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

Monday, 30 June 2014

Review: Take Back the Skies

Catherine Hunter is the privileged daughter of a senior government official on the island of Anglya. She has plenty to eat, lots of beautiful clothes and, above all, is safe from the 'Collections' in which children are taken when they turn thirteen to serve in the war effort against the other islands of Tellus. On the surface, it would seem Catherine is lucky indeed.

But Catherine's father is cold and cruel. Her mother is bedridden and growing weaker. And Catherine is soon to be married to the son of another government official, whom she hates. It's life in a glorified prison and one that Catherine wants desperately to escape.

Guest Post: Lucy Saxon

Photo by Lisa Bee Photography
KBR is delighted to welcome Lucy Saxon, the very young and very talented author of Take Back the Skies, the first in a six-part adventure series. Here she shares with us how illness ending up kick-starting her writing career.

When I was in school, I didn’t get many creative writing opportunities. I got snippets of it, a short story or two every now and then, but never enough for me to really explore my imagination. Still, I enjoyed the few times I got the chance to write something that wasn’t an essay (unless it was poetry. I never did get the hang of poetry).

It wasn’t until after I was diagnosed with ME/CFS (Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome) at the age of twelve that writing started becoming a passion for me. With the illness, I spent a lot of time off school, and quickly became bored. Being a teenage girl with a love of books and too much time to spend on the internet, it wasn’t a surprise that I came across a Harry Potter fanfiction site. I was hooked, loving how I could read even more about my favourite characters and explore the world in ways different to the books. I found fanfiction for other fandoms, and it wasn’t long before I decided to try my hand at writing it.

Sunday, 29 June 2014

Review: Hello Friends

I just love toddler and baby books that pack illustration punch with their pages.

This adorable little book is small format with curved sides to fit tiny little hands. The rattling teether at the top of the book will take the brunt of any chewing and slobbering (note: slobbering over books is common in adults, too), and the lovely thick, lift-up pages are easy to navigate.

Each top page features the smiling face of a wee animal, with a close-up of it's held object on the page below. A cat with a glass of milk, a bunny with a tulip. A puppy with a bouncy ball.

Guest Post: Author Wai Chim tells us why #WeNeedDiverseBooks

Kids' Book Review is delighted to welcome the lovely Wai Chim, author of the Chook Chook junior fiction series, to share her thoughts on diversity in children's books and the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign.

As a little girl growing up in New York, I had always gravitated towards books that featured Asian protagonists – heroes and heroines that ‘looked like me’. There weren’t many on the shelves but the ones that I found, I cherished deeply. Some of my favourites that I can recall: Ping, the beautiful tale of the cheeky little duck who gets into trouble,  Five Chinese Brothers, Tiki Tiki Tembo and a chapter book called Child of the Owl, which featured a spunky Chinese-American girl named Casey.

Fast forward some twenty years, and unfortunately, when it comes to multicultural titles for children, the shelves are still looking a little bare. Fortunately, book lovers all over the world are trying to change this, one tweet at a time.

Between 1 and 3 May 2014, storytellers, publishers and literature advocates from around the world came together to demand more representative writing in children’s books, in the form of a hashtag.

The campaign was sparked by the release of the programme for the popular BookCon readers’ convention that takes place in the US; the names included 30 writers, all-white, and Grumpy Cat. Over two days, the #weneeddiversebooks campaign generated over 64,000 tweets from readers and supporters calling for more diverse books – and the reasons they gave were compelling ones:

Image source

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Review: Little Owl

When Little Owl falls from his nest and opens his eyes for the very first time, he isn’t quite sure who he is. ‘Whooo? Whooo? Whooo am I?’ he asks each animal that he meets, but no-one can help him. Will Little Owl find here he belongs?

With a format reminiscent of P D Eastman’s classic Are You My Mother?, Little Owl follows the adventures of a baby young as he approaches various animals trying to find out ‘whooo’ he is. This story has a wonderful Australian setting, however, and Little Owl interacts with each animal he meets, trying to imitate them until he scares them away with his ‘whooo’ questions.

