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

KBR Unpublished Manuscript Award - the WINNERS!

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Review: Onesie Mumsie!

Our little poppet loves her onesie at bedtime. It's in the shape of an adorable pink bunny, you see, and it's snuggly and cosy and lovely for sleep.

But while rabbits are happy to nod off right now ... a crocodile is up for anything! (Poppet slips into a croc onesie.) Mumsie! There's a crocodile in my bed!

In comes Mum, who loves to eat up crocodiles ... before putting them back to bed. But while crocs might be happy to nod off right now ... a tiger is ready for action!

Saturday, 18 April 2015

10 Quirky Questions with Janeen Brian

1. What's your hidden talent?
Maybe doing voice-overs for radio and documentaries. Or arranging flowers or handwriting. (all things I love doing, but not in a mainstream way)

2.Who is your favourite literary villain and why?
Matron Pluckrose in Jen Storer’s book, Tensy Farlow and the Home for Mislaid Children, because she is the antithesis of how I think children should be treated and cared for. Which is of course, was the writer’s aim. The Matron is cruel, heartless, hypocritical and wears Red Alert lipstick.

3. You're hosting a literary dinner party, which five authors would you invite? (alive or dead)
Tim Winton, Robyn Klein, Ruth Park, Kate di Camillo, Michael Morpurgo, John Steinbeck, Jackie French, Sue Monk-Kidd, Steven Herrick and Noel Coward.

5. What are five words that describe your writing process?
Brainstorm, pen-on-paper, write-edit-write-edit, persist, talk-and-read-aloud

6. Which are the five words you would like to be remembered by as a writer?
Enjoyable, fun, connection, emotions, picture-maker-of–the-mind

7. Picture your favourite writing space. What are five objects you would find there?
Lipsalve for dry lips, cup of tea, glass of water, laptop, scrap paper

8. Grab the nearest book, open it to page 22 and look for the second word in the first sentence. Now, write a line that starts with that word. (Please include the name of the book!)
Celebrating Australia – a year in poetry by Lorraine Marwood

Line: With heart shapes

The sight of a willy-wagtail dancing for me on the lawn makes my heart dizzy with delight.

9. If you could ask one author one question, what would the question be and who would you ask?
I would ask Shakespeare how did he manage to re-arrange or edit such vast amounts of material when everything was laboriously handwritten with quill.

10. Which would you rather do: 'Never write another story or never read another book'?
Never write another story.

Janeen Brian is an award-winning Australian author with over 80 published books. Her writing includes picture books, novels, short stories, poetry and information books. Her latest book, I'm a Hungry Dinosaur, is a sequel to the popular I'm a Dirty Dinosaur, both illustrated by Ann James and published by Penguin. Visit Janeen's website and Facebook page for more information about her books and writing projects.

If you are an author or illustrator who thinks they are BRAVE enough to answer our questions, 
OR if there is an author or illustrator you would like to hear from, LET US KNOW! 
We will see if they are up to the task. Just email: susanATkids-bookreviewDOTcom

Friday, 17 April 2015

Review: Too Much for Turtle

A follow-on from the delightful Owl Know How, this visually-scrumptious story introduces us to Turtle, a sweetly shy character who lives in a charming  house at the top of a tree.

Turtle is self-sufficient. She grows all her own food and doesn't seem to mingle much.

When a storm descends on the village, a loris appears on her doorstep asking for help--her home has been washed away. A pelican soon follows, along with two alpacas, three echidnas, four sloths and five rabbits.

KBR Short Story: That's Not Music!

by Nat Petrohelos

Jazz loved to play the beat.

She played the beat with chopsticks, on cans of beans and lentils.

‘That’s not music!’ said Mum, who was trying to cook.

She played the beat on saucepans, with a fork and a silver spoon.

‘That’s not music!’ said Jazz’s brother, who was trying to read.Grandpa just winked and turned his hearing aids down.

On the bus, Jazz played the beat with her hands and knees.

‘Cool rhythm,’ said Percy, who played the bass.

What Jazz wanted the most was her own drum-set. Mum wasn’t sure because Jazz had just given up on karate and before that, it was hip-hop dancing and before that, it was ribbon-twirling. Jazz crossed her fingers and hoped Mum would say maybe, which usually meant yes.

‘I’ll think about it,’ said Mum, which usually meant no.

