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

Friday, 30 April 2010

Author Interview: Helen Ross

Who is this talented person? Helen Ross

What does she do? She's an author.

Where can you check out her stuff? misshelenbooks.com

What’s her story? Where to begin? I’ll keep this brief. Graduating in January 1978 as a Primary teacher, I loved encouraging my primary school students to develop their imagination and creativity through story telling, creative writing, art, music and drama.

However, since my teens, I had always felt that there was something in me trying to get out. A passion - something that I not only enjoyed but was good at (even if I had to work at it). Consequently, in my search for ‘that niche’ I tried most things – silver jewelry making, tap dancing, drama, African dancing and the list goes on……

Thinking I had discovered ‘my niche’, I then spent three years studying drama part time, but little did I know that a poet was soon to be born. More will be revealed as you keep reading.
I also won first prize (Children’s poetry category) in the 1993 OZ waves Award and University of Queensland Press Book Prizes for my humorous poem, Magpie Mania.

How long has she been writing? Over 25 years. However, I used to make up songs on my guitar as a teenager, and used to write stories with my students when I was a primary teacher – many moons ago. So when I think about it, the interest, in one format or another, has always been there.

What genre does she write in? Presently, children’s stories or giggle rhymes.

What other genres has she written in? I completed a Diploma in Writing in 2000 with The Writing School (formerly NSW Writing School) and studied travel writing, script writing, fiction, non-fiction, articles, screen plays, radio scripts, children’s writing, etc. Consequently I have written something in each of these genres, albeit up to four pages.

I enjoyed script writing so plan to develop some story ideas from the above course submissions. Also, I never thought I’d be interested in writing a novel. ‘500 words is a novel’, to quote Clark Gable from the movie, ‘Teacher’s Pet’ with Doris Day. But I was a winner in the 2009 NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month ie. writing 50,000 words in a month – yikes!) and I discovered I loved being in the novel writing zone. I wrote a murder thriller. No one will ever get to read it as it WAS THAT bad but I loved being in that zone so I am currently working on some story ideas.

Why does she write? It is addictive and I enjoy it. Also ideas continue to tumble in my head so I have to write them down. I can’t go anywhere these days without seeing a story idea, or a poem, etc. I have pens and notebooks everywhere.

What made her decide to write children’s books? At 29, after breaking up with my first fiancé, and then being occupied with a new found romance, I found myself neglecting my night drama classes and spending time alone writing ‘heart felt’ poetry while waiting for the phone to ring. Yes, pitiful!

I remember one weekend, with some time on my hands, having the urge to write some humorous children’s poems. My cat seemed to be a very attentive audience so I figured they couldn’t have been too bad. Soon after, I sent these poems (in story book format) out to approx six/seven children’s publishers, and although I received rejection slips, I did receive some very positive feedback and decided to keep on writing.

Also, I just love children’s books.

How did she learn to write poetry? As I went. Also, in 2007 I was awarded a local RADF grant (Regional Arts Development Fund) through the Queensland Govt/Arts Qld and my local Council, to undertake further professional development in the area of writing children’s picture books. Thus I was mentored by Dr Virginia Lowe as part of her Create-a-kids’ book e-course - www.createakidsbook.com.au. Manuscripts I wanted to work on, as part of the course, centred around short stories, and rhyming poetry. Virginia and her husband, John have helped me immensely - analysing interpretation, rhyme and metre.

I have also learnt about rhyme and metre and interpretation from Jackie Hosking. She is an Australian writer/poet, children’s writer, and editor, compiler and publisher of PASS IT ON. She also has her own rhyming manuscript editing service which is just wonderful. She is a great rhymer (versatilityrhymeandrhythm.blogspot.com and jackiehoskingpio.wordpress.com).

I have also completed poetry workshops at QWC (Queensland Writers Centre), and read a lot of different types of poetry.

What does she love about writing poetry for children? The variety in styles: lullabies, nursery rhymes, haiku, daimante, cinquain, rhyming poetry, non-rhyming poetry, metrical, free verse, bush ballads, raps, limericks, sound poems, verse novels, to name just a few.

Children’s poetry (like any poetic forms) can take you on a journey (short or long), pull at your heart strings, be pure fun and nonsensical, a mode of teaching through metaphors and similes, used for language development, or be a means of creating artistic pictures. Children also love quirky, as so I, so I love making children laugh, and finding out what tickles their funny bone. Children’s laughter is infectious. When they laugh you know it is genuine.

Tell us a bit about the creative process. When it comes to poems or short stories I generally start with a paper and pen. Generally speaking I first start with an idea – I write the idea, verse or whatever is the seed, as it catapults in my brain. If it is a poem I write it as it flows from my brain onto the page. I don’t edit. If I have time at that moment (ie. I am not in the middle of a shopping aisle) I will then work on creating a story shape.

As my published work to date has been short picture book stories I tend to work on a paragraph or verse at a time, once I have got the essence of it down. If I am stuck for a rhyming word I use rhymezone.com to assist me. I don’t give myself deadlines as sometimes one verse or paragraph can give me trouble for months till I get it right (or years as is the case of my latest children’s book, 10 Yellow Bananas). I also create a story board (using a sheet of A3 paper) and sometimes do a mock up of a book using folded A4 paper, to place the text into a 32 picture book format.

I then can see if there are any weaknesses in development of the story/poem and how it could fit into the expected page format. When I am happy with it, I will then have it appraised by Dr Virginia Lowe or Jackie Hosking. I also like to get children to read it to gear its potential. If I am stuck I ask Virginia to help me.

If I am trying to create a new story where an idea hasn’t first tumbled into my head, I usually ask myself ‘What if?” and take it from there. From working with Dr Virginia Lowe, and undertaking writing workshops I now spend more time on finding out more about the characters, their likes, dislikes, etc. etc. and toss around potential story themes. I use character cards, story line cards, etc. and I place these on a large storyboard to help me. Sometimes I use the mapping technique on a large whiteboard.

What made her decide to self-publish her books? To me, embarking on the self publishing journey was/is about creating choices. When I first started writing I believed I had potential, and as a former primary and kindergarten teacher I had a pretty good idea of what appealed to children, generally speaking.

Also, when I first started writing all those years ago, I didn’t want to spend the possibility of months and years sending manuscripts to publishers and receiving rejection slips in the mail. I knew it was, and still is, very difficult for a first time/unknown author to get published. Nevertheless, I can’t say that I was disillusioned with the publishing industry as back then, I only sent out about six or seven children’s book manuscripts. However, I must add that when I remember the presentation of these cover letters and the manuscripts I sent out, I still cringe a little.

Also I didn’t want to be dependent on a publisher deciding whether my book was marketable or not (when I believed there was a market for my style of writing). So in March 2006 I published my first book, Ten Yellow Bananas and followed up with my second book, Santa is in the Chimney in September of that year. I wanted to prove the books had sale potential.

Self publishing in 2006 gave me the opportunity to get out there, learn about the different facets of the industry (publishing, marketing, distribution, etc.) and the importance of networking.

Starting up my business Miss Helen Books in 2006, and having two books published gave me the opportunity to apply for the abovementioned local RADF grant. I was able to prove that I was a professional writer wishing to undertake further professional development in the area of writing children’s picture books. Self publishing my first two books gave me that opportunity.
In 2009 and 2010 I partnership published with Little Steps Publishing, Division of New Frontier.

