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

Saturday, 31 May 2014

Review: Darcy Moon and the Deep-Fried Frogs

Darcy Moon has a few problems to solve.

Firstly, there’s her parents. How can she make sure that the other kids at school don’t realise her parents are so strange? Her dad makes compost for a living and her mother thinks leftover lentil burgers are perfect for her lunchbox. Having parents who are so in tune with nature they refuse to own a car or a TV isn't likely to help her social standing at school.

Then there is the fact that Darcy spent the money that was supposed to be donated to the Save-a-Species fundraiser on potato chips. Of course, they weren’t just ANY chips. They were Skippity Chips, the latest snack food craze that has made their creator a multimillionaire. How could she resist?

Oh, she also needs to work out how to deal with the talking frog who thinks she is an Earth Guardian who can discover what has happened to all the missing frogs. Just your everyday ‘save the delicate balance of the environment’ kind of thing.

It’s going to be a busy week.

Review: Love Letters to the Dead

Laurel's sister May was the brightest star in the sky for everyone who knew her. Beautiful, bold, vibrant, she was everything Laurel has ever wanted to be. But now she's dead and Laurel's world has shattered.

Her mother now lives in California, while Laurel divides her weeks between her dad's house and her aunt's. To ease her path into high school, Laurel has moved to one where hopefully nobody knew her sister — which means it's also a school where Laurel knows nobody.

Mind Movies: Promoting a Fertile Imagination

Looking for something different to entertain your children? Created by children’s author Spider Lee, Mind Movies™ combines innovation with the art of imaginative storytelling and music.

Designed to promote personal creativity, each audio track invites children to mentally craft their own unique world and become the main character.

Mind Movies #1 is perfect for children aged 10 - 16. Spider’s gentle storytelling voice suggests scenarios which prompt older children to safely explore issues of self-acceptance, stress management and positive creativity.

Promoting inner calm and positive self-reflection, Mind Movies™ are perfect for taking a break from screen time or winding down in preparation for a peaceful sleep.

Mind Movies #2 is perfect for children aged 4 - 10. Spider’s voice gently creates opportunities for adventures beneath the ocean or into outer space. Sound effects add depth to the imaginings, as children picture themselves walking through crystal-laden caves and exploring strange new lands.

This modern take on storytelling provides around half an hour per album of much-needed down time for children, and can be enjoyed anytime, anywhere. Perfect for in the car, relaxation, quiet time or winding down before bed.

The gentle acoustic guitar solo on each track allows time for your child’s imagination to roam free, creating in the recesses of a quiet mind, a world that is entirely of their own making.

Mind Movies™ promotes a fertile imagination, and since your child can create a new adventure every time, each track can be enjoyed again and again.

Mind Movies™ are available on iTunes. Simply search 'Spider Lee' in the iTunes store. Mind Movies #1 is $16.99 and Mind Movies #2 is $6.76, or $1.69 per track.

You can email Spider for more info, or check out Spider’s books, artwork and upcoming projects at www.spider.net.au  or follow her on Facebook or Twitter.

12 Curly Questions with author Mini Goss

1. Can you tell us something hardly anyone knows about you?
Mini is not my real name. My parents named me Lia when I was born, after my nana, but they never actually called me that. For some reason they always called me Mini, they can't remember why!

2. Do you have a nickname and if so can you tell us what it is?
Please see above.

3. What is your greatest fear?
My greatest fear, like most parents, is something bad happening to my children. I'm terrified of eels too!

4. Can you describe your writing style for us in ten words?
Impulsive, nothing comes, then a whole story gushes out at once.

5. Can you tell us five positive words that describe you as a writer?
Funny, silly, affectionate, flexible, creative speller (a positive way of saying that I'm a terrible speller).

Friday, 30 May 2014

Review: Every Day is Malala Day

Malala Yousafzai became an international inspiration when she was shot by the Taliban in Pakistan after insisting that she had a right to attend school. The world has watched as she has gone on to not only recover from her injuries, but to continue to be a passionate and eloquent speaker for the rights of girls everywhere.

Every Day is Malala Day illustrates the impact this one, brave young woman has had around the globe. In this book, Rosemary McCarney and Plan International share a mesage from girls around the world to Malala Yousafzai, thanking her for what she has done and talking about what it has meant to them.

Review: Do Nice, Be Kind, Spread Happy

Oh my, oh my, do we ever need more excuses to do nice, be kind and spread happy!

Subtitled 80 Ways to make the world a better place, how could one resist pushing this book into the arms of every child in known existence?

A cross between a non-fiction compilation and activity book, this gorgeously-produced tome is jam-packed with wonderful ways to Pay It Forward.

