"The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise." - author Jackie French

The KBR Unpublished Picture Book Manuscript Award is now open! Click for details.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Review: Friendship is Like a Seesaw

Friendships can be tricky things for young children to understand. If I’m going to be truthful, some friendships can remain tricky well into adulthood. People can be complex and changeable at times and it’s no wonder that our children can sometimes feel confused and challenged by the dynamics of their friendships.

Friendship is Like a Seesaw offers children an easy to understand explanation of how friendships work – that friendships are sometimes uneven when friends aren’t feeling the same way about a situation and that friendships work best when both people are balanced and even in the way they deal with each other.

Blog Tour: Shona Innes - Sharing Books with Children: Growing a Happy Child, Page by Page

Kids’ Book Review is delighted to welcome Shona Innes to discuss the benefits of sharing books with children. Shona is a clinical and forensic psychologist helping children, teens and adults deal with life challenges. She is also the author of the Big Hug series of picture books, written to help children deal with some of life’s tricky times. This post is part of the Big Hugs Blog Tour. Makes sure you check out the other websites hosting Shona. Links are listed at the end of this article.

When you ask most adults what they want for their children, the usual response is “We want them to be happy”.  So, what does it take to make a kid happy?  Limitless time on electronica whilst munching on copious amounts of lollies?  Believe me, I have seen children raised in environments where there are no limits and they are certainly not happy kids. 

Normally, when we ask people to expand on the idea of what they really want for their growing children, the themes are usually:
  • We would like our kids to be bright enough to get a decent job or get some satisfaction from contributing to the world in some way.
  • We’d like them to be socialised enough to have a good set of friends and to be able to give and receive within warm and loving relationships.
  • We want them to be street wise enough to know when to fight for something and when to carefully back away.
  • We’d like our kids to have sound values – whatever we believe those values to be - to appreciate and nurture the Earth, push their bodies to peak physical fitness or devote themselves to a cause.
These are the sorts of things that people think will lead to a child living happy life.  If these are the things we want for our children, can books provide?  I reckon the answer is, “Oh yes, indeed, they can!”

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

WIN! JoJo Publishing Picture Book Pack

JoJo Publishing is offering readers a sample of their picture book collection with these wonderful new titles for 2014.

Aa is for Alpacas by Sue Carolane
An engaging, accurate alphabet book can become a favourite bed-time story book, which is read and interacted with repeatedly at the child’s request – education by osmosis! This book relates sounds and words to real examples and is perfect for teaching children to read properly and simply, it is also ideal for children with learning difficulties. Many children, primary and secondary, do not know their sound-letter links and are therefore extremely limited in their ability to decode unfamiliar words. The easiest and most effective way to teach sound-letter links is in the form of an accurate alphabet book – this is it!

Ben, the Outside Dog by Jenna Rothwell
A tale following a day in the life of love able and real-life dog black Kelpie Ben, The Outside Dog on Cowney Farm. Two books in one, a day story and night story (flip the book over).

Follow Ben throughout his day of being the Outside Dog and learn why he has to stay outside even though some times he wishes he could join his Master, his Master’s wife and Millie, The Inside Dog, inside the house when he gets lonely. Enjoy Ben’s adventures from helping his Master feed all the animals in the morning to protecting the farm animals at night, where he has to save the chooks from sneaky Mr Fox.

Cheeky Missy by Marisa Alo
A lovely story about a Tortoise shell cat named Missy who loves and protects her family. This mischievous cat is adored by her owner, a little girl named Molly. One morning Molly wants to go to the show ground, but no one else in the family wants to go. Missy plays pranks to wake everyone up, including stealing Dad’s toupe!

‘When a burglar breaks in to the family home one night everyone wakes up to find that Missy has jumped on his back and strangled him with her beautiful tail!

No one messes with Missy!

 Garlic, Hankies and Hugs by Michelle C. Monaghan
A story that encourages kids to be proud of their culture, and in-cludes lovely quirky snippets about Greek culture.

Told in delightful rhyming verse, this story will delight with its in-sights into Greek culture in Melbourne.

Skortha is the Greek word for garlic, and tradition holds that simply saying this word will ward off evil spirits!

Many mysterious scenarios were played out in Michelle’s Nan-na’s kitchen around this belief.

Thanks to the generous people at JoJo Publishing, we have five book packs to give away. Each book pack contains a copy of each of the four picture books listed above and is valued at $67.96.

To win, tell us in 25 words or less, what animal you think would be a great subject for an alphabet book and why.