New Frontier is a well respected mainstream, albeit a small independent publishing company in NSW. Partnership publishing with Little Steps gave me confidence to prove that there was merit in my work as Little Steps Publishing (an imprint of New Frontier) only publish manuscripts that they would love to publish (under New Frontier) but unfortunately can’t afford to due to their limited budget. So they offer excellent partnership opportunities.

Does she remember the first story or giggly poem she ever wrote? Yes, I do.

‘Mr Whippy
One, two, three
Mr Whippy
You’re not he.’

I was about nine or ten years old when I made this ditty up at home one weekend as part of a tag game I was playing with my sister, and a friend. I was so pleased with myself, thinking I had made up a new tag chant. However, my pleasure soon turned to disappointment. I turned up to school next day to find the exact verse being recited for tag games. Bummer! Years floated by until I wrote my next poem.

I was studying drama part time. As part of a drama assignment I had to write and ‘perform’ a poem, or piece about an animal, as selected by a ‘lucky dip’. My animal was the gorilla and so I penned my first poem, Lulu, the gorgeous gorilla. By this stage I was about 27 years of age.
And I have been hooked on writing ever since. Damn, you can probably work out my approximate age now.

I also did a lot of creative writing at high school, and I used to write stories with the pupils in my primary school classes. I always remember the words that my English teacher in Form 5 often wrote at the end of many of my stories: Helen, great ideas but you need to organise them better.

What are the greatest blocks or obstacles she has experienced on her writing journey? Believing in myself, and realising that you can’t please everyone. And Rome was not built in a day.

What does she love most about producing books for children? Seeing the smiles on the children’s faces when they enjoy my story, and also the lovely feedback from teachers and parents. Also, receiving great reviews for my books, and feeling that I am contributing to children’s enjoyment of literature.

What advice would she have on writing children’s stories? It is not as easy as you think. Yes, ideas can flow freely, and there will be writers who will find the process easy. However, order of information and use of the right word is important. You also need to be able to look objectively at your work ie. Does it make sense? What is missing? Do I need to include this or that? Just don’t be too precious about your work if it means that improvements can be made. Get another opinion (or two, or three). Many writers make the mistake of trying to describe everything, but the illustrator is a vital ingredient in adding or supporting the text in a children’s picture book, or even creating a sub plot or story. I definitely recommend reading lots and lots of different types of children’s books, reading books on writing for children, and enrolling in a children’s writing course. It is such a learning curve but extremely enjoyable, and rewarding but also hard work.

If she couldn’t be a writer, what would she be? To date, I have had a variety of careers and occupations and I am of the belief that you are never too old to do or try anything, or embark on a journey of realising a dream. Yes, I realise that there are circumstances preventing this such as age (in some cases), finances, physical and mental health, etc. Also I believe in choices (again there may be some barriers as above.) So, in the life that I have now created, I choose to be a writer because that is where my passion lies.

When I left high school I became a teacher because I didn’t know what else to do, and I forgot to attend an interview for an arts school course. But I don’t have any regrets because I believe it is never too late to become involved in new passions (again bearing in mind the above barriers). And the number of children’s writers/poets who were, or still are teachers, is unbelievable – a rite of passage, so to speak.

If time allowed I would also pursue my other loves – acting, and impressionist painting. I also want to learn French, and the saxophone.

What are her most favourite things to do? Reading (variety of genres); blogging; research; anything arty/crafty; painting in oils; impressionist art; glass painting; movies (love French films, or English speaking films set in Paris, black and white movies, old Australian movies, the classics, etc.); doing coffee with friends, listening or dancing to music (especially French music or salsa); travelling; playing with my beloved animals (two adorable but heavy 17 month old cats, a gorgeous blue heeler, a 16 year of Labrador -just adopted, and one budgie). I don’t like birds in cages but again he was a descendent from two budgies we adopted. I can’t bear to see animals neglected or abandoned, so my husband and I take them in.

What books did she read as a child? I loved The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Charlotte’s Web, A A Milne, and read all of Agatha Christie’s novels. I still have my collection. I particularly loved murder mysteries (still do), hence Agatha Christie. I also enjoyed Alice in Wonderland and Dr Suess books.

What are her favourite children’s books of all time? Mmmm. I am still discovering gems. All of the above, and I just love Stephen Michael King’s stories and illustrations. I am immediately attracted to the quirky. Also anything by Shaun Tan and Graeme Base. I know there are lots of others but don’t have room to add all of them, and my memory has gone a little blank.

What did she like to play as a child? Spies, dress-ups and anything make believe. And lots of art and craft. From an early age I have always enjoyed painting, drawing, most art and crafts, the theatre, music and reading. I won my first drawing competition in grade 6 for designing a sausage sizzle poster. I used to spend hours in my bedroom drawing, and making crafts, particularly Salvador Dali like surrealistic sculptures out of old clocks, and witches out of corn of the cob skins from Mum’s home produced corn patch (the latter creations were a bit smelly, especially after sitting in my dresser drawers for months).

What would be her perfect day? I should say, any day that I wake up is a perfect day. So beyond that, my perfect day is when I can just concentrate on writing, letting the creative juices flow. Also perfect days are when I make lots of sales. I currently work full time as an ESL TAFE teacher, so am juggling a number of activities.

So, if I thought beyond my life now, the perfect situation would be me as a successful full time writer who receives regular ‘large royalty cheques’ in the mail (big call but let me dream). I can then organise my own day and have regular time to catch up with my wonderful friends, plus a little time out to enjoy some of my other passions.

What five words best sum her up? Determined, creative, hard-working, compassionate, friendly.

Thanks for playing along, Helen!

Check out our reviews of Helen Ross' books, 10 Yellow Bananas and Bubble Gum Trouble and Other Giggly Poems.

Thursday, 29 April 2010

Review: Leaf

So, how can a wordless picture book make you weep? I guess that is the sheer power of pictures. And sentiment, cleverness and talent. Enter Stephen Michael King and Leaf.

This prolific and well-respected author received a very unsurprising nod from the Children’s Book Council of Australia, with an Honour Book sticker, proudly prominent on the cover of Leaf.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Illustrator Interview: Tom Lintern

Who is this talented person? Tom Lintern

What does he do? He's an illustrator.

Where can you check out his stuff? tomlintern.com

What’s his story? I grew up in small suburbian town called Stow, Ohio. Typical American kid. I loved sports, movies and of course, drawing. I didn't really excel in art or any classes growing up and was a bit directionless but fortunately ended up going to college for Graphic Design which actually helped my skills and kept my interest in illustration.

After college, I worked full-time as a web designer but didn't feel it was my calling so I moved to LA with some friends to start my illustration career. My plan was to get a sci-fi comic book off the ground. That never happened but what eventually did happen is, through collaborating with other people, I ended up doing artwork for friends' film projects, which eventually got me into storyboarding independent films and eventually TV commercials for companies like McDonald's, ESPN, Norelco etc.

Finally, after five years in LA, I moved to NYC and in the process of looking for storyboard work I ended up getting my first job as a children's book illustrator!

How long has he been illustrating? Professionally? About three or four years. Started off as a storyboard artist (which is basically pencil drawings of camera shots). My first picture book job started about one year ago. As a hobby I've been drawing since I was about five or so. I really took a liking to it right away, so even as a kid was drawing for hours at a time.

