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

Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Author Interview: Foz Meadows

Kids' Book Review is delighted to welcome talented young adult author Foz Meadows, who has kindly agreed to answer our many questions about her books and writing.Visit Foz's website for more information.

Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I moved to Melbourne four years ago from Sydney but grew up on the Central Coast of New South Wales. My dad first nicknamed me Foz, after Fozzie Bear in the Muppets, because I smiled a lot as a baby; my real name is Philippa, although outside of my ever-turning circle of dayjobs, there’s hardly anyone who uses it.

I’ve worked a few different gigs to pay the rent – waitress, advertising copywriter, legal secretary, general administrative dogsbody – but right now, I’m working at the Coroner’s Court, which is extremely interesting.

My husband is a philosopher. We have two cats, but no children – not yet, anyway! Give us a couple of years, and we’ll see how we go. Otherwise, I’m a geek. I like video games, webcomics, mythology and t-shirts with writing on them. I cannot be trusted in the presence of cheese, but mainly subsist on the four basic food groups: sushi, smoothies, Bolognese and pizza.

How long have you been writing? 
I decided to be an author when I was eleven or so, which is when I first tried my hand at novels. For years before that, I was always writing stories. I can’t remember the age at which I first picked up a pen, but primary school was definitely when I started writing for myself and not just during class. On that basis, I can reasonably claim to have been writing in one form or another for almost twenty years. Which, frankly, is terrifying.

What genre do you write in?
At the moment, urban fantasy. I love the idea of usurping reality with magic, so that they overlap at the edges. What makes it so fantastic, in both senses of the word, is the extent to which it plays on possibility and the natural limits of human knowledge. We like to tell ourselves that we understand how things work, and to a certain extent, our thoughts are correct. But there’s simply too many unexplored corners in even a small town or a suburban street, too many unknown people or neighbours half-glimpsed, to really claim to know everything about our daily surroundings. Fill in those gaps with magic, and something in us responds to the uncertainty of it, even where the given scenario is impossible.

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Review: Miss Llewellyn-Jones Goes to Town

Title: Miss Llewellyn-Jones Goes to Town

Author: Elaine Forrestal

Illustrator: Moira Court

Publisher: Fremantle Press, $24.95RRP

Format: Softcover

Language: English

ISBN: 9781921696046

For ages: 2 – 6

Type: Picture Book

About: There’s so many children’s books I like, love, even adore. But then there’s the ones I really love. I mean – really fall in love with. And I know these books because they’re the ones that make me turn a nice limey shade of green.

Sigh. I wish I’d written this book. I love it so much. I love eccentric characters. Recently, a librarian I admire made a presentation and commented that the greatest storytelling books often include an eccentric character. How true.

And Miss Llewellyn-Jones fits the bill.

Riding her pistachio moped to town, teddy-in-basket (just wait – every child you read to will say “Look at the teddy!”), with her red helmet on and a flounce of golden curls peeking out, kids will delight at Miss Llewellyn-Jones riding up hill, up hill, up hill and doooooooown, with her spotted bloomers peeking out of her billowing skirt.

What child – or adult, for that matter – doesn’t love the charms or a whimsical, childlike adult?

As Miss Llewellyn-Jones collects her wares from the proprietors in town – sausages, bread, lollipops (in lieu of cupcakes), persimmons, gooseberries and freshly squeezed cumquat juice – teddy, who becomes a tad bored – slips from his basket crammed with goodies and wanders away.

Can Miss Llewellyn-Jones find dear teddy or will he tumble into a post box and be sent away to forever?

This book has a charming and perfect balance of prose and illustration that form a tight marriage both illustrator and author must be proud of. The beauty and rhythm of the storyline and pictures truly make it a keeper to stash away in the glory box for your kids' kids.

Both children and adults will adore scooting along with Miss Llewellyn-Jones and teddy, and I, for one, am keen to see where their daily adentures take them next.

Author website

Illustrator website

This book is available online

Read an interview with illustrator Moira Court here.

Monday, 29 March 2010

Review: A Giraffe in the Bath

Title: A Giraffe in the Bath

Author: Mem Fox and Olivia Rawson

Illustrator: Kerry Argent

Publisher: Viking, A$24.95RRP

Format: Hardcover

ISBN: 978 0 670 07213 2

For ages: 0 – 5

Type: Picture Book

About: So lovely to smooth my hands over the cover of a shiny new copy of A Giraffe in the Bath, resplendent with Argent’s emotive and lustrous illustration of a giraffe up to its, er – neck in foofing bubbles.

It has always intrigued me how two authors could simultaneously work on a picture book, being that it is so minimal in regard to text, but seasoned Fox and her protégé Rawson have come together seamlessly in this rib-tickling animal-fest for the very young.

What would make you laugh? That giraffe in the bath? A roo on the loo? A crocodile with style? Preschoolers will change favourites nightly with this amiable lineup of critters – a kooky koala, a somewhat cerebral bandicoot, a cackling kookaburra and superhero piglet – who take us through a very silly series of animals performing giggle-worthy antics.

Simple, rhythmic questions are posed to the reader on each page, backed by Argent’s gorgeous visual splendour, stacked with detail adults will also enjoy. My favourite? The koala splashing bandicoot while giraffe lays supine in the bath under a fallen shower curtain rod, and kookaburra cacking himself on an upturned stool.

Little ones will love the chaos and be entranced by a selection of characters who mimic the very pandemonium toddlers so utterly relish.

Author website (Fox)
Author website (Rawson)
Illustrator website

This book is available online

Saturday, 27 March 2010

Review: Vivi Finds Bean

Title: Vivi Finds Bean

Author: Vanessa Holle

Illustrator: Vanessa Holle

Publisher: Pier 9, $24.95RRP

Format: Hard cover

Language: English

ISBN: 9781741965049

For ages: 2 – 5

Type: Picture Book

About: Vivi, a little German girl, has an Australian godmother, Bean. She has heard so much about Bean and longs to meet her in person, but the fact that she lives so far away has stopped her. Until now.

One day she decides to take matters into her own hands, and so begins the tale of Vivi’s travels. Using some very interesting means of transportation, including whale (one who is, of course, delivering ‘whale mail’), camel and kangaroo, Vivi eventually arrives in Sydney to meet Bean and her family.

Such a long trip is exhausting and Vivi still has to make the journey home.

This story is appealing for so many reasons. Firstly, the beautiful semi-cloth-bound hardcover gives you the feeling that this book is something special.

The rhyming narrative of Vivi’s adventures is fun and sweet, sharing with children the excitement of travel: the anticipation of arriving, the concept of faraway places, even the idea of knowing and connecting with someone without having met them.

The visuals – simple, colourful illustrations and uniquely laid out word flow – complete the magical whimsy of Vivi’s story.

You and your children won’t be disappointed with this lovely yarn.

- this review by Megan Blandford of Writing Out Loud
This book can be bought online

Friday, 26 March 2010

Author Interview: Chrissie Michaels

Who is this talented person? Chrissie Michaels

What does she do? She’s an author.