Type ‘Alpacas’ into the subject line and email your answer to susanATkids-bookreviewDOTcom. The most creative answers, as judged by KBR, will win. Be sure to include your full name and address — entries without will be ineligible. Please provide a street address, as prizes cannot be delivered to PO Boxes.

Competition runs from Wednesday, 16 April 2014, 9pm to Wednesday, 23 April 2014, 9pm AEST, and the comp is open to residents of Australia, over the age of 18 (mum and dad can enter on behalf of kids). This is a game of skill, not chance. The judges' decision is final and no correspondence will be entered into. Prizes cannot be delivered to PO Boxes. To be considered valid, entries must include a name and street address. Privacy statement: Winners' contact details are forwarded to the relevant publisher. Other contact details are not shared. All contact details are permanently deleted at competition end.

Guest Post: Writing Very Short Books for Kids with Dee White

KBR is delighted to welcome author, writing mentor and friend, Dee White, with this glorious post on the art of writing low text books for kids. Enjoy!

Bitten by the Bug: Writing very short books for kids

Last year I was commissioned to write a number of books for Pearson's Bug Club project. Bug Club books are interactive digital and print books designed to encourage new readers and to engage students who are having trouble learning to read.

I remembered how tedious the readers were when my boys were at primary school so the Bug Club books appealed to me straight away.

The Bug Club series focusses on introducing new readers to the truly magical world of books - creating titles that make kids want to read - that engage them with carefully-crafted words and beautiful illustrations.

Not only are these books designed to deliver clear curriculum outcomes, they were also being created for the pure enjoyment of reading. And for me, that's where the fun and the challenge came in. How do you create very short books that don't seem like a 'lesson', that are fun to read?

Writing a Story in Less Than 40 Words

My Cat is Hiding and My Cat is Sleeping are for very new readers. So in less than 40 words I had to introduce them to the characters, Cat and Kid, and tell a very tiny story.

The only way to tell a story in this few words is to rely on the illustrations.

As part of the creation process, I had to write the text and provide a brief to the illustrator with my suggestions for the pictures.

My two cat books were illustrated by the amazing Tracie Grimwood and she had the uncanny ability of being able to read my illustration notes and see inside my head. Her pictures on the page are exactly how I saw the story unfolding in my imagination.

My Cat is Sleeping is one of my favourite Bug Club books, largely due to the humour that Tracie has brought to the illustrations of this very simple story.

Creating a Fiction Series of Very Short Books - Pippa's Pets

I was also fortunate to work with Tracie on the Pippa's Pets' series. These books, Lost Dog, Scaredy Cat and Runaway Pony all feature Pippa and her dog, Dot, who can't help her loud, 'pleased to see you' bark.

When I was asked by the publisher to write a series for girls, I thought back to the kind of girl I was - one who loved animals - who collected strays - who was always trying to perform some kind of animal rescue. So, the Pippa's Pets' series came quite naturally. I guess it had been there lurking in my subconscious for some time.

The Pippa's Pets books are around 150 words each - not a lot of words to show a complete story arc. Even though the stories are short, my character still had to have a problem, obstacles to overcome and a resolution. So they needed a very simple plot idea.

In the first book, Pippa finds a stray dog, Dot (inciting incident - the thing that starts the story off). Pippa wants to keep Dot, but her parents insist they try and find Dot's rightful owner (obstacles to what Pippa wants, which is to keep Dot). The resolution is a happy ending for Pippa when Dot's owners can't be found.

Once again, the word count is so low that there's no room for description or excess text, so the stories rely on the fabulous illustrations by Tracie Grimwood to tell a large part of the narrative.

Writing Very Short Non-Fiction

Some of my Bug Club titles were straight non-fiction, like Butterflies, How to Make a Finger Puppet, I Like to Play and Who Am I? These were probably simplest to write because they were basically a case of cutting my research back to the required word count. So I had to think about my target readership and their interests, and be a very ruthless editor.

Probably the most fun non-fiction titles were the Extreme Ed's Adventures series. They were fun because I was able to incorporate my own experiences like skydiving and hot air ballooning into the writing process.

These books also allowed me to add a little fiction into the mix. I created a narrator character, Extreme Ed, a boy who loves extreme sports. These books were to be between 500 and 600 words so I had more room to include a small story behind the facts.