His first children’s book, The Tooth Fairy Meets El Ratón Pérez, has recently been released. What made him decide to become involved with children’s books? I've always liked illustrating anything imaginative and The Tooth Fairy Meets El Ratón Pérez had a dreamlike feel to it. I love illustrated stories in general no matter what age group. The reason I wanted to work on this book in particular was because I liked the story and saw that there was lot of room for creativity. I thought it would be a lot of fun, which it was!

What does he love about illustrating for children? In terms of illustration, children's books have the least rules and the most room to be creative. They're also so important for children's development and getting them interested in reading so if as an artist I can inspire some of them, that'd be amazing!

What other illustrating work does he do? I draw storyboards for TV commercials, and I've always got my own little projects. I've been developing a sci-fi comic book for about 10 years! (on and off as hobby :)) Also at the moment, just for fun, I'm working on a short animation based on another book I did last year for Tricycle Press called The Cold Water Witch.

Why does he do what he does? Bottom line its just a lot of fun! Drawing is just a way of creating whatever ideas come into your head and the better at it you become, the more addictive it is.

How did he learn to illustrate? Self-taught mainly. I did take a couple classes in college which helped me in a couple areas but the vast majority of what I know comes from experience.

Tell us a bit about the creative process. Certain ideas just pop up right away and I'll sketch them out and it feels right almost immediately. Other parts of the art develop as I move along. Most of the scenes I figure out in the sketch phase of the project. The character designs seem to take me the longest to get right. I usually have a general idea of what I want, and then every time I draw them they develop bit by bit until a little personality finally starts to shine through.

The design of El Raton Perez in this story didn't come along fully until a week before the final art was due!

Does he remember the time he realised he had this talent? I had a knack for drawing at a very young age. I didn't think I thought I could do it as a career until Senior year of college. I was 22.

What are the greatest blocks or obstacles he has experienced on his illustrating journey? I think every artist has their strengths and weaknesses. Partly because I was self-taught I think it took me a while to to get my art to a point where it could get me work. So at times it was tough, just hanging in there and not giving up.

What advice would he have on illustrating children’s stories? Learn as much about art as you can! The wider range of experience you have the better. Learn about commercial art, film art, classical art. Learn about perspective, anatomy. Learn different mediums, including digital. Sometimes a project or class that might not be your favorite thing in world might teach more than the ones that are. And of course, draw as often as you can!

If he couldn’t be an illustrator, what would he be? Designer/animator.

What are his most favourite things to do? Being with friends and family, exploring NYC , drawing.

What are his favourite children’s books of all time? Where the Wild Things Are.

What did he like to play as a child? Kickball, army men, t-ball, arcade games.

What would be his perfect day? Explore a new part of NYC, work on some art, meet up with some friends.

What five words best sum him up? Mellow, artist, curious, inspired, independent.

Kids' Book Review will soon be featuring a review of The Tooth Fairy Meets El Ratón Pérez.

The book is available online

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Review: Giraffes Can’t Dance

Title: Giraffes Can’t Dance

Author: Giles Andreae

Illustrator: Guy Parker-Rees

Publisher: Orchard

Format: Softcover

ISBN: 1-84121-565-1

For ages: 3-6 years

Type: picture and rhyme book

About: Our soft-back version of this book is dog-eared which in our household symbolises deep and abiding love. I was delighted to see that a smaller hardcover version of this beloved book has made its way into print. It’s destined to survive a great deal longer in our home!

This story is about a giraffe called Gerald who can’t dance. At least he can’t dance very well. As a result, he gets teased by the other animals. After a devastating encounter at the local 'Jungle Dance', he is laughed out of town.

With the guidance of a wise and gentle cricket, Gerald learns to listen to the sounds around him and to his own body, and is able to dance so well that the other animals are left in awe.

The message of this lovely rhyming tale is that it is okay to be different and dance to the beat of our own drum.

The book is delightfully illustrated with rhinos who rock and roll, lions tangoing, and baboons performing a Scottish reel. The humour appeals to adult and child alike.

The rhymes makes for easy reading and children will love and laugh at the pictures showing animals doing all manner of unusual things. As well as the message about being brave by doing brave things, the story is a wonderful tool for teaching about the damage prejudice can do.

- this review by Sarah Pietrzak Author website

Illustrator website

This book is available online

Monday, 26 April 2010

Review: Fair Skin Black Fella

So lovely to witness work in print by a young author, especially one so invested in the indigenous issues facing many young Australians. Renee Fogorty originally wrote the manuscript for Fair Skin Black Fella as a year 12 project and now spends her time painting Aboriginal art and abstract work.

Review: Bubble Gum Trouble and Other Giggle Poems

Title: Bubble Gum Trouble and Other Giggle Poems

Author: Helen Ross

Illustrator: Dee Texidor

Publisher: Little Steps Publishing, $16.95

Format: Paperback

ISBN: 9781921042997

For ages: All ages

Type: Picture book

About: The first poem in this collection, Cats in the Toilet Paper, sets the tone for the rest of the book, making you want to curl up with your little one for a good belly laugh.

A line-up of hilarious verses, one after the other, Bubble Gum Trouble is a book you can all just sit back and enjoy. From the charmingly bizarre (There’s Something Growing in my Cup), to counting fun (One Hundred Indians) and quirky observations (An Egg for Breakfast), this is a set of poems that will keep you coming back for more.

And every member of the family will have their favourite (mine is A Chocolate Cake to Bake – this is a girl after my own heart!).

Each poem is accompanied by vivid, fun, colourful illustrations that add to the appeal, putting faces to the cheeky characters and scenes so well described by Helen Ross. But that doesn’t mean this book is cluttered with colour and pictures. There is still plenty of white space, making it easy to read and giving it a modern feel.

Ross’ gorgeous poems are a great way to introduce young children to poetry in a way that will appeal to kids of all ages.

Author website

This book can be bought online

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Author Interview: Roland Harvey

I am personally thrilled to welcome Roland Harvey to Kids Book Review. One of my most beloved children's authors, it's been an absolute joy chatting with Roland about his writing and illustrating journey. Enjoy this sensational interview.

Who is this talented person? Roland Harvey

What does he do? He’s an author/illustrator.

Where can you drool over his stuff? rolandharvey.com.au

What’s his story? I grew up in Kew, Melbourne. My mum and dad were both what we now call graphic designers; mum worked freelance and dad was an art director at a big printing company. Dad had been in the 1st World War and then the Great Depression, and then got run over by TWO big trucks in Collins Street, and spent 18 months in hospital. My mother worked at home, and designed some great Australian icons: the Crown Lager bottle and label was one.

They wanted me to become a 1. Doctor, 2. senior public servant, 3. printer’s apprentice, in that order. I wasn’t smart enough to do any of those, so after a number of dumb uni courses including advertising, I did architecture. I loved it, but there wasn’t much work, and I think I was interested in the people part of it more than doing grand buildings that didn’t improve society.

I started illustrating to pay the bills and got hooked.

I started publishing Christmas cards and then books and ended up with a publishing business called The Five Mile Press.