Review: Saving the Farm (Chook Chook #3)

Mei is now happy and settled in her blended family, but all is not well. A government official has made plans to build a freeway through their tiny village and he expects everyone to sell their homes without argument.

He did not expect to meet people like Mei and her family who fight to protect their farm and the entire village. However, when they refuse to sell their land, the government official springs bad news with a decidedly menacing sneer.

Can Mei and her family stop the freeway from being built? How do you fight powerful government officials? You’ll never guess who saves the day—or will you?

12 Curly Questions with author Carole Wilkinson

1. Tell us something hardly anyone knows about you.
I became a vegetarian as a result of my first job, which involved cutting up cat brains. I was a vegetarian for 20 years, but then went back to eating meat on the advice of a Traditional Chinese Medicine doctor.

2. What is your nickname?  
I have never had a nickname. Not one anyone uses to my face anyway. My Dad calls me Caz.

3. What is your greatest fear?
I worry about a lot of things. When you write, you have to put your characters through hell, so always being able to think of the worst-case scenario is actually a useful skill.
In the real world, the thing that I fear most is something bad happening to my nearest and dearest.

4. Describe your writing style in ten words.  
Sometimes exciting, sometimes descriptive, sometimes heartrending, sometimes funny, sometimes gruesome

5. Tell us five positive words that describe you as a writer.
Bad starter, always getting stuck in the middle, good finisher.
Not all positive, I know, but that’s the way it works for me, so it’s positive in the end.

Friday, 27 June 2014

Review: Finding Jennifer Jones

The long awaited sequel to the magnificent Looking for JJ is here. We learn what happened to Jennifer Jones, renamed after she was given a new identity and relocated to another place, when leaving a facility after six years for the manslaughter of her friend at ten years of age.

Now known as Kate, Jennifer has again been relocated after her discovery by an ambitious journalist. She is now nearly nineteen, at University, and dating on and off. Another child is murdered and her name is in the police files. She is not as well hidden as her probation officer led her to believe. The murderer is discovered but Kate’s cover is blown again.

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Review: My New Home

Our little fox poppet has just moved house. Far away from the old house. To a new house.

This new house doesn't quite feel the same. Things are colder. Lonelier. Sadder.

Fox misses old friends and the old way of life but very soon things start to change. Things become warmer, friendships develop, games beg playing and giggles are free for the taking.

Blog Tour: Rachael Craw - Why YA?

Kids' Book Review is delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for Spark, the debut novel for author Rachael Craw. Spark, published by Walker Books, is the first book in a fantastic new sci-fi trilogy. Links to other stops on the blog tour are included below. Here, Rachael explains why she writes YA.

One of the first things my agents asked me when I submitted my manuscript to them was, Why YA? I hadn’t really thought about it, I just always knew that if I wrote it would be for teens and that my protagonist would be a seventeen year old girl.

I’m not sure if that is an indication that I’ve never properly grown up or that perhaps significant trauma in my formative development stunted my emotional growth keeping me at the psychological age of a pre-adult (and now that I think about it there was a bit of trauma … first heartbreak!) or if it’s symptomatic of teaching for a decade in girls’ high schools. Or, contrary to current scathing commentary against YA and its readers, perhaps this is an entirely legitimate literary platform with stories and characters from diverse genres, valuable regardless of demographic and not just a practicing ground for readers ill-equipped to cope with ‘proper grown-up’ books?

Actually, I’m not that wound up. But the way people have been banging on about YA lately has rather set my eyeballs rolling. Some people just don’t like fun.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Review: Happy Birthday, Hugless Douglas

The adorable, truly scrumptious Douglas is back in his latest picture book adventure--in which he has a birthday party.

It's a very special day. Douglas is blowing up balloons and waiting for his friends to arrive, which they soon do, bearing all manner of glorious pressies.

Then the twin cousins arrive.

