Guest Post with Robert Vescio – Connecting Friends Oceans Apart

robert-vescioToday, dedicated writer for children and father himself, Robert Vescio uncovers the story behind his latest picture book, Jack and Mia. In this special guest post, he reveals how his own family background influenced this story.

But first a little bit about Jack and Mia. I have to say I love the look and feel of this book. Claire Richards’ diversity aware illustrations make me want to reach out and stroke the cover and pages. They are vibrant, childlike and at the same time, visually satisfying, filling up the pages with joyful colour, kind of how I’d imagine kids would view their world. The pages themselves are thick and glossy, a delight to turn through. The generous finger feel somehow makes me want to start reading the story again immediately I get to the end which will put this book in good stead for those repeated read requests.

Vescio’s tale is reminiscent of other classic picture books addressing the friendship separation theme such as Amy and Louis by Libby Gleeson and Freya Blackwood but flips the concept ijackandmiamedn that Mia does not move away at first, but rather into Jack’s life. By doing so, suddenly ‘his days were full of rainbows’. He experiences a deep, rewarding friendship with Mia, unlike any other he’s ever had. They share everything together even a case of chicken pox and become King and Queen of their kingdom, until suddenly, Mia has to move ‘far, far away’. It’s not exactly clear where Mia’s family are transferred to however Richards’ illustrations suggest that it’s because of her father’s military postings.

Jack’s kingdom is in tatters, his world in ruin as he worries that Mia will no longer remember him being so far away. Little does he suspect that she shares the same despair as him until he happens upon one of Mia’s books, left behind in his toy box. It is this simple keepsake coupled with a bit of modern day technology that reunite the pair once again and allow their kingdom to flourish and grow…across the oceans.

Jack and Mia is an ideal book to share with young readers who may be experiencing their own emotional lows caused by separation of a loved one, either family member away for work or friend who’s had to move even just to a new school. A great class room and bedside book and possibly one of the most sensitive and well penned by Vescio to date. Now, here’s more from Robert:

‘I wrote Jack and Mia to show how friendships (rich in imagination) can survive distance by finding creative ways to stay connected.

Jack and Mia do everything together. They stick together like paper and glue. Then, one day, Mia’s family moves away – not to another suburb but to another country on the other side of the world.

This is a story that will resonate with children who are about to move or have moved and miss their friends. Unlike other picture books about this subject, Jack and Mia illustrates how today kids are finding it easier to keep in touch with friends and loved ones who live far away.

“Growing up, I had friends that moved half the world away – common for working parents and military families – and the only way to connect with them was to write or call,” said Robert. “Today, technology is changing the way we stay connected. Everything you need is in the palm of your hands.”

Skype hangouts have become a common occurrence in today’s society. It’s as easy as grabbing a coffee with your computer screen. In fact, Skype has become so popular that people use ‘Skyping’ as a verb to connect with people.

Of course, social media has also revolutionised how people talk. Facebook connects over 1 billion worldwide every day.

But, of course, not everyone embraces high tech gadgets. Some people prefer the human touch – a hug, for instance. Jack and Mia is all about how kids can use their imaginations to play together, even when they’re an ocean apart.

Jack and Mia (illustrated by Claire Richards and published by Wombat Books) is a warm and entertaining tale about the power of a child’s imagination and to keep a friendship long and strong, regardless of distance.’

Thanks Robert!

Barnaby and the Lost Treasure of BunnyvilleRobert Vescio  picture books include, Barnaby and the Lost Treasure of Bunnyville (Big Sky Publishing), Marlo Can Fly (Wombat Books) listed on the NSW Premier’s Reading Challenge for 2015, No Matter Who We’re With (IP Kidz). He has more picture books due out in 2016 and 2017.

Wombat Books October 2016

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Deborah Kelly Embaces Life’s Magic

imageDeborah Kelly is the talented author and poet of many vibrant and engaging titles including The Bouncing Ball, Jam for Nana and Dinosaur Disco, and her most recent creation is gaining significant traction with middle-grade readers (and their parents) across the country. 

Skydancer’s Escape (Book #1) introduces us to young Ruby Wishfingers’ world and takes us on a wild ride with the mischievous antics of her toy-turned-real unicorn, Skydancer. In Book #2; Toad-ally Magic! Ruby’s wishing fingers create even more havoc when she turns her bratty little cousin into a toad. See the full reviews here.

It is with huge delight to welcome Deborah to Boomerang Books to discuss her books from the wonderfully ‘magical’, creative and unputdownable series – Ruby Wishfingers.

Deborah, can you tell us how this series was created?

The name ‘Ruby Wishfingers’ literally popped into my head while I was grocery shopping with my kids at Aldi! How could I ignore an extraordinary name like that? On the drive home I started to wonder who Ruby might be. Over the weeks and months a story began to develop.

What were your inspirations and how did your ideas develop?

imageLike most writers I draw upon my own experiences, sometimes consciously and at other times subconsciously.  There are snippets of people I know in all the Ruby characters. There is definitely a lot of me as a child in Ruby. There’s a lot of my Nana in Granny Wishfingers, too. My experiences as a mother were useful when Jellybean hit the terrible twos, too! I spent a few years in Qld so my experiences with cane toads probably inspired much of Ruby Wishfingers 2: Toad-ally Magic!

But there are other little things I didn’t realise had subconsciously crept in until family members pointed them out. Like how my grandfather used to come over from England in the summer to stay on our farm in New Zealand, and because he liked his own space we used to hire a caravan and set it up in the garden for him. As a child I had a serious addiction to strawberry jam sandwiches, so somehow that got in too!

What were your favourite books or authors to read as a child, and have any of these influenced the wondrous adventures in Ruby Wishfingers?

I loved all kinds of books as a child, but two that stood out were ‘The House that Sailed Away’ by Pat Hutchins and ‘The World around the Corner’ by Maurice Gee. I loved anything by Roald Dahl (especially The Twits) , Dick King-Smith and Judy Blume. I loved Willard Price’s ‘Adventure’ books. I loved the Narnia books. And I loved the old ‘pick-a-path’ and ‘choose your own adventure’ stories, too.
All of these books have stayed with me, so they probably have influenced my own writing!

Did you plot the whole series beforehand or have they evolved over time?

The Ruby series has absolutely evolved over time. It has been fascinating for me to watch Ruby and her world grow. One of the reasons I love writing is that I can’t wait to find out what’s going to happen next!

How do you ensure that each book flows smoothly from one to the next?

I work intuitively. If it feels right, I explore further, and if it doesn’t feel right I turn around and try something else. I’m not sure that’s very helpful advice, sorry! Everyone has to find their own way of working but this seems to be mine at the moment. I’m still very much a learner and perhaps with time and experience I’ll develop a more streamlined approach!

Are any of the characters based on anyone you know? Who would you say you are most like?

Deborah as a child
Deborah as a child

I do recognise a lot of myself as a child in Ruby. She’s curious, resourceful and optimistic. She tries her best to do the right thing and has a strong belief in extraordinary things, like magic. I think Ruby and I would have been great friends!

What, if any, challenges have you faced whilst producing the series?

Sometimes I have to remind myself not to overcomplicate a story by cramming in too many ideas!

What have been the most rewarding moments with creating and promoting the Ruby Wishfingers books?

imageThe team at Wombat Books have been wonderful to work with. I am so thrilled with how the books have turned out.  Seeing my characters brought to life through Leigh’s illustrations has been such a treat! I am enjoying visiting schools and libraries to talk about the series, especially when the kids are familiar with the stories and characters. I love hearing kids repeat lines or phrases from the book and hearing who their favourite characters are. And it is always exciting to spot your books in the wild-especially in the front window of a bookshop! I’ve enjoyed launches and other promotional events for the Ruby series with Newcastle Libraries, Lake Macquarie Libraries and our wonderful local bookstores Maclean’s Booksellers and Harry Hartog, all of whom continue to be hugely supportive of my work.