What came first in his life – the writing or the illustrating? Illustrating came first, but I did pretty well at writing at school and uni. I tried to integrate the two in my books. I did my first book at age eight… a book about the forest, complete with bits of fern and logs and lyrebird feathers. That was in about 1953. The other part of my career started in 1978.

Why does he draw? Love drawing, never stop learning and improving, find it is the key to understanding things. If I can draw it, I must understand it.

What made him decide to pen children’s books? I wanted to tell some stories in an interesting way. To make people aware of history, and science and the world of nature. I wanted to bring those things to life for kids.

What does he love most about producing books for children? I absolutely love the drawing and painting part; and I learn a lot with each new book. I will be very happy to keep improving my watercolour for the rest of my life. The book I’ve just finished, by Mem Fox, is one I’m quite pleased with.

What’s his process – does he write a book first or illustrate it first? Both! Sorry. But It depends on the book. I do like to work out a way of telling a story – the illustrations, diagrams, cross-sections, etc., and then writing around it.

The text may be minimal, weaving through the pictures (as in Tassie to the Top) or in blocks or panels or anything that articulates the story in the most useful way. It might require condensing the text to just a few lines or even words, and I try to make the picture give a context and explain the words. And vice-versa! Often a little joke will say more than a lot of words.

I don’t want to make things too obvious; I want to make you wonder, and have to work it out. All the while, I am looking for ways to be self-indulgent with my painting. I want to push my own boundaries and do new and better paintings every time. It doesn’t always work, but that is how I get my kicks.

At The Beach was the first in Roland’s glorious series of children’s books featuring stunning, eye-swamping illustrations. What inspired him to write it? It was a great idea from Erica Wagner at Allen & Unwin, which became something else. I’d had a series of disastrous events and didn’t quite know what I was going to do next when she rang and it gave me some focus. It was an opportunity to tell some of the stories – in pictures - of the life of adventure I’ve had with my family.

I think it is a really important experience for people growing up to learn to make do; to get wet, cold, hot, scared; to have to work out how to get through a difficult situation. And it makes your mushroom and rice dinner taste a whole lot better.

It gives me a buzz now to see my 25-year-old daughter Jane working in Arnhem land with Indigenous kids, training them to document their ancient stories and archive them for future generations. She had been to a posh ‘young ladies’ school and turned her back on a life of glamour and fashion and luxury. She’s very happy doing it, too, which I enjoy greatly.

What are the greatest blocks or obstacles he has experienced on his book writing journey? I can’t really work when someone is telling me what they want me to do. I suppose it comes down to letting me interpret for myself what is needed for the project.

Another real block is confidence. I need to feel good about the others involved, and that they have confidence in me. I need to know that ‘everything’s all right’ and the kitchen is clean, the bills are paid and someone has paid my tax bill.

The other thing is: I am really a performer! I need an audience, a market! I need feedback. I need a good editor/publisher/ friend to bounce off. I talk to friends like Bob Graham and Ann James and my wonderful partner Annabel and my kids. It is a big part of keeping a belief in what you are doing alive.

What’s a typical writing/illustrating day? My day depends on what I am working on, and with whom. So I will describe my ideal day:

Wake up 6am.

Cup of tea.

Run around park with friend or Annabel, ride with her to her work (15km) , do some exercises, ride home. Get a few jobs done, like plant a few grasses and trees or fish for an hour or so.

By now I feel guilty and rush to the studio to do some work.

Check emails, get important ones answered, hopefully some stimulating ones in there like offer to do the History of the world on i-Book.

Then get down to the reality of my current project. Warm up with some silly drawings and get into it.

Get out somewhere for lunch; probably some leftovers or chicken by the river.

Work again; maybe a meeting with a publisher, jotting down the odd idea/joke/word in my little book, for example:
“Coincidental: When two people have exactly the same teeth.”
“Coincide: When two people enter a building at exactly the same moment.”
“Coincidence: When two cars back into the same tree at the same moment”

I’ll use them somewhere, sometime.

When is he at his most creative? When there is a supportive, appreciative environment and a clear need for what I am trying to do, ie: there is real problem to be solved, where my contribution will mean something to the outcome, and be respected.

What advice does he have on creating great children’s books? I take the word great fairly seriously.

Humour and respect for the reader are important. Unlike my answers, simplicity is really good.

Work on originality and develop concepts that have some relevance to and challenges for kids in our culture. I am not sure that will make sense. It is me being idealistic!

Understand design, styles of art, some underlying philosophy, and contribute to a direction for Australian culture (what we would like it to be).

Be convinced that kids can and need to grasp difficult ideas, and to develop ideals. They need to get equipped to handle the propaganda of the commercial world, of advertising, of politics, the sometimes unrealistic expectations of parents and schools.

How has the children’s literary scene in Australia changed in the past decade and where is it headed? There seems to be a refreshing group of new young writers and publishers, at the same time as the established publishers are becoming more commercial. It seems to me that the blockbuster and the bum have displaced the innocent children’s book in all but the best bookshops.

If he couldn’t be a writer/illustrator, what would he be? I’d like to be capable of being a political activist of the green persuasion, or live on a boat and do docos on the wild places of the world, or have a little music venue with very good food and adventure tours in a book-friendly town by the coast.

Or design hot and cool things that would make the world a better more eco-friendly place; maybe an eco-village.

What books did he read as a child?
Winnie the Pooh
The ‘Eagle’ Annuals (from England)
The ‘William’ series by Richmal Compton
The ‘I-Spy’ Nature Science books (UK again)
Enid Blyton of all sorts
Disney comics
Whatever was available.

What are five of his favourite children’s books of all time?
Midnite (Randolph Stowe)
The Shrinking of Treehorn (Florence Parry Heide)
Wind in the Willows
Peter Pan
Max (Bob Graham)

What else does he like to do other than write books?
Music, singing, playing stringed instruments.
Cooking and Asian food.
Birds, fish, the sea, rivers, the outdoors, boats, exploring, bushwalking.
Painting and drawing.
The Australian landscape, conserving indigenous culture.

What would be his perfect day? Wake up, smell the sea, maybe the tide changing making a new sound, bringing new smells; catch a fish at daybreak, run 5k along the beach and swim, have breakfast with my girl Annabel and the kids (Borlotti beans, rosemary, lemon juice, tomatoes, egg, garlic, mushrooms, rocket, goat fetta Olive bread toast, coffee) and have a few laughs… make a plan for a trip to Laos in August.

Then… talk up some new projects, maybe a book, maybe a housing development for young people, affordable, sustainable, exciting… speak to publishers about next ideas.

So, now it’s 9.30am, go sailing to somewhere new, anchor off, have lunch (fresh fish, crayfish, salad, home made bread, crisp white, fruit).

Wow! It’s already 12pm and I haven’t been windsurfing yet so I jump on a board with a newly sprung-up 30 knot breeze and blast across the inlet for an hour followed by a bit of big wave stuff (that bit is wishful thinking).

Go home. Terry Denton, Bob Graham and Ann Spudvilas have called in and we discuss our latest projects and decide to get active on a couple of political fronts. We have a glass of wine and I do some work on my current book; an interesting challenge which will push the boundaries of conventional publishing (and good taste).

It is 2.45pm now and I work until 4.05 when some kids call in to tell me they have seen a whale off the point (which is unusual in North Fitzroy). And they’ve also seen some really wild mushrooms. We go and discuss how to paint these exciting things, and then I send them off to do their homework.

