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

Friday, 31 July 2009

A Taste for Red with Lewis Harris

Who is this talented person? Lewis Harris

What does he do? Author

Where can you see his stuff? www.lewisharrisbooks.com

What’s his story? I currently reside in Florida, USA—but only temporarily. I love living a temporary life. I’m addicted to change, a habit I undoubtedly acquired as a child. I was reared as a military brat, shuffled from base to base and school to school. It made for a shy kid, but a heck of a bookworm. I’m no longer shy, but the love of books stuck. My feet never did stick, though. I’m always ready to grab my bag and hat. Although I don’t actually wear a hat.

How long has he been writing? I’ve been writing fiction for as long as I can remember. I was a shy kid, and maybe (probably) a nerd. I was certainly a big reader, so writing was bound to follow. In fact, I think the key to writing is reading—at least it is for me. I couldn’t do one without the other.

I remember writing stories as a teenager and trying to get my brother to go in ‘halfsies’ with me on a typewriter. I assured him that I would pay him back with the proceeds from my first book sale. He passed on the offer, which wasn’t a bad move on his part. I didn’t sell my first book until I was 44.

Does he remember the first story he ever wrote? I believe the first story I wrote was a western. I loved westerns as a kid—and still do. I invented a character named Amos Roan that was almost certainly a rip-off of Jonah Hex and Clint Eastwood.

My appetite for spaghetti westerns was insatiable. I even made a cassette tape of that signature Ennio Morricone music, and played it under my pillow as I fell asleep at night.

What inspired him to write books for young children? I lived for several years in the French Quarter of New Orleans. I thought it was magical place—a giant playground. Even thinking about it now, I have to smile in wonder. Everything there was…amazing. I felt like a kid in a candy store, even if it was a somewhat ramshackle store built on shaky ground.

Later, when I wrote a story about The Quarter, it seemed only natural that the tale be told through the eyes of children. And I loved writing it. I had FUN writing it. So now that’s what I do.

How did you get your first book published? I found an agent. I sent out queries and sample chapters and collected rejections and then sent out more queries and more sample chapters and collected more rejections. I kept that up for about twenty months. I wrote four novels and accumulated a fat file of rejections before an agent signed me up. Two months after that I had a book deal with Houghton Mifflin.

What else has he done other than write fabulous books? I used to be a retail robot, but my gears rusted. It must have been all that crying. I’ve washed a lot of dishes and served a lot of eggs. I’ve cooked a lot of eggs, too. I’ve been a massage therapist, a janitor, a hotel manager and a bicycle deliveryman. I like this writing gig best—although I might take a stab at Actor or Internet Entrepreneur in the future.

What pesky obstacles has be experienced on the book-writing journey? There are no obstacles, only challenges (I think I stole that line from an old Kung Fu episode). When I decided to seek publication, I knew that it might take a long time. I knew that I might collect a load of rejections, and I did. I found that the key to overcoming the challenges was to KEEP WRITING and KEEP SUBMITTING.

I listened to informed feedback when I was lucky enough to get it. Write, rewrite, polish, and repeat became my mantra. I don’t believe there’s a magic ticket. If you hone your writing skills and keep at it, you’ll find an audience. Technology is changing everything, and it’s all working in the writer’s favour. In the future, everyone will be a novelist.

What children’s books does he love love love? I have no doubt the answers would change depending on when I was asked, but here’s what I’m saying today: The Cay by Theodore Taylor, The Giver by Lois Lowry, The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, and everything by Robert E. Howard.

Howard created Conan the Barbarian, and had a profound effect on my literary palette. Right about the time my years were rolling up into double digits, I was riding a first-class ticket on the pulp fiction train. Thanks, Mr Howard.

What was his favourite game as a child? Cards. My mother used to play rummy with me and my younger brother. She’d say “All right, go get your change and let’s play.” Me and my brother would then scrape together our coins and head to the kitchen table where Mom would expertly separate us from our hard-earned allowance. She was quite the businesswoman.

What are some of his fave things to do? Reading, writing, eating out and videography make the list, but travel is number one. I love backpacking and low-budget exploration. The easiest way to rustle up adventure is to head out to the mountains for a few months with everything you need strapped to your back. It puts the world in perspective, and makes everything nice and shiny. You can’t beat that.

If he couldn’t be a writer, what would he be? I’d go back to waiting tables, hopefully at some posh place with decent tips. And breakfast service for sure. I love serving a single course—and I’m a sucker for free coffee.