How have your fans taken to Ruby? Any stand out moments / responses?

I’ve had lots of lovely feedback from parents, teachers and kids about how much they are enjoying the series so far. I’ve heard a few anecdotes of staying up way past bed time because a child (and parent!) just had to find out what happened next! Seeing photos of kids dressed as Ruby for book week parades is a real thrill and I love to see children’s artwork inspired by the book, too.

The images in the books are gorgeously energetic and enchanting! What has it been like to work with illustrator, Leigh Hedstrom? Was it a collaborative process or did she have most of the creative control?

I was very happy for Leigh to let her imagination and talents run wild! I adore her work- she has captured the characters so perfectly. Leigh lives in a different state to me but we’ve chatted via email and I’d love to meet her one day!

imageCan you give us any clues as to what fun we can expect from Ruby Wishfingers 3: Hide and Seek?

Another exciting fast paced adventure with plenty of laughs and more than a few surprises… terrifying tyrannosaurs, turbo charged worms and giant tantrum throwing toddlers may also be involved!

How many books have you planned for this exciting series? When will they be released?

At this stage there will be five books in the Ruby Wishfingers series. The third book in the series, Ruby Wishfingers: Hide and Seek is due for release November this year. I’ll be launching it on November 12th at 2pm at Belmont Library (NSW). There will be a reading from the story, balloons, giveaways, lots of yummy treats and fun activities!
The fourth and fifth books will be released in 2017.

Fun Question! If you could wish for anything in the world, what would that be and why?

That’s a tricky one, because as we know, wishes don’t always turn out exactly how you might expect! But sometimes I wish that the world would slow down. Life has become so fast paced; we often miss the magic that is all around us.

Finally, do you have any questions or comments (or secrets) for our readers regarding your spectacular Ruby Wishfingers series?

imageMany of the names in the Ruby books are ‘borrowed’! I took George and Lillian Wishfingers’ names from my (past and present) dogs. Norman the goldfish has my grandfather’s name. And Ruby’s teacher, Mr Wilson, is named after one of my daughter’s favourite teachers!

Deborah Kelly can be found at her website and Facebook Page, and the dedicated Ruby Wishfingers fun and educational website can be found here.

Wombat Books, 2016.

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Reviews – Ruby Wishfingers #1 and #2 by Deborah Kelly

When I received the opportunity to review this series I was pretty excited, and even more excited to receive an acceptance for an interview by its author, Deborah Kelly! I couldn’t wait to hear if her inspiration stemmed from wonderful childhood memories of wishful longing for powerful magical abilities, like I had. We shall find out soon enough, but first, here’s what I thought of her first two books in the series, Ruby Wishfingers Skydancer’s Escape (Book #1) and Toad-allyMagic! (Book#2).

These books come highly recommended both to emerging readers as a wonderfully fun shared reading experience, as well as being a galloping, fast-paced adventure for more independent readers. Whatever the reading age, this series is definitely one to ignite, and excite, the imagination!

imageSkydancer’s Escape is a tantalising introduction into the ordinary-turned-extraordinary world of Ruby Wishfingers. When the young nine-year-old girl is told by her Granny that she has inherited this marvellous gift from a long line of Wishfingers magicians, her mind bubbles with infinite wishing possibilities. But it’s her magical inexperience that steers the romping consequential mayhem throughout the story.

Plenty of rollicking escapades follow as Ruby’s favourite unicorn toy, Skydancer is brought to life. As you can imagine, a large stuffing-full plush with a hankering for bed linen, curtains and Mum’s antique lace tablecloths is sure to send one willy-nilly! So what’s a girl with the power to magic up anything she desires to do? Change Skydancer’s culinary preference to sweet treats, of course! In fact, Dad’s whole garden, with some extra juicy surprise coloured raindrops, is turned into a sugar heaven. After some high-speed chasing, size-altering experimentation and transforming a grumpy cat’s speaking ability, Ruby and Granny finally manage to set things straight… well, almost. And the oblivious Mum and Dad have their own ‘sweet’ surprise to share, too.

imageTwo years on and Ruby and her tingling wishing fingers are back in Toad-ally Magic!. And, despite her maturing adeptness to the power of her magic, the extraordinary situations she finds herself in are just as whimsical and wild as the last.

Ruby now has a baby brother called Jellybean (surprise!) and it is his upcoming first birthday. To celebrate, the family are holding a teddy bear’s picnic party. Unfortunately for Ruby, though, her toad of a cousin, Todd is coming to stay. Todd’s inexorable path of destruction sends Ruby into a raging, finger-wishing spin, metamorphosing her cousin into a wart-infested toad. But, The Golden Rule of Magic states that wishes are not to be used to harm or punish. Ruby endures several desperate attempts and some sticky adventures to make things right. She cleverly manages to reclaim her magic back from that grumpy, self-righteous, Maine Coon cat, Jupiter, before he wasted them all on his own selfish pleasures. Then, she is able to rescue poor croaking Todd from the neighbour’s gardener and return him to normal. Although exhausting, a ‘toad-ally’ satisfying ending for all.

Like most young girls, Ruby can easily be tempted by instant gratification of her most biggest desires. However, I love that Ruby is also a character with inner strength and an altruistic nature. She is playful and tenacious, but also wholesome and infectious, just like Deborah Kelly‘s Ruby Wishfingers series. With delightfully energetic black and white illustrations by Leigh Hedstrom, charismatic language and comical adventures, readers from age six will be itching to relive the magic over and over again.

Wombat Books, 2016.

Book #3 Hide and Seek is due for release this November.

Read the interview with Deborah Kelly, right here!  

Connect with Deborah Kelly at her website and Facebook page, and discover the fun at the official Ruby Wishfingers webpage.

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Picture Books with World Dementia Month in Mind

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September is Dementia Awareness Month, an important initiative providing Australians with further knowledge and understanding of how dementia affects individuals, their families and carers. The theme for this year is ‘You are not alone’; a sentiment that aims to help those impacted to feel supported and empowered even in difficult circumstances.

Dedicating their time and energy to raising awareness of the topic of ageing grandparents or other family members is a passionate group of Australian children’s authors and illustrators. Their personal, heartfelt stories of hope and compassion continue to provide encouragement, optimism and inspiration to many children and families confronting change and illness in the ones they love.

imageDebra Tidball‘s When I see Grandma fits perfectly with the theme of ‘You are not alone’ on several levels. It is a poignant story of a little girl who brightens the dreams of her grandmother in an Aged Care Home. With gorgeously illuminating illustrations by Leigh Hedstrom, this book includes both heartwarming and practical strategies for creating, and rekindling fond memories.

Debra states, “When I see Grandma shows children interacting in a space that is not usually thought of as child-friendly – an aged care home. If parents of young children can see beyond the sadness of their own experiences and take their children to visit aged relatives in this setting, it can provide an enriching experience for all.”

She further relays, “Research shows that people with dementia and their carers are significantly lonelier than the general population. The children in When I See Grandma share very simple things they enjoy with their gran and the other residents – like reading, singing, and playing peek-a-boo, all giving the message, in a very natural, easy way, that their grandma is not alone.” Debra wrote the book to “let families know that they are not alone in their experiences and to encourage families to keep connections with elderly and ailing relatives so that they too, know that they are not alone.”

More on the book and a Boomerang Books interview with Debra Tidball can be found here.

In a recent article, Debra provides enlightening guidance for children and parents on reading to grandparents. Find it on the Wombat Books blog here.

Wombat Books, February 2014.

imageLucas and Jack focuses on the power of memory to establish close bonds between a boy and his Grandpop. Divinely illustrated by Andrew McLean, and gently written by Ellie Royce, this book is a fantastic medium “to start conversation, memories and stories flowing.”