Where can you take a peek at her stuff? sites.google.com/site/chrissiemichaelsorg

What’s her story? I was born in Lancashire in England but grew up in the south eastern suburbs of Melbourne. Now I live in country Victoria close by many wonderful stretches of coastline, where I spend the time gardening, growing vegies and going for long walks along the beach.

We have five children between us and two grandchildren. I work part-time as a secondary school teacher. Just yesterday my Humanities class spent a double lesson at the beach for a coastal geography unit of work and we all agreed it was the best classroom in the world!

For a few years I taught professional writing at TAFE, as well as doing some childcare work in a crèche, which means my oldest student so far has been 78 and my youngest, two weeks old!

How long has she been writing? In a recent interview I said I’d been writing for about fifteen years, but when I counted again it came to just over twenty. Either time passes quicker than I think or I must be becoming (more) forgetful. Now, come to think of it, when they were little, my kids used to call me Forgetful Jones after the character in Sesame Street.

When I first started writing I joined a writer’s group, then entered a few writing competitions and won prizes. This was the impetus to send my work off for publication. I remember that I handwrote my first children’s poem because I didn’t have a computer. I was amazed when it was accepted.

What genre does she write in? Mainly historical fiction these days. In Lonnie’s Shadow was my first Young Adult novel. I hope Lonnie will also have some appeal to a general adult readership, especially those interested in history, as it is set in Little Lon, Melbourne, 1891.

What other genres has she written in? Lots of historical of late, with some sci-fi. I enjoy writing for different age groups and in different styles ― junior fiction; poetry and short stories for both children and adults; a few news articles in the Age and some magazine articles. I like to experiment, especially with styles and narrative structure.

When you’re a teacher you’re always putting ideas into lessons, so I’ve also done some teacher texts. These were co-written and came out as the Personal Writing Portfolio series, published by Oxford University Press.

A few interesting projects have also come my way. One was developing a Mauritius educational kit (in French and English) after a school language trip to the island, while another was writing educational scripts for computer animated Maths and English lessons for the UK. My favourite project was as a writing consultant for Museum Victoria’s Big Box exhibition, One, two, three – Grow, where I got the opportunity to write major and minor rhymes. They are still there after ten years.

Why does she write? Why do I garden? Why do I walk? I guess it’s just part of what I like to do. I’m a person who lives a lot in my head; although having said that, I’m a bit of chatterbox, or so I’m told.

What made her decide to write young adult fiction? I never actually make a decision about where the writing fits when I come up with an idea. It sort of unfolds, takes on a will of its own.

Does she remember the first story she ever wrote? The first short story was a sci-fi one called Somewhere In the Night sky, never published. The story combined both sci-fi and history as it had something to do with World War II and Hitler as time travellers. I still have a copy somewhere and I’m still quite fond of it, even though I clearly see why it is unpublishable!

The first poem I ever wrote (and kept) was a poem about lost love. I was fifteen and had broken up with a boyfriend. It was full of angst.

In Lonnie’s Shadow is due for release in May. What’s it all about? In Lonnie’s Shadow revolves around a group of teenagers who are trying to make a fair go of life, although many things are conspiring to make their life difficult. Sometimes it’s hard to know who they can rely on. Secrets are kept and promises made.

There’s plenty of action and the characters find themselves facing many hot spots – theft and kidnap, gang warfare and murder - and they have to make some pretty serious choices.

The idea for Lonnie came from a visit I made to Museum Victoria back in 2002 where I saw their wonderful Little Lon exhibition. It was after the most recent of the archaeological digs around this area, sites that were due for rebuilding. It’s staggering to think the Museum now has over 500,000 artefacts in this collection. I spent ages there, trying to unravel the stories behind this vanished community.

Shortly afterwards, I decided to do some historical reading and In Lonnie’s Shadow began to emerge. The story’s narrative structure draws upon the artefacts (some real and many imagined). Each chapter title is an object and has some significance to the storyline, either literally or metaphorically.

In Lonnie’s Shadow is packed with topical themes and loads of drama and question marks that will both fascinate and even educate teens. What does Chrissie hope her book imparts to its readers? The 1890s were such an amazing time in Melbourne’s history – so modern in many ways, yet so different in others. I guess it’s for teen readers to pick up on the similarities with our own contemporary lives: the rites of first love, dealing with gangs and peer pressure, working out who you can trust and whether or not you’ve made the right judgement or decision to do something, having to face the consequences of our actions.

There are a few violent encounters in the story and they run close to the bottling and the assaults that still happen today. These may raise some questions about how we go about handling violence in our society.

1891 was also the time when Marvellous Melbourne was coming upon hard times. Little Lon was regarded as the town’s underbelly. It’s a tough place to live but there is a strong sense of family (for Lonnie and Carlo at least) and the community sticks together. Hopefully the novel will give readers something to keep on thinking about – both in the issues and in the values.

What are the greatest blocks or obstacles she has experienced on her writing journey? Time is the greatest obstacle. And getting in the zone, without totally ignoring everything and everyone around you!

What does she love most about producing books for young adults? Having a great publisher for one thing! I have been most fortunate that Ford Street Publishing has had faith in this novel. The whole gang – Paul, Saralinda, Meredith and Grant have been fantastic to work with.

Also… Idealistically: exploring the ways we can offer some hope in life; finding ways to sort out problems; having faith in yourself; never giving up the hope of finding someone who will listen to you; knowing there are decent, honest, caring people around, knowing who your friends really are… Hopefully these values come across in the novel.

What advice does she have for anyone wanting to write a book in the young adult genre?
Don’t dumb it down.
Kids aren’t fools.
Stick to life.
Vampires are big (although Lonnie doesn’t have any!) but transient.
It is good to find and follow the trends.

If she couldn’t be a writer, what would she be? First and foremost: Dr Who’s sidekick; then working for World Vision or Amnesty; an archaeologist, anthropologist or historian; maybe a librarian.

What other things does she value? Family, gardening, enjoying good food (straight from the garden), walking and reading. Oh and… writing.

What young adult books does she love? When I was a 17 year old, these are the books I loved the most and I think they still are my favourite YA books ( I should mention that I fell in love with French authors in my first year at Uni):

Anything by Émile Zola
Anything by Honoré de Balzac
Madame Bovary
To Kill a Mockingbird

Modern(ish) choices:
Dog (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the night time…)
I’m not Scared
Pool (another Ford Street title)
The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas

What would be her perfect day?
Up early.
Sun shining.
Lots of time with my loved ones.
Writing, gardening, walking, eating … all very leisurely done.
Good conversation, lots of laughter.
A dance and a cuddle.
A good book
Back in the nest for the night.

What five words best sum her up? Happy, optimistic, confident, patient, tolerant.

What’s next for Chrissie Michaels? The next novel is on the way – but coming out in dribs and drabs; it crosses two centuries and spans two countries. You guessed it – historical! I’d love to have a picture story book published one day.

In Lonnie's Shadow will be available from May, 2010 in any good bookstore or library. It can also be ordered through Ford Street Publishing by emailing here, or through Macmillan Publishing Services by emailing here.

