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

Thursday, 30 April 2015

Review: Caravan Fran

I've long adored Cheryl Orsini's illustration work, and here as author/illustrator, this talented creator brings us an adorable story about three animal friends who take a trip to the seaside--in their cute-as-pie caravan, Fran.

Oh, how I want that caravan.

Review: Nightbird

Twelve-year-old Twig lives in Sidwell. Her mother is the most beautiful woman in the town and by far the best baker — she's famed for the pies she makes from the apples in the family orchard. Twig is funny, smart, but lonely. She and her mother have a secret and it's one that means they can never have any visitors to their home; they can never let anyone get too close.

Sidwell has a monster. Someone or something is stealing things from the townspeople. Strange graffiti is appearing around town, and the locals are getting very nervous. There's talk of the men needing to go on a monster hunt.

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Review: Any Questions?

Marie-Louise Gay is an acclaimed author and illustrator of kids' books. Over the years, she's been amazed by the questions kids come up with about writing, drawing and how ideas develop into stories. So, in this picture book, she answers them! The result is a story within a story and a wonderfully creative adventure inside the mind of an author/illustrator!

The book begins with the author remembering her own childhood, her curiosity and how she used to always be daydreaming. Not unlike the kids she meets on school visits now that she's a grown-up! She runs through a list of the questions she's often asked: Do you write from morning to night? Can you draw a horse? Do you like watermelons? Where do your ideas come from? And, perhaps the most important: Where does a story start?

The answer it seems, is with a white page. Because 'if you stare long enough at a blank piece of paper, anything can happen …'

Review: Sick Simon

Lordy Lord. Simon is sick. I mean, really, really sick. That green slime caking the under-regions of his schnoz is more than terrifying--and it's no wonder he has the entire school in a dither.

The problem is, Simon doesn't care that he feels lousy. He's in for the best week ever because he LOVES school.

Kissing the family good morning (and passing on his microbes), he throws up his breakfast on the bus, shares snacks with friends and sneezes like a paintball explosion all over his classmates. None of it really matters so long as he gets to go to school to play with his mates.

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Review: How Big is Too Small?

For anyone who has ever begged their older child to include a younger one in their play, this emotive story will call to you. It’s a beguiling blend of cleverness and originality. It’s simple, yet wise.

A feast for the eyes as well as the tongue, it must be read aloud for full appreciation of the classical rhyming verse. The information the artwork reveals is another story on its own. It will be read and examined over and over. It’s one of those books that you can’t get enough of, as you find something new in it every time you open the cover.

12 Curly Questions with author Anthony Horowitz

1. Tell us something hardly anyone knows about you. 
I sing in the bath.

2. What is your nickname?
My friends call me Ant (obviously).

3. What is your greatest fear?
I have many. I am afraid of wasps, spiders and snakes.

4. Describe your writing style in ten words.
 I try to write books that people want to read.

5. Tell us five positive words that describe you as a writer. 
What is it with all these numbers? OK. Fast, easy, fun, exciting, adventurous.

6. What book character would you be, and why?
I’d like to be young, good-looking and successful. I’d like to have a more dangerous life. So I suppose I wouldn’t mind being Alex Rider.

Monday, 27 April 2015

Review: Prisoner of the Black Hawk (The Mapmaker Chronicles #2)

Danger, betrayal, unknown lands, secrets, pirates – you’ll find all these and more in the wonderful adventure series The Mapmaker Chronicles.

In the second book, Prisoner of the Black Hawk, Quinn is far from home as he continues in his role as mapmaker on the Libertas. Captain Zain and the Libertas crew are attempting to win the favour of the King by succeeding in the challenge to return to Verdania within a year with an accurate map of the surrounding countries and oceans.

Quinn and the crew of the Libertas aren’t the only ones competing and not everyone is willing to trust that they will win based on the skill of their mapmaker alone. The dangerous animals in the new lands they discover can’t compare the dangerous schemes of the captains of the Black Hawk and Wandering Spirit and the easiest way for them to remove the competition is to make sure that the Libertas no longer has a mapmaker.

Of course, the sea captains aren’t the only threat to Quinn’s safety and there might just be a traitor hidden on his own ship...

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Review: Havoc

After months of attacks and reprisals, a tenuous ceasefire is in place between the warring sides of the river. The city is split in two by the division of the river and by other conflicts that are much harder to overcome.