I work until Annabel rings and I ride down to meet her. We ride home and cook up a nice little seafood pasta and go to a play/film/pub. It is late, so we ride home (again) and I spend two minutes answering my fan mail, play guitar with Annabel on the deck and a glider possum zaps about telling us to get to bed.

I go for a quick sail in the moonlight and bring home a couple of fish for breakfast tomorrow. The breeze has picked up and I can smell a storm coming, so we tie the boat securely, put the stormboards on the chookhouse, and put Francis our pet pig in the spare room.

I send out a weather alert to the neighbours and other shipping, and listen to Beethoven as I drift off to sleep…

What five words best sum him up?

What’s next for Roland Harvey? I’ve just finished The Little Dragon and I’m very pleased with it. I want to follow that with a strong book, probably Ned Kelly. It might be a graphic novel. It might have a music component. It might be an iBook.

And maybe some more of my active kids books.

I have a few simple ideas, one of which is a book in defence of pigs, maybe a non-pork cookbook. Non-meat. Non-polluting.

I’m interested in starting a ‘Painters in the Park’ group, hoping to subvert a threatened freeway in the iconic Heidelberg School area near us.

Also, getting a venue going for young people like me to have a good night nearby with music and good food and art and literature…

There are also some grander-scale projects of the hi-tech variety which I find very exciting… I would like to have more of my perfect day…

Don’t miss the launch of Roland’s new book The Little Dragon in October/November 2010. And make sure you check out his gorgeous website, where you can download free Christmas Cards this Christmas! I’m so there! - Ed

CBCA Book of the Year Shortlist 2010 - Early Childhood

Continuing on in this blog post series showcasing the CBCA's 2010 Shortlisted books, I'm delighted to reveal a little more about the Early Childhood category. Here you will find book covers and a synopsis or two, allowing you to revel more deeply in the talent that was shortlisted this year.
Be sure to check the other categories at this end of this article - more being added soon.

See the CBCA website for more information on Australia's incredible children's literary talent, as well as a list of Notable Books.

The Wrong Book
by Nick Bland (Scholastic Australia)

Nicholas Ickle is trying to tell a story, but he keeps getting interrupted by characters from other stories-a pirate, a queen, even some monsters! To get a chance to tell his story, he has to convince the others that they are in the wrong book. Read out loud for maximum fun!

by Christina Booth (Windy Hollow Books)
Mrs. Bea knows Kip is special... but the neighbours do not think so! What can Mrs. Bea do when Kip discovers his crow?

The Terrible Plop
by Ursula Dubosarsky (Viking)
illustrated by Andrew Joyner
From award-winning author Ursula Dubosarsky and illustrator Andrew Joyner comes an irresistible new picture book about a little rabbit who learns that some things in life aren't as scary as they seem. Based on a Tibetan myth, a sound in the forest sets all the animals running for their lives from the Terrible Plop. Children will be charmed by the wonderful zany energy of the illustrations and the rollicking rhyming story.

Clancy & Millie and the Very Fine House
Clancy has just moved house. He is missing his old house terribly - the new house is much too big and much too lonely. How will he ever make it his home? As despair takes hold Clancy hears a small voice. Soon, Clancy with the help of his new friend Millie is building towers to the sky and trains to the street outside, and together they build the home that Clancy thought he had lost forever. 

Bear & Chook by the Sea
In a follow-up to the delightful Bear and Chook, the two lovable characters continue their adventures. Bear and Chook are unexpected friends. Bear still likes adventure and Chook would still much rather have the quiet life!
One day they decide to go and visit the sea. Chook is worried that they don't know the way and will get lost, but Bear is confident they will find it just around the pond, under the bridge, through the forest and over the mountain!
A wonderfully warm read-aloud story about the dreamers in life and those who wish they'd sometimes keep their feet more firmly on the ground.


When a new baby is born it′s difficult to tell if it will grow up to be big or small or brave or scared of the dark and spiders. sometimes babies get the wrong name. It′s the same with dogs.

So when the Claybourne-Willments, who should have been called the Smiths, got Fearless as a little puppy, it seemed a good name for him. Except Fearless wasn′t. How does Fearless finally live up to his name? By accident, of course!


Saturday, 24 April 2010

Review: Sparkly Touchy Feely Fairies

This book is designed to appeal to virtually all the senses. It is a riot of colour, fabric and is complemented by a simple, yet effective narrative that describes the role of the different fairies, ranging from the Treetop Fairy to the Night Fairy.

The book is accompanied by overlays of various fabrics. They have clearly been carefully selected to encompass a diverse range of touch sensations, and equally, help to broaden the visual appeal of the book. Little girls and boys can touch the gauzy fairy wings; feel the sandpaper quality of a passing dragonfly and the spongy nature of a colourful toadstool.

Friday, 23 April 2010

Author Interview: Elizabeth Mellor

Elizabeth Mellor is a friendly, quietly spoken lady with an obvious passion for what she does. And she does a lot.

Professionally, Elizabeth is a social worker and therapist who has spent much of her time working with families, couples, parents and those who have experienced trauma in their lives. Now, she works mostly with other professionals, from psychologists and social workers to teachers, training them in handling such things. She works with her husband, Ken, with whom she has also written four non-fiction parenting books, providing advice on the emotional development of children.

Aside from this, Elizabeth writes (her non-fiction work, plus two novels: Oscar’s Way, published in 2002, and Bushfire in 2010), paints and teaches meditation. These are the things she credits as 'feeding' her. In fact, she never imagined she would even be writing non-fiction, as she loves the creative side of telling stories through her fiction and painting.

Having lived in the Dandenong Ranges for many years, including through the Ash Wednesday fires in 1983, and now based in country Victoria, fire is something Elizabeth has had to deal with for most of her life. She was stuck at home, alone, for thirteen hours during a terrifying firestorm in 2002. She didn’t choose to stay, she said, the fire came along so quickly she “had no choice; I had to stay”.

Then came Black Saturday in 2009. This was a devastating event in Australia’s history, the worst fires ever experienced in the state. This time, although the fires were close, Elizabeth’s home was untouched. But she herself wasn’t. “Everyone was touched by it; it was permeating the atmosphere,” she says, and she and the people around her community all knew someone affected.

It brought back some terrible memories that had to come out. She was also concerned about the children and teenagers involved and wanted to do something to help them. And so Bushfire was born. The first draft took six weeks to write, with Elizabeth describing herself during that time as "completely anti-social”, taking every spare moment between her work and other commitments to write.

In my chat with Elizabeth, we spoke about the way an idea can hit – “usually at 3am” she laughed – and the lack of control a writer has over the direction of her characters. Whilst writing Bushfire, Elizabeth was at times so surprised by the development of her characters that she “had to take a walk for a couple of hours to get over it”.

I asked Elizabeth if she would have any advice for other writers. “Write. Read. Spend time with people in that age group,” she suggests. She also says that, as a reader, she can always tell if a writer has written as an expression of who they are. If they haven’t, she is left cold. “Be true to yourself as a writer and a person. The rest follows.”

And what does she read? A huge variety: from Jane Austen and other classics, to mystery and fantasy genres, Anne McCaffrey and Nicole Mones. She immerses herself in a mass of children’s books, currently loving Gabrielle Wang, the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series by Rick Riordan and John Flanagan’s Ranger’s Apprentice books.