Felix and Mash have brought a rather large present, but being the overbearing young souls that they are, they set to unwrapping the present before Douglas can get a single paw on it.

Guest Post: Goldie Alexander

Kids’ Book Review is delighted to welcome Australian author Goldie Alexander to discuss the historical inspiration for her latest novel, That Stranger Next Door, published this month by Clan Destine Press.

In 1954, Melbourne is still reeling from WWII, the Cold War sees suspicions running high and the threat of communism and spies are imagined in every shadow.

15-year-old Ruth is trying to navigate her own path, despite her strict upbringing and the past that haunts her family. A path that she wishes could include 17-year-old Patrick, but this rich, Catholic boy is strictly off limits.  When a mysterious woman moves in next door in the dead of night, Ruth becomes convinced that she can be none other than Eva or Evdokia Petrov.

Could this Eva really be the most sought after woman in Australia? Will Ruth’s own clandestine meetings be discovered? And how does the Petrov Affair, as it became known, impact the life of one ordinary girl?

1954 seems a long way away. It was the height of the ‘Cold War’ between Communist countries and the West. In the United States, Senator McCarthy was using anti-communist laws to force academics, film producers, movie stars and writers to a senate hearing to ask if they ever belonged to the Communist Party and to name anyone who had gone to their meetings. Many writers, film directors and academics, lost jobs, family, and some even committed suicide.

We think of this time in Australia as barren and conservative... a time when Prime Minister Menzies ruled, the Queen visited us wearing pearls, England was Home, there was the Korean War, migrants being shunted into camps, the Snowy Mountain Scheme, the six o’clock swill, nuclear families, housewifery for women, and the coming of television. Politically, there was the Communist Referendum, the split in the Labour Party into ALP and DLP, and the infamous Petrov Affair.

When a rather insignificant Russian diplomat called Vladimir Petrov defected to Australia, in return promising to provide information about a Russian spy-ring, he ‘forgot’ to mention this to his wife. As Evdokia was pulled onto a plane in Darwin, she was rescued at the last minute by ASIO and hidden in a ‘safe house’. Of course this sent the media into a frenzy. Headlines everywhere.  At the time PM Menzies was also trying to bring in similar anti-communist legislation to the US, and thankfully, in this he was unsuccessful.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Review: Rivertime

The cover of Rivertime promises pictures, but Rivertime is not a picture book. The first page offers facts and figures, but Rivertime is not boring. Instead, delightful comic strip style pages offer an easy-to-read fictional tale that could be true. Starting in the middle of life’s suburban busy-ness, Rivertime takes you, however reluctantly, on a slow-right-down summertime river journey.

Told from the first person’s perspective, you never learn the narrator’s name, but that’s okay. Instead, you get to share this young boy’s frustration at having to leave his techno toys behind and his irritation at not being able to sleep on hard ground. Rivertime has a hurried pace at first, but as the young guide learns to relax, the pages landscapes spread out, long and languorous, just like a relaxing Summer’s day.

Review: Midnight Burial

Miss Florence Adelaide Williamson has had the most terrible day. Her big sister, Lizzie, has died of fever. It was so sudden, within hours, the household are in pure shock.

Papa and some men have buried her on the property. No time for a funeral. Her clothes are burned. The house plummets into mourning.

How could Lizzie have died so quickly? Lizzie's best friend Miss Susannah Jones is suspicious. Lizzie and her Papa had a huge row earlier that day. Lizzie told her everything, so Susannah just knew he would kill her. He said that he would.

12 Curly Questions with author Paul Seden

1.Tell us something hardly anyone knows about you.
I got my pace because children at school chased me home with insects.

2. What is your nickname? 
Well, my nickname with my peer group now, which doesn’t seem hard-hitting for my 100+ kilo frame, is ‘Paulie’. 