Ellie explains the power of listening. “As a picture book about older people’s stories, it [Lucas and Jack] encourages the listening which often leads to such enriching connections being formed.” Read the full article here.

More on Ellie Royce’s book and a Boomerang Books interview is here.

Working Title Press, June 2014.

imageVictoria Lane (Thieberger) is the author of Celia and Nonna, with timeless illustrations by Kayleen West. This gentle book embraces the hard realities of dementia and adapting to change, but at the same time highlights strength, togetherness and faith in the ones we love.

Victoria encourages readers to find ways to accept and manage these often confusing times. “It is so important to keep children involved and informed, whatever changes are happening in the family… Celia finds her own delightful way(s). I hope that Celia and Nonna will help to start a conversation with children when a loved one is affected by dementia or old age.”

The full review and Boomerang Books interview with Victoria Lane is here.

Ford Street Publishing, September 2014.

imageDo You Remember? by Kelly O’Gara and Anna McNeil is a comforting, poignant story of memory and togetherness of a mouse and her grandmother. The celebration and the gradual fading of those memories are gently portrayed using the child’s artwork as a medium to remind her grandmother of her own rich and wonderful stories. This book shows a beautiful way to support and encourage children and their elderly grandparents to preserve and strengthen their bonds.

Wombat Books, February 2015.

imageHarry Helps Grandpa Remember, authored by Karen Tyrrell, and illustrated by Aaron Pocock, is a story of compassion, humour and hope. Young Harry provides a forgetful, confused and lost Grandpa with cleverly integrated coping and memory skills. Here is a book that gently introduces “children to the realities of Dementia and Alzheimer’s.” Find out more about the book here.

Digital Future Press, April 2015.


Alzheimer’s Australia also has resources to help provide reassurance to families. Another website to explore is Dementia in my Family, where you can find most of the above picture books listed in the resources section. Click here for more information on dementia and loneliness.

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Feeling Good and Fitting In – Inspiring Picture Books

Self-assuredness, making wise life choices, strong self-esteem, and a kind heart – all positive attributes we wish for our offspring but not always easy to foster. The beautiful subtly of picture books can help reinforce and encourage these traits in children. Here are some inspiring examples.

Stick and StoneStick and Stone by Beth Ferry Illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld

Simplicity refined. Gorgeous illustrations accompany a rock solid (pardon the pun) rhyming text about the strength and benefits of friendship, sticking together and courage in times of trouble. I loved the elementary message and profound humour. Kids will warm to the humanness of these two non-human characters, Stick and Stone. Highly recommended for primary school aged readers and those trying to understand schoolyard friendships.

Koala Books September 2015

The Truth According to ArthurThe Truth According to Arthur by Tim Hopgood Illustrated by David Tazzyman

This could easily become my new best-go-to favourite resource for dealing with fibbers. Arthur tells porkies, not to hurt but like most young people, to lessen the damage to himself that could arise from his actions, in other words, to avoid getting in trouble. However, Truth follows him about everywhere and no matter how hard Arthur tries to avoid, hide, bend or stretch Truth, Truth remains stalwart staring Arthur down until eventually …he admits The Truth.  Told in a smile-inducing uncomplicated way and matched with super line drawings, The Truth According to Arthur addresses the importance of taking responsibility for ones actions and always, always being honest. A brilliant addition to any parents’ tool kit!

Bloomsbury Publishing July 2016

I don't like KoalaI Don’t Like Koala by Sean Ferrell Illustrated by Charles SantosKoala illos spread

There is something slightly sinister about the non-seeing stare of Koala. Something dark and off-putting that Adam finds unsavoury as well. So much so, he cannot bring himself to like his new toy, Koala one little bit. He tries everything to lose Koala but inexplicably, Koala always returns (good on you Mum and Dad!). Until one terrible night, Adam finally learns to value Koala’s unwavering friendship and worth. Santos’ drawings enhance Ferrell’s beautiful clean narrative, often in a clever parallel way and reinforce the notion of acceptance; of who we are, what we truly love and of our own fears.

Koala Books 2015

The Ricker Racker ClubThe Ricker Racker Club by Patrick Guest Illustrated by Nathaniel Eckstrom

This is a once upon a time type of picture book that grabs kids’ attention from the very first page. Brothers Max and Ollie have invented the Ricker Racker Club, an association with distinct rules and regulations; being a boy for example. Polly is not a boy and secretly yearns to join the club so in an ironically old world way, she cunningly surrenders to the boys’ demands and desires, cleaning their bedroom, giving them her tooth-fairy money and so on whilst they belt around being, well, boys. Weeks pass until one day their pet turtle, Albert finds himself in peril of being consumed by the local wolf. Help comes from an unexpected quarter forcing the boys to rethink their club policies. A delightful comical representation of how friendships, acceptance, and courage are won on your actions.  Suitable for mid to upper primary readers and those who love back yard adventuring.

Little Hare Books HGE  April 2016

KindnessThe Invisible Tree – Kindness by Kirrily Lowe Illustrated by Henry Smith

For those who prefer their tales of moral strength and positive virtue with a more spiritual spin, seek out the Invisible Tree series by Wombat Books. Each picture book in the series describes how a child character learns about a particular attribute or emotion and how that virtue is a kin to a beautiful fruit, one that grows on an invisible tree inside them. The musical stories demonstrate how we can nourish our greatest gifts and capacities and share them with others. Kindness, set in Uganda, is the fifth book following this cultivation of strong healthy spirit and prompts children to grow their own invisible trees for love, joy, and peace. Spectacularly illustrated with found, recycled, and hand-made papers by Smith, these books form a treasure chest of inspired awareness.

Wombat Books 2016

Let's PlayLet’s Play by Herve Tullet

This little gem is amazing. Full of white space and second person interplay, Tullet creates two distinct characters for children to adore; yellow dot narrating straight out of the book and YOU, the child (reader). Yellow dot entices children to play with him with the words, ‘I’m bored…Do you want to play?’ What child could resist! They are led through a series of steps, fine-tuning their attention, questioning their fine motor skills and challenging their focus before plunging together into a dark, messy, FUN adventure. It’s nothing more than a succession of splodges, smudged lines, and colourful dots, yet Let’s Play is a miraculous riot of colour and genius which cleverly unleashes creativity and imagination in kids whilst giving them permission to be themselves, have fun, take risks and oh yes, ‘play again another time’. Brilliant. Ideal for pre-schoolers and older readers who’ll be able  to claim yellow dot as their new best friend. Gleefully recommended

Allen & Unwin March 2016

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Australian Story – Stories with a love of Country

Wednesday the 25th May marks the 16th National Simultaneous Storytime event. Aimed at promoting the value of reading and enjoying stories inspired and produced by Australians this campaign sits neatly alongside the 2016 CBCA Book Week Theme – Australia! Story Country. Story telling expeditiously fosters an appreciation and understanding of our unique Australian humour, environment, and its inhabitants so it’s vital that a love of books and reading begins at a young age. This is why I love this selection of picture books relating to Country and those who call it home.

Magabala Books

Crabbing with DadThis publishing house routinely produces books that preserve and promote Indigenous Australian Culture. Paul Seden’s Crabbing with Dad, is chock-a-block with eye popping illustrations and is a feast for the senses as our protagonist and best mate, Sam go crabbing with their Dad up the creek. They encounter several other folk fishing or hunting among the mangroves and waterways and eventually pull up their own crustacean reward. I love the vitality and verve this story promotes and that spending time with the ones you love are life’s best rewards.

April 2016

The Grumpy Lighthouse KeeperFor clever repetitive phrasing and a colourful introduction to yet more of our dubious sea life, The Grumpy Lighthouse Keeper will light up the faces of 3 – 5 year-olds. Inspired by the iconic Broome Lighthouse, author, Terrizita Corpus and illustrator, Maggie Prewett help our indignant lighthouse keeper to survive a stormy wet-season night as the slippery, slimy, wet creatures of the sea take refuge in his warm, dry bed. Loads of fun, if you aren’t the lighthouse keeper!