So what’s next for Elizabeth Mellor? Even she is unsure: her ideas are 'unpredictable' she says, and she has interests in so many different genres and subjects. Watch this space.

To purchase Elizabeth Mellor’s latest novel, Bushfire, head to bushfirebook.com.au.

Read my review of Bushfire.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Review: 10 Yellow Bananas

Title: 10 Yellow Bananas

Author: Helen Ross

Illustrator: Dee Texidor

Publisher: Little Steps Publishing, $16.95

Format: Paperback

Language: English

ISBN: 9781921042898

For ages: 4-8

Type: Picture book

About: "Ten yellow bananas, clutching teddy bears, race through the doorway, then nine sleepy pears..." So begins the story of ten different fruits involved in a frantic, crazy chase. Led by the ten yellow bananas who stole the nine pears' teddy bears, we follow them as they gather lemons, apples, cherries, pineapples, kiwi fruit, grapes, watermelons and one little berry. But watch out for the near-disaster at the end!

With Helen Ross' signature of laugh-out-loud, clever rhymes, this book takes children on a reverse-counting escapade that should come with a warning: kids will want it read to them over and over and over again.

The other beauty of the story is the educational aspect. Young children will love naming the different fruits, and as they grow older they will recognise the colours and then begin counting with you.

To be honest, I wasn't going to review this book just yet. It arrived in the mail today and my plan was to look at it over the weekend and then post a review next week. But then my daughter spotted it. The cover is completely irresistible to any child, with its bright colours and beautifully expressive fruit faces. And this follows right through the book, adding to the charm of the rhyme and the pace and fun of the adventure.

And then, once I'd read it myself, I just had to share it with everyone straight away!

Please note that this is a review of the 2010 release of 10 Yellow Bananas, which is slightly different to the original 2006 version.

Author website

This book can be bought online

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Author Interview: Felicity Marshall

Who is this talented person? Felicity Marshall

What does she do? She’s an author/illustrator.

Where can you check out her stuff? felicitymarshall.com

What’s her story? I live and work in Melbourne and also spend a lot of time in Anglesea, where I also like to work in between long beach walks. I have worked in the film industry for about 17 years, been an art teacher at an art school and also worked in a school library. I have two grown up children.

How long has she been writing? Truthfully, it all started in childhood where I was surrounded by journalists and horsey, country people, who all loved telling stories. But I seriously started to put things together about 10 years ago when I did a course in Writing for Children, and my tutor was Hazel Edwards.

What genre does she write in? I mainly write for children. Probably middle primary and up.

What other genres has she written in? I have written an adult non-fiction book My Brush with France, which has almost been published – twice!!

How long has she been illustrating? I guess it would be about 13 or so years now. Book covers firstly, then whole books.

What illustrative style does she prefer? I tend to draw and paint fairly realistically, but I LOVE other styles that I don’t use myself, such as stylised funny illustrations in Babette Cole’s books, or extremely simple illustrations found in Japanese and Korean books, or the amazing collages of Jeannie Baker.

I also like working in lino cuts and scraper board and have done some work in that technique.

I paint in oil on canvas and do large portrait commissions which are very different from book illustration. They are often about 6 feet wide.

Felicity’s new book – The Star – combines a wonderful story with glorious illustrations. What impassioned her to write it? Is Marion modelled on anyone? I had noticed the rise of the celebrity culture all around us – in newspapers, magazines, television. We are almost force-fed the latest on who is the richest, the thinnest, the fattest, the most stylish, the least stylish, their marriages and divorces.

Young people are very tuned in to this and I have become aware of the fact that many of them aspire to ‘fame’ as an end in itself, not something that is the result of outstanding achievement in some form of human endeavour. The ‘Big Brother’ type of fame. The fame that Andy Warhol referred to when he said that ‘In the future, everyone will be famous for 15 minutes’.

Marion is not modelled on anyone in particular, but will probably remind you of aspects of certain celebrities. She is inspired more by the ones who did not sustain their fame but whose rise and demise inhabit the tabloid newspapers and magazines - aspiring starlets who are but a flash in the pan, and who often have a meteoric rise, and then disappear in humiliation after providing tabloid fodder for the public’s insatiable hunger for peeping into the lives of celebrities.

This is very much a modern phenomenon. You won’t see anything about this in a novel by Jane Austen!

The Star is certainly timely in a world of instant and fleeting fame. What message is she hoping it sends kids? I want kids to have real substance to their lives. Real friends, real aspirations, real love, and to be able to discern between the substance of true accomplishment (often invisible) and the illusion of hype (always visible, often without substance)

Why does Felicity write? To quote Bob Dylan ‘I got a head full of ideas, that are driving me insane’. I have to get them on the page. The same with painting, and so on.

What made her decide to write and illustrate a children’s book? I have wanted to do this since I was about six. We did not have a television, so I read everything in the local library and loved illustrated books.

Does she remember the first story she ever wrote? Not really, but I think it was about a pony and a ballerina - my two favourite things when I was growing up.

What are the greatest blocks or obstacles she has experienced on her writing journey? Lack of confidence at times, and lack of time and energy when I was a single working mother.

What does she love most about producing a book for children? The process. Working with the editor. Watching everything unfold and then come together. Seeing a child read it for the first time and ask me totally unforeseen questions.

What advice would she have on writing children’s stories? Be true to yourself and your own ideas.

If she couldn’t be a writer, what would she be? A ballerina (although I know how tough that is) or a gardener/farmer. I love watching things grow and being surrounded by animals.

What books did she read as a child?
‘The Good Master’ by Kate Seredy
‘Huckleberry Finn’ by Mark Twain
The ‘Billabong’ books by Mary Grant Bruce
The ‘Eloise’ books by Kay Thompson Illustrated by Hilary Knight
‘Thimble Summer’ by Elizabeth Enright
‘Robinson Crusoe’ by Daniel Defoe
‘Treasure Island’ by Robert Louis Stevenson
‘Tess of The D’Urbervilles’ by Thomas Hardy

What are five of her favourite children’s books?
‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar’ by Eric Carle
‘Tomorrow When the War Began’ (series) by John Marsden
‘Would You Rather’ by John Birmingham
‘The Arrival’ by Shaun Tan
‘The Homecoming’ by Cynthia Voigt

What does she love doing other than writing and illustrating? My children, beachwalking into the horizon, gardening ‘til I drop, cooking up a storm, knitting and cryptic crosswords (together!).

What would encompass her perfect day? Sunshine in the day for me, rain in the night for the land. Full moon at night is magic.

Mangoes for breakfast, then lots of tea and probably locally made bread toasted with a boiled free range egg on the side, and perhaps a little home made apricot jam on that toast (I am SO into yummy food!).

Then this would be followed by a long walk on the beach exploring rock pools, find random weird things and watch sea birds and surfers. Have a cappuccino and some very nice cheese and fresh tomatoes and basil on rye bread for lunch.

Paint in my studio for a few hours. Spend the afternoon with my daughter Katie and my son Leo cooking up fabulous organic veggies ( I grew purple carrots this year – what a blast!) from the garden, and maybe some fresh fish or mussels, followed by a delicious dessert that includes cream. (It is so great to have an excuse to write about food - I could easily do this full time!!)