The research for these books was so much fun - in fact, it was hard to know where to stop. In Extreme Ed's Bike Adventures, I took Ed on a crazy bike race through the streets of Chile, over BMX jumps and rock jumping on a unicycle. In Extreme Ed's Air Adventures, Ed learns about skydiving, wingsuit flying, hot air ballooning and bungee jumping.

One of my favourite things about the Extreme Ed books was being able to introduce his friend Andy. Andy is in a wheelchair but that doesn't stop him from being able to skydive or race a fourcross (four wheeled) mountain bike. The publishers really liked this element of the books too.

Nahum Ziersch brings Ed to life in these books. His illustrations are combined with photos and these give the books a 3D, contemporary feel that boys in particular will love. I'm hoping that older kids who are experiencing difficulties with reading will also enjoy these books. They were certainly fun to research and write.

Picture Perfect

Writing these Bug Club titles was not unlike writing a picture book. You have a very limited number of words to tell your story, so you can't waste them. I had to give illustration notes for these manuscripts, but I tried not to be too prescriptive because you have to allow the illustrator to tell their side of the story.

Bug Club Books are published by Pearson and you can find out more about them here.

Dee White is the author of 16 books for Children and Young Adults. She is also a qualified writing teacher, has conducted writing workshops throughout various states of Australia and runs international online writing courses for kids and adults through Writing Classes for Kids. You can find out more about her and her resources for writers and teachers through her website. She also has regular tips for writers at her blog.

Review: Flowerpot Farm

Books like this excite me! I am a firm believer in the importance of bringing up our children with a real appreciation of nature and the environment — and what better way to do this than inspire them to create their own garden.

With Flowerpot Farm to guide them, children will be able to grow a wide variety of fruit, vegetables and flowers — all in flowerpots that they have chosen and decorated themselves.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Review: The Adventures of Pinocchio

We all know the story of the old woodcarver Geppetto, who carved a marionette that came to life. Pinocchio might have been disobedient, and have broken his father's heart, but who couldn't help caring for the little puppet who, more than anything, just wanted to be a real boy?

First written more than 130 years ago, The Adventures of Pinocchio originally appeared in series form in an Italian children's newspaper. Since then it has been printed in over a hundred different languages and adapted for theatre, film and television.

12 Curly Questions with author Tristan Michael Savage

1. Tell us something hardly anyone knows about you.
I listen to music on the same mp3 player that I bought 9 years ago, modding it out on the inside to make it more useful to me.

2. What is your nickname?
I don’t have one. Nothing ever sticks so I’m what you would call ‘unnicknamable’

3. What is your greatest fear?
Vehicular collision

4. Describe your writing style in ten words.
Fun, cheeky, action packed, adventure, technical, funny, colourful, exciting, fast

5. Tell us five positive words that describe you as a writer.
Determined, versatile, winning, awesome, humble.

Speechie's Couch: Learning to Read

At some point in the first school year, your child will begin to ‘read’, but what does ‘reading’ look like in its earliest form? Yes, there are those word lists that go home to be practiced, memorised and rote-learned till they are automatic, but those homework words are just building blocks in the bigger picture.

I know it’s crazy, but even now, as your child flicks through the pages of their first books sent from school, there’s still a high chance that they will not be doing what we call ‘read’. Teachers spend a lot of whole class and small group reading time introducing and practising closure techniques.

Let’s look at the book cover. What do you see? Now, what is the title of the story? What do you think that might mean when you put it together with the cover picture?

Now, let’s open the book and look at the first picture. What do you think is happening here? What is the first letter of the first word? Can anyone guess what it is? What word might fit with the picture and what we are thinking right now?

Apart from the letter-sound link, these techniques are familiar to many little ones who’ve been sharing books and stories at home for years, but for those who’ve rarely touched a book, this world of making visual connections can be scary stuff.

Every page is an adventure and the possibilities, endless, so how can anyone predict the most likely connection? In the early learning world, it doesn’t matter. Children’s left-of-field suggestions often trigger a giggle. This in-built surprise factor simply makes the process more fun. It is here, sitting cross-legged among friends as they share a laugh that children’s earliest reading techniques and their love of story can be cemented for life.

Jo Burnell is KBR's Development Editor and resident paediatric speech pathologist. A reviewer of children’s and YA books and shortlisting judge for Speech Pathology Australia Book of the Year, Jo is familiar with effective writing for Upper Primary and Secondary students. 

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Librarian's Shelf: The Audio Experience

Instead of reading a story to your children at bedtime, have you ever thought about listening to one? Audio books can be expensive to buy, but your local public library has plenty!