When the ceasefire is betrayed, it seems all hope is lost for those in Southside until Nik discovers a stranger amid the debris. Who is she and why does she repeat the word ‘Havoc’? How is she connected to the secret experiments taking place in the Marsh? Can Nik find a way to avoid the barricades and make his way to Cityside to find his father and discover who betrayed the people of Southside?

12 Curly Questions with author Daniel Herborn

1. Tell us something hardly anyone knows about you.
My favourite song ever is Another Girl, Another Planet by the Only Ones. It’s a thrilling and perfect work of art and it was a really key song for me in getting me more interested in punk rock, new wave and 70s music.

2. What is your nickname?  
‘Jack’. So old I can’t even remember where it came from.

3. What is your greatest fear?
Kale. This thing is taking over society and it needs to be stopped.

4. Describe your writing style in ten words.
Trying to recreate the breathless rush of great pop songs

5. Tell us five positive words that describe you as a writer.
I don’t really go round talking about how great I am as a writer, but qualities I aspire to are: Empathetic, funny, rhythmic, stylish, warm.

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Review: Anzac Biscuits

This lovely picture book gently connects young readers with World War I by focusing on a gift sent from home – Anzac biscuits made by a wife and daughter sent to a soldier fighting a war far away.

The story of the young girl, Rachel, and her mother preparing and baking Anzac biscuits alternates with the experiences of the soldier on the battlefield. Words from the warm, happy home scene are echoed in the text for the soldier, where illustrations in grey with only a hint of colour convey a much more sombre mood.

Review: Jet the Rescue Dog

Most of us are aware of the role our soldiers, nurses, doctors and rescue crews play in wartime. We're probably also aware that some animals also play key roles — bomb detection and other 'sniffer' dogs, for example. But I confess I was stunned to learn of the contributions  birds, cats, donkeys, horses and even a bear have made to conflict zones around the world.

Despite damage to one eye, part of a leg missing and an injured wing, Cher Ami the pigeon flew more than 40 kilometres in just over an hour to deliver a message that led to the rescue of a large group of American soldiers in France during World War I. She received two special medals from the grateful French and American forces, was lovingly nursed back to health and was even fitted with a miniature wooden leg!

Friday, 24 April 2015

Review: My Gallipoli

Publishers have offered a significant number of high quality Anzac stories for children this year to coincide with the centenary of the Gallipoli landing. There have been some really outstanding picture books in this selection and My Gallipoli is one of my favourites.

This older reader picture book beautifully illustrated by Robert Hannaford offers multiple perspectives on the Gallipoli battle, giving readers a comprehensive and insightful overview of this historic event.

Ruth Starke’s text is personal and emotive. Written in first person, it shares the perspective of many people who aren’t generally acknowledged in accounts of Gallipoli written for children – the soliders, of course, but also the nurses, war correspondents, the Turkish soldiers and Gurkhas, chaplains, families at home, and medics. I particularly appreciated that the first account is from Adil Sakin, a local who considered Gallipoli (or Gelibolu) his home.

KBR Short Story: The Bugle

by Melanie Hill

Josh packed away his tuba. He was relieved the exam was over. There were only two small mistakesthat he could recall.

“Well done Josh,” said Mr. Cole, patting Josh’s shoulder. “I have another challenge for you. It’s a short term project but, an important one.”

Josh followed Mr. Cole into the music storage room. It was a treasure trove of brass, wind, string and percussion instruments. They were all calling out to be played. In the left corner, at the bottom Mr. Cole pulled out a small case. The leather was faded and the latches might have been gold once. Inside lay a small trumpet-like instrument without valves.

“It’s a bugle,” said Josh.

“It was my great-grandfather’s. I would like you to play it at the school’s Anzac Day ceremony this year. What do you think?”

Only using his breath to control the tune was harder than hitting the notes with his fingers. Josh’s cheeks were sore. He hadn’t had one practice without making a mistake. There was no way he could tell Mr. Cole he didn’t want to play, but then the day of the ceremony arrived.

His Nan poked her head through the backstage curtain. “Are you ready Luv? I spoke to your Mum. She wishes she could be here but because she can’t, she’d like you to wear these.” Nan opened a green felt pocket and pulled out his Mum’s medals. As if he wasn’t nervous enough.

“I’m wearing mine too,” said Nan, “so you won’t be the only one.” She smiled as she pinned the medals onto his school blazer. “I’ll be in the front, off to the side, filming you.”

“Great,” sighed Josh.