KBR Short Story: Dragon

by Jenny Kingsford

‘I think I’ve got it!’ Zac slammed his hand on the wooden table. ‘I know how to tame the Dragon.’

A fellow member of the Knights of the Square Table, Ben groaned. ‘Not again. Every time we try we end up in trouble. Last time it was the Scream of The Banshees and the Dragon roared louder than ever. I nearly pooped my pants.’

Dallin, another Knight, laughed. He waved his hand under his nose. ‘What do you mean nearly?’

Ben’s green eyes narrowed.

‘Only kidding,’ Dallin said. ‘So what’s your grand idea this time? I hope it’s better than offering up Nut Treasures. The Dragon puffed up like a giant blueberry.’

Zac frowned. ‘Okay, not my finest idea. But if we don’t get this Dragon tamed soon, we are all in for a miserable year.’

Ben and Dallin nodded their heads.

‘Yeah, did you see what happened to Liam yesterday? The Dragon had him pinned against the wall. I thought it was going to rip him apart with those talons, ’Dallin said.

They all shuddered at the thought of those ruby- red talons digging into their delicate flesh.

‘So, what’s the plan? Frontal attack? Gather more forces? Appeal to a higher Dragon?’ Ben asked.

Zac shook his blond curls. ‘No, higher Dragons always back other Dragons, no matter how mean they are. This time we are going to use stealth.’

‘Stealth?’ they asked in unison.

‘Yes. We are going to gather up all of our forces, creep in to the Dragon’s lair and be as quiet as a cockroach until we get the treasure. That’s how we’ll tame the Dragon.’

Dallin looked doubtful. ‘No way that’ll work.’

‘When we did the Scream of the Banshees, the Dragon screwed its eyes up and frowned. Then it came at us spewing fire. I think the noise hurts its head and makes it even angrier.’

Zac tugged Ben’s arm.  ‘Okay, we’ll try it,’ Ben agreed.

‘Great!  I’ll send our messengers out.’ Zac leaped up and set off among the trees.

Ben hesitated at the entrance of the lair, his freckles standing out like a speckles on a chook egg. Zac put a finger to his lips and led them all in. They huddled silently on the ground.

The Dragon unfolded its giant body and waddled closer to Zac. He gulped and stayed as still as a stalking cat.

The Dragon bared its fangs.

Zac gasped as the Dragon pelted things at them.

Ben and Dallin ducked but Zac flung out his hand. In his palm were sparkling gold coins. He sighed with relief. The Dragon was throwing its treasure. The Knights cheered and the Dragon almost smiled.

Dallin licked the sticky chocolate from his fingers, his gold coin feast now over.

Ben grinned. ‘Ah. I get it now. We had to be quiet so she didn’t get a headache.’

Zac crumpled his gold wrappers. ‘I guess Mrs Smith’s not such a bad teacher after all.’

Jenny Kingsford lives in the Blue Mountains where she is currently working hard on her debut novel. She enjoys writing, reading and delving into people’s secrets (which is okay because as a psychologist she is good at keeping secrets safe). Jenny wrote this story for her reluctant- reader son, Zac.

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, 29 May 2014

Shout Out: Freak Street

In 2008, the Freak Street series was launched, sharing the stories of everyday life for the residents of this not-quite-average suburban street. The first four books introduced the Wizardsons, Aliensons, Zombiesons and Humansons, families with odd pets, quirky habits and a knack for getting caught up in exciting adventures.

Over the past six years, the series has expanded to include the Vampiresons, Supersons and Werewolfsons and now, in 2014, the Piratesons. The original four families have also each featured in Time Machine and Holiday stories.

Review: Big-Top Benn

In the town where Mr Benn lives there's a costume shop where adventures start. So when he looks out the window one morning and sees a group of children all laughing because of a funny mask, he decides he'd like to dress up and have some fun himself. Off to the costume shop he goes.

The shop owner soon has him dressed up as a clown and then Mr Benn walks through a door in the shop marked 'Trying room' and is magically transported out into the countryside.

Review: The Pigeon Needs a Bath

Following on from the hard cover release in April, this soft cover version of Mo Willems' addictive pigeon is typical of this talented creator's dry wit and engaging illustrations.

Like most Willems books, I can't read them without passing thought - on each and every page - to how kids would respond to pigeon and his antics.

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

KBR Recommends: My Life books by Tristan Bancks

The vibrancy, energy and humour Tristan Bancks is known for, shines through in these gorgeously-produced junior fiction novels. This series is pretty much a nail-biting - no, make that toe-biting - thrill ride through one boy's life.

Have you ever been kissed by a dog? Ever had to eat Vegemite off your sister's big toe? Have you had a job delivering teeth? Has a bloodthirsty magpie ever been out to get you? Ever woken up to discover that everything hovers? And have you eaten 67 hot dogs in ten minutes?