Jazz asked the music teacher, Mr B, if she could join the school band.

‘Well, the band has been preparing for the school Presentation Day, said Mr B. ‘but there’s only one drummer. You could be our back-up drummer if you’re prepared to practise. You might not get to play on the day, though.’

Jazz ran to the music room at every chance. At first, she practised with the door closed,but as days went by, she started to leave it open. Sometimes Mr B would come in and give her some tips. Sometimes he’d stand in the doorway. Sometimes her friends came to listen. No-one yelled, ‘That’s not music!’

On the school Presentation Day, Jazz sat in the audience and watched the band set up. Then she got a tap on the shoulder: the drummer had gone home early and they needed Jazz to play.

Jazz held the drumsticks high and waited for Mr B’s signal. She created thunder for the school play, kept the rhythm for the school song and did all drum rolls for the awards. Jazz loved drum rolls the best.

‘And the student of the year is...’ drum roll.

‘The best sportsperson award goes to...’ drum roll.

‘The leadership award goes to…’ drum roll.

‘Um, just a minute everyone, we have a late award. The most improved musician is….’ drum roll….
drum roll…drum roll...

Perhaps the winner was away, thought Jazz, this drum roll was going on forever and her arms were getting tired. Jazz spotted her mum smiling at her in the audience. Suddenly Jazz felt another tap on her shoulder. It was Percy, who played the bass.

‘Percy, can’t you see I’m in the middle of a drum roll?’ she whispered.

‘But Jazz, you’ve won!’ he said.

Jazz couldn’t believe it!

‘Now that was music,’ said Mum afterwards, pointing the camera. ‘Smile Jazz.’

‘So can I get a drum-set? For my birthday?’ Jazz asked hopefully.

‘Maybe,’ said Mum.

And Jazz smiled.

Nat Petrohelos finds herself tapping the beat when she's dreaming up stories for children to enjoy. She lives in Newcastle and has a pet whale, a magic moongarden and an over-active imagination. Read more on her website.

KBR Short Stories are a way to get your work ‘out there’—and to delight our KBR readers. Stories are set to a monthly theme and entries are due in the 25th of each month. Find out more here.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Review: Stripe Island

On Stripe Island, everything is stripy. The sun, the trees, the flowers, even the people!

Young Stanley is also stripy. His mum knits stripy jumpers and his father solves stripy problems. They live in Stripe City and one of their favourite celebrations is the Festival of Stripes!

Everyone dresses up in extra stripes, just for the event. And boy, is it a visual feast.

Review: At the Animal Ball

At the Animal Ball is a mix and match book with lots to do!

Flip the horizontal flaps to meet all the animals at a special Midsummer’s Eve ball. They’re dressed in cultural costumes from around the world, and although the different countries are hinted at and adults will probably be able to recognise or guess them, they are not mentioned by name.

The animals are enjoying the music and dancing. Panda is wearing a kimono and fluttering a fan, the wolf stomps his feet to the beat of the music, and the chinchilla is shaking maracas and wiggling her hips.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Review: And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda

Eric Bogle’s iconic song And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda is brought to a new generation in this wonderful picture book, with Bogle’s confronting and emotive words accompanied by haunting illustrations by popular children’s author and illustrator Bruce Whatley.

Originally written by Bogle in 1972, And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda carries a fresh significance for Australians as we approach the centenary of the landing at Gallipoli, with the final verses of the song particularly relevant:

And the old men march slowly, old bones stiff and sore.
They’re tired old heroes from a forgotten war.
And the young people ask, ‘What are they marching for?’
And I ask myself the same question.

And the band played ‘Waltzing Matilda’,
And the old men still answer the call.
But as year follow year, more old men disappear.
Someday no one will march there at all.

Publisher's Insider: Do you need a literary agent?

I certainly don’t claim to be an expert on all things to do with agents, but based on my experience in the publishing industry, here are a few of my thoughts on this ever-popular issue.

