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

Monday, 31 March 2014

Review: Rose Under Fire

“I’m going to write it all down in order, the best I can do. I think writing helped me to sleep this morning - at least it tired me out so much I did sleep. I have really missed being able to write things down. I never thought of writing as a luxury or privilege. But of course it is. An unalienable right.”

The award-winning Rose Under Fire starts in 1944, when eighteen-year-old American, Rose Justice is a pilot for the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA) based in Southampton, England. The ATA transports planes back and forth from factories to airbases and elsewhere. It’s a dangerous job, each week an ATA pilot is killed in the course of their work.

Review: PJ's PJs Ebook Series

New from the enormously creative team at Ink Robin is this gorgeous trio of books about young Percival Jenkins (PJ), who enters entirely new worlds when he dons his PJs!

There certainly is something magical about PJ's amazing collection of animal pyjamas. Kids can journey with PJ as he travels all over the world, visiting continent after continent, learning about animals endemic to that continent.

In Giraffes!, PJ discovers what giraffes eat, why they don't like to bathe, and even whether or not they like bicycles. In Koalas! he travels Down Under and in Anteaters!, South America is on the travel itinerary.

With stunning illustrations by Swedish artist Gustav Dejert, there is stacks of tappable fun and sensational sound effects, as well as educational fact sheets at the end of each book.

Another brilliant Ink Robin production. 

The PJ's PJs series by Ink Robin, is available on iTunes. Head here for links to all Ink Robin ebooks.

Guest Post: Leap Write into a Poem!

April is NaPoWriMo (or National Poetry Writing Month), where participants are challenged to write a poem a day. So, to celebrate this great innovation and get you inspired, KBR is delighted to welcome creative writing mentor Karen Benke.

My book Leap Write In! is both an invitation and a creative writing adventure book for tweens, teens and other Earthlings. Since Leap is celebrating a birthday this month, here’s a leap write in challenge just for you. 

Finish reading this post and then turn off your computer and set aside all hand-held devices. Then reach for the nearest pen or pencil, a piece of lined or unlined paper, and invite a small poem to come play on the page. Poems can sometimes be shy, so it’s important to be gentle and kind — both to the poem and to yourself!  

Sunday, 30 March 2014

Review: Tensy Farlow and the Home for Mislaid Children

A baby, born at midnight on a Friday, it is commonly believed, will be able to see ghosts. When a teensy flame-haired baby is dumped in a linen basket on the steps of an ugly old hospital, the combined fates of many become inextricably linked.

While collecting linen from the hospital, mild-mannered Albie Gribble snatches the linen basket and tosses it into the back of his lorry, then heads towards the River Charon, unaware his life is about to be altered forever.

The lorry tips into the river, almost drowning Albie and the baby. Enamoured with the child, he names her Tensy Farlow and takes her home, but his mother, Mrs Gribble, isn't happy. Babies are trouble. Against Albie's wishes, she contacts the Department for Mislaid Children who collect the child.

Review: The ABC Book of Seasons

Seasons come … seasons go …
Sun shines … winds blow … rain falls … plants grow …

This lovely picture book explores the seasons with young readers, focusing on the weather, activities, and colours of summer, autumn, winter and spring. It is wonderful to see a book about seasons for Australian children with words that are familiar – ‘autumn’ instead of ‘fall’ for a start – and activities that young readers will readily relate to – swimming, barbecues with family, playing at the park, picnics and playing cricket and soccer with friends.

Saturday, 29 March 2014

Review: Because of Winn Dixie

Because of Winn Dixie is one of my favourite books of all time. Opal lives in a trailer park with her daddy, the preacher. He looks after the Poor Unfortunates in the world. As luck would have it, Opal finds a Poor Unfortunate of her own to care for in the form of a rather large stray dog that seems to understand everything she says. So begins Opal’s journey in caring for Winn Dixie. But first she has to convince her daddy that they should keep him.

Review: Barking Mad (Lightning Strikes)

Years ago, Walker Books launched a series called Lightning Strikes. Pitched as high action for 8 +, these novellas with short, fast-paced chapters and quirky story lines always glue me to the page.