April 2016

Mad Magpie (high res)Gregg Dreise is a name to remember. Mad Magpie is the third picture book in his morality series based on the sayings and stories of his Elders and possibly the best one yet, although Kookoo Kookaburra was a huge hit in this household, too. Dreise’s picture books embrace and preserve the art of storytelling harnessing fables and wisdoms and making them accessible for today’s new generations.

His line dot authentic illustrations are pure magic and elevate the enjoyment of this tale tenfold. I found myself continuously stroking the pages so enamoured was I by the exquisite patterning and textures throughout. Guluu, the angry magpie’s tale captures the spirit of the landscape and reinforces the turn-the-other-cheek idiom. The Elders encourage Guluu to ignore those who taunt and tease him. They show him how to find ways to still his anger and remain calm so that he is able to stand proud and strong, like the life-giving river. This is an impressive tale promoting positive ways to combat bullying and enhance individuality.

May 2016

Cheeky Critters

Go Home Cheeky AnimalsAnother picture book that successfully captures the essence of place and changing of the seasons is Go Home, Cheeky Animals! by Johanna Bell and Dion Beasley. Simple repeating narrative gears readers up for the next instalment of animals – goats, buffaloes and camels to name a few – to inundate  a small outback community and taunt the dogs that are supposed to be on the lookout for such intruders. Beasley’s paint and pencil illustrations are naïve in style and full on cheek and colour, which results in phenomenal kid appeal. Superb fun and heart.

Allen & Unwin Children’s April 2016

Barnabas the BulllyfrogBarnabas is a Bullfrog who relentlessly teases and belittles the inhabitants of the Macadamia farm in Barnabas the Bullyfrog. When springtime blooms bring on a spate of spluttery sneezing, Barnabas blames it on the bees and is intent on wiping out their busy buzziness. Nosh the Nutmobile rallies his faithful friends, uniting them in a sweet intervention that cures Barnabas’s allergies and unseemly social discrepancies. Barnabas the Bullyfrog is the forth in The Nutmobile Series created by Macadamia House publications and Little Steps Publishing. Rollicking verse (by Em Horsfield) and Glen Singleton’s quintessential Aussie themed illustrations bring Nosh, Arnold and the gang musically to life. You can’t get any more Queensland than Macca nuts and cane toads however, these tales have strong universal appeal as well; this one admirably speaking up against bullies and for the world’s prized pollinators. Well done, Nosh!

Little Steps Publishing 2015

Possums Galore

Possum GamesThey may send us batty at times with their frenetic nocturnal antics but who can deny the perennial appeal of a cute round-eyed Brushtail possum. Michelle Worthington and Sandra Temple have pieced together a delightful picture book, with lilting language and winsome illustrations. Possum Games is the story of Riley, a small possum who is shy and awkward, unsure of himself and frankly, awful at sports. However, in spite of his shortcomings and apparent inability to join in, Riley has big dreams, which thanks to a twist and a dodge of fate, spring into realisation one fateful night. Possum Games is more than a tale of finding your perfect fit. It stimulates tenacity and boosts confidence and more than ably explains the actions behind the ruckus possums make on our rooves at night. A fabulous read for pre-schoolers and young primary readers.

Wombat Books 2014

The Midnight PossumMore midnight antics are revealed in Sally Morgan’s and Jess Racklyeft’s The Midnight Possum, this time in the heart of our bushland. Possum loves the midnight hour, which brings on a tendency in him to roam. As he bounds through the treetops, he encounters an Australian potpourri of animals until he happens upon a distressed mother possum who has lost her baby. Possum’s pluck and courage save the day (and the baby Ringtail). The innate curiosity and diversity for adaption possums possess are gently portrayed in this charming picture book. Racklyeft’s acrylic painted and collage illustrations amplify the allure. A sweet addition to your Australiana collection.

Scholastic Australia 2016

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Getting Serious about Series # 4 – Ripper Reads for Girls

Lola's Toybox Patchwork PicnicI don’t usually like to categorise reads into which gender they might appeal to better. I believe every child is individual and will find a story to fit their unique reading tastes no matter how pink the cover or how boyish the hero. To say that boys should be directed to sports orientated titles and little girls to books about bunnies is pre-historic thinking and infers we (little girls) don’t like puppy dogs’ tails and snails. Simply not true! However, there can be no denying that certain reads will attract certain readers more powerfully than others. This luscious collection of chapter books and mid-graders will undoubtedly appeal to the sweet-toothed predilections of little misses given they are choking with cuteness and gee gees and unicorns.

Lola’s Toy Box by Danny Parker Illustrated by Guy Shield

This is a perfectly placed first-time-chapter-book series for little readers just putting their A B Cs together. These books provide useful stepping-stones in Lola's Toybox On Story Seathe crossover from readers to more exciting chapter books, each with a softly delivered message and each peppered with adventure. Anyone with an animated imagination and insatiable love for their toys will adore Lola’s Toy Box series. Lola and her toy clown Buddy, chance upon a portal – an old toy box, which transports them time after time to the varied lands of The Kingdom where they experience toy-filled adventures beyond their wildest dreams.

The Patchwork Picnic is the first of this series so far. Other exciting toy-land destinations include The Plastic Palace, On the Story Sea, and The Treasure Trove. The Timberfield Talent Show is the very latest release. Wild and whimsical, just what five to seven-year-old emerging readers need.

Hardie Grant Egmont 2015 – February 2016

Pine Valley Ponies The Forbidden TrailPine Valley Ponies by Kate Welshman Illustrated by Heath McKenzie

Pint-sized people from six years of age who love ponies, have ponies, ride ponies or want to ride ponies will fall over themselves with this new pony series. McKenzie’s tummy tickling drawings  (his horse characters are darling!) ably romp alongside short, easy-to-read chapters about Maddy and her pony, Snowy and their induction into the Pine Valley Riding ranch.

It’s not all smooth cantering for Maddy however, as she attempts to fit in amongst the fancy-pantsed, equine experienced girls of her class. However, the call of adventure soon overrides difficulties and cements her love of Pine Valley Ponies The Pony Showhorse riding, as it will for those absorbed in her antics. Start with The Forbidden Trail and move onto The Runaway Foal then prepare yourself for The Pony Show.

There is much for horse-orientated kids to love here, from the bright pastel and foil covers, enticing page layouts, pony profiles, nifty horsey Q & A and loads more besides. Well recommended.

Scholastic Press October 2015 – March 2016

Ruby Wishfingers illoRuby Wishfingers by Deborah Kelly Illustrated by Leigh Hedstrom

Ruby Wishfingers is an absolute crack up of a series. I loved the first instalment, Skydancer’s Escape and can’t wait to get into Toady-ally Magic. Suitable for slightly older primary aged readers, this tantalising new series still features terrific line drawings and easy to digest chapters but it’s the humour infused story line, flavoured with more than a hint of magic that truly makes Ruby irresistible.

Ruby Wishfingers Toadlly MagicShe’s your run of the mill ordinary girl with a peculiar name who one day awakens with a weird tingling sensation in her fingertips. She soon realises it’s a force to be reckoned with and that you should be careful what you wish for.

Loaded with lovable characters, talking pocket-sized unicorns, indignant felines, jellybean rain and magic, Ruby Wishfingers books will not disappoint those who love adventure and fast zany reads. My pick of the crop.

Wombat Books March 2016

Keeper of the Crystals Runaway UnicornKeeper of the Crystals by Jess Black Illustrated by Celeste Hulme

The things you’ll notice first about this adventure fantasy series are the brilliant covers and sparkly titles. Each of this four part series about Eve and her unlikely companion, Oscar lures young readers in like fish to wriggling worms. It begins when the pair unwittingly unleash the power of the crystals after they open a forbidden wooden box in Eve’s Nan’s attic.