Josh stood on the stage. When the Principal spoke the words, “We will remember them,” Josh brought the shaking bugle up to his lips and remembered what Mr. Cole told him, “The Last Post is a final farewell for all who died in war. You are telling them they can rest, they have done their job.”

Josh’s solemn, sad notes echoed around the hall. The last few hung in the air then slowly drifted away. Some of the teachers wiped tears from their eyes. Josh lowered his head. He was half way, but his hands were still shaking.

After the minute silence, Mr. Cole gave the signal. Again, Josh brought the bugle to his lips and he remembered,“The Rouse is a reminder that the dead are in a better place. It’s a call to the living to start their day.” He would play it for his Mum and her ship’s company. Bright notes blasted from the small bugle. No one seemed to notice the slight warble in the middle.

At the end, a red-eyed Mr. Cole gave him a thumbs up. Josh felt his cheeks heat up. Nan, whose broad toothy grin meant a lot, was pointing to the person in a white uniform next to her.

“Mum!” Josh leapt down the stairs.

She squeezed him and said, “You played perfectly.”

During her 18 years in the Air Force, Melanie wrote poems and stories about her experiences. Now she loves using words to weave poems and invent stories for children. Visit Melanie on Facebook or at her blog, View from the Hill.

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, 23 April 2015

Book List: Classics Redone

The classics will never die, and nor should they. Over the years, publishers have taken classic children's stories and retold them as abridged fiction for a variety of ages, picture books with a variety of amazing illustrators, as graphic novels or even parodies.

Here is a line-up (both recent and older) of great classic stories--retold.

Scholastic, $35.95, February 2015, 9781623540494, ages 4 - 10
Alice in Wonderland is one of the most wondrous, truly original stories ever written--filled with magical and marvelous happenings. On its 150th anniversary in 2015, Lewis Carroll's tale of a world gone topsy-turvy gets a unique picture-book retelling of the beginning of Alice's journey, with elegantly simplified text that keeps all of the astonishing adventures and wide-eyed amazement of the original. What a wonderful Introduction for young children to many of the classic Carroll characters. Many of the most famous phrases are here--like 'Curiouser and curiouser' to prepare youngsters for the time they're ready to read the whole book in its original form.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Review: Home

One look at the cover of Home, illustration aficionados, and you're pretty much assured deliciousness inside. Who could resist taking a peek when faced with such an eclectic and charming array of homey options?

And yes, they are truly gorgeous.

Carson Ellis takes us on a tour of the world, and other worlds, in this beautiful book, in search of all kinds of places we call home.

Review: Ride, Ricardo, Ride!

So simple, so understated, so powerful — this is an incredibly moving story about war and its affect on ordinary people.

Ricardo is a young boy who loves nothing more than riding his bike through the local village. As he rides, his father claps his hands and says, 'Ride, Ricardo, ride!' Life is simple and happy, but then one day the 'shadows' come. (And Shane Devries' stunning illustrations depict the shadows of the marching soldiers.)

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Review: It Might Be An Apple

When a young lad comes home from school one day, he spies an apple on the table. But wait--is it really an apple?

It might be a curled up red fish. Or a really large cherry. Or it might even be packed with clever devices, like an apple engine, redness regulator and flavour generator.

It could even be an egg with all manner of creatures inside. Perhaps if it's watered each and every day, it might grow and become an enormous house, complete with slides and a turret and it's own tree!

12 Curly Questions with author K A Barker

1. Tell us something hardly anyone knows about you.
When I was five I decided to run away because that was how all good adventures started.  I packed my suitcase with soft toys and made it down to my front door before I realised I didn’t know how to unlock it.  Mum found me sitting on my suitcase staring longingly up at the door.

2. What is your nickname?
Ah, to have a nickname!  I’ve been wanting one since I was in school, but somehow nothing caught on.  Right now I’m just hoping if I nickname myself Kaylee, it’ll eventually stick.  Browncoats will hopefully approve!

3. What is your greatest fear?
Falling from a high space in the dark while spiders crawl over me.

4. Describe your writing style in ten words.  
Loquacious, playful, sarcastic, simple, sartorial, whimsical, exciting, unabashed, sometimes – at least in my first drafts – indecipherable.

Monday, 20 April 2015

Review: The Last Anzac

Alec “The Kid” Campbell was the last living Anzac. He enlisted in 1915 at the age of 16 and died in May 2002 at the age of 103.

In 2001, a young boy called James travelled to Tasmania to visit Alec Campbell at his home. The Last Anzac is an account of this visit as James asks questions about Alec’s experiences on the battlefield of Gallipoli.

