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

Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Review: Rescue on Nim's Island

The adventurous Nim is back, exploring her island and making friends in the third book in Wendy Orr’s wonderful Nim’s Island series.

Nim’s father Jack has invited a group of scientists to the island to study algae and perform some environmental experiments. Nim isn’t too keen on having a group of strangers roaming about her island, especially when she finds out they will be bringing their children with them, but she is pleased that her new friend Edmund will be returning for a visit at the same time.

When the visitors arrive, Nim and her animal friends Selkie the sea lion and Fred the marine iguana are excited to see Edmund, but something doesn’t seem right about some of the scientists. By the time Nim discovers what the scientists are really interested in, she and the other children are in danger. It is up to Nim to protect Edmund, her new friends and her beloved island. Can she make the right choices to preserve the island’s special treasures and keep the children safe?

Review: Nursery Rhymes

This collection of four board books by prolific author/illustrator Tony Ross is the perfect gift for young children, and an excellent addition to any home bookshelf.

Each rhyme covers either a single or double page spread, and each book has a particular focus: playtime, bedtime, animals and actions (although some could probably fit into more than one category). There are plenty of classics like Baa Baa Black Sheep, Rock-A-Bye Baby and Jack and Jill, and some perhaps less well known rhymes like Sing A Song of Sixpence and Little Boy Blue.

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Review: Thursdays with the Crown

Princess Celie’s magical adventures continue in Thursdays with the Crown, the third book in the Castle Glower series that began with Tuesdays at the Castle (KBR review).

At the end of Wednesdays in the Tower (KBR review), the magical castle had transported Celie, her brother Rolf and sister Lilah, her friends Lulath and Pogue, and her pet griffin Rufus into the past. Pogue is injured and the others are confused. Where (and when) are they and how do they get back home to their own time?

To return home they need to find a missing piece to the Eye of the Castle and defeat an evil wizard who wants the castle and the secret of training the griffins for himself. Celie, Rolf, Lilah, Lulath and Pogue need to work together and enlist the help of the magnificent Royal Griffins if they want to return safely to their family and friends in the future.

Review: Funny Face!

There are a decent handful of publishers creating super cool, funky, highly imaginative activity books to end all activity books. And Thames & Hudson is one of them.

This new breed of books is nothing like the service-station finds Dad would bring home with the milk, no no. These creations are mini works of art, complete with hard covers, cut-outs, split-pages, fold-outs and all manner of supersonic graphic design.

Monday, 29 December 2014

Review: My First Elmer Collection

If you haven’t met Elmer the patchwork elephant before, these four board books are a gentle introduction to the friendly pachyderm.

Elmer the elephant has had many adventures over the last twenty-five years. With his colourful patchwork body, Elmer introduces diversity and reminds readers that being different is okay.

The My First Elmer Collection is a set of four bright board books: Elmer’s Day, Elmer’s Friends, Elmer’s Colours, and Elmer’s Weather. They explore subjects like the different colours in our life (food, nature) and the different tasks we accomplish during our day (eating lunch, playing, having a bath, and going to bed). In learning about the weather Elmer watches cloud shapes and plays in the rain, enjoying the different experiences.

Sunday, 28 December 2014

Review: The Beast of Monsieur Racine

Monsieur Racine is a retired tax collector. He lives in a sweet little cottage where he loves to spend his days tinkering in the garden and watching the clouds go by.

M. Racine's greatest gardening treasure is his pear tree, with luscious fruit that has won many a prize at local fairs.

Alas, one day, M. Racine wakes to see his precious, juicy pears gone. Rushing outside, he discovers one single pear remaining. Donning his old cavalry uniform, he ties the pear to a bell and a piece of string and waits to see if the thief will return.

Saturday, 27 December 2014

Review: One Big Pair of Underwear

One Big Pair of Underwear is a funny counting book for older kids. It’s got rhyme and is filled with tongue-twisting sentences. Try wrapping yourself around this one for starters: Three seals steal a set of wheels.