I have. I'm Tom Weekly. This book is full of my stories, jokes, cartoon characters, ideas for theme park rides and other stuff I've made up. It's where I pour out whatever's inside my head. It gets a bit weird sometimes but that's how I roll.

If you're a fan of Andy Griffiths and Jeff Kinney, My Life and Other Stuff That Went Wrong is the book that has been missing in your life.

Is your grandpa super-angry? Has your nan ever tried to climb Mt Everest? Have you started your own playground freak show? And have you ever risked your life to save your pet rat from certain destruction?

I have. I'm Tom Weekly and this is my life.

Inside the covers of this book you'll read lots of weird-funny-gross stories and learn the secret of my strangest body part. But I guarantee that won't freak you out as much as the story of how Stella Holling, a girl who's been in love with me since second grade, tricked me into kissing her.

Packed with brilliant line illustrations by Gus Gordon, this series is ideal for ages 8 - 12, but also great for struggling or reluctant readers.

The My Life books are published by Random House Australia, and retail for $15.99 each.

Review: The Hole

How do you describe a book that really needs to be held, touched, pored over and adored? How do you describe a book that really needs to be seen, not said?

The Hole is such a book. 

Author/Illustrator Oyvind Torseter is is a Norwegian artist, illustrator, comic book artist and writer. In 2008, he won the the Bologna Ragazzi Award with his picture book Avstikkere, and has received several other prizes and nominations as well for his illustrations.

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Review: Going Bush with Grandpa

Peter sets off with his Grandpa to go gold prospecting in the bush. Everything they do and see is out of the ordinary for urban dwellers. Even country kids will find some unexpected fun with this Grandpa. For a start, there are no tents.

After damper and curry and a bit of dancing around the campfire, Peter and Grandpa unroll their swags and sleep under the stars. The reason for rolling up and tying their swags tightly each morning gave me the shivers. Would you want to sleep out in the open if you had Grandpa’s bush neighbours? I wouldn’t.

12 Curly Questions with author Dav Pilkey

1. Tell us something hardly anyone knows about you. 
I'm very shy.

2. What is your nickname?  
Gidget Hamsterbrains

3. What is your greatest fear?

4. Describe your writing style in ten words.  
Very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very descriptive.

5. Tell us five positive words that describe you as a writer. 
This is a hard question. I could only think of three: alliterative, satiric and mischievous.

6. What book character would you be, and why?
Clifford the Big, Red Dog.  Why?  'Cause NOBODY messes with Clifford the Big, Red Dog.

Monday, 26 May 2014

Review: Marmaduke the Very Different Dragon

Marmaduke the dragon is a little different from the other dragons … okay, he's very different. The other dragons are purple with smooth scales and tiny neat ears. They all love to fly and each one has a princess to protect.

Marmaduke, on the other hand, is orange with huge ears, and he never flies because his wings are rather unusual. So unusual, he doesn't want anyone to see them.

Guest Post: Bianca C Ross - The Renaissance of the Backyard Veggie Patch

Kids' Book Review is delighted to welcome Bianca C Ross, the author of a wonderful new book, Herbert Peabody and his Extraordinary Vegetable Patch. Herbert Peabody is a farmer who is spreading the magic of growing food as he encourages children to discover the joys of cultivating their own backyard veggie patch.

A change is happening amongst us, and it is slowly gaining momentum. It starts small and sprouts, and then grows. It’s the renaissance of the backyard veggie patch! And it has come just in time.

Many studies cite that our children are confused about where their food comes from, and if we think about it, we can understand why. The convenience of the supermarket makes it easy for us to pick up perfectly shaped produce that is dirt-free, and that means our children no longer see the real source of their food.

Working in brand manager roles across dairy and juice companies, with a stint in the advertising industry, I witnessed this confusion first-hand. In research groups, some children weren’t sure where milk came from, others were surprised that fruit didn’t grow year-round. I saw some great ways for adults to re-connect with and grow their food, but there wasn’t all that much for little people.

I was lucky enough to grow up in a home with a backyard veggie patch and fruit trees. When I got married, my husband and I moved to a beautiful house and one of the first things we did was set up a small plot to grow veggies. The taste of homegrown produce is something that is very special.

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Review: The Boy from Snowy River

George dreams of going to Big Spills Water World. But it’s a world away from tiny Mumblegum where he lives. There is only one way his dream will be realized and that’s if he wins the Stockman’s Cup prize money at the Dargan’s Ridge festival celebrating The Man from Snowy River.