3. What is your greatest fear?
Particular insects tend to get me a bit jumpy.

4. Can you describe your writing style in ten words?
Scrabble, I try to make words out of blocked letters

5. Tell us five positive words that describe you as a writer.
Silly, abstract, humorous, creative, spaghetti. 

6. What book character would you be, and why?
Fantastic Mr Fox – he’s a bit Robin Hoodish.

Monday, 23 June 2014

Review: The Hueys in None the Number

The Hueys are back for their third adventure--this time a counting book like no other, featuring the timeless kookyness of Oliver Jeffers.

Two Hueys discover the number zero. They discover it doesn't really exist. How can it be defined? It's less than one, sure, but it's also the remaining sum when you have a set amount of items and you take that set amount of items away.

THE WINNERS! KBR Unpublished Picture Book Manuscript Award 2014


We are thrilled to announce the winners in our 2014 Unpublished Manuscript Award for a Picture Book! Judging is a tough process but after much collaboration, we are proud to announce our winners. Biggest congratulations go to ...

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Review: One Day in Oradour

June 2014 is the 70th anniversary of a massacre which took place in Oradour-sur-Glane. I had never heard of the small French village, nor the events that happened there during World War II, until I discovered this book.

One Day in Oradour is a fictional account of true events that took place across the course of a single day in the summer of 1944, when German SS troops killed 644 people - almost the entire village. Just 86 people survived, only one of them a child.

The book starts as the villagers go about their lives on a busy Saturday. The adults bake bread, have their hair cut, and prepare for the next day’s religious festival. The children are at school, where they are joined by children from the surrounding region to undergo a routine health and vaccination programme. Meanwhile, a German officer has been kidnapped by the French Resistance.

The hours tick by like a movie playing out, and bit by bit the history and actions of central characters are revealed - the curious seven-year-old boy, the unpredictable SS officer bent on revenge, and the unsuspecting villagers. By alternating perspectives, the author builds the tension, and explores what could have led those involved to their actions on that fateful day.

Review: I Am the King

Scampering tortoise finds a golden crown on his back. 'I am the king!' he squeals in glee but his friends all burst out laughing. Tortoise is much too slow.

Goat hooks the crown with his long horns. 'I am the king!' he bleats.

Flamingo disagrees. He scoops the crown onto his long neck and tweets 'I am the king!'

Snake, Pig, Crocodile, Elephant and Ape all have their turn, but it's when the Real King appears that the mood quickly shifts.

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Review: Cantankerous King Colin

King Colin is NOT in a good mood. He woke up feeling cantankerous and throughout the day he manages to be silly, smelly, grumpy, crazy and, to be honest, a bit of a pain in the butt to everyone he meets. He won’t listen to reason and simply informs everyone that he can do what he wants because he is the king.

Is there anyone who can pull King Colin into line and put an end to his cantankerous mood?

Review: People

More art than book, this stunning tome, from one of my favourite illustrators, is an absolute eye-fest of multi-coloured joy.

Featuring 200 pages of simple, block colour illustrations on thick, creamy paper, this is illustration nirvana. Striking, pop-art colours come together to form a series of people in all sorts of ways--from puppeteers to bodyguards, jugglers to thieves.

12 Curly Questions with author Cate Kennedy

1. Tell us something hardly anyone knows about you.
I’m the person who can remember the lyrics of thousands of old songs and like to sing them on long trips in the car.  Before the days of Google, people would sometimes ring me up to settle arguments on song lyrics from the 70s and 80s.  Why they were having arguments about songs from 30 years ago…who knows?

2. What is your nickname? 
I have a few, but I can’t tell you my childhood one because it’s my password for everything on the internet.  I used to get called Blondie as a very small kid, because I had such fair hair, but the nickname lasted well beyond the blondeness.

3. What is your greatest fear?

Having to watch the wild animals of the world gradually becoming extinct over the next fifty years, and trying to explain to the next generation how we let this happen.

4. Can you describe your writing style in ten words?
My voice telling you stories in front of the fire. 

5. Tell us five positive words that describe you as a writer.
Curious heartfelt wry affectionate determined.

Friday, 20 June 2014

Review: Garlic, Hankies and Hugs

Michelle loves visiting her Nanna, but there is just one thing about the visits that she doesn’t understand – why does Nanna insist on ‘spitting’ on her cheek?