There are plenty of animals doing wacky things to count, too: goats in cars, cows on jet skis, and hippos cooking.

At its heart there’s also a sharing theme. The single pair of underwear in the book’s title is argued over at first by two brown bears who both want to wear the underwear, but they soon try sharing it instead.

Shout Out: Dealing with Feelings series

A series of small picture books aimed at toddlers and preschoolers, the Dealing with Feelings books explore simple, familiar childhood experiences such as a new sibling, taking turns, making friends and feeling grumpy.

With brief text by Nicola Call and simple illustrations in bold colours by Sally Featherstone, the books highlight different emotions and situations that toddlers and young children will relate to, opening up opportunities for parents and carers to help children learn how to recognise their feelings and get along with others.

There are currently four books available in the series:
  • It’s My Turn
  • Sunita’s Baby Sister
  • Making Friends
  • Gregory’s Grumpy Day
At the end of each book there is a brief section for parents offering tips on how to use the book to help children understand the social skills and emotions featured in the story. These tips include suggestions for activities, games and conversations to help children draw parallels between the story and their own experiences.

These simple picture books are ideal for parents and carers looking for stories for young children that offer opportunities to easily discuss dealing with emotions and developing good social skills.

It's My Turn
Sunita's Baby Sister
Making Friends
Gregory's Grumpy Day
Author: Nicola Call
Illustrator: Sally Featherstone
Publisher: Featherstone Education, $12.99 RRP (each)
Publication Date: September 2014
Format: Hardcover
It's My Turn - 9781472907745
Sunita's Baby Sister - 9781472907769
Making Friends - 9781472907752
Gregory's Grumpy Day - 9781472907721
For ages: 2-5
Type: Picture Book

Friday, 26 December 2014

Review: Duck

Duck is yellow and raggedy, smells like a blanket and feels soft and woolly. He’s also a little boy’s best friend and goes everywhere with him - the bath, bed, and even up a tree.

Then one day Duck goes missing and the boy hunts for him everywhere, asking the shopkeeper, the postman, the bus driver, and the dog next door. The boy has to go through his day without Duck and feels miserable.

Review: The Great Snortle Hunt

In a scary-creepy house on a bumpy-steepy hill, there lives a Snortle, or so it's been said.

Mouse dares his friends Cat and Dog to go take a peek at the creepy house. So they amass their gear--a torch, a rope, cake (Snortles have huge appetites), and off they go.

Thump! What's that noise? The friends jump out of their skins but it's only Rabbit who wants to join in.

The wind whistles as they scale the hill and approach the creepy house. What will they find inside?

Thursday, 25 December 2014

A Bookish Christmas from KBR!

May your bookshelf be full this Christmas

Thank you to our gorgeous readers for another amazing year--stuffed with all things bookish.

We wish you a truly blessed Festive Season and a scrumptious cache of books to unwrap around the tree--both for yourself and your kids.

Merry Christmas from all of us at KBR!

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Review: Alexander Who's Trying His Best to be the Best Boy Ever

Who’s been eating the jelly doughnuts? A whole box of them! It was Alexander and he soon learns there are consequences for being greedy.

Alexander hates consequences more than he loves doughnuts, so he decides he’s going to be the best boy ever for the rest of his life. Dad suggests starting with a week and seeing how he goes. That means cleaning his room, cleaning his teeth without being asked, doing his homework, and offering to help others. It’s not always easy to be the best boy ever, though. Alexander is tempted - and the week isn’t even over!

Review: Enid Blyton's Christmas Stories

Enid Blyton wrote over 600 books in her lifetime. Such a prolific and beloved author was sure to include a clutch of Christmas stories among this, and this compendium features over 35 of her best.

Featuring a classic cast of kids she does so well, readers will love immersing in the magic and joy of retro Christmasses past.

The book features part-title illustrations by Mark Beech, and stories are peppered with sections of a single tale which takes kids on a journey through a family's Christmas preparations. Not only entertaining, the story reveals how many popular Christmas traditions came to be.