But is their old and last stock horse Bandicoot up to the race? His history of running outshines that of all other horses, but he’s old. George’s highly motivated Gran won’t be defeated. Will her schemes and the runaway goats serve to transform George’s dream to reality?

Review: Mike I Don't Like

From the authors of Parrot Carrot and I Got This Hat comes this next exciting installment--Mike I Don't Like. 

Are you ready for it?

This is Mike. And he no like. He doesn't like this, he doesn't like that. He no like the dog, he no like the cat.

Mike doesn't like a single thing--and boy he'll let you know it. This 25-page rant on a seemingly endless list of dislikes will have kids completely wide-eyed and adults quietly smirking behind the front cover.

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Review: Blood Ties (Spirit Animals #3)

Meilin, hopelessly lost in the Great Bamboo Forest, cannot find an exit, even with Jhi’s help. Her return to Zhong to aid her father ends in anguish when he sends her away, for treachery lurks among the loyalists and he fears for Meilin’s life. The rest of the group have crossed the sea without her.

Conor remains ashamed at having given up the Iron Boar talisman to the enemy to save his family. He learns that ‘the people we love are our strengths, but they are our weaknesses too’.

12 Curly Questions with illustrator Liz Pichon

1. Tell us something hardly anyone knows about you.
I went to the same school as Sir Bradley Wiggins (Olympic champion cyclist and Tour De France winner) St Augustines Secondary school. I only found that out last year myself.

2. What is your nickname? 

I used to get called PEA – shooter at school. But I wasn’t keen on that name.

3. What is your greatest fear?
Anything bad happening to my family.

4. Describe your writing style in ten words. 

I try to be conversational and write about funny stuff.

5. Tell us five positive words that describe you as a writer.

Friday, 23 May 2014

Review: No Stars to Wish On

Jack tells jokes all the time to make people laugh. But the children at the orphanage find it hard to do so. Jack has become Number 49. They have no names here, just numbers on their shoes. But what happened to the real Number 49?

Jack and the other children of his family have been taken into care under the justification that they weren’t properly cared for at home. The hard-hearted Nuns make sure the children’s lives are filled with punishment and degradation. They are forced to work hard at tasks they can barely manage, and exist in a pitiful environment, abandoned and loveless.

This fictionalised story based on ‘the experiences of thousands of institutionalized children’ explores Australia’s Forgotten Generations.

KBR Short Story: Dragonflight

by Dorothy Olsen

Thunder booms and lightening clashes across the sky and down into the English valley, echoing into all the crevices and gullies. Hidden within caves on rocky outcrops; a wing of dragons wait for the birth of two dragonlings.

As each dragonling breaks free from its egg and take its first breath, the wing of dragons roar deep into the night. The first born, Blaze, stands and spreads her bat-like wings. As she opens her mouth to speak, a puff of black smoke billows.

The last to be born, Garnok, lays motionless. The egg, which had once enclosed him, has been too small for both his body and wings.  His mother nudges her dragonling. Garnok stirs and opens his eyes. As he stands on wobbly legs he tries to unfold both his wings. With his left wing failing to open fully, he stumbles and falls on his back. His mother looks on in despair. A dragon that cannot fly will be exposed to many dangers.


The sun beams brightly over the valley; its warmth coaxes the dragons from their lairs. In the distance Garnok hears a dragon call. He peers into the morning sky and sees Blaze. She has already taken flight.  Gracefully and smoothly she flies through the air bobbing her head up and down. She stops above Garnok and hovers in the air for a moment, then with slow, light flaps of her bat-like wings, lowers herself to the ground. Sadness fills Garnok.  Blaze smiles and with a gentle push beckons Garnok to make another attempt to fly.

‘All dragons can fly,’ she says.

With Blazes encouragement Garnok spreads his wings and begins to flap them.

‘You can do it,’ cheers Blaze.

Garnok flaps his bat-like wings until he feels his body become lighter and begins to lift into the air .With his left wing slightly bent out of shape it creates an uneven uplift and Garnok suddenly falls backwards.

‘It’s no use,’ says Garnok, sadly. ‘My left wing just won’t work the way it should.  Even magic is unable to help me fly.’


The wing of dragons seeks the advice of the old wise dragon, Maliik. Maliik teaches Garnok another way to fly, how to glide. Garnok listens and practices every day to build up his strength.

When he is ready, Garnok clambers a top a high rocky outcrop. The other dragons below watch in earnest. Taking a deep breath, Garnok opens his wings. He adjusts his right wing to be in unison with his left and with head down uses the power of his developing legs to run and push himself off the high ledge. The other dragons roar as Garnok takes off and glides swiftly and silently through the air.

As he glides downwards towards the valley below, Garnok looks behind and sees Blaze following him.