The initial crystal is of a small unicorn, which is a portal into a mysterious fantastical far away land, Panthor. Suggestions of environmental instability and political oppression in each of the strange new worlds Eve and Oscar are transported to resonate throughout these tales albeit all disguised with action, myth, and fantasy for the young reader.

Keeper of the Crystal Eve and the Last DragonAn attractive series that would suit readers seven years and above and those with a penchant for the surreal.

New Frontier Publishing June 2015 – March 2016

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

 

 

Finding the Love within – Part 2 – Annabel’s Dance

Annabel's DanceI mentioned last week the merits of not judging a book (or a person) by its cover. Today my hypocrisy shows for I’m rather partial to the cover of our Part 2 picture book review about dealing with differences, newly released, Annabel’s Dance, by Diane Jackson Hill and Lois Bury.

It’s quirky and sweet, exudes fleecy softness yet is eye catching and dare I say, more than a little sheepish, which is all rather fitting for Annabel’s Dance tells the hitherto untold story of a sheep whose unique appearance and delicate constitution sadly alienates her from her mainstream counterparts, aka The Mob.

High on a hill lives not a lonely goatherd, rather Annabel’s flock that are everything you’d expect of a mob of sheep; clean, docile and conforming. Then there is Annabel who is anything but. She is messy and unkempt, erratic and in a constant state of disarray. Her oddball behaviour does nothing to endear her to her fellow sheep who are quick to push her aside and keep her there.

Annabel's Dance illo spreadAnnabel retains her fraught emotional balance by retreating within herself, repeating the mantra, ‘Hazy mazy oops a daisy, wriggle your ears but don’t go crazy.’ She tries hard to control her exaggerated reactions to every day events and smells and noises but her incessant restlessness offends the others’ sense of correctness so much so that she is shunned even more.

Annabel’s supersensitive responses exacerbate at shearing time thanks to the aggravating noises and sensations so she avoids it, until over many missed shearings, she becomes a prisoner of her own condition…and wool! To her detriment, one day her overgrown mantel trips her up, literally. Farmer Shanks springs to her rescue and resourcefully and caringly helps her to overcome her worst anxieties. This sudden special treatment forces the other sheep to re-evaluate their opinions about Annabel. But will it be enough for them to follow suit?

Diane Jackson HillHill developed the idea for this picture book in an attempt to understand the behaviours of her granddaughter and the disorders of ADHD and Autism. Whilst doing so, she learned the true life stories of individual sheep found in New Zealand, Tasmania, and Victoria who incredibly escaped annual shearing and have been found with up to 6 years’ growth of wool. Could they by supersensitive too? wondered Hill. And so, Annabel’s Dance was born.

And inspired it is. Hill’s rippling narrative and strong use of visceral vocabulary (wool the colour of ‘whipped cream’, growing in ‘tight crinkles’) is both appealing and entertaining. It conveys Annabel’s plight with sensitivity and respect so that we ache for Annabel but not in a pitiful way.

Lois BuryBury’s gorgeous illustrations focus largely on Annabel, she is the vivid abstract splat in the mob’s otherwise ordered life, thus in spite of her innate shyness, she stands out, a situation many young readers on the Autism / Asperger’s Spectrum will no doubt recognise and take heart from.

This is a picture book that deserves repeat readings and thanks to its robust thick feel pages and sensible layout, will stand up to them. Annabel’s Dance and all her uncontrollable wriggly jiggly quirks is a beautiful celebration of individuality that encourages readers to embrace and accept the exceptional abilities that hide within us all. You just have to uncover the wool over your eyes to see them!

Baaatastic for 3 – 6 year olds and lovers of woolly jumpers, everywhere.

Wombat Books February 2016

 

Ellie Royce makes History with ‘Lucas and Jack’

Along with a staunch group of Australian literary professionals, Ellie Royce is a strong advocate for promoting encouragement for families to connect with older generations, share love and facilitate the power of memory. Her latest picture book is one in a line up, not only involved in initiatives to create awareness of ageing people and dementia (Dementia Awareness Month), but also as a nominee for a prestigious award. Find out more about her gorgeous book, ‘Lucas and Jack’ and her significant contribution to the community in our captivating interview!  

I love Ellie Royce‘s passion for writing and the power of words. Combined with her absolute dedication to working with the elderly, her first picture book, ‘Lucas and Jack’ is a notable example of an award-winning piece of literature.
imageWith its delicate, picturesque style charcoal and watercolour illustrations by Andrew McLean, and gentle, endearing story, ‘Lucas and Jack’ represents connection, value and affection. The intergenerational bond between a young boy and his Great Grandpop is tightened after forming a relationship with another resident at the nursing home; Jack. When Lucas waits alone for the visit to end, it is Jack’s presence that ultimately gives Lucas the gifts of perspective, curiosity and appreciation. Jack is able to open Lucas’s eyes to the once beautiful and intriguing pasts of other elderly people, including detective Leo, ballerina star, Evelyn, and himself as a young farmer. His Pop may be wrinkled, old and frail, but with Lucas’s newfound regard he sees a once hard-working ice delivery boy. Now Lucas will have to wait until his next visit to find out more about Pop’s childhood adventures.
‘Lucas and Jack’ drives home the importance of engaging with and being empathetic to our ageing loved ones, particularly at difficult and confusing times. Royce cleverly integrates charming dialogue with prompts for readers to investigate the life stories of, and form further attachments with their own grandparents and great-grandparents. This heartfelt tale is a valuable addition to any home or classroom setting. A sincere delight!
     

imageCongratulations on your first picture book, ‘Lucas and Jack’ being shortlisted in the Speech Pathology Australia Book of the Year Awards! What does this honour mean to you?  
Thank you! I was so excited to hear that “Lucas and Jack” was a shortlisted book for this award. I am thrilled to have been able to collaborate with a gifted illustrator like Andrew McLean and I understand that a “picture” book is very much like a jigsaw puzzle as in all the pieces both text and illustrations are vital in telling the story so neither one is more important or works without the other BUT…. I have to admit I am a word geek. I adore words, I adore learning new and old words, making up words, reading and writing with them, sharing them, playing with them. So for me, having a story shortlisted which promotes literacy and speech is a massive honour, a truly magical experience.  

Who or what inspired you to write this story?
As an author who works in an aged care facility I was inspired by the fascinating life stories of my residents. I see their photos of them as dashing young things and hear their stories on a daily basis and it really fires my imagination! So often we make a presumption about people based on what they look like – in the case of “Lucas and Jack” it’s older people but this also applies to people with disabilities and people of other ethnic backgrounds- the list goes on. I would often see residents’ younger visitors hanging around outside, not engaging or interacting with their relatives because all they could see was what was on the outside, the wrinkles, the hearing aid, the wheelchair and the gap seemingly too wide to be able to connect. “Lucas and Jack” simply shows that each of us has at least ONE thing in common- we were all young once. Also that if we share our stories we can find connection with each other.
The characters in “Lucas and Jack” were inspired by real residents, some of whom have now passed away.  It’s been a real thrill for their families to have this book to share with their grandchildren and great grandchildren, keeping family history and family stories alive. It’s been a real thrill for me to be able to create that opportunity for them.  