In Barking Mad, the concept of what might be possible is stretched further than usual. Alex doesn’t like to lose, so when school announces a pet competition, he just has to find a pet that will take the trophy, and fast. He literally walks into the perfect candidate on his way home. No one seems to belong to the dog, so Alex takes him home and that is where the fun and disasters begin.

12 Curly Questions with author Lollie Barr

Photo credit: Katrina James
1. Tell us something hardly anyone knows about you.
I used to suck my thumb. It smelled of mold but I loved it. I’m very lucky that I didn’t end up with bucked teeth.

2. What is your nickname?
Lol. As in laugh out loud or lots of love but short for Lollie.

3. What is your greatest fear?
Being in a cage with 142 rats.

4. Describe your writing style in ten words.
Fast paced, funny, character driven, plot motivated, emotional comedy drama.

5. Tell us five positive words that describe you as a writer.
Imaginative. Laugh out loud. Humanistic.

Friday, 28 March 2014

Review: Lockdown (Escape from Furnace)

I don’t cope too well if I squash a snail by mistake, so any level of violence usually puts me off, but Lockdown grabbed me by the throat and wouldn’t let me go. When a 14-year -old is set up for murder and gets sent to a notoriously cruel prison a mile under the earth for life with no hope of parole I want to know what is going on.

I found out the hard way that this is not a bedtime read. Images of guards with super human strength, dogs that literally kill and eat their human prey and wheezers who walk on two legs, breathe through gas masks, and scream in delight as they choose their next prison victims in the middle of the night, kept me bug eyed for hours.

Review: Cows Say Moo

The iconic illustrations of Graeme Base come alive in this fabulous series of board books for tots, part of the Little Bug Books series.

In Cows Say Moo, little fingers can turn, glossy, sturdy pages and then pull out a concertina-style flap to reveal a full picture and a revelation - Cats say ... Meow. Mice say ... Squeak. Hens say ... cluck.

Lovers of Graeme's timeless work will delight in the full illustration spreads, and kids will adore the onomatopoeia.

Other books in the series include:

Title: Cows Say Moo
Author/Illustrator: Graeme Base
Publisher: Viking, $9.99 RRP
Publication Date: 26 March 2014
Format: Hard cover
ISBN: 9780670077618
For ages: 0 - 5
Type: Picture Book, Board Book

KBR Short Story: My Captain's Bed Adventure

by David Oarr

Listen up me hearties, I was all happy-dance and squeals when mom said I was getting a captain's bed. I imagined the adventures awaiting me, Captain Taylor, fighting sea monsters and finding hidden treasure. I even told Laura—my hornswoggling, land-loving, five-year-old sister—she could be my first-mate. Of course, any talk of mutiny and she’d have to walk the plank. I couldn’t wait.

The bed finally arrived, but there was no navigation wheel, no sail, no plank! I confronted mom and she laughed and explained to me that a captain’s bed is just a dresser with a mattress on top. Ye can’t imagine my disappointment. Worse, there was a huge empty space underneath it. I’m no bedtime engineer, but even I know that a hidden dark place under a kid’s bed is an invitation to every monster in the neighborhood.

Dad's an old salt when it comes to monsters, and he says they're more afraid of me than I am of them--that’s why they run away when I make lots of noise or turn on the lights. But my older brother told me about zombies and it turns out, they’re different. First, they eat brains, and second, they’re not afraid of anything because they’re already dead.

On my first night sleeping in my new captain’s bed, I watched the crevice between my mattress and the wall for as long as I could, but the Sandman got the better of me and I fell asleep.

Later, around the time monsters usually show up, something cold and creepy poked my cheek. My eyes popped open and sure enough, a dead, pale hand—a zombie hand—had reached out from behind the bed.
It was trying to get to my brains through my nose.

I screamed. That didn’t scare it off. I had no choice but to defend myself, so I grabbed the hand and yanked as hard as I could. I pulled so hard I tore the zombies arm clean off and tumbled out of bed, landing on the floor with what Dad calls an earth shattering thud.

The zombie arm and I rolled over and over, locked in a death match, until Dad burst into my room and clicked on the light. That’s when the zombie pulled the old switcheroo and swapped his arm for my arm. Suddenly, it looked like I was fighting with myself.