Dorothy Olsen developed an interest in writing for children when working as an early childhood educator. Her passion for writing includes picture books and short stories. She is currently working on adult crime fiction.

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

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Review: A Possum's Tail

Little Samuel Drew is off for a walk with his dog-on-wheels. Past the busy people on London's streets, past the pub, the market and the man selling balloons--onto a double decker bus for a trip to London Zoo.

There's cheeky chimps, sliding penguins, sleeping snakes and snoring tigers, but what Samuel really wants to see ... are the possums. The only trouble is, the possums are sleeping. Samuel waits, but alas, the possums sleep on, so Samuel turns to leave.

Review: The Land of the Frontiebacks

Everything is just a little back to front in the land of the Frontiebacks. To start with, the alphabet begins with Z and the zebras live in the Ooz.

That pretty much sets the trend for this very amusing alphabet book. Skunk smells beautiful, Rabbit hops backwards, Panda is purple, Hippo doesn't like muddy water and Elephant has the cutest little ears! And for X there's the Xolf, which doesn't even exist but certainly looks like it should.

The illustrations have a gorgeously retro feel to them and do a fabulous job of bringing to life the quirky rhyming text for each alphabetical animal. Great fun.

Title: The Land of the Frontiebacks: A Curious Alphabet of Confused Creatures
Author: Cecil Brasher
Illustrator: Jim Medway
Publisher: Eight Books, $29.99 RRP
Publication Date: May 2014
Format: Hardcover
ISBN: 9780957471733
For ages: 4+
Type: Picture Book

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Review: President Taft is Stuck in the Bath

Love a bit of juicy gossip, me. See, what happened was--apparently American President William Howard Taft got stuck in the bath. Some say it was on 4 March 1909, on his inauguration day. Others say it happened later in his term.

They say it took two men to pry him out--but others say it took four men and a gallon of loblolly (butter mixed with lobster liver) to provide enough slick.

Whatever the case, Mac Barnett has certainly had a great deal of fun with this brilliant picture book, speculating on the possibility that this gossip is true.

National Simultaneous Storytime 2014 Wrap Up

What a glorious time I had at Erindale Library here in Canberra today--for National Simultaneous Storytime, 2014.

Last year, around half a million children, in thousands of locations around Australia, joined in to read The Wrong Book by Nick Bland. This year it was Ursula Dubosarsky and Andy Joyner's turn with Too Many Elephants in this House, and boy did we have STACKS of fun reading it!

This such a vibrant, funny picture book, jammed with imaginative concepts, and the visiting school kids responded so beautifully during its reading. Jill Howard of Libraries ACT had the kids singing elephanty songs, she handed out stickers and puzzle colouring-in sheets (with images from the book) and I also talked about reading and how it's not only enjoyable, it's vital if we want to live the best life possible. Even at such a young age, kids totally get this.

National Simultaneous Storytime is a fine prompt for children in libraries, schools, preschools, childcare centres, families, bookshops and other locations to come together to have fun and connect through story. I hope you had a chance to share this book--or any book--with a child today.

For more information, visit the National Simultaneous Storytime website.
See our KBR review of Too Many Elephants in this House here.

National Simultaneous Storytime 2014

It’s that time of year again! Time to sit down at 11am (AEST) and join children and adults all around the country as we celebrate reading and children’s literature by sharing a story together.

In 2013, more than 430,000 children in over 2,500 locations around Australia joined in National Simultaneous Storytime, reading the book The Wrong Book, written by Nick Bland. This year, Ursula Dubosarsky’s wonderful picture book Too Many Elephants in this House (illustrated by Andrew Joyner) will be read aloud and, if last year was any indication, there will be much laughter and fun as kids not only read, but explore the story through songs, games and educational activities.

The aim of National Simultaneous Storytime is to use a picture book written and illustrated by an Australian author and illustrator as a prompt for children in libraries, schools, preschools, childcare centres, families, bookshops and other locations to come together to have fun and connect through the story.

Whether you read at home, get some friends together, or attend an event at your local library, when you read Too Many Elephants in this House today, you will be joining others around the country as we celebrate the wonderful talent of our Australian authors and illustrators, and the joy that can be found in sharing a story.

For more information, visit the National Simultaneous Storytime website.

See our KBR review of Too Many Elephants in this House here.

KBR Recommends: You Choose ... series

A brand-new series of interactive novels for the highly adventurous, who love to choose their own storyline outcome. Read if you dare! Mistakes will cost you dearly! 

Wealth beyond your wildest dreams or deadly pirate's curse!

You find an old map while holidaying in a secluded seaside town. It is said to have belonged to the fiercest pirate of them all – One-Eyed William, who was buried with his treasure. Could it be real, or is it someone's idea of a joke? You set off to follow the map to find out . . .