If you are in Melbourne, Chrissie will be featured in the 15 Minutes of Fame section at the Melbourne Emerging Writers Festival in May 2010. She will be discussing and reading from In Lonnie’s Shadow. Drop by and say hello!

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Review: Tatiara

I love a book that combines palpable emotion with a clear love of nature, as found in Tatiara, written and illustrated by Jo Oliver, a Sydney-based author and mum of three boys.

Set in Tathra, a seaside town on the far south coat of New South Wales, the author has beautifully recreated the beach scenes from this stunning part of the world, using dry point etching and watercolour. Having visited this coast, I can attest to the striking colour Oliver has captured – that sapphire blue is rarely seen so lustrous.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Review: Sam's Bush Journey

Esteemed indigenous author Sally Morgan has teemed with Ezekiel Kwaymullina to release Sam’s Bush Journey – the story of young Sam, whose bush walks with his Nanna are always scratchy, prickly, itchy and headache-inducing.

Nanna nonetheless patiently encourages her grandson to appreciate the beauty and abundance of the bush and when Sam suddenly finds himself alone in the bush, the words of his Nanna quickly remind him there’s plenty of delicious food, much shelter and fresh water to be found – elements that have allowed his ancestors to survive on the land for many thousands of years.

Will his inherent knowledge, encouraged by his Nanna, impassion this young lad to embrace his culture and homeland?

What’s lovely about Sam’s Bush Journey is that the central character is a typical kid and not some mystical sprite who finds an innate and instant affinity with the bush. Sam just doesn’t like walking in scrub land, he doesn’t like mozzie bites, he doesn’t like being scratched by branches. He’s a typical kid that readers will relate to.

The references to the Dreamtime – both in text and illustration – are more modern in setting, without compromising authenticity. It’s also lovely how Sam’s realizations about the beauty and sustainability of the bush are uncovered in a dream state.

Illustrations by Bronwyn Bancroft are vivid, colourful and indicative of Dreamtime art, but also stand alone, with their own unique style. The colour use is typical of the Australian bush at its prime and the silhouettes of people between the trees lend a haunting quality that culminates in a heartwarming ending when the silhouettes join hands to form hearts.

A strong theme in Sam’s Bush Journey is how vital is it to inherit and appreciate the knowledge passed down from our ancestors – for all of us, but most certainly for Australia’s indigenous people. Expanding our country’s children with more indigenous knowledge is a priceless way to hone our children’s minds and celebrate the aboriginal culture of our nation. I honestly don’t think we can underestimate the power of indigenous storytelling, for so many reasons.

Sam's Bush Journey is a heartwarming, educational and touching story. A must for all Aussie kids and anyone who appreciates authenticity.

Did you know? Sally Morgan is a Palkyu person from the Pilbara in north-west of Western Australia. The book was co-written with her son Ezekiel Kwaymullina, who was also the co-author of the Curly and the Fent series.

Title: Sam’s Bush Journey
Author: Sally Morgan and Ezekiel Kwaymullina
Illustrator: Bronwyn Bancroft
Publisher: Little Hare, A$24.99RRP
Format: Hardcover
ISBN: 9781921541049
For ages: 4-8
Type: Picture Book

*Sam's Bush Journey was one of my 6 Younger Reader ‘nominations’ for the Clayton’s Night Awards run by the ACT branch of the Children’s Book Council of Australia. This night mimics the announcement of the nominees for the Book of the Year Awards, and I was the ‘judge’ in the Younger Reader category.

See my other nominations and their reviews here.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Saving Water with Nicola Chait

It's really lovely to see people doing good things to inspire our young to be more ecologically conscious, and to learn about how vital it is to respect and lessen our impact on the planet.

Author/illustrator Nicola Chait has done just that with her adorable new board book - Saving Water. The author self-published through Little Steps and has aimed the book at pre-school children aged 3-6.

Using rhyme and a healthy modicum of humour, the author has constructed an easy-to-read, helpful little tome that will inspire kids to find new ways to save our most precious resource. Who knows - kids may even teach their mum and dad a thing or two.

"The future of environmental issues rests with our children," says Nicola, "Our children are the way forward. If we educate the kids correctly about the issue of water, community attitudes will change as the next generation grows."

In the early 90s, Nicola spent five years living in the Middle East, working closely with children in a mentoring role. She enjoyed sharing stories with many school children of varying ages; stories that encased simple humour, human values and environmental issues. In 1995, she returned to Australia and continued a career in the travel industry.

On 18 October 2003, Nicola's life changed when she was involved in a debilitating car accident. Whilst recovering from two back operations, the author found herself reflecting on her days in the Middle East, storytelling with children. This inspired Nicola to write, with a particular interest in educational stories for children, and after much encouragement from kids and parents, she found herself on the route to self-publication.

"I suffered a lot of chronic pain after my accident, and one day I was driven to the Melbourne Docklands by a friend wanted to lift my spirits. I got thinking that we are surrounded by water and yet that's the very thing we are lacking in this country - usable water. I was driven home and wrote Saving Water. And that's pretty well how this book came to being."

With her new book, Nicola hopes to have an impact on the attitudes of future generations.

"One of the most satisfying rewards to writing this picture book is to see a child acting on one of the messages in the book. It makes me feel like I'm doing my bit to help the planet. The little female character in Saving Water is named 'Pockets' and it's beautiful when you see a child wanting to save water like Pockets. I've got to say I also really enjoy seeing a child's face the moment she connects with a humourous message in one of my stories; that little giggle just melts me."

See more about Saving Water and its vital message here. Nicola is happy to provide teaching notes, or if you just want to help promote the message of Saving Water in your organisation or school, email Nicola here.

Monday, 22 March 2010

Review: The Short and Incredibly Happy Life of Riley

Title: The Short and Incredibly Happy Life of Riley

Author: Colin Thompson

Illustrator: Amy Lissiat

Publisher: Lothian Children's Books, A$

Format: Hardcover

Language: English

ISBN: 0734408064

For ages: 4 – 7

Type: Picture Book

About: Riley was born happy. Content with just food, shelter and family, with the little luxury of a stick to scratch his back, he remains unaware that life could be anything other than perfect.

Yet, as a rat, Riley’s lifespan is only very short.

Humans, on the other hand, analyse themselves and others around them, wanting to make sure they have the very best in gadgets, friends, holidays and food. They want everything.

People live in this state of unhappiness for a long time.

The Short and Incredibly Happy Life of Riley is shown as a cheerful picture book with an upbeat message. Yet it tells us that we are never happy with what we have, that we become depressed at looking in the mirror and “fall in love all over the place”.

How can this be positive? Perhaps we have become so accustomed to reading stories filled with nothing but happiness, never daring to mention that our lives aren’t perfect, that this book’s methods are at times a little confronting.

Thompson is clearly attempting to challenge children’s way of thinking. He does not assume they are oblivious to these facts of life, choosing to address rather than ignore them. And he reaches a positive and meaningful point, a worthwhile message for both children and adults.