A great one for collectors.

Title: Enid Blyton's Christmas Stories
Author: Enid Blyton
Illustrator: Mark Beech
Publisher: Hodder Children's, $14.99 RRP
Publication Date: 28 October 2014
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 9781444922578
For ages: 6 - 12
Type: Junior Fiction

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Review: Elephants Have Wings

Two young children ask their father to share a familiar bedtime story – Grandfather’s Story. What follows is a mystical tale about discovering truth and learning to accept that we are all different but also connected with each other.

Elephants Have Wings, by well-known author Susanne Gervay (author of the I Am Jack series), is a picture book inspired by the ancient story of the blind man and the elephant. Elephants have significance in several spiritual traditions including Buddhism, Jainism, Hinduism and Sufism. This multi-spiritual foundation is reflected in the central theme of the story focusing on how as individuals we are both different and the same.

12 Curly Questions with author and illustrator Naomi Eccles-Smith

1. Tell us something hardly anyone knows about you.
I’m a proud pop-culture geek! Oh, wait, everyone probably already knows that. How about, when I was a child, I actually didn’t enjoy reading (instead, I loved looking at illustrations and making up my own stories).

2. What is your nickname?
‘Nez’ has survived as a nickname since my high school days, but I’ve also accepted ownership of ‘N’ and ‘Narni’ since then.

3. What is your greatest fear?
I imagine the loss of my hands and eyes (the outlets of my creativity) would be truly awful.

4. Describe your writing style in ten words.
If it’s fantastical, visual, and adventurous, then it’s definitely me!

5. Tell us five positive words that describe you as a writer.
Unique, involved, colourful, expressive, imaginative.

Monday, 22 December 2014

Review: The Squickerwonkers

Squickerwonkers. It’s a fabulous word that evokes something unusual, and that’s what this story is, unusual. The Squickerwonkers is a cautionary tale, a story of tough love, playfully told in verse form by actress, and now author, Evangeline Lilly (Lost and The Hobbit trilogy).

When a young girl named Selma explores an unusual fairground ride alone, she finds the mysterious Squickerwonkers inside. The Squickerwonkers are a troupe of marionettes, and each of them has a vice (pride, meanness, greed, gluttony and so on). Selma has one, too, but it’s not visible until she is challenged by the Squickerwonkers and puts on a temper tantrum of royal proportions.

Be prepared for anything, because there’s a surprise waiting in the shadows, and it’s one that just might lead Selma to think twice about how she behaves.

Review: I Love You, Father Christmas

Oh, I still remember by childhood in Tassie when we called Santa 'Father Christmas'. Those days are long lost, but the magic of this jolly man in red stays the same, no matter what modern children call him.

Another book in the wonderful pairing that is Andreae/Dodd, I Love You, Father Christmas features Dodd's beautifully charming illustrations and Andreae's equally charming text that resonates so beautifully with young ones.

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Review: Top Top Secret

Sid is a secret agent spy, and Top Top Secret is the story of how he recovers a stolen ring.

Top Top Secret is told in rhyme, and the book design is really important. In many places the words are printed to demonstrate what’s happening (as Sid goes “up steep steps” the words are found in that very spot, on an angle leading up the steps).

In search of the stolen ring, which belongs to the King, Sid makes his way through a drain and long, muddy shaft, then a river infested by dangerous animals. Watch out for self-destructing letters and trapdoors, too.

Review: Christmas in Australia

John Williamson's classic Christmas song is brought to life in this festive celebration for kids.

It's Christmas in Australia and Dad wants that perfect Christmas family photo, but someone is always missing (can you relate?).

First it's Sam. Then baby Bubbles. Then Cher. Annie's next, then Ami. And soon enough, Heddi's out of the picture. Why can't everyone be in the one spot at the same time!?

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Review: Hippu

First published in 1967, this adorable book for little ones was considered super modern for its time. And indeed, its graphics could easily have been produced by some hipster GDer in Fitzroy on a high-tech computer, such is the gorgeousness of its imagery.