You are an active member in the aged care community. Can you tell us a bit about the work you do for the elderly?
I’ve worked in aged care for almost ten years. For five of them I was the person who received that first phone call “I need help to find out about aged care, Mum/Dad/I have been told I can’t stay at home anymore” or variations on that theme. What a privilege to have a job where you can help people who are confused, frightened, grieving and  feeling so many other emotions! My day was made when someone left my office saying “Thank you, now I understand how it all works. I’m so relieved.” As a communicator, there’s almost nothing better. When I say almost though, I have to say that the role I have now which is Communications Coordinator and engagement officer where I run our newsletter, website and social media outlets and liaise closely with our Lifestyle team to source and develop projects which allow our residents to connect with community, participate in arts and creative experiences that engage and inspire like storytelling (funny about that!), art exhibitions and intergenerational groups as well as running arts based programmes for our dementia specific residents to find out which strategies enhance their quality of life is the “dream job.” The only thing that could top it is if I were a full time author. But even then, I think I’d miss the day job, it’s such a rewarding and exciting area to be involved in.
A tiny vignette of my day springs to mind where recently I was able to facilitate access to audio downloads of classic books for a very academic and bright lady who is confined to bed, unable to move or verbally communicate  easily.  When she heard the first words of “Pride and Prejudice” the look of pleasure on her face brought tears to my eyes. It’s a small thing to us, but to her it is her whole world. Again, what a privilege!    

image‘Lucas and Jack’ emanates a beautiful message of celebrating and cherishing the ‘stories’ of elderly people and forming bonds with grandparents. What do you intend your readers to gain from engaging with your book?
I would love to see “Lucas and Jack” of course offering a good read, an enjoyable experience. But also I hope that the book will pave the way for the readers to share their own stories. I would love to think that after reading “Lucas and Jack” a young person will look at an older person, frown, wonder and ask the question “What did YOU do before you were old?” or “What was it like when you were a kid? Did you do the same stuff as me? What games did you like? What was school like?” and the floodgates of sharing, laughing, crying, remembering, honouring and connecting will open.
Because stories aren’t just stories are they? They’re bridges to things and ideas like empathy, literacy,  resilience, imagination and perhaps most important of all in today’s world they are bridges BETWEEN things and people who think they are too different to ever be able to connect.
There’s a great quote by Roslyn Bresnick-Perry “It’s hard to hate anyone whose story you know.”  I hope “Lucas and Jack” builds bridges between people.  

The sense of nostalgia and livelihood in ‘Lucas and Jack’ are expertly and gently portrayed in the illustrations by award winning illustrator Andrew McLean. How do feel his pictures best compliment your words? What was it like to collaborate with him?
Oh my goodness how does one express what a magical experience it is for your words to inspire such incredible responses from an illustrator? It really did feel like magic, watching the development from his roughs (ha, roughs? I couldn’t believe he called them roughs; they were gorgeous!) Perhaps that’s another reason why I love the picture book form so much. They are such evocative and beautiful images that resonate so much with everyone who sees the book. I was incredibly lucky to work with Andrew.  

World Dementia Awareness Month is held throughout September. Please explain the purpose of this initiative and how you are participating in raising its awareness to the public.
This year’s theme is “I Remember”. I’m excited to be collaborating with a fabulous group of Australian creators, both authors and illustrators to showcase their books about ageing and dementia for September’s World Dementia Month. The helplessness and confusion a growing number of children face when confronted with the decline of an elderly relative prompted these local literary professionals to create stories to provide encouragement and hope to families. Each of the unique and beautifully illustrated stories is based on personal experience and offers practical strategies to connect and share love with elderly grandparents even in difficult, changing, and confusing circumstances. The power of memory and remembering as a way to sustain a loving connection is a common thread and ties in perfectly with the “I Remember” theme for 2015.
imageAlong with “Lucas and Jack” we have Celia and Nonna (Victoria Lane and Kayleen West, Ford Street Publishing) where Celia brings memories of happy times spent together with her grandmother into Nonna’s new aged care home by making pictures and paintings to fill the walls. The grandchild mouse in Do You Remember? (Kelly O’ Gara and Anna Mc Neil, Wombat Books) uses artwork to honour Grandma’s memories. In When I See Grandma (Debra Tidball and Leigh Hedstrom, Wombat Books) Grandma’s memories are brought to life through her dreams as the granddaughter shares with her everyday things she enjoys doing and in Harry Helps Grandpa Remember, (Karen Tyrrell and Aaron Pocock) Harry shares coping skills to help his grandpa boost his memory and confidence.
These stories are humorous, at times poignant and always heartfelt. Our hope is that they will inspire and encourage children and families who are grappling with change and illness in those they love.    

You write in a range of genres, including children’s and young adult books. Do you have a preferred genre? What do you love about writing for younger children?
I would have to say that I really, really love the picture book art form. I believe stories can change the world, I truly believe this and one of the most marvellous manifestations of story for me is the picture book. It can encompass any concept no matter how complex in a simple way. It is possibly the purest essence of story and if you want o know why, try telling a really good story in 495 words!
It also speaks to both sides of our brain, with text and illustration. I have two daughters, one who is a language child and one who is a visual. Picture books were the bridge between their learning styles which gave us the opportunity to share so many wonderful experiences as a family. Because it speaks symbolically through pictures as well as through words, a picture book resonates within our souls, speaks to our conscious and unconscious mind and stays with us in ways that other forms of story don’t. Younger children really ‘get’ this. They enter into the storytelling experience and totally become one with the story. It’s a beautiful thing!  

Besides writing, what other pastimes do you enjoy?
I love art and photography, to read, listen to music, work in my vegie garden, cook (then eat), sit around and yak with my daughters, spend time at the beach, to rummage for vintage treasures and to laugh. Laughing is good.  

What were your favourite books to read as a child? Any that have influenced you as a writer?
I find that everything I have ever read sometimes pops up to surprise me as a writer!  I suppose the most important influence is that I aspire to create the same magic for my readers that I experienced (and still do). 
One of my favourite books was and still is “The Phantom Tollbooth” by Norton Juster. In fact I recently read it again and every word still fills me with pure crystalline joy. It is an exemplary, beautiful piece of writing. It’s delicious and joyous and fun.   
I was an Enid Blyton child from day dot. I loved Pip the Pixie, Mister Pinkwhistle , The Magic Faraway Tree (er yes I am rather old hahaha!) followed by Famous Five, Secret Seven and then the boarding school books. I also loved everything Roald Dahl wrote and CS Lewis’ “Narnia” series. How can I pick just one? Alice in Wonderland, The Hobbit, Peter Pan! I also loved “The Railway Children” by Edith Nesbit, “The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew” by Margaret Sidney and the “Seven Little Australians” by Ethel Turner. I grew up with “Anne of Green Gables” and “Little Women” and here I fear I must stop because I’ll go on for hours. I was very lucky to have been encouraged to range widely and omnivorously with my reading as a child.  

What projects are you currently working on? What can we look forward to seeing from you in the near future?
I have a lot of half- finished work badgering me to get on with it at the moment! A couple of picture book texts are doing the rounds of publishers, a few stories are on their way to The School Magazine, two middle grade novels are yelling at me for attention right now, phew! I would love to not have to sleep; it would really increase my writing time. I admire those writers who get up at 3 am to write before they start their day and I may yet become one of them when my need to write becomes stronger than my need to sleep, probably in summer. In winter I hibernate a bit. So stay tuned…..  

Thank you for answering my questions, Ellie! It has been a pleasure getting to know more about you and your work!  
Thank you for having me :).

‘Lucas and Jack’ (available for purchase here), published by Working Title Press, 2014. Teacher notes available here.

Visit Ellie Royce’s website and facebook pages.

Visit Alzheimer’s Australia and World Dementia Month Aged Care Online, or World Alzheimer’s Month for more information on this initiative.

Double Dipping – Picture book therapy

When medical conditions affect children or the people in their lives, one of the most daunting aspects of their situation is how to cope. The management of a disease or disability is one thing, the understanding why they have it and why others react the way they do is another.

Emily Eases her WheezesPicture books are marvellous non-invasive ways of presenting expositional information on a variety of tricky-to-handle topics in relatable formats for young readers. Here are two hot-off-the press releases that tackle two such ailments yet are still stories of substance and integrity.