The Short and Incredibly Happy Life of Riley won the 2005 CBC Picture Book of the Year.

- this review by Megan Blandford of Writing Out Loud

Author website

Illustrator website

This book can be bought online

Review: Battle Boy: Open Fire

When Napoleon Augustus Smythe finds a mysterious note in the local library asking him to meet real life war heroes from the past, he can never imagine the astounding operations that lay in store. Operations you ask? That’s right – Operation Battle Book.

Wearing his special high tech ‘skin’ suit and equipped with all manner of cool, time-travelling devices, Napoleon (or agent ‘BB005’) opens his very first battle book which sends him screaming back to the past – to Spain in 1587 where he finds himself aboard the ship of the great Sir Francis Drake. His mission? to collect Drake’s DNA for the Warrior Gene Bank.

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Pick of the Web, 21 March 2010

I hope these links inspire you in the coming weeks with your writing and reading and self-publishing and overall love of literature.

If you have an article you'd like to share on KBR, let me know by emailing here!

Reader's Theatre (1) at The Book Chook
In July 2009, I discussed developing a child's imagination through play by spring-boarding from literature. Reader's Theatre is another wonderful medium for encouraging kids to use their imaginations. Basically, you develop a short script based on a book you've read together. Depending on your child's age, you could co-write a script with her, or she may have the confidence to try it alone.

Mindmapping Your Novel Can Help With Writing Scenes at The Creative Penn
Writing the first draft of a novel involves a lot of idea generation and writing the bare bones of the story, as well as putting the overall structure in place. Sometimes you may come up with a topic or a place or theme you don’t know much about before you write it. I have found mind mapping to be very helpful for this research prior to writing the scene. Read more...

The future of publishing: Why ebooks failed in 2000, and what it means for 2010 at Rubicon
It’s a great time for ebooks. There are at least six ebook reader devices on the market or in preparation. A major business magazine predicts that up to seven million of these devices will be sold next year. A major consulting firm says ebook sales will account for ten percent of the publishing market in five years. And an executive at the leading computing firm predicts that 90 percent of all publishing will switch to electronic form in just 20 years. Read more...

What do all Those Self-Publishing Terms Mean? at Blogging Authors
Most authors dream of being published by a traditional publisher—one who pays to print the author’s book and then pays the author royalties. However, after months or years of mailing out manuscripts to publishers and literary agents, and piles of rejection letters later—if even lucky enough to get a response—many authors ultimately turn to self-publishing. Read more...

Fostering a Love of Reading Part 1 at Literacy Launchpad
Before I had kids I would hear this kind of advice a lot, and I gave this advice a lot myself as well. But I must admit, I was always a bit skeptical of whether it was really effective or not. Now that I have My Little Reader (Isaac) though, I can say that IT IS! Granted, I have been feeding Isaac a steady diet of books since he was a fetus, so I'm sure that helps, but I think this particular tip has helped his hunger for books grow and grow. Read more...

Teaching Geography with Children’s Literature: Geography from A-Z: A Picture Glossary at Open Wide, Look Inside
Geography from A-Z: A Picture Glossary, by Jack Knowlton, is a great resource for elementary students that are trying to learn the difference between a plateau and a plain or a knoll and an atoll. This wonderfully illustrated book defines sixty-three key geographic terms and includes a picture example to go along with each child-friendly definition. Read more...

Do writers need to network? Do crackers need cheese? at Sheryl Gwyther
Gone are the days when a writer could sit up in a proverbial garret and stare out across the rooftops, alone and isolated, glumly waiting for the muse to visit. Not that the garret situation was ever the case for most writers – but you get my drift. Read more...

Fantastic Fiction for Kids – Travel at Fantastic Fiction
Today’s Fantastic Fiction for Kids post comes from Tania McCartney. Tania is an Australian freelance writer, editor, blogger and author of both adult non-fiction and children’s picture books. Tania’s topic for today’s post is something very dear to her heart – not kids, not even mangoes, but Travel, so if you’re ready for a journey or two around there world let’s see what Tania picked for us to enjoy… Read more...

Friday, 19 March 2010

Interview: Illustrator Moira Court

I have a new illustrative crush. So happy to introduce you to the glorious Moira Court who is just so talented, it makes my eyes water. She's also just absolutely lovely lovely. Enjoy this fun interview with Moira.

Who is this talented person? Moira Court

What does she do? She illustrates. Sometimes she illustrates kids’ books.

Where can you drool over her stuff? moiracourt.wordpress.com

What’s her story? I grew up in South Devon, England. I emigrated to West Australia in 2001 and now live in an old logging town in the Perth Hills. I have been a practicing artist for several years and as well as illustrating children's books, I also exhibit artwork in local galleries and art shows.

At the moment, I am being a full-time artist but when that becomes full-time starving artist, I have been known to work part-time in a fancy paper shop designing invitations, and in an antiques and collectables shop making displays, collecting dust and spotting mice.

When I'm not painting, drawing or making felt creatures, I try to grow vegetables and enjoy walks in the bush with my husband and two dogs. I also really like watching the wild birds out of the kitchen window. I don't have any actual children but I do have several fur and feather kids!

How long has she been drawing? For as long as I could hold a pencil, or crayon.

What mediums does she work in? I mainly paint in acrylic, on canvas or canvas board, but my latest love is drawing with a 2B pencil on printing paper. I have also started doing a few pieces in mixed media - gouache, pencil and pastel. I make felt creatures, too, using WA Melanian wool, Australian Merino wool, recycled buttons and lots of yummy coloured cottons.

What style would she call her work? Naive and quirky, perhaps?

Where has her work been published? In Australia.

How did she come to illustrate Elaine Forrestal’s beautiful Miss Llewellyn-Jones books? To illustrate a children's book is something I have always wanted to do, and it took me ages and ages to pluck up the courage to send some examples of my work to Fremantle Press.

When I eventually did, I was so shocked that they liked it and wanted to meet me. Soon after the initial interview, I was asked to come up with a story board for Miss Llewellyn-Jones. Due to the success of that book, the manuscript of Miss Llewellyn - Jones Goes To Town, shortly followed.

Why does she illustrate? Hmmm… it’s not for the money that’s for sure! I enjoy having a story to work to and I like expanding that story, creating the scenery and bringing the characters to life. It's also very satisfying seeing your work as an actual book and even more satisfying and a bit weird when you go in to a book shop and see it on the shelf!

What are the greatest obstacles she has experienced on her creative journey? Time and money - a lack of both.

What does she love most about her work? Coming up with the initial idea that you just know is going to work and be fabulous is probably the most exciting part. And then the next thing is trying to include animals in the story, as that’s what I like painting best!

What advice does she have on illustrating for a living? Be prepared to work VERY hard, try and be different, practise lots and read, read, read!

Does she remember the first piece she ever felt really proud of? A chalk pavement drawing of a dinosaur in the Ivybridge (Devon UK) village carnival. I came second! ( I was about seven or eight.) And then there was the baboon drawing in my science class when I was 11.