Finnish author illustrator Oili Tanninen came up with the concept for this book while living in London.

He was pondering a new book and wanted to fulfill three points: it should be small and square--perfect for a toddler's hands. It should be cheap to print, s he opted for bi-colour. And lastly, it had to tell a story about everyday things small kids can relate to.

12 Curly Questions with author Michelle Heeter

1. Tell us something hardly anyone knows about you. 
I am 1/64th Native American.

2. What is your nickname?  
Micho. In high school, it was “Mitch,” sometimes “Mitch the Bitch.”

3. What is your greatest fear?
Being poor in my old age.

4. Describe your writing style in ten words.  
As in “how to describe your writing” (which is what you probably mean): Dramatic, unflinching, occasionally mean, reflects the variety of human experience.

As in “your style when you go about writing” (which probably isn’t what you mean.)This is a 10-step sequence, from picking up the pen to polishing the final draft:
Afraid, hesitant, frustrated, uninspired, plodding, determined, curious, engaged, absorbed, satisfied.

5. Tell us five positive words that describe you as a writer.
Perceptive, precise, irreverent, unconventional, unpretentious.

Friday, 19 December 2014

Review: Star Bright

Author Alison McGhee tells the traditional nativity story in a new way, and with the combination of Peter H. Reynold’s beautiful illustrations, it looks and feels as contemporary as it does ancient.

Star Bright is a gorgeous re-telling of the Christmas story from the point of view of a young angel who wants to give the new baby a gift.

Everyone else, all the other angels and the people on earth, have the perfect gift to give, but what about the newest angel? What could someone who feels so small and inconspicuous find to give a baby whose birth is anticipated with such joy?

Review: A Chick 'n' Pug Christmas

Chick is feeling rather chilly. His bestie, Pug, is not. He's rather toasty warm because he's wearing a rather special outfit. He's Santa.

Chick quizzes Pug about Santa. He sounds amazing. He must be a superhero. Does he have a sidekick?

'Well, he does have elves,' says Pug.

Chick is beside himself. He wants to be an elf. So Chick and Pug set about spreading some elfish joy.

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Review: Draw!

Draw! is a wordless picture book about “creativity and imagination”. It’s filled with wonderful, inspiring illustrations of wildlife and landscapes.

We see a boy sitting in his bedroom reading a book about Africa. He gets out a sketchbook and starts drawing. The next thing you know, he’s on safari in the midst of elephants and zebras, giraffes, monkeys, lions and many other wild animals.

Sketchbook and pencil in hand, the boy is depicted as part of the landscape as he draws all the animals, until finds himself being chased by a rhino! Escaping up a tree, the tables are turned on the boy with one of the animals drawing a picture of him. The boy finally rides off into the sunset on an elephant.

Review: Everything I Need to Know About Christmas, I Learned from a Little Golden Book

After the rip-roaring success (ah, nostalgia) of Everything I Need to Know, I Learned from a Little Golden Book, comes the festive version of the same, featuring glorious illustrations from the Little Golden Books of our recent and far distant past.

Really made for adults, but absolutely something kids can utterly enjoy, this drily humorous retrospective will make adults chuckle in that Pixar-film-only-adults-get-it way.

Each (totally PG) page features an illustration from a past Golden Book, ranging from the 1940s through to 2011. The variety of illustration is truly enchanting, and more than once, I was magically transported to my own childhood, as Little Bear and the Poky Little Puppy and the Naughty Bunny came to life.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Review: My Bubble Writer Christmas Book

Stocking Stuffer Alert! No stocking would be complete without this fabulously fun activity book, beautifully produced by Laurence King.

Superbly-designed pages jostle with hand-drawn imagery and fonts to boggle kids into a creative zone adults will envy.

From Christmas postcards and wishlists, to spot-this and decorate that, kids can also cut out tags and decorations of their own, to add to gifts and bedeck their rooms with papery fun.

