax lyrical about picture books when the words sing and the illustrations bombard the senses with tons of movement and bouncing detail. Somebody’s House does precisely that. A comfortable familiarity grew each time I revisited ‘somebody’s’ street yet I was delighted to continually find something new and quirky to smile at.

Anthea Stead’s exuberant use of acrylics, oil pastels and sgraffito* saturate the pages with a festival of colour and patterns. There is enough going on to attract young readers back for a second look again and again and the use of subtle visual clues not only adds to the whimsicality of the story but allows them to deduce who lives inside each house.

Known for her straightforward and honest way of sharing life’s truths with children, Germein has created a beautiful picture book that reinforces one’s sense of belonging and sense of place, while lightly alluding to the marvellous diversity of society and family types that exist all just metres away from one’s own front door.

Recommended for 3 – 6 year olds and anyone curious about their neighbours.

For those lucky enough to be living in Adelaide, pop along to the Lobethal Markets nestled in the Adelaide foothills on Sunday the 19th of May for the official launching of Somebody’s House.

Somebody's House Launch

• Sgraffito is a painting style that uses painted layers and ‘scratching’ techniques to create an image. This technique can be used on walls, ceramics and paper or canvas.

 Walker Books Australia May 2013