It had to be the zombie because my arm felt all prickly and hurt like crazy. Ye probably don't know this, but a zombie’s touch is very painful. Dad said I’d fallen asleep on my own arm and then woken up thinking it was a zombie, but he hadn’t been there to see it go after me. Laura called me stink-arm for a week.

I slept with Mom and Dad until we scuttled the captain’s bed. Good riddence! No sane captain wants a ship with no navigation wheel and a zombie infested bilge. Ye been warned.

David Oarr lives and works in Washington D.C., but prefers spending his time in hockey rinks watching his daughter play or at the beach writing middle grade novels. He can be found on Twitter (@DavidOarr) or on the web.

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

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Review: This Way Up

Grace has returned home, but after such a long time living far away, her house and things are no longer familiar. She feels like everything has been mixed up and turned upside down, so she decides to sleep in one of the cardboard packing boxes, which she is sure smells just a little bit like her other house. Will this place ever start to feel like home again?

This Way Up is the story of a girl experiencing all the mixed-up emotions and confusion that a big move can cause in young children. She is moving back into her old house, but nothing is familiar anymore and she doesn’t feel any of the excitement that her parents seem to be experiencing about moving back into their family home.

Review: The Secrets of Flamant Castle

I’ve always been a big fan of the Sword Girl junior fiction novels. Adventure, fun, talking animals, mysteries to solve, ghosts, castles, friendship and a really determined central character who faces each mishap, mystery and challenge head on. What's not to love?

The Sword Girl novels have recently been released in a compilation edition, The Secrets of Flamant Castle, with all six books published during 2012 and 2013 are now available in a single volume. Each story still features the wonderful illustrations by Gregory Rogers present in the original individual novels.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Review: Coming of Age - Growing up Muslim in Australia

I approached reading Coming of Age: Growing Up Muslim in Australia with interest and anticipation, but little expectation that I would personally connect with the stories it contained. I left childhood and teenage years behind some time ago and I am not Muslim, nor do I have any close friends who practice this faith or have it as part of their cultural heritage. I started reading the memoir-style accounts in the book with the expectation of reading about experiences that were somehow distinctly separate to my own.

Instead, I found a book that echoed so many of my memories of being a teenager – the emotional highs and lows, the questions about identity and purpose, the increased influence and importance of friends, self-consciousness about appearance and the shifting of family dynamics.

The twelve moving and powerful personal accounts within the book share emotions, conflicts, goals and insecurities that anyone who has passed through the transition from childhood to adulthood (and those still in the process) will readily relate to. The various contributors discuss their experiences regarding body image, career, faith, family, friendship, bullying, peer pressure, sexuality, gender, relationships and self-esteem as well as the challenges of growing up Muslim in multicultural Australia.

Review: A Straight Line to My Heart

This is the first of Bill Condon’s YA novels that has a female lead role. Set in a small country town with its inevitable quirky characters, we join Tiff as she searches for herself after finishing school. Gentle insight draws us from page to page in a straight line to her vulnerable heart.

Tiff’s family is a little unusual. Bull, her step-brother is old enough to be her father and Reggie, who is ancient, has just diagnosed himself as ‘cactus’. Apart from worrying that Reggie might be right, life is generally good, but there’s a hurt in Tiff’s heart where the dead mother she never knew resides.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Event: Announcement of the 2014 Inky Award Longlist

The 20 books longlisted for the 2014 Inky Awards were revealed by Inside a Dog at the Somerset Celebration of Literature recently. The Longlist announcement includes ten young adult titles by Australian authors and ten by international authors.

Now that the longlist of titles has been selected, the search is on for a team of six teen judges to whittle the list down to ten titles (five Australian, five international). The final winners will be selected by votes submitted through the Inside a Dog website after the shortlist is announced in August 2014.

The longlisted titles are listed below. For more information on how to apply for a position on the shortlist selection panel, visit the Inside a Dog website. Applications close on the 14th April 2014. You can also find links to past Inky Award longlists and shortlists here. 