There would be some of my friends there at the meal and we would LAUGH a lot. Play some great music or better still - go out and watch a live music show. Fall asleep listening to the Tawny Frogmouth in the tree outside my bedroom as she hoots quietly. Her name is Sally Forth.

What five words best sum her up? Observant, discerning, nature-loving, fun-loving, loyal.

What’s next for Felicity Marshall? A screenplay adaptation of ‘Sage’s Ark’ with scriptwriter Alison Tilson, and an exhibition of paintings at Qdos Gallery, Lorne in 2011.

Kids Book Review will soon be featuring a review of The Star.

Keep an eye on Felicity’s website and Ford Street Publishing for news on some more happenings with her The Star characters - Marion, Harley and Polka. There’s much ore will be revealed! As for me, after enjoying Felicity’s interview, I’m hoping her next topic will be about food! - Ed

Review: Bushfire

Title: Bushfire

Author: Elizabeth Mellor

Publisher: The Awakening Network (Palmer Higgs), $17.95

Format: Paperback

Language: English

ISBN: 9780646528915

For ages: Teen to young adult

Type: Fiction

About: The bushfires that raged through Victoria in February 2009 began on a day of extreme heat and catastrophic fire conditions amidst a drought, now known as Black Saturday.

The fires were devastating to so many individuals, families and communities, with 173 people falling victim to the flames, 5,000 injured, over 2,000 homes destroyed, as well as all the farmlands, properties and animals involved. The worst fires in Victoria’s history left death and destruction in their wake, with thousands of people left to heal and begin their lives again.

Mellor’s novel, Bushfire, aims to help teenagers and parents in their struggle to come to terms with the effects of fire, rebuild their lives, grieve for loved ones and, most of all, to just survive the whole thing.

Her realistic narrative takes us along as Ruby and her parents experience the fire, fighting to protect their property and themselves amidst this danger. They then discover that not everyone in their community has had the same luck. Mellor shows us the power of people sticking together, friendships and families going back to their most basic survival skills as they help each other come to terms with the lives they must now say goodbye to, and move onto the new existence they need to begin.

We are shown the admirable work of volunteers within such organisations as the CFA and the Red Cross, the ways in which grief is faced and the ways in which nightmares and ongoing fear grab hold of the minds of the survivors. This is not an experience that is quickly forgotten or recovered from, and Mellor gives us a realistic account of this process.

Her background as a social worker and counsellor, in addition to being based in country Victoria and experiencing the terror of a bushfire in 2002, gives her an intriguing insight into the lives of those affected by Black Saturday.

For me, as a Victorian living in a bushfire-prone area (not affected by Black Saturday), this book had a profound effect. The quick, short, paragraphs of the novel, combined with the quick lead-in to the fire reminded me of the actual events of that weekend. The fires spread with unprecedented speed, leaving everyone in shock with the announcements and statistics being broadcast by local radio stations.

Bushfire brings fire into the story just as quickly and, whilst knowing it is coming, the reader is left feeling a little unprepared for the speed of it all. This mirrors the sequence of events on the actual day.

This is an important novel that helps readers face the grief and suffering, followed by the eventual healing process, involved in a tragedy like Black Saturday. An accompanying guide for parents is available free online (bushfirebook.com.au), as are the contact details for organisations who can help people deal with difficulties and prepare for bushfires.

- this review by Megan Blandford of Writing Out Loud

Read Megan's interview with Elizabeth Mellor here.

Author website

Teachers' Notes/Parent Resource

This book can be bought online

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Review: Rhino Neil

Title: Rhino Neil

Author: Mini Goss

Illustrator: Mini Goss

Publisher: New Frontier, A$24.95RRP

Format: Hardcover

ISBN: 978 1921 042300

For ages: 2-6

Type: Picture Book

About: The first thing that strikes you about Rhino Neil is the stunning colour and gorgeous illustrations. Kids have an innate adoration of animals and these beautifully constructed illustrations are not only true to life, they are filled with character, texture and charm.

Author/illustrator Goss must have had a wonderful time creating this book, jammed with a zoo-ful of adorable characters, centering on the lonely and totally misunderstood Neil (love the name). Big, cumbersome, scary-looking, poor old Neil is ostracized by the other animals who are totally convinced he’s a perfect hazard to their wellbeing.

The giraffes think he might spike them. The antelopes think they’ll be trampled. The ostriches are sure they’ll be squashed flat. At all costs, the animals and their families must steer clear of Neil.

Then one day, an enormous truck arrives, and out of that truck emerges something even bigger, even scarier and with an even bigger bottom! What could it be? A friend.

While the other animals hightail it to the hills, our lovely hero Neil finally learns he is not too big, not too cumbersome or scary. There are plenty bigger than him and there are plenty who can understand him and love him just the way he is.

Lovely subtle messaging, gorgeous illustrations and a heart-warming ending make this book a pleasure to read with kids. It also makes one think about the impact that intolerance and misunderstanding can have on anyone who ‘stands out’ in any way.

Thank goodness Neil learns he is perfect just the way he is.

Author website

Teachers' Notes

This book is available online

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Review: Where is the Green Sheep?

There are some books I place carefully away from the small hands of my eighteen-month-old daughter, only for reading with an adult, in the interests of preserving the book in one piece. And there are others that I leave within her reach: sturdy board books that she can flick through whenever she likes, or bring to me to indicate she wants us to read a story together. Mem Fox’s Where Is The Green Sheep? falls into the latter category, and so our copy is rather tattered and worn – the signs of a well-loved, favourite book.

This is the beautiful story of a search for the green sheep, told in a series of lovely sheep rhymes and fun repetition (‘But where is the green sheep?’) that will have your child repeating the question as they grow to remember the words. Children are taught concepts such as up and down, scared and brave and near and far, as well as colours and shapes and various other concepts.

Monday, 12 April 2010

Review: I Think, I Am!

Title: I Think, I Am!

Author: Louise L Hay and Kristina Tracy

Illustrator: Manuela Schwarz

Publisher: Hay House, A$24.95RRP

Format: Hardcover with dustjacket

ISBN: 978 1 4019 22085

For ages: 3-7

Type: Picture Book

About: The ultimate queen of positivity and zest for life, Louise L Hay, has penned a children’s book centered on the scientifically-proven idea that affirmative thinking has the power to change lives, and – indeed – create literal, physical outcomes that can benefit both individuals and the greater world.

I Think, I Am! opens with a note on the difference between a negative thought and a positive affirmation, and how children can capture negativity and turn it around. It encourages children with a variety of scenarios in a fairground setting.

When a little girl is waiting in the long entrance queue, for example, she begins to think the line is sooo long, she will never get into the fair. On the opposing page, we see a full page illustration of the girl inside the grounds and enjoying the fair, having changed her negative, grumbling thought into, “I make today great!”

A variety of children in different shapes, sizes and colours are used through the book in other scenarios. When a little boy holding a green apple eyes off a row of toffee apples dipped in sprinkles, he momentarily laments his luck before thinking, “I am grateful for what I have,” as he shares his fresh apple with some farmyard piglets.

Each double-page vignette continues to encourage children to see their thoughts for what they are, and take control of the way they perceive life and their place in it. In a world where children are increasingly lamenting and ungrateful for what they already have, this book is a precious way to help kids understand that the way they think creates their reality.