When Michelle asks for an explanation, Nanna says that it is part of a special tradition to help keep away ‘evil spirits’ that might cause harm or problems for her family. By saying skortha (the Greek word for garlic) and fake-spitting on someone three times, Nanna is sharing a special blessing that will protect that person.

Review: Every Word

Every Word picks up where Every Breath (KBR review) left off, with the action and pace high. Between hard-hitting Roller Derby finals, adjusting to being more than just friends with James and the pressure of school, Rachel’s life is pretty full.

James’s world, on the other hand, is tilted out of control by the discovery of a carjacking in England that is uncannily similar to the one that killed his parents seven years before.

James talks his boss into taking him along as Assistant Investigator on the British-based case without revealing his own history of emotional carnage. He leaves Australia without saying goodbye.

KBR Short Story: From Gran with Love

by Sharon Hammad

My grandma sends me packages.
She sends them through the post.
They travel here from far away,
Around the world, almost.

She wraps them up in cellophane
And ties them up with string.
Each day I wake up wondering
What will the postman bring?

Sometimes, Gran sends a special shirt
Embroidered with my name;
Sometimes, a photo of herself
To show we look the same.

Sometimes, she sends a story book
With writing I can read,
A funny, farty pillow case,
Or something else I need.

She knits me thongs and woolly shorts
And sparkle-arkle gloves.
And always there’s a note that says,
‘To Sam, from Gran with love.’

I wish that I could meet my gran
One day before too long
So she can see how tall I’ve grown
And excellently strong.

But now that I’m remembering,
I guess it’s been a while
Since one of Grandma’s parcels popped
Out from the letter pile.

Perhaps, she’s busy working hard;
She probably forgot.
Or, maybe, she’s in bed with flu.
Poor Gran!  I hope she’s not.

What if she found another boy
Who lives nearby her place?
She might not think as much about
This boy who shares her face.

I know. I’ll send her something too,
A precious gift I’ve made,
With bubble wrap to cover so
The swirly bits don’t fade.

My gran will get a HUGE surprise.
‘Good gracious me!’ she’ll say.
She’ll put it on the mantle-piece
And write back straight away.

As weeks go by, I wait and wait.
It seems a bit unfair.
The postman rides right past my house:
He doesn’t even care.

Then one day, there’s a loud rat-tat.
The door begins to shake.
Gran’s parcel must be too big for
The letter box to take.

But wait…

The hinges creak. The door swings wide.
A shadow blocks the way.
‘Now where’s the boy who looks like me?’
It’s Gran! She’s come to stay.

Sharon Hammad lives in the Blue Mountains. She writes short stories and poems for adults and children. One day she hopes to be a Grandma.

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, 19 June 2014

Review: Granny Grommet and Me

The ocean is a vast and scary place for little ones, but Granny Grommet and her granny friends show the way to discovering its wonders in safety.

While never discounting the reasons for fearing water, Granny Grommet and her pals revel in the roar and excitement of catching a wave and explore the beauty hidden beneath the water’s surface on calmer days. Ever so gently, Granny Grommet and Me reveals the fun to be had at the beach while showing how to do so safely.

Review: My Life as an Alphabet

Candice Phee knows she is different, but she rides the waves of ridicule. It’s not that she is oblivious to other people’s opinions. Candice knows exactly what her detractors say and mean. She simply chooses not to engage.

So, Candice Phee is different and she deals with dilemmas differently. She worries about her mother never leaving her room, her father and Uncle not talking to each other and Douglas’s obsession with returning to a different dimension. Earth-Pig Fish needs to find happiness too. Candice sets about helping those around her find happiness. That is why she is so adorable.

Review: That Car!

Cate Kennedy’s first picture book for children is stunning. Carla Zapel’s beautiful watercolour illustrations perfectly translate the text and bring it life and movement.

