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

Our Unpublished Picture Book Award is now open to both authors and illustrators! Closes 2 March. Click here for details.

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

12 Curly Questions with author Vicki Englund

1. Tell us something hardly anyone knows about you.
I studied piano at the Queensland Conservatorium and taught piano for 13 years before deciding that writing was what I wanted and needed to do. I still love playing piano.

2. What is your nickname?
My oldest friend, who I’ve known since we were about four, calls me Vic. She’s the only one.

3. What is your greatest fear?
I’m chronically claustrophobic, which means I can’t watch war movies when they dig tunnels and stuff like that.

4. Describe your writing style in ten words.
I write because I can’t not write. It’s necessary therapy.

5. Tell us five positive words that describe you as a writer.
Heartfelt, determined, happy, dedicated, caring.

6. What book character would you be, and why?
Okay, here’s my credibility out the door. In a weird sort of way I’d love to be Bella Swan from Twilight. I know, it’s cheesy and has a lot of other faults but the intensity of the emotions taps into the 18 year-old girl inside me and it would be wonderful to have a handsome young vampire devoted to me for eternity! Unlike some people who have criticised the character for not being a good female role model, I think Bella is very strong, determined and courageous.

Monday, 26 January 2015

Review: Everything Beautiful

Riley Rose has big plans and they don’t include Spirit Ranch Holiday Camp, but what can she do when it’s her punishment for being sprung, big time? There is no choice, unless her getaway plans work.

The first time I read Everything Beautiful, it took my breath away, but I wanted to hide it from my daughter so she wouldn’t get any ideas. The second time I read Everything Beautiful, it took my breath away again. I suspect it will every time I read it over the years.

Riley wants to be a badass but she can’t help caring in spite of herself. She might want to be partying, but she is the party, if only she could see how she inspires life and energy in those she meets.

Review: The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks

Last year, I had my first taste of E. Lockhart's brilliant writing with her critically acclaimed and bestselling book We Were Liars (see our KBR review here).

In the wake of that book's success, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks has now been published for the first time in Australia (after numerous awards and nominations when first published in the US back in 2008). And I'm so glad it has!

When we meet Frankie, she is fifteen, very smart and a privileged student at the elite Alabaster Academy. Over the summer holidays, she has grown taller, filled out in all the right places, tamed her frizzy hair and become head-turningly attractive.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Review: Square Eyes

Craig Smith, who brought us the phenomenally successful The Wonky Donkey (KBR review), adds another fun sing-a-long story for kids to his repertoire with Square Eyes.

As you can probably guess from the title, Square Eyes features a group of characters (a rather cute panda and his animal friends) who spend way too much time sitting in front of the television. The lyrics of the song, illustrated by Scott Tulloch, encourage Panda and his friends to take some time away from the television to exercise and find other fun things to do like reading, playing games, visiting the library and using their imagination.

Review: Rita's Rhino

Rita is desperate to have a pet, but her mother really isn't keen. After all, pets are stinky, greedy things that require taking for walks and cleaning up after. But when Rita agrees to take on all the responsibility of caring for a pet, her mother relents — Rita can have a pet flea!

The flea, however, isn't such a success, as Rita can't even see it. The tadpole isn't a hit either. But the rhino from the local zoo, who just happens to come home with Rita one day, is absolutely perfect!

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Review: Pearlie's Ghost (Our Australian Girl: Pearlie #4)

Pearlie's Ghost, the fourth and last book in Pearlie’s story, focuses on the Japanese bombing of Darwin. Pearlie misses the evacuation ship and is separated from her parents and brother due to her search for Tinto, her friend Naoko’s pigmy marmoset that she was caring for.

Amidst the chaos, she finds a letter addressed to her from Naoko, who is now in Adelaide working with her mother at a Reverend’s house. Her dad is in an internment camp and they are unable to visit him.

People are being moved to a place of safety after the bombing. Half-castes are separated from whites and Pearlie manages to travel till Adelaide with Hazel on a goods train.

Guest Post: Alyssa Brugman - Five Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me Before I Began Publishing Novels

Kids' Book Review is delighted to welcome Alyssa Brugman, author of numerous books including Alex as Well, Girl Next Door, and junior fiction horse books, The Shelby series. Alyssa has some straight-talking advice for writers just starting out on their writing career as she shares the five things she wishes she had known before she began publishing novels.

1. It takes a team to publish your book
You can’t typeset. You can’t. You can’t design a cover. You don’t know when is the best time to release your book. You don’t know what other books are about to come out, but your publisher does. When your editor says a paragraph you spent four hours writing sucks, it probably does. Change it. They are experts. They have trained and have much more experience publishing books then you do. Be graceful and let them do their job.

2. Get to know the person on the front desk, or the work experience kid
Publishing is well populated by women, and women frequently have babies. They go on maternity leave all the time, which means that succession planning in publishing is a big deal. It also means that people lower in the ranks can be promoted relatively rapidly. The person on reception could be the commissioning editor much faster than you might imagine. Of course, we want to be courteous to everyone, because that’s nice manners, but take the time to remember everyone’s name. Talk to them and find out what they’re about. You don’t know where they will end up.

Friday, 23 January 2015

Review: The Big Switch (Kaboom Kid #1)

Who better than a cricketer to write children’s books around cricket? David Warner has written a series of four books about Davey Warner who is passionate about cricket, and his mates at school and their cricket team, the Sandhill Sluggers. His bat is named Kaboom, and his dog is Max. Max helps the team practise as he’s an expert at catching them out.