If kids can learn to automatically gear their minds towards positive leanings at a very young age, they’ll have an enormous psychological headstart in life, that’s virtually certain.

With special tips from the master on the best way to do affirmations, this lovely book, packed with bright illustrations, is a beautiful way to teach kids the power of words and the unlimited potential of thought.

Author website

This book is available online

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Book Chook Review of Riley and the Dancing Lion

Huge thanks to the Book Chook for a fantastic review of Riley and the Dancing Lion! I love Susan's informative and highly creative site and am thrilled to be featured.

Review: Blue Chameleon

Title: Blue Chameleon

Author: Emily Gravett

Illustrator: Emily Gravett

Publisher: Pan Macmillan, A$26.99RRP

Format: Hardcover

ISBN: 978 0230 704244

For ages: 0-4

Type: Picture Book

About: I’m a big fan of Emily Gravett and her latest book for very young kids is another triumph. Blue Chameleon is a gorgeous hardcover book featuring the divine, humour-packed and utterly clever illustrative stylings the author is known for – this time in the form of a charming little chameleon.

Chameleon is blue. He is feeling sad and lonely. As he changes colour and pattern to match the various critters and objects he encounters on his search for a friend, it’s not only his outward appearance that runs the gamut – it’s also how he feels.

Excited, hopeful, curious, down-hearted; chameleon’s attempt to find a friend and ‘fit in’ comes to a resounding and happy conclusion when he finds someone who finally understands him.

Clever, subtle, fun and beautiful, this is a priceless Gravett book for tiny ones who love funky books packed with wit and charm. Even the publication data has been cleverly modified into the shape of a chameleon, for goodness sake. The best.

Author website

This book is available online

Friday, 9 April 2010

Review: The Goat Who Sailed The World

This is the story of a goat and a young boy on board The Endeavour, experiencing the voyage of a lifetime as they sail around the world. From Tahiti to New Zealand and finally in search of The Great South Land, Isaac and the Goat form a friendship founded on trust, mutual loneliness and the sharing of extraordinarily difficult times.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Review: Sarah's Heavy Heart

I have a new book love. It’s Peter Carnavas, and the whimsy and divinely subtle emotional messaging in his work is once again showcased in Sarah’s Heavy Heart.

Poor Sarah’s heart is so heavy, it’s difficult to cart around. On the bus, in the playground, at school. Riding her bike is near impossible and forget taking a bath. It’s also tough to sleep at night. A heavy heart is a burden indeed.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Review: The Boy In The Striped Pajamas

Auschwitz, 1943. Nine-year-old Bruno does not like this place: he is far away from his three best friends and the big home in Berlin. All he has is his twelve-year-old sister but she is, he informs us, a ‘Hopeless Case’. Out of loneliness and boredom, Bruno sets out to explore along the mysterious wire fence, where he meets the boy who will change his life.
Shmuel, in his uniform of striped pyjamas, is on the other side of the fence and the two strike up an unusual, secretive friendship as they find common ground in two vastly different lives. Both are nine years old, a time of learning about the world around them. A difficult task for any child, but this pair has a lot to take in, and neither one understands what the adults around them are doing.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

CBCA Book of the Year Shortlist 2010 - Younger Readers

Huge congrats to all the shortlisted authors for the Children's Book Council of Australia's Book of the Year. You can see the shortlisted books on the CBCA website, but here's a rundown of the nominees in each category, with book cover and some book blurb. Enjoy every minute. More categories coming soon and you can see Older Readers here.

Matty Forever

by Elizabeth Fensham (Penguin)

Bill and Matty are neighbours. And best friends. Together they share their deepest, darkest secrets and lean on each other when things aren't right at home.

Bill is missing his father and having a hard time at his new school. And Matty is realising that her family is not quite the same as everyone else's.

But when new girl Isabella decides she wants Bill all to herself, Bill and Matty discover what true friendship means.

An enchanting story of friendship, acceptance and trust from one of Australia's favourite storytellers.

Darius Bell and the Glitter Pool

by Odo Hirsch (Allen & Unwin)

The Bell family's ancestors were showered with honours, gifts and grants of land. In exchange, they have bestowed a Gift, once every 25 years, on the town. The Gifts have ranged from a statue to a bell tower with stained-glass windows, but now it's Darius's father's turn - and there is no money for an impressive gift. It looks as though a wheelbarrow full of vegetables is the best they can do.

Darius is determined to preserve the family honour, and when an earthquake reveals a glorious cave, with the most beautiful minerals lining the walls, he thinks he's found the answer...

A wonderfully satisfying novel - fun to read, thought-provoking and wise. See my review here.

Running with the Horses

by Alison Lester (Penguin)

Ten-year-old Nina lives with her father above the palace stables at the Royal Academy of Dancing Horses. She loves watching the famous white stallions as they parade for the crowds, but her favourite horse is an ordinary mare called Zelda - an old cab horse Nina often pats on her way home from school.

When Nina's world changes dramatically, she and her father have to flee from the city. Their journey over the mountains with Zelda and the stallions seems impossible, with danger at every turn... See my review here.

The Whisperer

by Fiona Mcintosh (Angus & Robertson)

Griff is an ordinary boy, working at a circus - but he has an extraordinary ability. He can receive people's thoughts, although in an unfocussed way. When the circus master decides to exploit this talent, disaster ensues.

Griff decides to escape, taking fellow circus member Tess and her magical creatures with him. Meanwhile Griff is hearing a cry for help from Lute, the Crown Prince of the realm, under attack from his uncle Janko, who wants to rule in his stead. Escaping from Janko's clutches, Lute encounters Bitter Olof, a bandit with a long history, and Calico Grace, captain of the pirate ship Silver Wind.

With allies both magical and human, Griff and Lute must reclaim their inheritance and discover the truth behind their mysterious communication.

Pearl Verses the World

by Sally Murphy (Walker Books)

At school, Pearl feels as though she is in a group of one. Her teacher wants her to write poems that rhyme but Pearl’s poems don’t. At home, however, Pearl feels safe and loved, but her grandmother is slowly fading, and so are Mum and Pearl.

When her grandmother eventually passes away, Pearl wants life to go back to the way it was and refuses to talk at the funeral. But she finds the courage to deliver a poem for her grandmother that defies her teacher’s idea of poetry – her poem doesn’t rhyme; it comes from the heart.

Tensy Farlow and the Home for Mislaid Children

by Jen Storer (Viking)

Dumped in the River Charon, hunted by an accursed river creature and betrayed by the wicked Matron Pluckrose, Tensy Farlow is in mortal danger. She has no parents. Worse still, she has no guardian angel.

When she is thrown into the Home for Mislaid Children – a gloomy orphanage where ravens attack, Watchers hover over your bed, and even the angels cannot be trusted – it seems that all hope is lost.

Yet could it be that a plucky, flame-haired orphan with a mysterious past is precisely what this dark world needs?

See the CBCA website for more information on Australia's incredible children's literary talent, as well as a list of Notable Books.

CBCA Book of the Year Shortlist 2010 - Older Readers
CBCA Book of the Year Shortlist 2010 - Early Childhood
CBCA Book of the Year Shortlist 2010 - Eve Pownall Award
CBCA Book of the Year Shortlist 2010 - Picture Books