 Gold Inky Titles
Zac & Mia – A J Betts (KBR review here)
All This Could End – Steph Bowe (KBR review here)
Steal My Sunshine – Emily Gale
The Whole of My World – Nicole Hayes (KBR review here)
These Broken Stars – Amie Kaufman, Meagan Spooner (KBR review here)
The First Third – Will Kostakis (KBR review here)
Every Breath – Ellie Marney (KBR review here)
Fairytales for Wilde Girls – Allyse Near
Run – Tim Sinclair
The Sky So Heavy – Claire Zorn (KBR review here)

Silver Inky Titles 
All The Truth That’s In Me – Julie Berry (KBR review here)
Where the Stars Still Shine – Trish Doller
Seraphina – Rachel Hartman
When We Wake – Karen Healey
Two Boys Kissing – David Levithan
Acid – Emma Pass
Man Made Boy – Jon Skovron
Winger – Andrew Smith
Wild Awake – Hilary T. Smith (KBR review here)
The Screaming Staircase – Jonathan Stroud

For more information about the Inky’s, visit the Inside a Dog website.

Review: The Art of DreamWorks Animation

“When we started Shrek, we wanted to make a fairy tale come to life … as if you opened a storybook and stepped into that world.”

Stories don’t just come in books, they’re also on screen, and here you get to see both combined. The Art of DreamWorks Animation is a visual feast released in celebration of the 20th anniversary of the DreamWorks Studio, and showcasing its thirty movies across more than 300 pages.

Presented in consecutive order by their release date, the movies range from Antz which was released in 1998, through to Home which will be released in 2014. They bookend numerous CGI success stories including the claymation hits Chicken Run and Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit.

12 Curly Questions with author Darrell Pitt

1. Tell us something hardly anyone knows about you. 
I love comic books. I used to collect them and owned a few thousand. Then I sold off most of my collection, although I still have about a hundred left. My favourite characters are Captain America and The Flash.

2. What is your nickname?
Daz or Dazza, although I know one guy who is now starting to call me Pitty. I’m not sure about that. Pitty. It sounds like the surface of the moon.

3. What is your greatest fear?
I have a fear of heights, but it doesn’t stop me from wanting to skydive one day. Fear exists for only one reason — to be conquered!

4. Describe your writing style in ten words.  
Work fast, rewrite carefully, edit critically, read slowly, breathe … breathe …

Monday, 24 March 2014

Review: Bibliocraft

Subtitled A Modern Crafter's Guide to Using Library Resources to Jumpstart Creative Projects, this beautifully-designed book will have any creative salivating--from 12-year-olds to adults.

Penned by a rare book librarian for the New York Public Library, this exquisite collection of projects have not only been inspired by books and libraries, they've been cleverly aligned with delectable Library Speak that will have bookish types similarly salivating.

Event: An Afternoon with Robert Ingpen

Sydneysiders shouldn't miss this opportunity to listen to one of the world's great illustrators speak about the books he has created!

Review: The Firebird Mystery

Jack Mason is an orphan, doing his best to survive in Sunnyside Orphanage, 'the gloomiest place in London'. His parents were trapeze artists who died tragically while performing. All he has to remember them by is a few circus tricks and his lucky compass. Life doesn't look like it has much to offer.

That's until Jack is taken on as the assistant of famous detective Ignatius Doyle. Jack's barely started his training when Ignatius is offered a new case: Scarlet Bell's father has disappeared and the reason could be part of a plot that threatens the future of the entire world.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Review: A Book is a Book

A book is lots of wonderful things. It holds stories inside--sometimes true, sometimes not so true. Books are great to read in bed (but not when they're too heavy). They can be big, small, with pictures or without.

Books can sometimes be chewed by babies (and dogs, too, but not usually). They are found in libraries and school and on shelves--and you can go anywhere inside a book. If you want a horse (*Ella, are you listening?), you don't need to buy one--you can just read a book about them!

Review: Outdoor Wonderland - The Kids' Guide to Being Outside

Parents love any excuse to ship the kids outdoors--and what better way than a beautifully-illustrated book, packed with glorious nature-steeped ideas and activities?

Illustrated by Sendak Fellowship recipient Alice Lickens, this gorgeously-produced book is not only a delight in terms of content, it's a visual wonderland, with a fine combination of illustration, photographs, diagrams and cool typography.