Have children’s books always been of interest to her? Yes, always. For one - I like looking at the pictures in illustrated books and two - I like magical lands and magical creatures that talk. I suppose I should've grown out of that by now, but I like it just the same as when I was small, even though now I am big!

Would she consider writing as well as illustrating? Hmmm, maybe. I would just like to think of something really original to write about, which is tricky.

Other than painting, what does she love? My pets, nature, pottering around in the vegetable patch trying to grow food, movies and fossicking in bric-a-brac shops - I love recycling! And cake.

What are her top five children’s books of all time? You mean eight, right? Even that’s tricky and I know I will forget a really important one…

The Harry Potter series - I am counting this as one!
The Tale of Mr Jeremy Fisher
The Tale of Mr Todd
Winnie the Pooh
The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe
Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass
Peter Pan
Tom's Midnight Garden

All full of magical lands and/or creatures that talk!

If she couldn’t be an artist, what would she be? I would like to do something to do with wildlife, or be an interiors stylist for a magazine, or a film set designer, or if I had a few more brain cells - a vet.

What career was she drawn to as a child? I probably wanted to be a horse! I didn't know what career I wanted until I was in my early twenties, when I decided that being a decorative painter was the way to go after meeting someone who painted a mural in Ozzy Osbourne’s house.

What would comprise her perfect day? Well, it would be longer than 24hours and would involve teleporting between different countries! I would love to catch up with my friends and family in the UK who I haven't seen for a while now. I would hope that this would involve lots of cake.

I would love to have a pub lunch in an old, low beamed, cozy smugglers pub in Cornwall in mid-winter, with the fire blazing and snow falling outside. Then I would have dinner in a beachside restaurant in Thailand, where it would be warm but windy with the waves crashing and the palm trees blowing and someone would release those amazing baloony looking lanterns in to the night sky.

I would end up in my own bed, as there is nowhere like your own bed. Somewhere amongst all this I would do some horse riding and go to the North Pole to see reindeers, polar bears and the Northern Lights. And it would be Christmas. And I would take my husband as he is the funniest person I know.

What five words best sum her up? Creative, fun, energetic, impatient, disciplined.

What’s next for Moira? An exhibition in April (beginningwithart.wordpress.com). Perhaps another book... many more felt animals and lots of drawings.

Check out Moira’s blog for more of her lovely, arty bits.

Review: Matilda

This story is, quite simply, Roald Dahl at his best. Opening the cover to find the slightly tattered pages filled with uncomplicated illustrations, I am instantly transported back to my childhood. I can picture the places I sat to read this story, reacquaint myself with the feelings of comfort, inspiration and amusement I experienced whenever I read it. It is one of my all-time favourites.

Interview: Author Lee Fox

Really delighted to feature Lee Fox on KBR. I have personally loved Lee's gorgeous, rhythmic picture books and it was a pleasure to talk to this lovely, talented woman, with a penchant for making you giggle!

Who is this talented person? Lee Fox

What does she do? She's a children’s author with a knack for rhyme.

Where can you peruse her stuff? leefox.com.au or Facebook

What’s her story? I live in Castlemaine with my partner, Jan ‘Yarn’ Wositzky, who is a storyteller/musician/radio broadcaster, and the youngest of my five children, Mia, who has just started secondary school. My older children have left the nest (my eldest is turning 30 at the end of March – OMG!).

I’ve spent most of my adult life raising my children, often single-handedly, but for a lot of that time I’ve worked or studied part time as well. Until two years ago I worked in a bookshop. I was there for seven years and loved it. Since then I’ve been developing my writing career full time and doing the bookkeeping for The Storyteller’s Guide to the World. But now I’m on the look out for another part time job, preferably in a library. So if you happen to hear of anything…

How long has she been writing? I made the actual commitment to writing in 2000. From then on I worked steadily towards getting my work published. I did courses and workshops and read how-to books. I focussed on learning the craft of writing, which I’m still doing, and gaining a profile as a writer.

I also wished on, not one, but FOUR falling stars.

Before that, I was the only person who became ecstatic when the tutor handed out the assignment or essay topics. I loved English at school even though my teachers were not so hot. I wrote poems when I was a child and my stepmother used to send them to newspapers. They were never published but it was great that she believed in me.

What genre does she write in? Children’s picture books and YA fiction. I’ve started a Junior Fiction novel and it’s patiently waiting for me to return to it. I plan to do that when I finish my second YA novel.

What other genres has she written in? None really, but I have had a few articles published in The Age and The Bendigo Advertiser.

Why does she write? It makes me happy, sad, crazy, who I am. It gives me a strong focus outside home, family and life in general.

What made her decide to write children’s books? I didn’t really make that decision. I was enrolled in the Professional Writing and Editing course at RMIT and everyone was raving about how great the Writing for Children class was, so I signed up for it. It was a good class but I thought I was terrible at writing for kids – though, not for lack of trying. It took me ages to get the hang of it and I still struggle.

Are her kooky characters modelled on anyone in particular? Ella is my now twelve-year-old daughter. Mia and I can divulge this secret because not long ago she gave me permission to reveal her true identity. From 2004 until 2008, I was sworn to secrecy. When Mia turned eleven, she said it was okay to tell because she realised there were lots of kids in the world who didn’t like getting their hair brushed, not just her.

Rhyme is notoriously difficult to do well, and Lee Fox succeeds absolutely. Why does she write in rhyme and how does she do it so well? Thank you for your generous compliment. I never think of myself as being particularly good at it but I have always enjoyed it.

When I wrote Ella Kazoo, I was under the impression that rhyming stories were out of fashion. So when I finished the story I read it to Mia a few times - for a bit of a laugh and hoping like anything that she would change her mind and LET ME BRUSH HER HAIR!

Then I put the story away and forgot about it. One day it began calling to me. I fished it out and thought, hmmm, this isn’t bad. But I never learnt to rhyme. So perhaps I was just born to do it.

It can be challenging and I do enjoy that aspect. It’s a bit like trying to work out a puzzle. I’ve learnt that there is always a way to make the rhyme work – you have to be patient and not force it. You also need to pay close attention to the rhythm – it’s just as important as the rhyming words.

Does she remember the first story she ever wrote?
I remember the first poem I wrote as a child. I was in Grade 6 at Footscray Primary School and my teacher, Mr Bridges, read it aloud to the class and said, ‘You know Lee, one day you could be a writer if you wanted to.’ I don’t remember what the poem was called but it was about a snake.

What are the greatest blocks or obstacles she has experienced on her writing journey? The first obstacle I had to overcome was finding the courage to follow my dream of being a writer. Getting published was my ultimate goal and as most people who aim for this know, it’s very difficult to achieve. But I was 100% determined and I think you have to be if you want it to happen.

Finding a literary agent was quite difficult. So I waited until Ella Kazoo was doing well and my first YA novel, Other People’s Country, was due out before I approached a few. I used to find getting a first draft out a bit like torture because my internal critic is very strong. But then I realised that first drafts are supposed to be terrible. That’s their purpose in life. Since then, I just go for it and write real shockers. Then I sit down and fix them up.