Emily Eases her Wheezes by Katrina Roe and Leigh Hedstrom, is a delightful tale about a very energetic elephant, Emily. Always full of energy, Emily loves to scooter, leap, and twirl. Unfortunately, Emily suffers from asthma as approximately 1 in 10 Australian children do.

Being unable to play with her friends and live the active lifestyle she craves frustrates Emily to the point where she is willing to risk wheezes and coughs just to have fun. Such behaviour results in her relying on her puffer more and more until she is relegated to remaining quiet in her room. Her friends are slow to appreciate that ‘you can’t catch asthma’ but miss her friendship so much that they use their 21st century-Generation Z data-retrieving smarts and soon discover an activity they can all do…swimming.

Emily Wheezes illo spreadAs Emily’s lungs grow stronger so too does her chance to race with her team in the summer swimming carnival. Will this plucky little heroin keep her wheezes under control long enough to win the day?

Emily Eases her Wheezes is a delicately sobering tale about a condition with which many younger readers will resonnate. Roe’s crisp contemporary narrative couples easily with Hedstrom’s big bold illustrations. I found the epilogue-style overview of asthma in children at the end of the book interesting as well.

Asthma is a disease I’ve been aware of since childhood, however I can honestly say, this is one of the first books I’ve encountered that has presented its manifestation and control in children in such a clear, simple and entertaining fashion. Well done.

Wombat Books Rhiza Press June 2015

Newspaper Hats Newspaper Hats by Phil Cummings and Owen Swan is an incredibly intelligent and beautifully sensitive look at a family dealing with the challenges of Alzheimer’s disease.

Georgie visits her grandpa’s nursing home regularly with her father. But rather than it being an ominous outing to a place she is fearful of, Georgie looks forward to arriving at the sky-blue door because it is a room ‘full of sunshine’ with stacks of old newspapers as tall as city buildings; her grandpa’s world.

However, Grandpa is becoming more and more vague and forgetful. Georgie is desperate to know if her remembers her, but repeated enquires are met with far away recollections of his youth. With child-like innocence and gentle tenacity, she tries to connect with him through these memories and the photographs on his dresser until, by chance she discovers a simple act that unites not only the rest of the nursing home community but also, the relationship between she and Grandpa.

Cummings’ unrushed narrative pulses gently with visceral images, doors that slide open like curtains; thunderclouds that taste like dust; they leave your heart swooning with emotion until the very last word.

Through using the simple joy of making paper hats and the subtle historical connection to memory with noteworthy newspaper headlines of the 20th century, Newspaper Hats unfolds into a powerful yet immensely touching story of what binds a family together.

Swan’s watercolour and pencil on paper artwork is subdued and mindful of the weightiness of the subject matter lurking just below the surface of the text. It is neither grim nor foreboding, rather the illustrations float across the pages with infinite optimism like a paper hat carried away on the breeze.

Phil Cummings BooksA beautiful book on many levels from a potent teller of poignant tales and my pick for pre-schoolers as a catalyst for caring, sharing, and understanding.

Scholastic Press July 2015

 

‘When I see Grandma’; A Compelling Account with Author, Debra Tidball

I love the way award-winning author Debra Tidball describes her view on valuing connectedness across the generations. I also love the sentiment in celebrating people’s personal histories and appreciating who they are now, and then. Having had a grandmother with whom I had a strong bond, ‘When I see Grandma’ really resonated in my heart. It is the perfect book to share with young and old, and what better time to do so than Christmas time.  

high resDebra Tidball’s ‘When I see Grandma’ is a beautiful, poignant story of life, love, family and compassion. It will make you smile. It will make you teary. It will touch your heart in many ways. So thoughtfully and delicately illustrated by Leigh Hedstrom, the images evoke an array of emotions, and tie in magically with Debra’s gentle phrasing.

When the children visit their sick and elderly grandmother in the aged care home, it is their glowing presence that elicits grandma’s fond memories of her past.

”I’m sometimes sad to see her but I’m always glad that I can brighten her dreams.”

The little girl and her brother bring joy to the elderly through elements of music, ”for her dreams to dance on”, through their laughter and their youthful innocence. She nurtures her grandmother with a little pampering and cuddling, which strengthens the love in her heart. The story ends with a kiss for Daddy until he returns from work, and a kiss for Grandma, to say goodbye. The final image of the family sharing grandma’s old photos, which can be viewed in the endpapers, give the book the perfect uplifting conclusion.Wombat Books 2014.  

debra tidballDebra, congratulations on winning the CALEB Prize, and for being shortlisted in the Speech Pathology Book of the Year Awards for ‘When I see Grandma’! What wonderful achievements!  
Thanks Romi.  

How did you feel when you heard the exciting news of your nomination and win?  
To be short listed for the same award category as the legendary (and our family favourite, Bob Graham) blew me away – he won the Speech Pathology award, but I certainly get bragging rights! And winning the CALEB prize was more quietly and personally gratifying.  

All the royalties of ‘When I see Grandma’ will be donated to the Hazel Hawke Alzheimer’s Research and Care fund, which is amazing. What does this connection mean to you personally?  
My mum had dementia and the book is dedicated to her: it is based on visiting her with my two daughters when she was in an aged care home – so it seemed appropriate to donate my royalties to an organisation working in the dementia area. Hazel Hawke was a courageous and warmly regarded public personality and this fund seemed to be the right fit. The fund is administered via Alzheimer’s Australia who have been very supportive.  

Do you have any special childhood memories of your own Grandma?  
It’s interesting you ask that, Romi, because the only contact I had with my grandparents as a child was receiving birthday and Christmas presents from them (which my mother actually bought with money sent from overseas) and writing ‘thank you’ letters in return.  My mum was a ‘£10 pom’ and left her family in London in the 1950’s, so I didn’t meet my grandparents until, at a very elderly age, they came for a visit to Australia when I was a teenager, and it was actually very awkward. Having grown up without that grandparent connection, I was keen for my children to have an ongoing relationship with theirs, and for them them to know my parents as people with full and amazing lives.  

The illustrations in your book, by Leigh Hedstrom, are just beautiful, and instrumental in guiding the story. How involved did you need to be to create these specific images, and how much did you leave to Leigh?  
violin dream openingLeigh felt the story for the start and captured its essence with creativity and with some goose-bump  moments of serendipity. The first sketch she sent through was of grandma by the water hole in her swimmers – and I knew from that moment she would be perfect. The manuscript I sent to her had illustrative ideas which she took on board but the dream sequences were not an easy concept to illustrate. The idea I initially had didn’t work, and I loved the way Leigh wrestled with how to portray these pages – she sent a number of rough ideas, through the publisher, to me for comment – I appreciated the way I was consulted through the whole process and how Leigh valued feedback. I was thrilled with how it ended up – particularly the symbolic trail of flowers, laughter, hearts etc that link the bedroom scenes to the dreams. And I love the cartoon like characters and the vibrant colours which I wouldn’t have imagined but engage children so very well, adding fun and vibrancy to the narrative and giving the story it’s uplifting feel.  
I wrote the visual narrative of the young boy and his interactions with the residents into the story but Leigh was initially unsure that she could squeeze that onto the page – I’m so glad she managed it as it adds another layer to the story, about community, that I think is so important.  
As for serendipity, the little touches that had a huge emotional impact for me were Leigh having grandma dancing with grandpa in uniform – unbeknown to her, my father was in the Air Force and my parents started going out dancing when Mum started nursing; and the father in the story, both as a little boy and an adult, is a replica of my husband (glasses, hair colour, build, musical interest) whom Leigh had never met.  
It has Leigh’s personal touches too – the toys on the page where the grandmother is playing with her child are an expression of Leigh’s love of Disney, and she sneakily made the book that the mother reads with the class another of her collaborations (Marty’s Nut Free Party). The use of the endpapers to replicate an old photo album and to recognise some of these photos on pages throughout the book is an inspired way to weave a thread that wraps the whole together. I could go on….  