Festive shenanigans for all ages.

Title: My Bubble Writer Christmas Book
Author/Illustrator: Linda Scott
Publisher: Laurence King, $23.99 RRP
Publication Date: 1 September 2014
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 9781780671918
For ages: 3+
Type: Activity Book

Author Interview: Bernadette Kelly

Kids' Book Review Editor Jo Burnell was delighted to have the opportunity to chat with Bernadette Kelly, author of the popular Riding High and Pony Patch novels. Jo asked Bernadette about her latest book, Australian Writers of Influence, published in October 2014 by Black Dog Books.

The Our Stories Series by Black Dog Books has covered explorers, heroes and the federation. Your recent addition to this series introduces us to Australian Authors of Influence.

From where did the idea for this particular book come?
I have always enjoyed writing non-fiction and I find it an incredible opportunity to learn about all kinds of things. When I became interested in looking more closely at the lives and work of some of our early Australian writers, I happened to mention the  idea to the publisher for Black Dog Books. She then suggested I do a book on the subject for the 'Our Stories' series.

How did you go about digging up information from so many years ago?
I started with the internet. Google is one of the best tools for writers. Researching for me is a bit like what it must have been for the miners in the gold rush. With each new 'turn of the spade', I look for another shiny nugget of information to show itself. There is a treasure trove of information online if you are prepared to spend some time exploring.

Finding just one small but intriguing fact gives me 'gold fever'. The wonder of it spurs me on to see what else I can find and before I know it I have a whole pile of interesting snippets and I'm trying to decide which are the best ones to put in the book. But the internet can also be misleading. All facts need to be carefully checked and double checked for accuracy and that's where the library, old newspaper articles, and reference books become really, really useful.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Review: Santa's Outback Christmas

Santa offers a touching and meaningful message on the true spirit of Christmas in his role as main character in this gorgeous story in rhyming verse. Illustrated with bold colours and lines in tune with the seasons’ festivities, Santa's Outback Secret speaks of compassion and helping your fellow man without thought of reward.

I loved the selflessness of Santa. He sets out incognito for the outback to answer a child’s plea for help for his father. Regardless of his overwhelming schedule, he makes the time to support someone desperate for help.

Review: Tea and Sugar Christmas

For an astonishing 81 years, the Tea and Sugar train--no. 5205--carted mixed goods from Port Augusta to Kalgoorlie. The 1050km rail link stretched across the dusty Nullabor Plain, making repeated supply stops along the way, delighting and uplifting the local settlers.

This train was a true lifeline for these isolated people. It supplied regular groceries, fresh fruit and vegetables, meat, and even banking facilties and the occasional theatrette car for showing movies. It also supplied invaluable news and information, medical and dental services--even a monthly priest to perform baptisms and weddings.

At Christmas time, however, train no. 5205 supplied something magical.

Monday, 15 December 2014

KBR Recommends: Great Junior Fiction Summer Holiday Reads

This fabulous clutch of books make a perfect library of titles to read over the summer school holidays. With an age range of 6 - 14, depending on the reader, you're sure to find something fabulous for the Christmas stocking.

The Imaginary by AF Harrold and Emily Gravett, Bloomsbury, $27.99, 9781408852460, ages 6 - 12)

Something's hunting Rudger, and all he can do is run. There's nobody to help him. Nobody will listen to him. Oh... and he doesn't exist. An extraordinary tale illustrated by the incomparable Emily Gravett.

Rudger is Amanda Shuffleup's imaginary friend. It's a funny old life, not actually being there, but someone's got to do it. Nobody else can see Rudger - until the sinister Mr Bunting arrives at Amanda's door. Mr Bunting hunts imaginaries. Rumour says that he eats them. And he's sniffed out Rudger.

Soon Rudger is alone, and running for his imaginary life. He needs to find Amanda before Mr Bunting catches him - and before Amanda forgets him and he fades away to nothing. But how can an unreal boy stand alone in the real world?