The biggest obstacle I face on a regular basis is maintaining the courage to keep going with it all. On good writing days it’s easy and I love them because they remind me of why I do it. It’s one of the most joyful and agonising jobs I’ve ever had.

What does she love most about producing books for children?
It's wonderful when a child comes up to me and says, ‘I really love Ella Kazoo or Jasper McFlea or…’ Knowing I’ve touched a child’s life and given them a positive reading experience is a wonderful feeling. I love working with people in the children’s publishing industry too. Everyone is so generous, supportive and gracious.

What advice would she have on writing children’s stories? I always tell kids to start with something that has happened to them and then switch on their imaginations and turn the story on its head and around and around in circles to see what will happen next.

If she couldn’t be a writer, what would she be? A painter or sculptor or someone who really could make world poverty history.

What are her most favourite things to do? Writing, reading, film, cooking, politics. I know I should have said bushwalking or going to the gym but …

What books did she read as a child? We didn’t have books at my house but my Grade 1 teacher at Footscray West Primary School, Miss Monkhouse, read Noddy books every day after lunch, so I grew to love Enid Blyton. I loved the illustrations in Little Black Sambo and, of all things – my first school reader, John and Betty. I think that’s what happens when a child is deprived of books at home.

What are her favourite children’s books of all time? Oh, this is hard to answer because I love so many children’s books. But here are a few that Mia and I have enjoyed together.
  • Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans

  • A Fish Out of Water by Helen Palmer

  • Are We There Yet? by Alison Lester

  • Hairy Maclary from Donaldson's Dairy by Lynley Dodd

  • Milly Molly Mandy by Joyce by Lankester Brisley
What did she like to play as a child? It’s between mothers and babies or Twister.

What would be her perfect day? It’s cold outside and raining, but inside it’s warm because the wood heater is roaring. I’m alone. I write for most of the day and feel blissfully happy. I hear from my publisher who says she’s going to publish the story I sent her. I go to the post office to collect the advance copies of my next book then meet my best friend at Coffee Basics for an Austrian lunch of frankfurters, sauerkraut, mustard and good bread. I get a big fat royalty payment, which means I don’t have to worry about paying the bills for the rest of the year or ever again perhaps. At the end of the day my partner and daughter come home and I make fish soup with rice for dinner. We sit at the kitchen table and eat and talk and laugh as we watch Koko (dog) and Elliot (cat) wrestle each other.

What five words best sum her up? Generous, quick witted, funny and sometimes anxious.

See a review of Ginger McFlea Will Not Clean Her Teeth on KBR right here.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Review: Jessica's Box

When young Jessica finds herself poised on the eve of her first day at school, we can feel the trepidation from the very first page. Unable to sleep, this sweet little girl instead stares at the moon outside her window, consumed by ponderings on tomorrow.

When tomorrow arrives, all that pondering has been worth it. In order to fit in, to make friends and feel like she belongs, Jessica knows exactly what she must do. On the first day of school, Jessica takes a large cardboard box, cloistering a treasure sure to make friends. But when she reveals her beloved teddy bear, all she manages to 'make' is kids laugh.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Review: Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats

Title: Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats

Author: T.S. Eliot

Illustrator: Axel Scheffler

Publisher: Faber (Allen & Unwin), A$27.99RRP

Format: Hardcover with dustjacket

Language: English

ISBN: 9780571240616

For ages: 6-18

Type: Poetry

About: So lovely when a classic is dusted off and brought out into the bright and shiny future to enchant our own children. For those too little to remember, T.S. Eliot is a world-renowned poet and playwright whose collection of light verse has been engagingly captured in this gorgeous hardcover book.

Resplendent with all manner of classic, quirky and funny poems, children with a love of animals will absollutely delight in this book, and parents will adore immersing themselves in the lilt of Eliot at his best.

Illustrations by Axel Scheffler (children may recognise his work from Julia Donaldson’s books, among others) bring fun and whimsical visuals to this set of glorious poems, first published in 1939.

From the naming of cats (did you know a cat must be given three names?) through to pirate cats, theatre cats, mystery cats and a sordid pair named Mungojerrie and Rumpelteazer, these rollicking rhymes and character-filled pictures will enamor cat-lovers of all ages. And yes, dogs make an appearance or two.


Author website
Illustrator website

This book is available online

Monday, 15 March 2010

Review: Seven Little Australians

The Seven Little Australians are: Meg, who is experiencing the pains of growing from a child to a woman, fun-loving Pip, Judy - adventurous and wild, the beautiful and gentle Nell, cheeky Bunty - known for his lying ways, Baby - who is adorable but determined and, of course, the real baby of the family, affectionately known as ‘the General’.

Friday, 12 March 2010

2010 MS Readathon Update

I can still remember the excitement I felt participating in the MS Readathon as a child. I mean, who needs an excuse to read!? but this wonderful organisation gives everyone even greater impetus to get our noses into a book.

NEWS! The most exciting thing about this year's Readathon it the launch of an MS Readathon for Grownups! Adults (of all ages!) will be able to register and challenge themselves to read books of their own choosing, or one of the packages the website will have on offer.

You'll even be able to create your own MS Readathon Home age and get friends and fam to sponsor you online. This is a perfect way to motivate yourself to read all those books you've been wanting to, and raise money for a great cause.

Money raised by kids and adults participating in MS Readathon in 2010 will go towards providing essential support services to people living with multiple sclerosis, and to help in the continued search for a cure.

The MS Readathon Big Winter Read registration will open in April 2010. Keep an eye on the website and get yourself stacked - with books! msreadathon.org.au/join/start.asp

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Review: Angel of Kokoda

Title: Angel of Kokoda

Author: Mark Wilson

Illustrator: Mark Wilson

Publisher: Hachette Australia, A$24.99RRP

Format: Hard cover

ISBN: 9780734411280

Type: Picture Book

For ages: 8+

About: Angels and butterflies are probably the last thing an Australian soldier would expect to see amidst the horrors of warfare along Papua New Guinea’s infamous Kokoda Trail – especially angels in the form of a young mountain boy.

In Mark Wilson’s latest book – Angel of Kokoda – children will feel the emotional impact of a remarkable and surreal story told in striking illustration and evocative word.

When Kari’s village is bombed and his mission teacher Sister Mary disappears, he takes comfort in the beautiful angel music box she left behind. Carrying it through the sweltering jungle, Kari is surprised to stumble upon a small regiment of Australian soldiers, fighting an enemy cloistered in gunfire and gut-wrenching bombs.

When a young soldier spends time talking with Kari about the whereabouts of his teacher, he is surprised to see not only the lad’s angelic music box, but the beautiful butterfly that lands on his hand as he reads Sister Mary’s note.

Moments later, a massive explosion begins a round of fighting that badly injures Kari’s new Australian friend. Desperate to save his life, Kari drags the soldier through the jungle, along the Kokoda track, through rain, mud, hills, leeches and mosquitoes – to a final resting place that befell so many soldiers of the Kokoda Trail.

As Kari places the music box in the soldier’s unmoving hands and butterflies swirl down from the trees above, there’s clearly more than one angel twirling in the silent mist.