When I see Grandma’ is a lovely tribute to all Grandparents, but also fosters an appreciation for family connectedness. What message do you hope for readers, young and old, to gain from reading your story?  
I hope that readers get a sense that people are so much more than they seem at any one point in time, that everyone has a history and personal stories that are rich and vibrant and make up who they are – even when they are handicapped by age or illness. I hope, too that readers understand the importance for everyone to include children in an aged care community, and that a sense of connection can be made across generations despite apparent barriers.  

What does the festive season mean for you and your family?  
Christmas is a time for reflection and recharging after a busy year. We love to spend quiet family days and attend church. It’s also a nice time to catch up with extended family and friends who’ve been neglected during the year. Having spent last Christmas in the northern hemisphere, I realised I’m very much an Aussie girl – nothing says Christmas to me like summer – sleepy reading days relaxing outdoors with the smell of sunscreen and smoke (only from the BBQ hopefully!)  

Do you have any special traditions that you follow every year?  
As my children have grown up a lot these past few years (they are now adults) it is interesting to see what traditions have stood the test of time. We like to go to choral services at our local church together, beginning the with advent service of lessons and carols. We are excited to exchange presents on Christmas Day and Peter Combe’s Christmas album is still the album of choice to accompany this ritual. We may have a feast or famine of decorations – the gloss goes off glamming up the house or Christmas tree when the children realise that the pulling out the bling is always easier than packing it away. But remembering Christmas past is always part of the fun! I’m not a fruit cake fan, but I look forward to my Ice Cream Christmas Cake all year.    

What is your favourite Christmas children’s book?  
One with many happy memories from my younger years is a beautiful pop-up book of ‘The Night Before Christmas’ by Clement C Moore and Tom Patrick – it was marvellously interactive both physically and narratively. More recently, it would be a tie between The Nativity by Julie Vivas and Wombat Divine by Mem Fox.  

endpaper when i see grandma You’ve had great success with your writing in 2014. What do you aim to achieve in 2015?
I have a few other manuscripts out to publishers as well as some other writing projects, so next year it would be great to have something accepted for publication – fingers crossed! I will also continue to search avenues to promote ‘When I see Grandma’ because it is such a pertinent and topical story, and it has the potential to be enduring.  

Thank you so much for answering my questions, Debra! Wishing you a safe and joyous holiday season with your friends and family!  
Thanks Romi 🙂  

Connect with Debra Tidball:
http://www.debratidball.com/
https://www.facebook.com/debratidballpage  

Interview by Romi Sharp
www.romisharp.wordpress.com
www.facebook.com/mylittlestorycorner
www.twitter.com/mylilstorycrner

Review – Amy and the Wilpenea Flood An Australian Girl adventure

A sweeping yet generally accurate observation of girls aged up to 12 years or so, is that most love dolls, of some descript. In this age of zombie mutant, bloodsucking teenage wannabes, these aren’t necessarily the ubiquitous Barbie dolls or sleepy-eyed baby dolls either. Just about any recognisable, eye-catching, radically dressed, personality driven figurine will do the trick these days.

The crucial part is ensuring that the insane desire young girls develop for a particular doll or collection is born from an age appropriate and culturally enriching source. Not just as another clever marketing spinoff from the latest TV show.

Australian Girl dollsThis is where Australian Girl dolls, created by Helen Schofield, step in. Five doll characters, each with their own distinct personalities and backgrounds, aim to encourage imaginative, age relevant play. Chances are your daughter (or son) knows or is friendly with someone of a similar ethnic background as those of the dolls; such is the rich cultural diversity of our modern Australian society. Perhaps they can identify parts of themselves with their favourite doll. The exciting thing about the Australian Girl dolls is that now, thanks to Wombat Books, they have been brought to life through a new series of adventure based books.

Amy and the Wilpena Pound Amy and the Wilpena Flood, by Claudia Bouma, is the second in the series (there is a third soon to be released) which features all five heroines but lightly focuses on one particular girl as the catalyst or driving force of each story.

The premise is simple: five girls form a deep, do-or-die-for friendship and discover a powerful talisman in the shape of a rainbow necklace. With the aid of this magical charm they are able to time-slip throughout Australia’s past, which inevitability enables them to solve the dilemmas that they chance upon, like missing turtles for instance.

This time, it’s Amy’s turn. After she finds a mysterious map, she and her friends transport back in time to Wilpena Pound in South Australia. From the moment they arrive, it’s a race to save not only Jessie and her family, whom they encounter there, but also themselves from an unexpected catastrophic flood.

Amy Comic strip

Claudia BoumaClaudia Bouma manages to entertain us with an on-the-edge of your seat drama and catchy modern characters, in an upbeat introduction to our inimitable Aussie geography and history. The bold black and white illustrations of Emily, Amy, Matilda, Annabelle and Jasmine sprinkled throughout this chapter book by cartoonist, Jason Chatfield (aka the current Ginger Meggs), left me lingering over it long after the flood waters of Wilpena Pound had receded.

Jason Chatfield

Packed with true blue Aussie spirit and solid reference to the favourable merits of friendship, courage and perseverance, Amy and the Wilpena Flood is a treat to read. And one you don’t have to be a girl or lover of dolls to appreciate either.

Great for primary school aged children.

View and purchase this book here.

Wombat Books August 2013

 

Review – Marlo Can Fly

As we approach the beginning of the breeding season of the Australian Magpie, it feels fitting that my next review is all about one of my favourite Aussie song birds.

Marlo Can FlyHot on the heels of No Matter Who We’re With, is Robert Vescio’s newest picture book, Marlo Can Fly. But the question is; can she really?

From the moment we meet wilful magpie fledging, Marlo, we witness her in a number of situations none of them however, involving her taking to the wing. And why? Because Marlo ‘wanted to be different’.

As Marlo watches her bird friends soar and swoop, she steadfastly refuses to become airborne. Time and time again she defends her position; she doesn’t need or want to fly, reinforcing her belief that flying does not a magpie make.

Her stubborn determination to stand out from the flock is admirable if not slightly bemusing for her forest friends. Unable to convince her that as a bird, she should embrace flying, they resort to jesting and jeering each time she attempts to emphasise her difference.

Marlo wetTo prove her point, Marlo gives slithering, jumping, swimming and even crawling a go, all of which end in calamity and ridicule.

It isn’t until Marlo meets little Kev Koala, distressed and unable to locate his mother, that we suspect Marlo’s resolve to show there is more to her than just flying, is perhaps a ruse to hide the fact that she can’t fly or is too scared to fly. Suppositions Marlo has erstwhile denied but could be true…

Whatever the case, she finally casts all aspersions and doubts aside to help her friend in need. The bush creatures rejoice in Marlo’s newfound abilities and acceptance of herself, as does Marlo.

Robert Vesico Robert Vescio’s uncomplicated narrative style allows room for plenty of alliteration and action-orientated onomatopoeia. Kerthumping kangaroos, slithering snakes and cackling kookaburras give Marlo Can Fly an easy read aloud musicality sure to entertain under-fives.

Sandra Temple Sandra Temple’s modest yet striking combinations of pastels and coloured-pencil illustrations give each bushland creature a brilliant life-like appearance. They are simply beautiful to behold and lead us effortlessly to the heart-warming conclusion of a delightful Australian themed picture story.

Marlo’s triumph is finding delight in her sense of self. Yours could be not running a mile the next time one of these glorious birds loops and soars over the tree tops.

Recommended for 3 – 5 year olds and those who cherish the magnificent carolling of a magpie at dawn.

Wombat Books 2013

View or purchase any of Robert Vescio’s books here.