Will you uncover the treasure of Dead Man's Cove, or will you be destined for doom?

You Choose ...

Supreme ruler of the world or misfortune for life!

You are an ordinary kid – or so you think. Strange things start to happen. You make a rabbit appear from underneath your teacher's hat. Then you dream about a mystical diamond and a mysterious old woman with long white hair. It turns out you have magical powers ...

Do you try to keep your talents hidden or do you go off to Magic School?

The You Choose books are published by Random House and retail for $14.99 each.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

CBCA National Conference, Canberra 2014 - Vox Pops Wrap-Up

The CBCA National Conference, Canberra, was a roaring success, with a stellar line-up of industry talent, sharing their passion and drive for literacy and fabulous books. Here are just some of the comments made at the conference, compiled by KBR Consultant Librarian, Sarah Steed. You can see a wrap-up of presentations on the Conference website, which will appear in the coming weeks, and we hope you enjoy the handful of conference photos at the end of this post. You can also see a detailed Conference rundown on Tania McCartney's blog and Irma Gold's blog.

'Books matter, and books for children matter even more,' Jackie French told participants at the Children’s Book Council of Australia National Conference, held in Canberra this weekend. Those words surely encapsulate the primary motivation of those in attendance.

With the theme ‘Discovering National Treasures’, there were two days jam-packed full of creative insight and inspiration for lovers of children’s books - authors, illustrators, librarians, teachers, publishers, and others. For those who were unable to make it, here are a few bite-sized snippets from some of the movers and shakers in Australia’s children’s book industry.

'I don’t want to write safe books. I want to make people laugh and cry.'
- Margaret Wild, author (by proxy)

'I drew the dark, then added light.
- Stephen Michael King, author and illustrator, on creating The Duck and the Darklings, his recent collaboration with Glenda Millard

12 Curly Questions with author Catherine Carvell

1. Tell us something hardly anyone knows about you.
Hmmmm. I'm not sure I should admit to this, but I find 5 syllable sentences very satisfying. Multiples of five are also pleasing. 'Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution' for example, is one of my favourite shows - mainly because of its delightful 10 syllable title.

2. What is your nickname?
My friends generally call me Catherine, Cathy or Cath and occasionally Cate or Cat. My husband calls me Poppy (which is quite embarrassing when written down like that) and my kids call me Mummy-boo, which makes me very happy.

3. What is your greatest fear?
When I couldn’t sleep as a child, I would imagine the floor was hot porridge and I would boil to death if I touched it. These days, I wrestle with a similar sense of dread whenever one of my children has a fever.

4. Describe your writing style in ten words.
Fast-paced, action-packed and full of slimy frog jokes.

Monday, 19 May 2014

Review: 10 Times 10

If you haven't yet discovered the joys of Hervé Tullet, then now is the time.

Simple, creative and thoroughly artistic, these stream-of-creativity books are a heck of a lot of fun for little ones (and adults!) with plenty of colour, originality and humour.

Review: The Princess and the Presents

Princess Ruby is a brat. There is nothing nice about this spoilt, rude, selfish, obnoxious child.

So as her birthday approaches, it's no surprise that she has a list of demands a mile long. She wants a giant tree house, a parrot that can talk, shoes that light up when she walks, a new tiara for every day of the school week, a pony, loads of jewels, roller skates, etc, etc, etc.

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Review: Pandora Jones Admission (Pandora Jones #1)

Pandora Jones wakes in a strange building on an island far from home. Her dreams are filled with nightmares about death: the slow and painful death of everyone she knew. She is informed that the current world population is estimated at less than 10,000, but there is no knowing. Yet.

Pandora is admitted into the island’s school for the few known survivors in the Asia region. All students are teenagers. Their lives revolve around learning survival techniques. The food is disgusting and something is not quite right.

Review: The Hairy-Nosed Wombats Find a New Home

The Northern Hairy-nosed Wombat is one of the world's most endangered species. It's actually more rare than the Giant Panda, and it's heartbreaking to think this beautiful animal may soon be forever lost.

Jackie French has a well-known passion for wombats, and in this gorgeous book, she helps 176 of them to find a new home--away from the fires that burn their land, away from the floods that wash through their burrows.

Saturday, 17 May 2014

Review: Gigantosaurus

Jonny Duddle is an award-winning author/illustrator and it's easy to see why--his luscious picture books are a visual feast of gigantosaurus proportions, and, with the addition of drama and humour, make a win-win formula for kids.

Bonehead, Tiny, Fin and Bill head out to play, when Bonehead (and there's a reason for his moniker) decides to have a bit of 'fun' by scaring the living daylights out of his friends.