An emotional and visually astounding introduction to children on the tragedy and loss of World War II, it’s about time the history of Kokoda was shared with our country’s young so eloquently, thoughtfully and powerfully.

Author website

My Kids Travel Book Picks on Fantastic Fiction

The extraordinary Zoe from Playing by the Book recently asked me to guest post in her fantabulous Fantastic Fiction series, and I loved every minute of it. Zoe invites people to nominate their fave books under a certain 'theme' and I chose TRAVEL.

Zoe then elaborates on the topic by providing wonderful, related ideas that parents and children can enjoy, like music, events and fun projects.

Love your work, Zoe and thanks for having me!

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

An Awesome Book from an Awesome Guy

You may be able to tell I'm a little in love with An Awesome Book by American author Dallas Clayton, least of all because he had the courage to self-publish the book (and has sold 35,000+ copies, just quietly), but even more so for what he's done with the book post-publication.

I've already featured Dallas on KBR here, with thanks to Anna Nilsson from Pencil & Pipette. But I wanted more. So I asked Dallas if he would also respond to my own interview questions and he said yes, so here he is - one more time. You're guaranteed a quiet chuckle.


What's the Dallas Clayton story? I grew up in North Carolina, southeast United States of America. It was a nice place, small and not yet tampered with. I spent most of my youth playing in the woods throwing rocks and bottles, climbing on things that weren't supposed to be climbed on, and trying to escape from my town.

I succeeded at age 18 and currently live in Los Angeles, California. It's a lot like you've seen in the movies here - mostly people in bathing suits riding around on roller skates.

One day you decided to write a book for your son about following his dreams. What was the turning point that made you want to do this? Well I always knew I wanted to write something for my son while he was still young enough to appreciate it so I decided one day to write a kids book a day and An Awesome Book was the first one I came up with.

Did you have book writing experience before this project? Yes, I'm a writer by trade. I grew up writing zines about my life and teenage ideals and selling them to strangers out in front of large events where people gathered to see music and art. After moving to Los Angeles, I began doing this every day and eventually people started liking what I did and hiring me to write things.

Did you ever imagine An Awesome Book would take off as it has? No, honestly I just wanted to write something that I thought would be important. All of the success that has come from it has just been an amazing bonus. You know, when you make something, you can't think about what is going to come of it, just how much fun it will be to make it.

Have you always enjoyed drawing? I was never really a drawer. I've grown up with art and creating things but I always drew as more of a fun hobby. This book was the first time I've ever really drawn anything of any real weight. I never planned on drawing it, I just couldn't find anybody else who would, so I figured... "Okay, I'll give it a shot" Thankfully it worked well and now I have a whole new career.

Where do you think your wild imagination comes from? I guess living a life constantly questioning everything around me - why it works, why it doesn't, who's in charge, what's the matter, and how it could all be better. That's just a guess, though.

Did you approach publishers about An Awesome Book before self-publishing? Well, I made some copies like anyone would and I approached publishers like anyone would and they all said similar things "this is great", "I love it", "it's really inspiring" BUT "we can't publish it."

A lot of publishers are so large and they have so many regulations and channels to making things work - how many pages, what size, what's the marketing going to look like... things of that nature.

After a few months of back and forth, waiting, waiting, waiting, and lots of talk back and forth, I finally just decided to make it myself. I figured people had been making books for thousands of years, it couldn't be that hard? (This was a gross underestimation on my part - ha!)

How easy was it to self-publish this book? At the end of the day, publishing a book is like doing anything you've never done before. Like renting a trailer. You have to approach it like that. You've never rented a trailer but you know that there are trailers and they get rented so you go out and ask around.

Eventually you find some places that rent trailers that maybe work for you or maybe don't (based on size, price, etc). After a lot of looking and asking, you will find the right trailer for you and you will be so glad that you went through all the leg work, because next time someone asks you how to do it, you will be able to tell them EXACTLY how it's done.

So no, it's not easy, but once you do all the hard stuff, you will be so happy that you did.

How many books have you sold? Well, the book has been out a little over a year and we are coming up on 35,000 copies.

Has it been a challenge to promote the book on your own? Was there a moment that really progressed the exposure for An Awesome Book? Not so much. It's kind of magical in that respect. The internet is an amazing place. I've yet to actually do PR for the book; I just put it up on my website and things sort of spread from there. People picking it up, sharing it, telling friends. I can't say exactly how it has happened but I'm glad it has.

I guess if you do something you believe in, other people can tell, and hopefully want to support it. That's what I figure, at least.

I believe Spike Jonze became a fan. Tell us about your blog work on Where the Wild Things Are? Yes, Spike was a fan of the book and my writing so he approached me to put together a sort of online magazine for the feature film version of Where The Wild Things Are. It was a really amazing opportunity. So much fun, such a great chance to push the boundaries of the online form and work with so many talented people.

When did you actually start An Awesome Book and how long did it take you to write? It took me about 10 minutes to write and about 6 months to illustrate. That was a little over a year ago.

How old is your son now and what does he think of the book? He is six. His name is Audio. He is really happy with all of it. It's so great to have him be a part of it, to go to schools with me and help me pass out books, to read with me, just watching the whole thing evolve. And hearing him read it- well you can't beat that.

What do his friends think of the book? Most of the parents at his school I think just thought I was some weird teenager or something, but after the book came out and I got to go to his school and read, all the kids in the school loved it so now everyone sort of looks at me like "oh, you're the guy that writes kids books... great job!" It's like a get out of jail free card.

Will there be a sequel? Yes, many. I finished three books already this year and will be putting them out as soon as I can.

Where did your idea for The Awesome World Foundation come from and what is the philosophy behind it? Well, I'd been going to schools and doing readings and I always found it was weird how people wanted to figure out a way that the kids could buy the book from me. Some schools had vouchers, or suggested the kids bring in money from their parents, wonky ideas like this. And I just sort of thought "I made the book, I just want to give it away".

The last thing I ever want is to come to a school to read to kids and then say something like "Okay kids, who has money to buy this..." That sounds horrible to me. So after going to schools locally and giving out books, I decided it was amazing, so I set up a tour and went across the country reading to schools, hospitals, camps, shops, places like that.

After that, I realized I needed to be giving away books all the time, touring all the time. So I set up the Awesome World Foundation. The mission is simple: for every book sold we give one away. I hit the road, read to kids and give them books, talk to them about their dreams and try to encourage them to dream as big as possible.

What do you hope your book brings to people? I hope it makes them happy. I hope it makes them think about all the bad things in the world that they could make good and all the good things in the world that they could make better. I hope it makes them appreciate anyone who has ever tried to accomplish something even though the world told him/her it was crazy. I hope it makes them want to dream wild, wonderful dreams.

You have developed a huge following. What’s the best thing about the feedback you’ve received for the book? Any time I get a letter from a child that says I've made an impact on them, or an adult in some country I've never been to or someone going through some hardship telling me I've inspired them to keep going - are you kidding!? What an amazing treat.