Saturday, 22 March 2014

12 Curly Questions with Louise Elliot

1. Tell us something hardly anyone knows about you. 
I once gave myself a black eye – with a mince pie.

2. What is your nickname? 
My family call me LouLou. It makes me feel like a French dancing girl.

3. What is your greatest fear?

4. Describe your writing style in ten words. 
Short paragraphs, lots of dialogue, plus strong storyline and characterization.

5. Tell us five positive words that describe you as a writer. 
Reclusive, over-imaginative, curious, inventive.

Friday, 21 March 2014

Review: Hunted (Spirit Animals #2)

Book 2 in the Spirit Animal series sees Devin, one of the ‘Marked Individuals’ that have bonded with their spirit animals but have been unable to call them up, turn to dark  methods in order to obtain spirit powers.  Devin becomes the choices he makes and is now a pawn of terror to be used by Zerif.

The four children, Meilin, Abeke, Conor, and Rollan haven’t fully mastered control of their Spirit Animals. In their quest to save Erdas, they join the tattooed Finn on a journey that demands loyalty, trust, sacrifice and unity, if they are to defeat the Devourer. But they are faced with new tests for they have left behind families that need them, and choices must be made.

Review: Urban Outlaws

Meet the Urban Outlaws: five kids who live in an abandoned bunker, deep beneath the streets of London.

There's Jack, a fifteen-year-old technological genius; Charlie, also fifteen and the queen of gadgets; Obi, fourteen and the master of surveillance; Slink, twelve years old and an expert at free running; and Wren, only ten but the perfect decoy or pickpocket.

They're more than friends — they're family.

KBR Short Story: Shadow Monsters

by Vila Gingerich

Sobs rose from the bottom bunk.

Tyler covered his ears and closed his eyes, but Mom’s words sneaked into his mind. Benny’s five, you’re eight. Look out for your brother, Tyler.

He sighed and leaned over the edge of his bed, squinting through the dark at his little brother. “What’s wrong, Benny?”

More sobs.

Tyler climbed down from his bunk to crawl in beside Benny. “Why are you crying?”

“There’s a—a monster in the corner.” Benny curled into a ball and hid his face in Tyler’s chest.

Pale moonlight shone across the bed but left the corners of the room in darkness. Spooky shadows lined the walls.

“See, Tyler? There’s its head with pointy ears. And its bumpy back. And a giant club!”

“Aw, it’s nothing to be scared of.”

“How—how do you know?”

“I was scared of monsters, too, way back when I was little. Then Mom explained about shadows,” Tyler said.

Benny opened one eye. “What did Momma say?”

“Whenever I saw something scary, Mom would lay in bed with me and we’d stare at that monster and talk about it. Pretty soon it turned into a funny shadow.”

“Really?” Benny’s eyes opened wide.

“Yep.” Tyler snapped his fingers. “Just like that. The White Lady—she was really creepy—turned out to be Mom’s bathrobe hanging on the door. Mom shook the robe and it looked like the White Lady was dancing. Boy, we laughed.”

“That is funny,” Benny said.

“Yep, and Bigfoot was awful scary at first. He showed up every night and stood taller than the closet, big enough to eat Dad. You know what we figured out?”


Tyler laughed. “Bigfoot was my teddy bear. When the neighbor came home, his lights shone in my room and threw this huge bear shadow across the wall.”

“Really? Wow. But what about my monster?” Benny asked.

“Simple. Super simple. Probably some toy you left out. Maybe some clothes. Shadows can be anything. Why, one time a horned robot head turned out to be my sand bucket. The horns were my shovels.”

Benny giggled.

“A baby ghost—all white and floppy—was really my underpants, caught on the heater cord!”

Benny laughed so hard he almost fell out of bed. Then he yawned and rolled over.

Tyler lay still, peering into the dark corner. That monster did look awfully real. And the neighbor was long home, so it couldn’t be Bigfoot this time.

Benny pushed his cold feet into Tyler’s leg. “You can go back. I’m not scared anymore.”

Tyler stared at the monster’s club. Was it the shadow of the bedpost, maybe? No, too short. Or Benny’s bat? No, too lumpy.

“Nah,” he said. “Guess I’ll stay with you tonight.”

Benny began making silly sleep noises.

At least he believed it was only a shadow.

Tyler closed his eyes, then opened them. The monster hadn’t moved.

But it might.