What fabulous advice does he have for other wannabe children’s writers? For me, a children’s story is like any other kind of story. I don’t try to write a children’s story, I just tell the tale. If it ends up being a children’s story, then that’s what it is.

If you’d like to learn more about the fabulous Mr Harris, have a meander around his website. He also loves to receive emails – especially from those who have read his book, and most especially from those who liked it!

A Taste for Red is available online at Booktopia.

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Review: Boo to a Goose

Title: Boo to a Goose

Author: Mem Fox

Illustrator: David Miller

Publisher: Hachette Children’s Books

Format: Softcover

Language: English

ISBN: 0 7336 0459 5

For ages: 0-5

Type: Picture Book

About: Prolific Aussie children’s book writer, Mem Fox, does it again with this cute rhyming book aimed at the very young.

Fox has a talent for talking to kids at their level – little ones will relate well to the nonsensical language, sure to tickle their funny bone.

But what makes this simple book extra special are the stunning illustrations by artist David Miller, who creates wondrous, padded, 3D pictures from paper. Pictures full of humour and movement – the highlight of which is a feathery goose at the end of the book, each feathered carefully sliced from textured paper.

Would you say boo to a goose?
This book is available online:

SeekBooks - AU$15.29
Fishpond - AU$16.59
Booktopia - AU$14.87

Dancing Lion

Thought you all might like a sneaky peak at the Lion that will be featuring in the second Riley book - he is coming along beautifully.

Kieron has given me lots of choice in how he looks but you'll have to wait for the book to see what he ends up looking like in the end.

Which one do you like?

Monday, 27 July 2009

Review: The Incredible Book Eating Boy

I love this book by talented author/illustrator Oliver Jeffers. Its unique and quirky illustrations draw adults as well as children – from the very young to cartoon-loving tweens. But the lustrous, image-layered pages are not the only joy.

This gorgeous story, about a Belfast boy who eats books to absorb some smarts, is so charming, it makes you want to join Henry on his culinary literary journey. Henry loves eating all sorts of books – story books, dictionaries, atlases, joke books, books of facts and even maths books.

Saturday, 25 July 2009

A Literary Road Trip

How utterly cool is this?

Some book lovers in the States - Michelle and Jenn - have come up with a wonderful idea for bloggists to showcase their local authors - no matter where you are in the world.

For those of you who love to read and/or review books, this is such a fun idea to share the plethora of literary talent out there - some of which goes so unrecognised.

I volunteered to cover talent in the Australian Capital Territory and have already posted my links on local authors Jackie French and Ingrid Jonach, with more to come.

Clic on the pic if you want to join in. Hurrah!

Friday, 24 July 2009

Book Blogger Appreciation Week

What a sensational idea - to showcase book blog sites to book lovers everywhere! Love love love it.

I know how much hard work goes into Kids Book Review. Even though we've only been up and running a very short time, it's so great to be gaining such a following - and to be writing about what we love. My dream is to make KBR a web resource for teachers and a stop off point for readers everywhere.

Clic on the Pic to check out Book Blogger Appreciation Week - and be sure to cast your vote for the cacophony of sensational book blogs out there.

Book Week August 2009

Literary Road Trip - ACT Author Ingrid Jonach

As part of the Literary Road Trip journey, I am delighted to showcase talented authors from the Australian Capital Territory...

Who is this author? Ingrid Jonach

Where can you take a squiz at her stuff? http://www.ingridjonach.com/

What is this talented author’s story? I grew up on the Central Coast of New South Wales, but now live a few hours from the beach, in Canberra. I used to work as a journalist for the local paper and now work as a PR consultant.

What are her recent titles? A picture book called A Lot of Things, and two chapter books called The Frank Frankie and Frankie goes to France.

Did she do the illustrations? The picture book was illustrated by my mother Pauline Jonach, who is a visual artist. The chapter books were illustrated by another talented illustrator - Cheryl Orsini, who lives in Sydney.

How long has she been writing? Since I was in infants school.

Does she remember the first story she ever wrote? I think it was a retelling of the fairytale the Three Little Pigs in Year 2. The Three Little Pigs was the first story I learned to read, so it is fitting that it was also the first story I wrote.

Have children’s books always been of interest? Yes. I think it is because I fell in love with reading and writing as a child, so literature for that age group had remained dear to me.

Does she think Australian children’s literature has changed? I think all literature evolves with each new generation. Now more than ever before we are competing and even adapting to technology, books are even going digital!