It's like waking up each morning to the best possible hug from the warmest possible human and having them whisper in your ear "good job yesterday, buddy! Let's go out there and do it again today!"

Describe your most awesome day. Me and my son go to space in a rocket with a bunch of friends. Set up an inflatable moon bounce on the moon, have a bounce party, eat pancakes play a game of football, then we return to find we've been given a check for multiple billions of dollars which we break into bundles of hundred dollar bills and spend the rest of the day riding around on bicycles giving it all away to strangers (might take longer than 24 hours) until it is all gone. Then we eat burritos and cuddle up and go to bed.

Describe your most awesome world. This one minus the bad, plus more hugging.

What five words best sum you up? Stoked x five.

What’s next for Dallas Clayton? Just making as much as I can and sharing it with as many people as I can. Translating An Awesome Book into multiple languages, trying to figure out new and better ways to work with other charities in other countries to give the book to kids. Just keeping it all going, having as much fun with each day as possible!

Selling more than 35,000 copies from his website only, Dallas decided to use some of the profits to set up his own foundation. For every copy of the book sold, the Awesome World Foundation gives a book away to a young person to encourage them to pursue their dreams.

You can WIN a copy of An Awesome Book! Just head to the comp at Australian Women Online.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Pick of the Web, 9 March 2010

Welcome to a little something I'd like to inaugurate on Kids Book Review - a Pick of the Web you can skim through each week- featuring fascinating bits and pieces I find here and there, that I'd like to share.

From interviews to articles to reviews, you'll find some great picks here every week.

If you have a story you'd like to share on KBR, let me know by emailing here!

An Interview with Storyteller, Francie Dillon at The Book Chook
Having struggled as a reader growing up, Francie Dillon can relate to the complexities and barriers that may hinder a child’s interest and desire to read. As a parent, she also knows the demands and struggles of raising a family. Read more...

National Simultaneous Storytime 2010 at ALIA
National Simultaneous Storytime is a campaign organised by the Australian Library and Information Association, in which a picture book, written and illustrated by an Australian author and illustrator, is read simultaneously to children in a variety of venues around Australia. Read more...

Self-publishing: Why I self-publish my books at The Creative Penn
I have been getting a lot of emails recently about self-publishing, so I just wanted to clear up a few points! I also wanted to smooth relations between traditional publishing and the growing indie author movement. I don’t think these two are mutually exclusive – they are on the same continuum. There is room for all of us. We are all bonded by the love of books and reading. So here is my own perspective. Read more...

Travel Stories for Children at Family Travel Resources
We love to read and we love to travel. So we've searched high and low for high quality, stunningly illustrated children's books that will inspire a child to want to read more, and explore often. Some books are specific to air travel, some are magical or make-believe travel, all are about children taking a trip, having an adventure or discovering an exotic land... even when that exotic land is the unexplored natural environment all around us. Read more...

Best Children's Books 2009: The Big List of Lists at Chicken Spaghetti
A roundup of 'best of" lists and children's literature prizes for books published in 2009. Read more...

The Magic of Storytelling at The Book Chook
A baby is never too young to hear stories. Even before birth parents can establish a bedtime story telling or book reading routine. Baby will respond to the rhythm of the words, and the expression in your voice. Read more...

Jumping Off the Page with Social Reading at The Reading Zone
As a sixth grade teacher, I meet many students who immediately profess their hatred of reading to me on the first day of school. While I do everything I can to draw a passion for reading out of them, nothing is more powerful than the recommendation of a friend. Read more...

Share a Story - Shape a Future
Welcome to our annual blog tour for literacy. Through this event, we hope to build a community of readers, by sharing ideas and encouraging each other. Share a Story ~ Shape a Future is, as the name suggests, an opportunity to share ideas, encourage each other, and spread the word about children's literacy. Read more...

CBCA Clayton's Awards Night 2010

So so sooo exciting to be presenting my nominations for the Younger Readers category at tonight's CBCA Clayton's Awards! Can you guess which 6 of the 150+ books I have chosen?

If you are in Canberra and love children's books, sneak in a quick RSVP to Rebecca here. Members free, $10 non-members, includes supper, some fascinating book talk and faux nominations for CBCA Book of the Year.

Can't wait - see you there!

Monday, 8 March 2010

Improve Your Writing in 2010

Want to improve your writing in 2010? This amazingly comprehensive list of resources will sort it for you.

Review: You With the Stars in Your Eyes

Title: You With the Stars in Your Eyes: A little girl’s glimpse at cosmic consciousness

Author: Deepak Chopra

Illustrator: Dave Zaboski

Publisher: Conscious Kids Books (Hay House via Penguin), A$19.95

Format: Hard cover, dust jacket

ISBN: 9781401927110

Type: Picture Book

About: I’ve long been a huge fan of Deepak Chopra, well before his cosmic philosophies and extraordinary grasp on holistic health and wellbeing became ‘mainstream’.

You can imagine, then, how thrilled I was to hear he has released his first children’s picture book – a book designed to open the eyes of little ones, to take in the limitless beauty of a consciousness bigger than our own.

For those who like to keep their feet planted firmly on the ground and find jumping on the cosmic bandwagon a bit of a stretch, never fear. Even if your only God is the pleasure of children’s literature (or ice cream), this book doesn’t aim to convert your children into an orange-robe-wearing sect by page 17.

What is does do, is open the mind. Like the basis behind Chopra’s personal mantra, this book is about connecting ourselves with life. With the world. With the Universe. It is about acknowledging the beauty within – and realising how each one of us makes up a greater whole – and how very special that is.

Little Tara and her grandfather are walking along the beach in the early evening, as the moon peeks over the horizon. When Tara’s grandfather tells her he loves her more than all the stars in the sky, Tara wants to know why.

As her grandfather ponders this weighty question, the moon appears, in human form, on the beach next to Tara and tells her she is loved because she came from the stars – that we are all made from light - and how everything is made of light.

The moon goes on to explain to Tara how light chases away darkness and how the stars have a problem because they have no mirror and cannot see their own beauty, and so they made people’s eyes so they could see themselves in other people's eyes.

A little confused? So am I.

The central message of this book, if I carefully dissect it, seems to be that we are all made of light, that light is love and consciousness, and that we all have the beauty of the stars (life) in our eyes. The author also sends the message that we are all one in the same – and while this idea is absolutely beautiful and vital to impart to our children, the author presents it awkwardly in this book. Alas.

The other disappointment is the illustrations. Although Dave Zaboski is clearly talented, his paintings just doesn’t work in this book. Tara, who is supposed to be six or seven years old, looks like a 45-year-old woman on most pages of this book, making it difficult to connect with the innocence of this ‘little girl’.

The illustrative parts that do work better are the appearance of the sun and moon and stars in human form, and it’s a shame these illustrations aren’t more widely used in the book. What Zaboski also manages to do well is to convey touching emotion in his characters, which helps rescue the portrayal of the central character.

Despite these problems, the message behind You With the Stars in Your Eyes is worth relaying to our children... and most certainly worth relaying to ourselves.

Author website
Illustrator website

This book is available online