Fans of Roald Dahl and Neil Gaiman will love this unsettling story of love, imagination and not really being there.

Frank Enstein and the Antimatter Motor by Jon Scieszka and Brian Biggs, Abrams, $11.99, ages 7 - 12)

Frank Einstein loves figuring out how the world works by creating household contraptions that are part science, part imagination, and definitely unusual. After an uneventful experiment in his garage-lab, a lightning storm and flash of electricity bring Frank’s inventions—the robots Klink and Klank—to life!

Not exactly the ideal lab partners, the wisecracking Klink and the overly expressive Klank nonetheless help Frank attempt to perfect his Antimatter Motor . . . until Frank’s archnemesis, T. Edison, steals Klink and Klank for his evil doomsday plan! Using real science, Jon Scieszka has created a unique world of adventure and science fiction—an irresistible chemical reaction for middle-grade readers.

Jon Scieszka has sold more than 11 million books, including The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales, The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs, the Time Warp Trio series, Guys Read, Spaceheadz, and most recently, Battle Bunny with Mac Barnett. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Book by John Agard, Walker Books, $16.95, 9780744544787, ages 6 - 12)

My name is Book and I'll tell you the story of my life." Non fiction like you've never read it before!
Quirky and humorous, part poetry, part reflection, this is the story of the book told by none other than Book himself! This extraordinary character begins by reminding us of his origins in oral story and clay tablets, then ponders on papyrus, parchment and paper, and on being a scroll who finally gets a spine. We see him lovingly illuminated by monks in medieval monasteries, then witness the massive changes brought about by the invention of the printing press, and the coming of paperbacks and e-books in the 20th century.

But Book's not a straightforwardly chronological chap; he can't help musing - and his musings, whether they're on the evolution of the alphabet, libraries, book-burning or blurbs, are delightful and thought-provoking.

My Funny Family by Chris Higgins and Lee Wildish, Hodder Children's, $12.99, 9781444918410, ages 6 - 10)

It's a tight squeeze as usual in the Butterfield house, and with baby Will's stuff taking up all the room it's getting even worse. Lucinda's house has ten times more room for her family than the squished Butterfields have!

Mattie's Worry List gets bigger when Mum seems to be unhappy, and wants to move house. But moving house would mean moving schools - Mattie's worst Worry List come true!

The Volume of Possible Endings by Barbara Else, Gecko Press, $19.99, 9781927271377, ages 11 - 15)

Dorrity is the only child in magic-free Owl Town. When she finds an enchanted book with dire predictions, she must face her enemies. And who is the strange boy who has appeared in the Beastly Dark?

This stand-alone pre-teen adventure/fantasy novel is the third book in the Tales of Fontania series of novels, following The Travelling Restaurant (which received a starred review in Kirkus: "A heaping plateful of adventure, spiced to perfection with dangers, deft humor and silly bits.") and The Queen and the Nobody Boy.

Filled with humour, action, adventure, and magic, this is a truly gripping read featuring a large and memorable cast of characters

Jumble Cat by Archie Kimpton and Kate Hindley, Hot Key Books, $12.95, 9781471402784, ages 6 - 12)

Billy Slipper is a fairly normal boy with a definitely not-so-fairly normal family. All he wants to do is add to his 'Collectabillya' (an assortment of weird and wonderful objects he finds) in peace, but his cleaning-mad mum (she even clingfilms the carrots!) and his fantastically horrid twin sister have other ideas.

However, they don't bargain on Billy finding his best ever Collectabillya - Jumblecat! Jumblecat is a ...well, a jumbled-up cat (who talks, by the way), and he's set to change the Slippers' lives forever.

With the help of his batty old-lady next-door-neighbour, Billy must battle to win the town pet show, find a vet who can un-jumble Jumblecat, Rescue Jumblecat when he is stolen - and then stop Jumblecat from getting stuffed, all with the help of his dad's milk float. Sounds easy? Well, you just haven't met Jumblecat yet.