The family moves to a farm and discover an old car in the shed.  Seeing the car wasn’t going anywhere, dad pushed it under a huge tree for the children to play in. The car became the conduit for many travels through their imagination. They visited the Queen, travelled to Mount Everest, flew over land and sea, went on a safari, and transformed it into a supersonic jet. The best use it had was as birthing place for the family dog’s pups.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Review: Comics: A Global History, 1968 to the present

Comics: A Global History traces the comic book format and industry starting in 1968 with the underground movement and those who “simply put felt-tipped pen to paper and let it flow, man.” Those comics were, not unsurprisingly for the time, adult comics. In fact this is not really a book about kids’ comics at all, although there are some present amongst those discussed.

Comics: A Global History works through the years chronologically and thematically, exploring artists, styles, and series. There are a broad range of examples from around the world, some of which are quite adult in their content, and more than 200 images are provided.

Review: Fake ID ebook

You can create a fake ID online without too much trouble these days. You can try on a different gender, age, even country of origin. Never mind that it’s illegal, it’s possible, right?

But when Zoe’s Gran dies and leaves behind a package, which reveals she had other names in her past, the mystery, the dangers and complications of having different ids hits. Zoe digs for answers with the help of a techno-whizz friend but the more she discovers, the more confusing it all seems.

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Review: Heart Beat

Ever since her mother’s sudden death, it’s like someone has pressed the ‘pause’ button on Emma’s life. She can’t let go of the past and she can’t look forward to the future. She can’t grieve properly because in a way, Emma’s mother isn’t actually gone. Every day Emma visits her bedside, where her mother is kept alive by machines so that the baby inside her can continue to grow.

Emma is blinded by grief and loses all connection with her own life – grades, friends, thoughts of her future – because she is so focused on the life her mother has lost and the small life that grows within her. She refuses to talk with her step-father and if it wasn’t for her best friend, she would hardly notice what was happening outside of her mother’s hospital room.

Review: Edward and the Great Discovery

Edward comes from an archeological family. All of them simply love to dig and each and every one has made very important discoveries, yes they have.

Edward is determined to join them.

So far, he'd done little more than dig a polkadot patchwork of holes in the backyard, but then one fine day ... Edward finds, er - trips over - something interesting.

It's an egg--a very mysterious egg, containing a very mysterious should-not-be-here, what-on-earth-is-going-on kind of creature.

12 Curly Questions with author Ezekiel Kwaymullina

1 .Tell us something hardly anyone knows about you.
I read comics all the time when I should be doing work.

2. What is your nickname?

3. What is your greatest fear?
I’m super scared of heights. I could never be a trapeze artist.

4. Describe your writing style in ten words.
Fun and adventurous, short and poetic.

5. Tell us five positive words that describe you as a writer.
Funny. Inspirational. Driven. Obsessive. Determined.

6. What book character would you be, and why?
Doesn’t matter what book character, as long as I’m the hero. Otherwise it’d be boring!

Monday, 16 June 2014

Review: Silver People

How much do you know about the building of the Panama Canal?

I must confess that I haven’t given this incredible feat of engineering all that much thought. As a result, I started reading Margarita Engle’s Silver People with few preconceived notions of how the Newbery Honour-winning author would portray the building of the dam in this book published to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the opening of the Canal.

Within the first few pages, I was completely captured by this incredibly evocative verse novel sharing the experiences of those involved in the building of the dam. Young men and boys who travel from their homes with promises of riches and the opportunity to be part of the Eighth Wonder of the World, discover instead that their days are filled with back-breaking work and the ever present threat of mudslides and malaria. These are the silver people, men of coloured skin paid very little for their life-threatening labour and treated as second-rate citizens by those running the project (who are, of course, paid in gold).

Review: Chasing Stars

This sequel to After Eden picks up exactly where that book ended, cleverly reframing events so that readers are once again up to speed with the mind-bending implications of time travel for our heroes Eden and Ryan.

In one reality, Eden dies. In another reality — one in which Ryan defies the Guardians of Time, breaks the Temporal Laws, and returns to save her — Eden is rescued at the last second and once again reunited with Ryan. And that's where their problems start.