12 Curly Questions with author Barry Jonsberg

1. Can you tell us something hardly anyone knows about you?
I was once slapped across the face by Dr. Harry, the famous TV vet. Yes, there is a story there, but I’m not telling it [except to say that Harry is a VERY nice man who wasn’t trying to hurt me – though he did!]

2. Do you have a nickname and if so can you tell us what it is?
Bazzer [or Bazza] is the most common nickname.

3. What is your greatest fear?
I am scared of heights [though I’m okay with widths]. Sometimes I panic if I stand on a thick rug.

4. Can you describe your writing style for us in ten words?
I won’t leave my computer until I’ve done 2,000 words.

5. Can you tell us five positive words that describe you as a writer?
Hard-working. Committed. Positive. Funny. Determined.

6. What book character would you most like to be, and why?
Hamlet [except that he dies] because he is smart, reflective, has a sense of what is right and what is wrong and is crazily famous. I’ve got a bit of work to do…

Friday, 16 May 2014

Review: And the Cars Go ...

I simply adore William Bee books--their vibrant illustrations and quickly storylines have that glorious ability to please picture book lovers from 0 - 101.

A police man is off on patrol when he comes across a mega traffic jam featuring all manner of puttering, sputtering, roaring and vrooming vehicles.

KBR Short Story: Gem Breeder Dragons

by Melanie Hill

“Amazing,” said The Professor. She turned the cool, sparkling egg in her hands. Her eyes twinkled despite her stern face.

Reading her thoughts, Sammy said, “It doesn’t belong in a museum.”

“I’ll be the judge of that. Where did you find this?”

Sammy knew The Professor expected a scientific explanation. “I can’t tell you,” he said, tracing the outline of the kitchen tiles with his feet.

“I see…Where are Gran and Oscar?”

“They went for a walk.”


“Jeezz Mum, I don’t know!” he said. The Professor locked eyes on him.

“What makes these dragons different?”

“They only eat sapphires and diamonds.” Why couldn’t he make stuff up? Once, he saw Gran tell a bold face lie to his Mum without pausing. Gran even winked at him while she did it.

“How do they find sapphires and diamonds?” The Professor said, and held up her hand. Her rings were empty!

“They sniff them out,” he said.

“I see. Habitat?”

“Near mines.” Sammy wiped the sweat from his brow.


“They breathe out gem dust that forms into eggs. The hatchlings eat their shells, it gives them energy.” His hands slapped over his mouth. He couldn’t stop himself!

“What else?” The Professor asked.

“They have amber claws that can scratch through anything.” Sammy needed a diversion. Where were Oscar and Gran?

His bedroom door rattled. He heard a faint scratch. Not that diversion.

The Professor placed the egg back in the basket of winter clothes.

A loud crash and bang made them jump. Gran and Oscar pushed against each other as they bustled through the door. Both wore field gear and carried nets. Their smiles withered when they saw The Professor standing next to the basket.

Gran stepped forward, “Luv, I can explain…”

Light flashed. Something shattered. They hit the ground. Bits of the boys’ bedroom door landed in the lounge room. Out strode a dazzling white dragon. He perused the damage and smiled. Sammy and Oscar flinched when the dragon nuzzled them with his ice-cold nose.

Sammy stood up. He stroked the dragon’s hard, smooth scales. “Ah, Mum…this is Cutta. He’s a Gem Breeder Dragon.”

Cutta bowed. “Professor, I am delighted to meet you. Sammy tells me you are an authority on minerals. I love pink sapphires – so juicy and sweet. When I return, we could chat over a sparkling mineral water?” The Professor nodded; her eyes wide and mouth open.

Cutta turned towards Gran, who was still on the floor, and said, “Thank you for your hospitality Gladys. Lattice is in good hands. No Museums, you promised.”

With that, Cutta walked out of the house. He stretched his brilliant wings, took two strides and leapt into the air.

Sammy and Oscar helped Gran and The Professor up.

“You just let him fly away…?” said The Professor.

The egg rattled and crackled. Gran, Oscar and Sammy looked at one another and smiled. A tiny blue head popped out of the egg.

Melanie lives in Brisbane with her husband and four children. Writing took a back seat to work and travel for twenty years. However, her children reminded her of the joy of storytelling when she started to record the funny things they said and did. These four small bodies with their enormous imaginations have drawn her back into the world of dragons, time travel, questing, zombies, fairies and all things in between. For more information, visit Melanie on Facebook or LinkedIn.

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, 15 May 2014

Review: A House for Donfinkle

Donfinkle Vonkrinkle is building his dream house. He knows exactly how he wants it to look: mud walls, a red door, a porch made of pine.