Friday Barnes, Girl Detective by RA Spratt, Random House, $15.99, 9781742759623, ages 9 - 12)

Imagine if Sherlock Holmes was an eleven-year-old girl!

When girl detective Friday Barnes solves a bank robbery she uses the reward money to send herself to the most exclusive boarding school in the country, Highcrest Academy. On arrival, Friday is shocked to discover the respectable school is actually a hotbed of crime.

She's soon investigating everything from disappearing homework to the Yeti running around the school swamp. That's when she's not dealing with her own problem - Ian Wainscott, the handsomest boy in school, who inexplicably hates Friday and loves nasty pranks.

Can Friday solve Highcrest Academy's many strange mysteries, including the biggest mystery of all - what's the point of high school?

Review: Fiddlesticks!

All is wonderfully well in Mouse's world. He lives in a gorgeous home with a beautiful garden. Except ... one of his windows is a little bit crooked. Fiddlesticks!

He asks Bear, who is big and strong, to help. The window is straightened. Except ...

He pushed a little too hard and now the frame is broken. Fiddlesticks, rats!

Tania's Picks: Crazy Good Picture Books for Aficionados

It's a whole lot of fun working on KBR. Not only do I get to work with some amazing people, I get to even part-way satisfy my voracious appetite for children's books, particularly picture books.

I see hundreds of review copies every year but I'm also pretty perennially on the hunt for my own picture book treasures--usually foreign titles, because I see so many incredible Aussie titles (and there are so many) through KBR.

Even though we certainly try (!), the KBR team can't possibly review every book we're sent or have picked up on our shopping jaunts, so herewith a collection of just some of the picture books I fell in love with this year--mostly purchased. I'm hoping you'll come across some true treasures in this line-up--I highly recommend each and every one to the moon and back.

If you're interested in learning more about each time, simply google the title and author. Have fun!

Your affectionate PB aficionado,


Interview: Author Corinne Fenton and her Little Dog and the Christmas Wish

KBR is delighted to welcome Corinne Fenton with this interview on her beautiful new book Little Dog and the Christmas Wish. We hope it puts you in a festive mood!

In Little Dog and the Christmas Wish, you take us back to a time when bread was delivered by horse and cart and yellow metal rubbish bins line city streets, yet there are some cars about. Exactly what era is your beautiful tale set in and how did you decide on this space in time?

Several years ago, Maryann Ballantyne, Publisher Black Dog Books, an imprint of Walker Books, asked me to write a nostalgic Christmas tale, so I decided to set my story in a long-ago time but not so long ago that I couldn’t remember it.

The story is set in the 1950s—I remember waiting breathlessly in the queues at Myer Windows, I remember the arcades and I remember the Christmas decorations hanging from the light posts and on the buildings.

Referring to my other books, children often ask me if I met Queenie, if I’ve been on a bullock wagon like Bill from The Dog on the Tuckerbox, or if I remember riding on the Luna Park Carousel, like Flame from Flame Stands Waiting, which was set in the years of the Depression, and I tell them I wasn’t around for any of it. But for this story, I do actually remember the horses clip-clopping as they pulled the bakers’ carts. I have a good memory of my wonderful early childhood, which is why I write under the pen-name of Corinne Fenton, as a thank you to my parents.

I’ve dedicated Little Dog and the Christmas Wish ‘To those who remember Christmases like this.’ I also hope that today’s children can taste a little of what Christmases were like back in the 1950s.

The drama of a lost dog trying to find its way home touches the heart of anyone who has ever loved a pet. How did you decide your lead character would be a dog? And did you have a say in the type of dog that would be portrayed?

I had to go back to my original notes to answer this question. I read an article in the newspaper about how there is always an influx of lost pets (particularly dogs) about before and after Christmas and so many end up at places like the RSPCA and Lost Dogs’ Home.

In the beginning, I thought of a Greyfriar’s Bobby type of dog a ruffling, tumbling terrier and then I remembered West Highland Terriers – and a little white Westie fitted so well with Christmas. I saw him, felt his fear, saw the green and cream trams and the bustling people clutching Christmas gifts – but all in my head ... I can’t draw for nuts!