Summer holidays are over. Mr Mudge, their teacher again this year, is as crabby as ever and doesn’t want to hear a word about cricket. Although Davey and his mates are in the same class, they are scattered all over the place and bully Mo Clouter is next to Davey making his life miserable. On the first day Davey gets detention after Mo uses Davey’s ruler to fire spitballs. But this act leads to a light bulb moment for Davey, and he comes up with a way to win the next two critical cricket matches.

KBR Short Story: The First Day of School

by Kym Langfield

Katie stood clinging to her mum’s hand, her knees wobbling like crazy.

Suddenly a huge, green monster with a hairy chin lunged at her.

“Hello dear,” it shrieked. “I’m your teacher.”

“No!” Katie screamed.

Just then, Katie felt someone shake her awake.

“Katie, are you alright?”

She sat up.

“Mum, I had a bad dream!”

“Well it’s all over now,” her mother kissed her forehead. “Besides, it’s time to get up…it’s your first day of school!”

“Oh no,” Katie cried, “I don’t want to go!”

“It’s going to be fine.” Her mother handed her a school dress.

“I don’t like this uniform,” Katie grimaced. “It’s too stiff.”

“You’ll get used to it.”

Katie trudged into the kitchen.

“I don’t have any friends,” Katie moaned into her cereal bowl.

“You’ll soon make some,” her mum said cheerfully.

“What if I need to go the toilet?” she asked.

“You can ask your teacher.”

Katie pictured the green monster and shuddered.

She thought she might just hold on.

“What if I get hungry?”

“You will eat at recess and lunch.”

“But I don’t know how to read yet,” Katie exclaimed. “Everyone will laugh at me!”

“They’re all learning too,” her mother explained. “You’ll learn lots of wonderful things like writing, counting and even sports.”

Just then, Katie’s older brother Tom ran in.

He threw his school bag over his shoulder and grinned.

“Don’t worry Katie - I was scared on my first day too, but school is heaps of fun! Mum, can we go now?”

“Soon,” she smiled. “I’ll just pack Katie’s lunch.”

She placed a cheese sandwich, a homemade muffin and a bottle of water in Katie’s colourful lunch box.

It looked delicious.

But Katie still didn’t want to go to school.

“Come on,” her mother took her hand. “I’ll be with you every step of the way.”

They walked along the footpath to school and butterflies darted around Katie’s stomach.

Then a big bike flew past them, making Katie jump.

“G’day Tom,” the rider called back. “See you at school.”

Katie didn’t like the look of the big kids.

They walked through the school gates and the bell rang loudly.

“I want to go home,” Katie whimpered.

“It’s going to be okay,” her mother whispered. “Come on, let’s meet your teacher.”

Katie was on the verge of tears as they approached a bright, red building.

Children were running around everywhere.

They didn’t look scared.

“Katie, there’s your teacher,” her mother cried.

Katie gazed up fearfully but then gasped with surprise.

Her teacher was not a monster at all, but a young lady with long, dark hair and blue eyes that sparkled.

“Hello Katie,” she smiled, her eyes crinkling in the corners. “I’ve been looking forward to meeting you.”

Katie’s fears melted away instantly.

She grinned back. “I’ve been looking forward to meeting you too.”

Then she took her teacher’s hand and went into the building, not looking back once.

She knew everything was going to be fine.

Kym writes novels and short stories for children and young adults. She has published a book with The Book Company and was recently awarded third prize in the Writers' Unleashed Picture Book Competition 2014 for "The Baby's Enormous Cry". She is a mum of two adorable girls and is a primary school teacher. Kym is passionate about children's literature. She loves sharing adventure and magic with young readers and runs writing and book making workshops for children. To find out more about Kym and her work, visit her on Facebook.

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, 22 January 2015

Review: Duelgum - The Story of Mother Eel

This is the story of Duelgum, the mother eel. She goes on a long journey from her waterhole on the banks of the Brisbane River to the sea at Morton Bay where she lays her eggs in the seagrass in the special nesting ground at the bottom of the ocean before returning home.  

The story then focuses on the journey undertaken by her babies as they hatch and travel to the waterhole, a place of safety where they belong and have everything the need.

Uncle Joe Kirk, the Brisbane and Wakka Wakka elder who shared the story of Karana: The Story of Father Emu (KBR review), brings another Indigenous Australian tale to life for young readers. Duelgum: The Story of Mother Eel follows the life cycle of the eel, from waterhole to ocean and back again. The freshwater eel plays a significant role in the Wakka Wakka culture and is a spiritual totem related to ‘belonging’.

Review: Monsters Love Underpants

Take a group of fun-loving monsters, add a dazzling array of underpants in all shapes and sizes and you've got a recipe for toddler entertainment!

This bright, bold book is laugh-out-loud gorgeous. From the monsters prowling through dingy dungeons in their armour-plated underpants to the large beach-loving monster doing battle with the mother of all wedgies, every page will inspire chuckles from kids and adults alike.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Review: When Lollipop Ladies Attack!

Abby is dreading Monday at school. Her Mum is the new Lollipop Lady (sorry, School Crossing Supervisor) and Abby is so embarrassed. What will all of the other students think when they see her Mum in the glow-in-the-dark coat and hat, holding the big ‘lollipop’ STOP sign?

When a driver challenges her mother’s authority, will Abby still be wishing her mother had a normal job like the other mothers, or will she be proud to be the daughter of the Lollipop Lady?

This sweet junior fiction novel by Australian author Vicki Englund is ideal for early readers, sharing the story of Abby’s feeling about her mother’s new job simply but with humour and in a way that young children will easily relate to. What young child hasn’t wished at least once that their parents had ‘cool’ jobs like the parents’ of their friends or been a little bit embarrassed by something their parent does or says in front of their friends?