His friends all have their own opinions though. The Flooble doesn't like the door, walls, porch or roof. So Donfinkle changes them. But the Mooble doesn't like the new roof and walls. So Donfinkle changes them again. Then the Gooble and the Blooble chime in with their criticisms.

Review: Showcasing Treasures

There's a national treasure hiding deep in the coffers of the University of Canberra--a den of literary plenty, stuffed with thousands upon thousands of children's books--modern but also rare. This collection speaks of a stunning children's literature history, showcasing over 25,000 titles, valued at almost one million dollars.

But this treasure--the Lu Rees Archives--really is invaluable.

Lu Rees, MBE, AM, was the Secretary of the Canberra Fellowship of Australian Writers and was a Life Member of the Fellowship. During her time as Secretary, she initiated the publication of Australian Writers, Australian Signpost and Span, and later assisted with Australian Voices. In 1957 she became the first President of the ACT Branch of the Children's Book Council, and later a Life Member of the Council. The Archives was named in honour of Lu Rees and her work for Australian children's literature.

Speechie's Couch: Early Chapter Books

The leap from reading first words to early chapter books is monumental. All of a sudden there are lines of words on a page with only one or two full stops. Our young readers will have as many different reactions to this new format as there are personality types.

The bold adventurer will dive in without hesitation, not caring whether the going is easy or tough: they will plough on regardless. The hesitant learner might be brought to tears at the thought of decoding all those words or be tempted to give up after an exhausting page or two. The perfectionist doesn’t like to make mistakes, ever, so they are in danger of refusing point-blank before they have even begun.

This is a critical moment.

If handled well, the first foray into reading stories will cement a life-long love of reading. However, negative experiences can scar the pathway and make young readers more hesitant than ever.

The following are a few effective strategies that can help smooth the way for burgeoning readers. (This tiny list is by no means complete.)

Make it achievable: Always make sure the book’s content is well within your child’s ability. School home readers are generally pitched two or three levels below what is being taught at school. (Every child works at their own instructional level). Relatively easy reading at home makes for confidence, enjoyment and the experience of reading fluently.

Your turn, my turn: There’s absolutely no harm in hearing a story before you attempt to read it yourself. Taking turns to read the same page is one way of increasing confidence. Your children will know when they are ready for bigger challenges (as in two pages or a whole small book per turn).

Having a good guess: Every word does not have to be perfect at this stage. Having a good guess is always a great achievement and worthy of praise. Good guesses are made based on the pictures, first and last sounds in a word and the knowledge already gathered so far in the story.

Taking the leap into early chapter books can be exciting and satisfying if the right supports are provided. It is totally okay if words here and there are tricky. We all have words we don’t know. It’s what we do when tricky bits arise that makes us into reading detectives.

This wonderful phase in which your child moves from faltering uncertainty to becoming an independent reader is one where your presence and praise at the end of each sentence is critical, and your gentle reminders about useful strategies is indispensable.

Jo Burnell is KBR's Development Editor and resident paediatric speech pathologist. A reviewer of children’s and YA books and shortlisting judge for Speech Pathology Australia Book of the Year, Jo is familiar with effective writing for Upper Primary and Secondary students. 

Librarian's Shelf: The Value of Bi-Lingual Reading

Language and culture go hand in hand, and one important way to share them is through books, especially bilingual books. Bilingual picture books feature stories written in both English and another language, generally by displaying both languages side-by-side on the page.

I asked a linguistics expert what they considered the main benefits of sharing bilingual books with children. Their response may surprise you, as these books help those who don’t speak a second language, but also those who do.

'... If your child doesn’t speak a second language, reading bilingual books will show them that there are other languages and ways to write (even finding that letters and words come in different scripts), something that is valuable to learn at a relatively young age. If the book is about another culture, they will also get to learn about that, too, through exposure to people who have different ways of dressing, who look different, and so on, but are otherwise the same. This is important in developing an understanding of the world and conceptualising what is “normal”.

Reading bilingual books will not necessarily teach a child another language - they need other language learning opportunities, too - but some words might stick, and perhaps even develop into an interest in learning languages. 

When children do speak both languages, bilingual books help them get them used to literacy in two languages. When a bilingual child has a dominant language (e.g. English) it’s common for them to only develop literacy in that dominant language, so fun literary experiences in another language will encourage them to continue experiencing their other language in books. It also shows them some of the differences and similarities between the languages, and when read in each language, it offers them a different experience ...'

So how do you find bilingual reading material? Most libraries will have bilingual books of one kind or another, usually found either on the non-fiction shelves (look for the 400s), or as part of a separate language collection. Some libraries also have bilingual story time sessions which share stories in English and another language.

If you’d like to explore some research into bilingual literacy, you can read: The Importance of Literacy in the Home Language: The View From Australia.

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.