  1. It used to be that, particularly for fiction, it was almost impossible to get your manuscript in front of a major publisher without an agent. Times are changing, though. Many of the major publishers now have opportunities for authors to pitch to them directly. Allen & Unwin has the Friday Pitch. HarperCollins has the Wednesday Pitch. Pan Macmillan has Manuscript Monday. In fact, so many publishers now accept unsolicited, unagented manuscripts that the children’s book e-zine Pass It On recently put together a booklet listing them all. This is available from the PIO website.
  2. While the open-door policy of many publishers is good news for some authors and illustrators, it’s of no use to those who simply hate the thought of ‘selling themselves’ (and their work) along with the associated contract negotiation and paperwork. If you are one of these creatives — and there are many of you — then an agent could very well be the right choice. In return for a percentage of your publishing income (usually about 15%), they will sell you and your work. They are also likely to have good contacts with many of the publishers and so will be able to bypass the massive slush pile most publishers have to wade through. The problem is getting an agent, as most will only represent a limited number of clients and are very choosy about who they take on. A good place to start is the website of the Australian Literary Agents’ Association, whose members are all obliged to adhere to a professional code of practice.
  3. Don’t forget about the smaller publishers! If you’re happy to negotiate your own contract and don’t want an agent for any reason other than to get you through the door of a major publisher, then perhaps readjust your thinking and consider also submitting your work to smaller publishers. I’ve written before that I don’t believe size is necessarily important when it comes to publishing companies — it’s all about finding the right ‘fit’. You might be surprised by what the right boutique publisher can offer you if they like your work.

Above all, if you believe in your work, don’t give up! Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was rejected by twelve publishers before finding a home with Bloomsbury. And poor Beatrix Potter couldn’t find anyone to believe in The Tale of Peter Rabbit so ended up publishing it herself (way back in 1901 — so self-publishing isn’t quite the new phenomenon we might think!).

Anouska Jones is our KBR Senior Editor. Mum to a gorgeous little girl, she has over 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. 

Subscribe to our newsletter
for your monthly dose of Publisher's Insider. 

Interview: Author Nicole Hayes

Nicole Hayes' debut YA novel The Whole of My World (Random House, 2013) was long listed for the 2014 Gold Inky Award and shortlisted for the 2104 YABBA Award. Her second YA novel, One True Thing (Random House, May 2015) is a tale of music, politics and secrets. It has already received some rave previews. Nicole kindly agreed to talk about her fraught early journey to publication.

How long did it take from first writing to having your first novel published?
My debut novel The Whole of My World started life more than 14 years before it was finally published. It was originally a somewhat different story, but with the same protagonist and setting – a footy-obsessed teenage girl. I’d already written a novel manuscript before that, landed an agent and interest from publishers and a mentorship at Varuna on the back of both these manuscripts, but neither one sold. I put them down for years, wrote several other novel manuscripts that didn’t sell, then some film scripts that attracted funding, before finally coming back to the football story. I embarked on a page-one rewrite. Random House made an offer a little under a year later.

What percentage of your time and effort went into actual writing before finding a publisher?

At a guess, I’d say seventy percent. There was a lot of writing and rewriting early on, not to mention proofreading, printing and posting query letters and pitches. I spent a lot of time trawling websites and scouring bookshops for similar titles, entering competitions and applying for mentorships. I did everything the wrong way multiple times before I got where I needed to get. In the end, the manuscript wasn’t good enough in that first incarnation. Which is why I spent so long reworking it before, finally, effectively starting again.

I suspect my experience was a little different though, because I’d had many near misses and shortlistings without finding a publisher, so it took longer to realise it wasn’t going to happen for this novel. It took a lot of short listings, near misses and rejections – encouraging and detailed as they so often were — to realise that the story itself, wasn’t strong enough to sell as it was, despite all the enthusiasm the idea had been met with.

You have The Whole of My World out on bookshelves and One True Thing to be released very soon. I heard a whisper about a third fabulous tale well and truly in the making. Do you feel differently about each creation? Not while I’m writing them, I don’t think. The excitement and delight in the story and words are as potent now as fifteen years ago, though I suppose this time around I have the added pressure – or is it a privilege? – of having a publisher wanting to read it. There’s still no guarantee they’ll publish, but it’s nice to know that when I finish, someone already wants to read it. Someone who can – hopefully, will – publish it.

Of course, I wrote all the previous stories convinced someone would want to read them too, so maybe it’s not so different after all? I am aware, too, of my publisher’s particular tastes now, and preferences, though I’m not sure that I actually take them into account until later drafts.