He scooted close to Benny and pulled the covers over his head, just in case.

Vila Gingerich grew up reading and dreaming about life beyond her Mennonite community in Midwest, USA. For the last six years she’s lived in Eastern Europe, where she writes, reads, and—yes—wonders what’s happening back in the USA. Find out more at her website.

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

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Review: The One and Only Jack Chant

This book is amazing. It’s the type of book that I dream of writing. It’s a perfectly crafted story with lyrical and emotive prose, interesting, imaginative content, and a theme that is frequently addressed in our society – ending life in a nursing home.

Sixteen year old Amber’s gap year to save money for her Uni fees finds her getting trained in aged care for a job in her town’s nursing home. Surprisingly, she settles into the role very well. There she encounters the gorgeous, enigmatic and damaged Jack, to whom she immediately feels deeply attracted. He’s living with his demons, but living is not what he’s doing.

Book List: Learning About Our World

Young minds are enquiring minds, often asking questions that adults can find hard to answer! So, for the simply curious, the completely bemused and the budding scientists of all ages, here is a selection of books guaranteed to reveal more about our wonderful world.

Planet Earth, part of the First Fabulous Facts series, Ladybird, $7.99 RRP, 9780718193560. (Other titles in the series are My Body, Minibeasts and Dinosaurs.)

Review: Waiting for Hugo

Hugo loves to count things. Even though he is only almost four, he already loves numbers and is fascinated by counting – steps, bags, shoes, balloons and even trolleys at the supermarket. Hugo REALLY loves to count.

His sister isn’t impressed. Hugo’s need to count everything often makes them late. Sometimes little brothers can be very annoying, but sometimes (just sometimes) their annoying habits aren’t quite so bad after all. Fortunately, Hugo’s counting does have its advantages, as our young narrator discovers when her parents reveal that Hugo was busy at the school fair counting competition, winning a huge jar of jelly beans for his efforts.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Review: The Simple Things

When Stephen and his parents visit Aunty Lola for a whole three weeks, Stephen discovers that people you’ve never met before, even ones who are scary and grumpy, can be family. Everything Aunty Lola does is a bit unexpected, and her world seems full of secrets. When you think she’ll get mad, she hugs, and when you are just being yourself, she gets cross.

This is Stephen’s journey into the unchartered world of relationships. It’s a fact that eighty is really really old and that is how old Lola is going to turn, but how can you have a party if she doesn’t tell you who her friends are? And what about the secrets she has locked away in the back of the shed?

Review: Monkey and Me

When we meet Beanie, he's nine years, eleven months and seven days old. And when our story ends, he's nine years, eleven months and thirteen days old, but a LOT happens in that week!

Beanie, whose real name is Jez, is the kind of kid I just wanted to hug. He's smart, funny and innocently oblivious to the impact of his leukaemia on the people around him.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Review: Ugly

Ugly is found in the adult section of bookstores but it is really for everyone. A giant tumour distorted Robert Hoge’s facial features at birth to such an extent that his mother refused to look at him. His legs were twisted and useless. Robert’s story of his years of struggle and triumph from birth to adulthood, supported by his family (including his mother) opens doors to understanding disability.

But Ugly does more than just tell a story. Robert makes his journey personal and shares everything as with a friend. He is brutally open about what hospital, school and home life held for him, yet he is also disarmingly honest about his feelings, which are not always what you would expect.

Review: Annie's Snails

Annie is a little girl who loves snails! In fact, she collects four of them to become her pets, and names them Kate, Ally, Tom and Harry.

Annie is very gentle with her pet snails and does her best to look after them well. They get to slide over her, leaving sparkling snail trails. She enjoys watching them race — very slowly! — and after she writes the initials of their names on their shells, so she can tell them apart, she finds she can even spell words with them!

12 Curly Questions with author Bill Condon

1. Tell us something hardly anyone knows about you.
I worked as a real estate agent for one day. I was sacked when I tried to talk customers out of a sale, because I thought the cost was too high.

2. What is your nickname?
I'm not cool enough to have one.

3. What is your greatest fear?

4. Describe your writing style in ten words.
Stumbling. Bumbling. Crumbling. (That's all I could think of - writer's block.)