Written by Gordon Winch and illustrated by Harriet Bailey, The Last Anzac shares James’ visit with Alec and their conversation about Gallipoli. For James, it is an opportunity to meet a hero, although Alec doesn’t see himself as such, and for readers there is the opportunity to see Alec and his experiences through the eyes of a child. As the story shares the touching conversation between the veteran and the young boy, the illustrations alternate between Alec’s home and scenes from 1915 as Alec describes his role at Gallipoli and his return to Australia to his young visitor.

Review: The Anzac Puppy

One night, in the middle of winter, in the middle of a war, a puppy was born. Even though her owner, a little girl called Lucy, loved the puppy dearly, she couldn't keep her as the war meant that food was scarce and her family didn't have enough to feed Freda, as the little dog was called.

So, Lucy had to give Freda away. Fortunately, a young soldier called Sam soon offered her a home. Although he was on his way to fight in the war, he wanted to take Freda with him as a lucky mascot. Which is how Freda found herself at the front, in the trenches with the troops.

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Review: Onesie Mumsie!

Our little poppet loves her onesie at bedtime. It's in the shape of an adorable pink bunny, you see, and it's snuggly and cosy and lovely for sleep.

But while rabbits are happy to nod off right now ... a crocodile is up for anything! (Poppet slips into a croc onesie.) Mumsie! There's a crocodile in my bed!

In comes Mum, who loves to eat up crocodiles ... before putting them back to bed. But while crocs might be happy to nod off right now ... a tiger is ready for action!

Saturday, 18 April 2015

10 Quirky Questions with Janeen Brian

1. What's your hidden talent?
Maybe doing voice-overs for radio and documentaries. Or arranging flowers or handwriting. (all things I love doing, but not in a mainstream way)

2.Who is your favourite literary villain and why?
Matron Pluckrose in Jen Storer’s book, Tensy Farlow and the Home for Mislaid Children, because she is the antithesis of how I think children should be treated and cared for. Which is of course, was the writer’s aim. The Matron is cruel, heartless, hypocritical and wears Red Alert lipstick.

3. You're hosting a literary dinner party, which five authors would you invite? (alive or dead)
Tim Winton, Robyn Klein, Ruth Park, Kate di Camillo, Michael Morpurgo, John Steinbeck, Jackie French, Sue Monk-Kidd, Steven Herrick and Noel Coward.

5. What are five words that describe your writing process?
Brainstorm, pen-on-paper, write-edit-write-edit, persist, talk-and-read-aloud

6. Which are the five words you would like to be remembered by as a writer?
Enjoyable, fun, connection, emotions, picture-maker-of–the-mind

7. Picture your favourite writing space. What are five objects you would find there?
Lipsalve for dry lips, cup of tea, glass of water, laptop, scrap paper

8. Grab the nearest book, open it to page 22 and look for the second word in the first sentence. Now, write a line that starts with that word. (Please include the name of the book!)
Celebrating Australia – a year in poetry by Lorraine Marwood

Line: With heart shapes

The sight of a willy-wagtail dancing for me on the lawn makes my heart dizzy with delight.

9. If you could ask one author one question, what would the question be and who would you ask?
I would ask Shakespeare how did he manage to re-arrange or edit such vast amounts of material when everything was laboriously handwritten with quill.

10. Which would you rather do: 'Never write another story or never read another book'?
Never write another story.

Janeen Brian is an award-winning Australian author with over 80 published books. Her writing includes picture books, novels, short stories, poetry and information books. Her latest book, I'm a Hungry Dinosaur, is a sequel to the popular I'm a Dirty Dinosaur, both illustrated by Ann James and published by Penguin. Visit Janeen's website and Facebook page for more information about her books and writing projects.

Friday, 17 April 2015

Review: Too Much for Turtle

A follow-on from the delightful Owl Know How, this visually-scrumptious story introduces us to Turtle, a sweetly shy character who lives in a charming  house at the top of a tree.

Turtle is self-sufficient. She grows all her own food and doesn't seem to mingle much.

When a storm descends on the village, a loris appears on her doorstep asking for help--her home has been washed away. A pelican soon follows, along with two alpacas, three echidnas, four sloths and five rabbits.

KBR Short Story: That's Not Music!

by Nat Petrohelos

Jazz loved to play the beat.

She played the beat with chopsticks, on cans of beans and lentils.