What does she like to do the most? Writing, reading, sleeping, eating, music. In that order!

What children’s books does she love? Brother Night by Victor Kelleher. Clarice Bean by Lauren Child. Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren. Araminta Spook: My Haunted House as told to Angie Sage. Beezus and Ramona by Beverly Cleary.

Why does she write? To entertain – both myself and others.

What pesky blocks or obstacles has she experienced on her writing journey? Working full time.

What does she love most about writing for children? Visiting schools to talk to kids about reading and writing.

What fantabulous advice can she give kids (or adults) on writing children’s stories? Finish your stories, even if they are a write-off (mind the pun). It is good practise.

If she couldn’t be a writer, what would she be? A musician.

What game did she like playing as a child? What’s the time Mr Wolf?

What books did she read? A lot of Little Golden Books. Any books by Enid Blyton and Roald Dahl.

Her perfect day involves… Sitting in bed with the sun coming in through the window while I am writing on my laptop.

What words sum her up? Stubborn. Like to laugh. Workaholic!

Literary Road Trip - ACT Author Jackie French

As part of the Literary Road Trip journey, I am delighted to showcase talented authors from the Australian Capital Territory...

Kids Book Review is thrilled to welcome esteemed Australian author Jackie French to inaugurate our first ever author interview! Read on to see why Jackie’s talent has seriously fabulous repercussions on the Australian literary scene.

Who is this author? Jackie French

Where can you take a squiz at her stuff? http://www.jackiefrench.com/

What is this talented author’s story? I live in a deep valley, surrounded by wilderness on three sides. I’ve worked as a cook, farmer and echidna milker (I’m not joking).

How long has she been writing? Ever since I was six.

Does she remember the first story she ever wrote? ‘Tresses and the Unghostly Ghost’ about a haunted horse. I was six. The headmistress had a copy printed for all the kids in the school.


What inspired her to write for children? When I was 15, my English teacher asked us to write a children's story. I wrote one about a wombat poet, Wagram Woad, his human secretary Manta and the arrival of Uncle Albert, retired post office official, and his niece who preferred to be called ‘James the Brave' instead of Amelia. When I'd finished I thought “This is fun!” I'm still having fun decades later.

How did she get her first book published? I was broke, living in a shed with a wombat, wallaby, red bellied black snake and my baby son Edward. I sent my first book off to try to get money to register the car.

Three weeks later they sent me what I regarded as a large cheque to publish it, and I've been a full time writer ever since.

But I was lucky. My manuscript was pulled out of the pile because it was the messiest they'd ever seen - badly spelled (I'm dyslexic) and with all the 'e's written in biro. My wombat had been leaving his droppings on the keyboard and the letter 'e' no longer worked.

If it hadn't been for the wombat, I might not be a writer now.

What other genres has she written in? Everything except Westerns.

What interests her? Friends, family, the bush, wombats, history, books, chocolate… did I add wombats?

What does she do when she’s not writing? Cook, feed the wombat, find the family’s odd socks. The usual. But everything gets turned into books eventually. (But doubt that the taxation department would classify good food or laughing with friends as tax deducatble professional expenses.)

What books did she read as a child? Everything from the phone book to the Great Dialogues of Socrates and the magic Pudding.

Why does she write? I don’t know. I write if I’m bored, I write if I’m happy, I write if I’m sad. Stories can be more vivid that real life. They can also teach you how to cope with real life, too.

What advice would she have for kids (or adults) on writing children’s stories? Daydream. I think daydreaming is one of the best things you can do - not just daydreaming stories, but ideas for boats or houses... or even what Australia might be like in twenty years time when you become Prime Minister.

As for writing stories ... anyone who can daydream can create a story - because that is what you are doing every time you daydream. The hard part, of course, is learning how to put them down on paper - or getting the confidence to know that something you have dreamed up yourself is good.

Subscribe to Jackie’s montly newsletter by clicking on the wombat below. It features news about Jackie’s latest books, awards, recipes and even information on wombats.

For an incredibly eye-popping list of Jackie's published works, click on her cute wombat below...

Review: Cicada Summer

The dreamlike opening of Cicada Summer was a little painful to read. Having lost my mother far too many years ago, it was a little heartbreaking to realise, within moments of opening this junior fiction novel, that its young lead character was motherless.