5. Tell us five positive words that describe you as a writer.
Found that too hard. Here's one positive sentence about me as a writer: I always try to write for at least an hour, before resorting to plagiarism.

Monday, 17 March 2014

Review: Horrible Histories - Junior Editions

The Horrible Histories books have been educating children (and adults) about world history for more than 20 years with their engaging blend of historical facts and humour. While kids laugh out loud at the silliness and get grossed out by many of the aspects of life in other times, they are learning a wealth of information about everyday life and significant people from various stages of history.

The popular Horrible Histories TV Show (and travelling stage show) have added to the fan base for this fantastic series, drawing in a younger audience thanks to the very entertaining performances and bite-size pieces of history.

Review: Lamby Lamb

Every parent knows that reverse psychology is a valuable tool when it comes to persuading a child to do something. And in this delightful picture book for the very young, award-winning illustrator Chris Raschka proves just how effective it can be!

Interview: Bill Condon

Kids' Book Review is delighted to share some thoughts by award-winning Australian author Bill Condon, interviewed here by KBR's Development Editor, Jo Burnell. Bill's latest book, The Simple Things, is a story for younger readers published by Allen & Unwin.

Your latest book The Simple Things for younger readers is so gentle and heartfelt, yet you are best known for your YA novels. Having won the Prime Minister’s Literary award for Confessions of a Liar Thief and Sex God in 2010, and been short listed in the CBCA awards for Dogs, No Worries, and A Straight Line to My Heart, what draws you back to writing for younger readers?

I think as I’ve grown older I’ve become more mellow. (It’s either that or mildew.) My first forays into YA were tough and uncompromising but by the time I got to A Straight Line to My Heart in 2011 I felt like writing something more upbeat. Life can be miserable enough without me helping it along by writing gloomy books.

I wanted to write something happy and hopeful and that’s how The Simple Things came about. I’d had the idea for several years and very slowly it took shape. To be honest, another reason for writing it was that I thought it would be a lot easier than tackling a complicated YA novel. I was wrong. I had to do a few complete rewrites of it, changing the tense and the age of the main character each time. But as it was basically a cheerful story, I didn’t mind at all.

You never shy away from difficult subjects. In Give Me Truth, your approach was hard hitting and your voice, one of a teenager struggling to cope. In Confessions of a Liar Thief and Sex God, readers will find it hard not to smile from the first chapter and yet, the topics you cover aren’t light. Now, in The Simple Things, learning to get along with grumpy relatives as well as the heartache of growing old are laid bare. What advice would you offer those trying to find a balance between covering tough topics and keeping the reader hooked?

Most of the time when I’m writing I have little idea of where I’m going or what I’m doing. It’s always a struggle for me. That’s the main thing I’d like to share with people who find writing difficult. All writers have the same problem, so please don’t give up.

As to finding a balance and something to keep readers hooked, all I can suggest is that writers keep their work honest. Don’t have your characters doing things or saying things just to be clever. Keep it real so that readers can relate and get emotionally involved with what’s happening.  One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever been given is to ‘kill your babies’. Don’t be precious about your writing.  If it doesn’t work, hit delete.

I use lots of dialogue and I’m lucky as that comes fairly easy to me. A tip about dialogue is to say it aloud to yourself as you’re writing it. If something jars you’re bound to notice. The risk is that you’ll be thrown into a padded cell, but you get used to that after a while.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Review: The Intern

Josie Browning dreams of a career in journalism and it looks like she’s on her way when she scores an internship at glossy fashion magazine Sash. She just has to survive the transition from country town to living in the big smoke with her cousin during the week, fight it out with two other interns for the permanent position and try to get through each day without embarrassing herself, but really, how hard can that be?

Life doesn’t go quite as smoothly as Josie hopes. Working at Sash is more about ironing discarded clothing and fetching coffee than writing insightful articles about hard-hitting topics. The days are long, the pay is short and the competition between the interns means Josie can never really relax. Even the silver lining of her cousin’s gorgeous flatmate loses its shine when Josie discovers he has an equally gorgeous girlfriend.

Can Josie prove that she has what it takes to be a journalist amidst all the drama?