‘That’s not music!’ said Mum, who was trying to cook.

She played the beat on saucepans, with a fork and a silver spoon.

‘That’s not music!’ said Jazz’s brother, who was trying to read.Grandpa just winked and turned his hearing aids down.

On the bus, Jazz played the beat with her hands and knees.

‘Cool rhythm,’ said Percy, who played the bass.

What Jazz wanted the most was her own drum-set. Mum wasn’t sure because Jazz had just given up on karate and before that, it was hip-hop dancing and before that, it was ribbon-twirling. Jazz crossed her fingers and hoped Mum would say maybe, which usually meant yes.

‘I’ll think about it,’ said Mum, which usually meant no.

Jazz asked the music teacher, Mr B, if she could join the school band.

‘Well, the band has been preparing for the school Presentation Day, said Mr B. ‘but there’s only one drummer. You could be our back-up drummer if you’re prepared to practise. You might not get to play on the day, though.’

Jazz ran to the music room at every chance. At first, she practised with the door closed,but as days went by, she started to leave it open. Sometimes Mr B would come in and give her some tips. Sometimes he’d stand in the doorway. Sometimes her friends came to listen. No-one yelled, ‘That’s not music!’

On the school Presentation Day, Jazz sat in the audience and watched the band set up. Then she got a tap on the shoulder: the drummer had gone home early and they needed Jazz to play.

Jazz held the drumsticks high and waited for Mr B’s signal. She created thunder for the school play, kept the rhythm for the school song and did all drum rolls for the awards. Jazz loved drum rolls the best.

‘And the student of the year is...’ drum roll.

‘The best sportsperson award goes to...’ drum roll.

‘The leadership award goes to…’ drum roll.

‘Um, just a minute everyone, we have a late award. The most improved musician is….’ drum roll….
drum roll…drum roll...

Perhaps the winner was away, thought Jazz, this drum roll was going on forever and her arms were getting tired. Jazz spotted her mum smiling at her in the audience. Suddenly Jazz felt another tap on her shoulder. It was Percy, who played the bass.

‘Percy, can’t you see I’m in the middle of a drum roll?’ she whispered.

‘But Jazz, you’ve won!’ he said.

Jazz couldn’t believe it!

‘Now that was music,’ said Mum afterwards, pointing the camera. ‘Smile Jazz.’

‘So can I get a drum-set? For my birthday?’ Jazz asked hopefully.

‘Maybe,’ said Mum.

And Jazz smiled.

Nat Petrohelos finds herself tapping the beat when she's dreaming up stories for children to enjoy. She lives in Newcastle and has a pet whale, a magic moongarden and an over-active imagination. Read more on her website.

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

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Review: Stripe Island

On Stripe Island, everything is stripy. The sun, the trees, the flowers, even the people!

Young Stanley is also stripy. His mum knits stripy jumpers and his father solves stripy problems. They live in Stripe City and one of their favourite celebrations is the Festival of Stripes!

Everyone dresses up in extra stripes, just for the event. And boy, is it a visual feast.

Review: At the Animal Ball

At the Animal Ball is a mix and match book with lots to do!

Flip the horizontal flaps to meet all the animals at a special Midsummer’s Eve ball. They’re dressed in cultural costumes from around the world, and although the different countries are hinted at and adults will probably be able to recognise or guess them, they are not mentioned by name.

The animals are enjoying the music and dancing. Panda is wearing a kimono and fluttering a fan, the wolf stomps his feet to the beat of the music, and the chinchilla is shaking maracas and wiggling her hips.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Review: And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda

Eric Bogle’s iconic song And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda is brought to a new generation in this wonderful picture book, with Bogle’s confronting and emotive words accompanied by haunting illustrations by popular children’s author and illustrator Bruce Whatley.

Originally written by Bogle in 1972, And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda carries a fresh significance for Australians as we approach the centenary of the landing at Gallipoli, with the final verses of the song particularly relevant:

And the old men march slowly, old bones stiff and sore.
They’re tired old heroes from a forgotten war.
And the young people ask, ‘What are they marching for?’
And I ask myself the same question.

And the band played ‘Waltzing Matilda’,
And the old men still answer the call.
But as year follow year, more old men disappear.
Someday no one will march there at all.

Publisher's Insider: Do you need a literary agent?

I certainly don’t claim to be an expert on all things to do with agents, but based on my experience in the publishing industry, here are a few of my thoughts on this ever-popular issue.