The text and illustrations complement each other so well. Did you get to talk to Robin Cowcher, the illustrator, about your ideas? How did the production process work?
I always present a full proposal to a publisher which details the idea, setting/time and synopsis and lots of research details. I met with Maryann Ballantyne and Robin Cowcher and we all discussed the book in detail and then for a period I ‘let the story go’.

Later, when the roughs began to emerge, I tried to only comment when something needed to be commented on. Even though this is a fictional story, it’s about a real place in a real time so the details have to be correct. Little things like - in 1957 the Myer Windows displayed the Nutcracker Suite and The Regent Theatre was screening ‘An Affair to Remember’ (one of my favourite old movies) on Christmas Eve.

Each of your picture books takes us back in time to experience first hand a special creature or a treasured space. Where are you planning to take us next?
The early days of the railways, set mainly in South Australia – another dog story I’m afraid! And after that there’s another ‘very different’ animal story on the way.

Learn more about Corinne and her books at corinnefenton.com.

Librarian's Shelf: Beat the Summer Slide

Children who love to read will do so without much encouragement, but there are also those who may not pick up a book at all for the six to eight weeks they have off school over summer.

Research conducted in the USA has shown that reading proficiency can decline quickly over the holidays, particularly when children either reduce their reading or do not read at all during that time. This means their literacy skills are lower than expected when they return to school, and has been called the ‘summer slide’ or ‘summer learning gap’. It makes encouraging and motivating children to read over the summer holidays incredibly important.

Many public libraries help by offering fun activities, and there's a national Summer Reading Club available online with recommended reading, plus games, competitions and downloadable activities, all linked to an annual theme. This year they’re celebrating adventure, and registrations have already opened!

Here are a few tips about helping your children avoid the summer slide:
  • Read aloud every day
  • Remember that reading isn’t just about books - read other things too (menus, street signs, labels etc)
  • Have lots of reading material of all kinds available
  • Visit your local library regularly
  • Listen to an audio book
  • Play games and activities that involve words, like scrabble, crosswords and find-a-words
  • Ask your children about what they are reading
  • Keep a holiday diary or scrapbook
  • Encourage children to have a go at writing their own stories
  • If you watch a movie inspired by a book, find a copy of the book to enjoy as well
  • Give books or book vouchers as Christmas gifts!

Want to know more about the ‘summer slide’? Try starting with these quick links:

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. 

Publisher’s Insider: Christmas in July!

The publishing year is not the same as everybody else’s. In July, it’s all about Christmas. In November, we think of nothing but Mother’s Day. And in April, it’s Father’s Day all the way. Why? Well, it’s usually around these months that editors, designers and publishers are madly sending books to print so they’ll be ready to hit the shelves in time for the various celebrations.

The big push, though, is undoubtedly for the end-of-year titles. For the production teams, the months from May to August pass in a flurry of checking proofs and signing-off on final print-ready files, as it’s the titles released from October onwards that are the ones most often selected for the Christmas catalogues. All our material needs to be ready months in advance so that retailers have cover images, sample pages and extracts available to consider before making their selection in time for their own catalogue print deadlines.

And just as the last book for the year goes to print, and publishing departments everywhere breathe a collective sigh of relief, the baton is passed to the sales and marketing teams, who now gear up for their busiest time of the year. As you can imagine, hundreds of titles are all vying for the same shelf space and media coverage, so publicists are run ragged as they try to find ways to give their books the edge.

Then, finally, a week or so before Christmas, it’s all over. The work is done. And each publisher hopes it’s their books that nestle under Christmas trees around the country.

So here’s wishing you all a very merry and bookish Christmas! May Santa be kind to you and may your bedside tables soon be groaning under a new pile of books!

Anouska Jones is our KBR Senior Editor. Mum to a gorgeous little girl, she has over 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.