Audio books bring benefits that are just as important as those of print books. Children will encounter new words and improve their listening skills, learning how tone can change meaning. They will expand their imagination and comprehension, and discover subjects that will initiate discussion of the world around them. Listening to a story, children are likely to hear things they won’t see when they read it. Books for all ages are available in audio book format, and their narrators are often actors who bring a new perspective to the story.

Some audio books come packaged with a print book, which makes it possible for children to follow along. Be aware though, that sometimes they will be abridged versions of the original story, so if the full version is something you’re particular about, be sure to check that before you begin.

There have of course been format changes to match the advance of technology. The years of cassette tape audio books have long gone, with libraries offering stories on CD, and more often these days, downloadable audio books are also available to library members – usually part of an eBook service.

Audio books are also great for travel. In the car the whole family can listen and enjoy the story, and while travelling by air, listening to stories can be entertainment as well as a routine and calming experience for young children.

So next time you’re looking for a different reading experience, why not visit the library and choose an audio experience?

Sarah Steed is our Consultant Librarian and reviewer. A former Children's and Young Adult Librarian, she has more than 18 years' experience working in public libraries. Sarah comes from a family of readers and has shelves full to bursting with books. 

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Publisher's Insider: The Changing Face of Selling Books

As recently as a few decades ago, how a book was sold operated very differently to today’s book retail environment. Books were predominantly sold through bricks and mortar bookstores. The publisher’s sales reps visited a bookshop with a list of their upcoming new titles. Stock would be ordered by the owner/manager and that stock would be delivered once the book was released.

The bookshop would usually ‘purchase’ books on a ‘sale or return’ basis — meaning that if the books hadn’t sold within a certain period (often up to 12 months from date of release), they could simply return the books to the publisher at no cost to themselves. After that period, books would move to ‘firm sale’ and the bookseller would have to purchase stock with no option of returning it.

As a result, the success of a book was largely dependent on how many copies sold in that first release period. If people kept coming into the bookshop and buying a title, then the bookseller would keep ordering it — and would continue to do so even when the book had moved onto firm sale terms.

If people didn’t keep buying it, then it would over time vanish from the shelves. After all, more books are published every month and there’s a limit to how many books a bookshop can stock at any one time.

While bookshops (in Australia, at least) still operate on a sale or return system, pretty much everything else has shifted.

Now, sadly, bricks and mortar bookshops are dwindling … fast. Recently, it was announced that the number of independent bookshops in Britain has dropped below 1000 (a third fewer than nine years ago), and that same trend is evident everywhere.

Online retailers have changed the face of book sales. With huge warehouses at their disposal, and quick delivery arrangements in place with the major publishers, they can ‘hold’ far more stock than a traditional bookshop ever could. As consumers, we have become used to scrolling through vast catalogues of titles and making our purchases with a simple click of the mouse.

Word of mouth doesn’t operate the way it used to either. Blogs and other websites and online communities mean that ‘word of mouth’ now spans continents instantly. Sales of a book can be languishing one minute and then soaring the next — simply because the title has gone viral on social media.

And what does that mean for booklovers? Well, for consumers it means that more books are available to us than ever before and, in some cases, for longer than ever before. For publishers, it’s a rapidly evolving world with new rules that will continue to cause shake-ups across the industry (and I haven’t even mentioned self-publishing or ebooks here!).

But then, as Heraclitus said, ‘The only thing that is constant is change.’

Anouska Jones is our KBR Editor. Mum to a gorgeous little girl, she has nearly twenty years' experience in the book publishing industry. A publishing consultant and editor, Anouska is obsessed by all things to do with words, writing and books. 

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Monday, 14 April 2014

Review: Tank Boys

Tank Boys is an historical fiction based on true stories. The factual entries used throughout the book are recorded in the expansive Fact File at the end.  The story surrounds the real tale of Mephisto, the German A7V super tank that was employed in the world’s first tank-versus-tank action of WW1. It was later captured by the Australian 26th Battalion of the 7th Brigade made up mostly of Queenslanders, and towed away from a ditch at Villers-Brettoneaux. It is currently housed in the Queensland Museum.

Review: The Story Machine

Elliott finds an amazing machine. It doesn’t beep or buzz, but it does make letters. Elliott is convinced that it is a Story Machine.

Elliott struggles to use the machine to make the right words, but when he discovers he can make pictures from the letters, the stories begin to flow until something terrible happens and the machine stops working. How will Elliott make stories now?