Review: Dreamers

We are the dream and the dreamers…

It’s possible that this gorgeous picture book could have included only those words and I would have been happy. What a wonderful phrase to capture the hope and the potential of children. Fortunately, author Ezekiel Kwaymullina continues on with further evocative descriptions that describe the imagination and energy of children at play.

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Review: Girl Defective

Sky (aka Skylark) lives with her little brother Gully (who wears a pig mask 24/7) and dad above their record shop. While her dad struggles to keep the vinyl business alive and Gully spends his out-of-school hours being Secret Agent Gully, Sky would rather be finding her own kind of people and hanging out with Nancy.

‘Before Nancy, I never smoked or drank, what I knew about sex you could ice on a cupcake.’ Sky’s emotions and longings also awaken through the alluring, more experienced Nancy’s influence. 

When someone throws a brick through the shop window, Gully’s detective antics ramp up and when a cute guy starts working at the shop Sky has more than enough to contend with, but when Nancy goes AWOL, Sky is forced to do a little detecting of her own.

Guest Post: Illustrators Australia with Jess Racklyeft

KBR is delighted to welcome graphic designer, illustrator and editor Jess Racklyeft with this glorious guest post on Illustrators Australia, their quarterly magazine Outline, and the Australian children's book illustrators we know and love so well.

I’ve been a member of Illustrators Australia for several years, and the editor of their quarterly member magazine Outline for two. Over this time, I’ve been so lucky to interview some very talented illustrators – including illustrators working in my favourite (and most obsessive) field - that of children’s books.

Illustrators Australia is a non-profit body set up to promote and protect the rights of Australian illustrators, from students to emerging artists and established illustrators. As a member, I’ve participated in some great events such as the 9x5 Show, attended conferences and industry-related events. Through their folio website, I’ve picked up illustration work from authors' self-published projects to card designs.

I’ve also absolutely loved piecing together the issues of Outline magazine – secretly, it is my way of learning more from Australia’s best illustration talent! 

Marc Martin

Once we settle on a theme for the each edition, I research the topic – the current state of the market, changes in the industry, and of course some of the best illustrators currently working in the field. I’ve worked on topics such as Editorial, Typography, Animation and Education. Everything is put together in inDesign, and I’m constantly inspired by the portfolios of the artists profiled – I love sharing their illustration work alongside their words.

Our recent issue on children’s illustration allowed me to contact such heroes of mine such as Marc Martin, Mitch Vane, Natalie Marshall, Shane McGowan,
Children’s Book Publisher Erica Wagner, and Rights Manager Joanna Lake.

Natalie Marshall

These talented individuals kindly shared a deep look into their career history (for example, I learned many of the artists I love are former graphic designers), their inspiration, processes and, of course, their utterly amazing art.

I’ve been blown away by the generosity the IA community have in sharing this sort of information – even down to such details as where they found the best printer locally, or where they pick up digital textures to create their work. Our industry representatives – Erica and Joanna – also gave a great insight into the operations of their publishing houses (Allen & Unwin and the Five Mile Press, respectively) – something that usually mystifies or terrifies a lot of us illustrators.

Mitch Vane

Although only members can access the full editions, they recently allowed access to the public to the individual profiles and many of the past year’s editions are currently available to view. Prepare to be inspired!

You can also learn more about Illustrators Australia from their website www.illustratorsaustralia.com. For the illustrators out there, I encourage you to consider applying to join this organisation and support their great work, which will mutually support your own.

See Jess's beautiful illustrations and work at www.jessesmess.com.

Librarian's Shelf: Meeting Book Creators

Have you ever been to an author event at the library? It’s a must-do for anyone interested in books, or if you want to interest someone else in them.

Meeting authors and illustrators, the creators of books, is an inspiring experience for readers of all ages. As a librarian, I've been fortunate to be there when many authors have visited the library to share their work. It’s almost inevitable that the children (and adults) become enthusiastic about reading a new book, or trying their hand at writing themselves. I remember meeting an author at my school library and being fascinated by the process of developing a story--the 'behind the scenes' perspective of creating a book.