Moments into the dreamlike sequence, Eloise – an artistic, thoughtful and observant girl – is woken from her motherly reverie by the playful, verbal nips of her father, a man with a delightful penchant for calling his daughter a profusion of cheeky pseudonyms – “El for Leather! Elastic Band! El Dorado! Elbow Grease!”

Eloise and her Dad are in the car on the way to his home town of Turner to view the site of a new convention centre he is building. When they approach the site, Eloise is intrigued to see the ruins of an old house on the property – a somewhat spooky-looking dwelling she is reluctant to explore.

Egged on by her bantering Dad, Eloise walks from room to room in the dimly lit house, when she suddenly feels a rush of cold air – then a voice calling “I’m coming!” – before the ghost of a young girl appears at the bottom of the stairs. The girl stops and turns to stare at a shocked Eloise before disappearing into thin air.

Who was this ghostly girl? A girl who looked so familiar to her?

Eloise’s estranged grandmother, Mo, also lives in Turner, and when her father ‘drops’ his daughter off for a visit and then promptly disappears to sort through his business dealings, the empathy one feels for this young, motherless girl is palpable.

A little gruff and no-nonsense, Mo tells her granddaughter to make good use of herself during her stay, and Eloise is happy to begin exploring town on an old bicycle – when she happens across the ghostly house once again – only this time, something magical unfolds that will both astound and delight readers of all ages, even this seasoned old bookworm.

Australian Author Kate Constable (pictured above) didn’t consciously aim Cicada Summer at a particular readership, though it is pitched at a slightly younger audience than her previous books.

“When I started working on it, I knew that I wanted to write a book along the lines of my own childhood favourites, especially Tom’s Midnight Garden and the Green Knowe books, which I adored when I was about nine or ten,” Constable told Australian Women Online. “It seems [the book] ended up in the 8-12 bracket, which I’m very happy with. I think competent readers of that age group sometimes miss out on more complex stories, without necessarily being ready for the books targeted at ‘young adults’. But I’m really thrilled that readers of all ages seem to enjoy it!”

Indeed, the novel is written in such a timeless style, and has a freshness and ease that could appeal to many. So much so, it was interesting to learn that Constable, who lives in Melbourne, wasn’t really sure what Cicada Summer was about during the writing of its first drafts.

“My children were four and 18 months old, so there was a lot of running round between kinder and crèche and nap-times, and not much opportunity to write. The lack of focus translated to the early drafts of the book, unfortunately!” admits Constable, who kept ‘shoe-horning’ in more and more issues, until her story cracked under the strain.

“Luckily, my lovely editors at Allen & Unwin helped me to realise that I’d need to jettison lots of elements and pare it right back, and the finished book is much stronger for it.”

The result is a magical tale – but not in the way many modern children know it. Instead of following the commonly used ‘adventures in parallel worlds’ or the appearance of mystical characters, Constable cleverly uses an intriguing version of time travel that connects her lead character with a most beautiful and very emotional gift – in the shape of the delightful young girl she saw in the old house.

“I’ve always been fascinated by time travel stories, and stories where the magical infiltrates the everyday world. I wanted to write a time travel story with a twist in the tail!” said the author, who was also inspired by The Secret Garden. “I think all children are drawn to the notion of a secret place, a place that belongs only to them, away from adult eyes. And that’s not something that many children can achieve these days, sadly.”

During Cicada Summer, Constable isn’t afraid to touch on deeper issues for her young readers. An interesting twist is that Eloise begins the tale completely voiceless – something the author says became a powerful symbol of her lead character’s own sense of helplessness.

“It wasn’t a conscious decision,” Constable told AWO. “It grew out of the writing, and it seemed intuitively right to follow it.”

This silence is enormously effective in expressing the pain over the loss of Eloise’s mother – something that’s very obvious in the book. Although the author has not experienced such grief first hand, the sentiments she expresses through Eloise are very real and touching.

“Since I became a mother, I’ve found myself thinking more and more about the possibilities of loss – how would my girls cope without me, what if anything happened to them?” said Constable. “I guess all that stuff has been swirling in my head for a few years now.”

Another emotional balancing act Constable does well is in showing the unapologetic faults and vulnerabilities of Eloise’s father and her grandmother Mo.

“I love Eloise’s dad,” Constable told AWO. “So many times I wanted to shake him by the shoulders, but he always meant well, no matter how many mistakes he made. As a writer, you hope that no character will be perfectly good or totally bad; most people genuinely believe themselves to be doing the right thing, which is a difficult truth to grasp as a young person. Every human being has their own vulnerability; even the nastiest.”