Does publication of a second book feel different to that of the first? How?
Good question. Yes, because I understand the process more fully this time around than I did before. I understand that a lot of the publicity and marketing will be up to me, and that I have to drive the strategy rather than wait for someone else to. So that’s been quite different for One True Thing. It’s also different now because media, bookshops, and/or other venues know who I am. In fact, some of the media outlets have actually approached me first, which is really helpful and quite flattering. I also know not to say no – these opportunities last for a very short time, and you have to make the most of every single one.

But in other ways, it’s no different at all. The uncertainty of whether it will be a success is equally as terrifying and mystifying as it was the first time around. I know how much is riding on it, which perhaps makes it tougher but the unknowing, the desire to shut your eyes and hope for the best, is just as strong for One True Thing as it was for The Whole of My World – which, both times around, is the worst thing I could possibly do!

Nicole Hayes is an author and writing teacher based in Melbourne. She has an MA in Creative Writing, and taught fiction and screenwriting for more than five years at University of Melbourne. She runs writing workshops for Australian Writers Centre, among other organisations, and is the Creative Writing Facilitator at Phoenix Park Neighbourhood House. Her new novel, One True Thing, comes out May 1. To find out more, visit her website or follow her on Twitter (@nichmelbourne).

Speechie's Couch: F is for Functional Fun

Nothing beats having a bit of power, especially when you are a child. Being able to influence what others do is big, so it’s worth a bit of extra effort—even if that effort is writing.

While many children find reading an effort, even more shudder at the thought of putting pen (or pencil or texta) to paper, so why not make the effort worthwhile?

Are you going to a party? Get your excited party-goer to add the details to your family calendar. Make sure this includes the address and time of the special event and be sure to make a point of reading you child’s entry before you head off. Let them know you value their written skills.

Has your household run out of a particular food? Your young one can add this item to your shopping list. Tiny successes lead to confidence and the wish to write more often, especially if there are concrete rewards (like cheese or fruit or even a favourite sandwich filling).

A pivotal moment like this where your struggling writer moves out of his or her comfort zone should never be a time when perfect letter formation is required. Any faint resemblance to target words should be accepted without fuss or comment at first. However, as the written requests become more frequent and confidence builds, you’ll find that a time will come to bargain for greater writing accuracy.

Jo Burnell is one of KBR's editors and resident paediatric speech pathologist. As reviewer of children’s and YA books, editor of all types of text and freelance writer, Jo is passionate about children's literature in all its forms.  

Subscribe to our newsletter 
for your monthly dose of Speechie's Couch. 

Librarian's Shelf: Book Clubs

Book clubs are all the rage for adults, and they can be fun for younger readers too. Many libraries host book clubs and librarians are often asked about how you can join or start a book club.

The most common way to run a book club or discussion group is to have the participants all read the same book. Here are some other approaches you might like to try (all are suitable for children and adults):

• Bring any book you’ve read over the last month and share it with the group, it doesn’t matter if no one else has read it because this is an excellent way to find out about new books and authors.

• Choose an author who has written more than one book, and have everyone read one of their choice, then discuss them.

• Invite everyone to read a book that fits a particular genre (e.g. spy fiction, graphic novels or historical fiction). You could change genres for each meeting or perhaps use a single genre to explore over a longer period (e.g. The Mystery Book Club).

• Focus your discussion on a different non-fiction topic each month. This can be a good way to encourage boys to get involved. (i.e. bring your favourite dinosaur book to share).

Parents, teachers, librarians and other enthusiasts of children’s books can have fun with a picture book club, too. It’s a great opportunity to talk about books that you have enjoyed sharing with your children, as well as new stories and authors you’ve discovered.

You could even start an informal family book club. Involve your whole family in talking about what they’re reading. Make books a regular topic of conversation at the dinner table. Discussing books doesn’t have to be a formal activity, so give it a go and see what happens.

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. 

Subscribe to our newsletter 
for your monthly dose of Librarian's Shelf.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Review: Gallipoli

Bluey and Dusty are best friends heading off to fight in the Great War as ANZACs and members of the Australian Light Horse.

They travel together to Egypt for training (Dusty feels seasick on the way) and then they board another ship to take them to the battlefields in Gallipoli. The fight side-by-side and encourage each other through the hardships of the war until they were separated by injury. When the war is over Bluey and Dusty returned home. They have changed in many ways, but they are still good friends.