It’s lots of fun to hear from the creators of your favourite books, or if you don’t know anything about them, to hear about new books and authors and expand your reading interests.

Each author or illustrator will have a different approach to their visit, but they usually have some things in common. They will probably, for example, talk about how they got started, where their ideas come from, or how they work in collaboration. Most will leave plenty of time for questions, and sometimes you might get a sneak peak at a story that hasn’t been published yet.

Often, there will be books for sale so you can get a autographed copy (if you already have one you’d like signed, that’s usually okay, too). Watch out for writing workshops which are occasionally offered as well.

Keep an eye out for any author events at your local library and make the most of them. They can be popular though, so if bookings are necessary, it’s important to make one as early as possible.

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. 

Speechie's Couch: Reading for Meaning

Some children can read aloud to perfection. Every sound in every word is in its right place, but when asked about what they were reading, a few children who have spent all their energy getting the words right, have no idea.

Other children struggle to get the words out just so, but whatever they can read aloud, they understand.

Here is the conundrum of literacy learning. Why are some children are stronger at decoding (reading accuracy) and others at understanding? Is one skill more important than the other?

The first months in the classroom focus on developing prerequisite skills that underpin reading accuracy. Children learn about sounds in isolation--the first sounds in words and words families (words that share the same letter pattern). All of these skills lead children to master reading accuracy.

Once reading accuracy is stabilised (and this can take longer for some children than others) something magical happens. Questions begin to form in young reader’s minds. They want to know more than what the written words offer. Where did Grandma hide the eggs? Who was knocking at the door? What will happen next?

This is the Holy Grail that teachers want every child to discover: the joy of interacting with the text. It is hard to reach this point if decoding words takes enormous effort. It’s always important to remember that reading comprehension is based on how easily words are decoded. You cannot understand what you cannot decode.

The best way to help children take another step up the slippery slope to reading comprehension is, as always, to enjoy sharing stories at home. And what better place to do this than at bedtime?

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. 

Publisher's Insider: Ebooks: Love Them or Hate Them

I confess that, as someone who still uses a paper diary to record meetings and organise her life, I thought I would hate ebooks. After all, part of the pleasure of reading is the feel of a book, the smell of a book, the sheer ‘kick back and relax’ appeal of a book. But, it turns out I don’t hate ebooks at all. In fact, I’m madly and deeply in love with my Kindle, which enables me to carry a virtual library with me wherever I go, although I still devour piles and piles of pbooks, too.

But, somewhat controversially it seems, I am not a huge fan of children’s picture books taking ebook form — whether as enhanced apps or straight stories. Children are exposed to so much technology at such an early age these days. In my house, I feel like my husband and I are constantly trying to cut back on my daughter’s exposure to ‘screen time’, and I know we’re not alone in that. Numerous studies have shown that overexposure to electronic media at a young age does impact a child’s developing brain and can adversely affect concentration and attention span.

But beyond all that is the tactile pleasure I derive from reading with my daughter. At the end of her day, as she snuggles up next to me, and together we turn the pages of her current book, I feel like I’m connecting with her in the same way that my mother connected with me before. It’s a shared experience that transcends generations. It’s just not the same if those pages are being turned with the swipe of a finger.

Once kids hit their teens, my scruples seem to fade away. I hope that by then my own daughter will be a booklover through and through — indoctrinated with a love of words that will never fade. So if she chooses to read for pleasure on an iPad, Kindle or whatever other form of technology that will have arrived by then, that’s probably going to be fine with me. Just as long as she’s still reading! But if a dog-eared paperback is stuffed in her bag, I’ll be smiling … 

Anouska Jones is our KBR Editor. Mum to a gorgeous little girl, she has nearly twenty years' experience in the book publishing industry. A publishing consultant and editor, Anouska is obsessed by all things to do with words, writing and books.