Constable fell into children’s fiction by accident, having experienced many years of moderate success writing adult fiction.

“I was toiling away on an adult novel that had been rewritten many times, when someone advised me to put it away and write something completely different. So I decided to write a fantasy, which became my first published book, The Singer Of All Songs,” said the author. “It was really for my own amusement; I didn’t intend to show it to anyone. But it was so much fun to write, and it came so easily, it felt as if this was what I was always meant to do. I haven’t felt any desire to write for adults since!”

Like many authors of junior and young adult fiction, Constable easily slides into the mind and heart of her young characters, something she finds “worryingly easy”.

“I still feel about fifteen inside, though the mirror doesn’t agree,” laughed the author. “My memories of childhood are very vivid, I don’t feel far from the little girl I used to be. I still don’t feel like a grown-up! There’s that odd mixture of acute self-consciousness and complete obliviousness that teenagers have; I don’t think I’ve left that behind.”

Cicada Summer is Constable’s seventh book for young readers, and she has just finished writing a collaborative novel for the Girlfriend Fiction series with her good friend Penni Russon. The book, Dear Swoosie, will be out early next year, and the author says its creation was a huge amount of fun.

She has also been working on a fantasy novel, with an Australian setting.

“I desperately wanted to write an Australian fantasy; so many wonderful Australian fantasy authors are writing amazing books at the moment, but most of them are set in imagined worlds. I really wanted to write something set in this country, this landscape.”

Constable is also interested in writing a young adult novel set in Papua New Guinea in the 1970s. Having grown up in PNG, Constable feels the country holds an important place in Australian history, something most young Australians are completely unaware of.

“PNG is our nearest neighbour – the Torres Strait is narrower and shallower than Bass Strait!” said Constable. “[It is] such a fascinating place, particularly at that time around Independence in 1975. Most Australians know almost nothing about it. I can’t wait to get stuck into that one!”

In the meantime, Cicada Summer will leave its readers, both young and old, to enjoy an enchanting and cleverly written tale, with a beautifully unexpected ending – something all readers delight in.

When asked what she hopes her readers will glean from this lovely tale, Constable has only one word – “Hope. Something we need more than ever at the moment.”

For more on Kate, see http://www.kateconstable.com/.

This interview first appeared on the Australian Women Online website.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Contributor - Catherine Oehlman

Catherine Oehlman is a mother, teacher, writer, picture book lover and award winning blogger. You can find Cath squiggling about literacy and other topics close to her heart in many online and print publications.

To see Cath's reviews, click on her pic.

Contributor - Meghan Killeen


Meghan Killeen is a talented author/illustrator from the US who also creates fabulous book reviews and short films. She has a particular predilection for gothic and film noir style stories and is currently having the time of her life teaching in Japan. Visit her amazing site - rubywinkle.com to take a peek at her beautiful book and you can follow her blog here. For her sensational KBR book reviews, click her pic!

Contributor - Riley McCartney

Riley is our sometime reviewer of his favourite books. He loves football, soccer, cooking, DSi, The Simpsons and wants to be a football player (who makes lots of money to keep his parents in the lifestyle to which they want to become accustomed). To see his reviews, click on his pic.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Review: Darius Bell and the Glitter Pool

It’s just so glorious to read a magical story that’s not steeped in the stereotypical fairies, wizards, goblins or mysteriously shifting worlds that appear in the blink of an eye or through some unseeming earthly portal.

Since Enid Blyton sent us on Wishing Chair and Magic Faraway Tree adventures, and CS Lewis penned his superlative Narnia series in the 1950s, writers everywhere have pounced on magical tales set in parallel worlds and crammed with all manner of things stereotypically ‘magical’. Not that there’s anything wrong with that – but anyone who loves fantasy will admit that these stereotypical elements are becoming dangerously close to being overdone.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Review: The Little Prince

There are books that are engaging. There are books that are amusing. There are books that are memorable. And then, there are books that are sublimely serendipitous.

I recently rediscovered the classic tale of The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint Exupéry. The Little Prince is an intergalactic story comprised of planetary follies, the love of a rose and a mysterious friendship between a pilot and prince.

The Little Prince occupies a tiny asteroid called B612 inhabited by three volcanoes, weed-like Baobab trees and a high maintenance rose. The Little Prince diligently tends to his planet and finds solace in sunsets.