12 Curly Questions with author Gabrielle Tozer

1. Tell us something hardly anyone knows about you.
I was once invited to audition for a TV show and, during my screen test, I experienced the most epic brain freeze that has ever been experienced by a human being. Ever. I was so nervous I could barely remember my own name. Needless to say my TV career was over before it began.

2. What is your nickname?
I have lots! Gabby, Gab, Gabs, Gabster, Booti, Boots, Grabby, G-Unit, G, G-Mac, G-Tozer, McMills, Mama, Mrs Tozer, Mrs T … I was even nicknamed Colin when I was in Year 12.

3. What is your greatest fear?

ClichĂ© but it’s spiders. I’m so, so scared of them. I’m also too petrified to do forward-rolls, handstands and cartwheels! (Fun fact: I’ve sky-dived once and go on roller-coasters at theme parks, so my fears don’t always make sense!)

4. Describe your writing style in ten words.
Warm, fun and punchy, with a hint of the ridiculous.

Saturday, 15 March 2014

Shout Out: Crack the Books Educational Apps

Crack the Books is a series of educational books, in app form, that have been developed in collaboration with several US universities. The result is apps that deliver a truly exceptional learning experience.

Bookish Places: Lu Rees Archives of Australian Children's Literature

The Kids' Book Review Bookish Places posts are a chance to celebrate museums, galleries and other places with a connection to children’s literature and reading. The posts are compiled by KBR's Consultant Librarian, Sarah Steed.

The Lu Rees Archives of Australian Children’s Literature is a comprehensive collection of more than 25,000 Australian children’s books in a wide range of languages, plus original artworks and unique research materials.

Lovers of children’s books will be thrilled at some of the things to be found in the Lu Rees Archives, which has recently shared some of its treasures through exhibitions and events like the Festival of Australian Children’s Literature (Boundless and Showcase). The Archives continues its work with the generous support of the National Board of the Children’s Book Council of Australia, the University of Canberra Library, and a dedicated band of volunteers.

A big thank you to Dr Belle Alderman, Emeritus Professor of Children’s Literature and Director of the Lu Rees Archives, for answering our questions and sharing her passion for children’s books through this hidden gem.

You’ll find the Lu Rees Archives at the University of Canberra Library, in Bruce in the ACT. It is staffed part-time, so if you’re planning a visit we recommend that you contact them in advance.

The Lu Rees Archives is a collection of national significance. Tell us how it came to be.
Lu Rees was the inaugural President of The Children’s Book Council of Australia ACT in 1957. She achieved many things during her leadership including weekly reviews of children’s books in The Canberra Times, arranging overseas exhibits and exchanges of Australian children’s books with several overseas countries, and establishing the Christmas Book Appeal. She believed that there should be a collection of Australian children’s books and reviews about them that was easily accessible. She knew that teachers and librarians would use such a collection, share what they discovered and inspire children to love books.

Librarian's Shelf: Not Just Novels

Having a balanced reading 'diet' is valuable, although sometimes parents worry that a child, often a boy, prefers non-fiction to fiction. That's okay, reading is not just about novels; non-fiction is good, too! As long as they're reading and curious about the book's contents, they are learning, expanding their vocabulary, and developing interests.

Non-fiction doesn't have to be boring, and done in the right way, it can be informative and incredibly entertaining (the popular Horrible Histories series is a perfect example). Many non-fiction books offer small chunks of information in an easy-to-read, and easy-to-remember, way that aids learning. The best non-fiction books also have a good-mix of words and visual elements.

Non-fiction can tap into something that excites your child, linking them with books about existing hobbies and interests; it can provide a way to engage with new subjects that might not otherwise be explored; and can hook reluctant readers into books via subjects that grab their attention.

Non-fiction covers an enormous and diverse range of topics. It’s often interactive, and easy to browse and come back to on a regular basis.

Check out a selection of a few of our more recent non-fiction reviews below:

Animation Studio

Bug Bingo

Cars: A Pop-Up Book of Automobiles

Compost: A Family Guide to Making Soil From Scraps

Explore! The Most Dangerous Journeys of All Time

History of Britain and Ireland

Pluto's Secret

Sarah Steed is our Consultant Librarian and reviewer. A former Children's and Young Adult Librarian, she has more than 18 years' experience working in public libraries. Sarah comes from a family of readers and has shelves full to bursting with books.