  1. It used to be that, particularly for fiction, it was almost impossible to get your manuscript in front of a major publisher without an agent. Times are changing, though. Many of the major publishers now have opportunities for authors to pitch to them directly. Allen & Unwin has the Friday Pitch. HarperCollins has the Wednesday Pitch. Pan Macmillan has Manuscript Monday. In fact, so many publishers now accept unsolicited, unagented manuscripts that the children’s book e-zine Pass It On recently put together a booklet listing them all. This is available from the PIO website.
  2. While the open-door policy of many publishers is good news for some authors and illustrators, it’s of no use to those who simply hate the thought of ‘selling themselves’ (and their work) along with the associated contract negotiation and paperwork. If you are one of these creatives — and there are many of you — then an agent could very well be the right choice. In return for a percentage of your publishing income (usually about 15%), they will sell you and your work. They are also likely to have good contacts with many of the publishers and so will be able to bypass the massive slush pile most publishers have to wade through. The problem is getting an agent, as most will only represent a limited number of clients and are very choosy about who they take on. A good place to start is the website of the Australian Literary Agents’ Association, whose members are all obliged to adhere to a professional code of practice.
  3. Don’t forget about the smaller publishers! If you’re happy to negotiate your own contract and don’t want an agent for any reason other than to get you through the door of a major publisher, then perhaps readjust your thinking and consider also submitting your work to smaller publishers. I’ve written before that I don’t believe size is necessarily important when it comes to publishing companies — it’s all about finding the right ‘fit’. You might be surprised by what the right boutique publisher can offer you if they like your work.

Above all, if you believe in your work, don’t give up! Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was rejected by twelve publishers before finding a home with Bloomsbury. And poor Beatrix Potter couldn’t find anyone to believe in The Tale of Peter Rabbit so ended up publishing it herself (way back in 1901 — so self-publishing isn’t quite the new phenomenon we might think!).

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. 

Interview: Author Nicole Hayes

Nicole Hayes' debut YA novel The Whole of My World (Random House, 2013) was long listed for the 2014 Gold Inky Award and shortlisted for the 2104 YABBA Award. Her second YA novel, One True Thing (Random House, May 2015) is a tale of music, politics and secrets. It has already received some rave previews. Nicole kindly agreed to talk about her fraught early journey to publication.

How long did it take from first writing to having your first novel published?
My debut novel The Whole of My World started life more than 14 years before it was finally published. It was originally a somewhat different story, but with the same protagonist and setting – a footy-obsessed teenage girl. I’d already written a novel manuscript before that, landed an agent and interest from publishers and a mentorship at Varuna on the back of both these manuscripts, but neither one sold. I put them down for years, wrote several other novel manuscripts that didn’t sell, then some film scripts that attracted funding, before finally coming back to the football story. I embarked on a page-one rewrite. Random House made an offer a little under a year later.

What percentage of your time and effort went into actual writing before finding a publisher?

At a guess, I’d say seventy percent. There was a lot of writing and rewriting early on, not to mention proofreading, printing and posting query letters and pitches. I spent a lot of time trawling websites and scouring bookshops for similar titles, entering competitions and applying for mentorships. I did everything the wrong way multiple times before I got where I needed to get. In the end, the manuscript wasn’t good enough in that first incarnation. Which is why I spent so long reworking it before, finally, effectively starting again.

I suspect my experience was a little different though, because I’d had many near misses and shortlistings without finding a publisher, so it took longer to realise it wasn’t going to happen for this novel. It took a lot of short listings, near misses and rejections – encouraging and detailed as they so often were — to realise that the story itself, wasn’t strong enough to sell as it was, despite all the enthusiasm the idea had been met with.

You have The Whole of My World out on bookshelves and One True Thing to be released very soon. I heard a whisper about a third fabulous tale well and truly in the making. Do you feel differently about each creation? Not while I’m writing them, I don’t think. The excitement and delight in the story and words are as potent now as fifteen years ago, though I suppose this time around I have the added pressure – or is it a privilege? – of having a publisher wanting to read it. There’s still no guarantee they’ll publish, but it’s nice to know that when I finish, someone already wants to read it. Someone who can – hopefully, will – publish it.

Of course, I wrote all the previous stories convinced someone would want to read them too, so maybe it’s not so different after all? I am aware, too, of my publisher’s particular tastes now, and preferences, though I’m not sure that I actually take them into account until later drafts.

Does publication of a second book feel different to that of the first? How?
Good question. Yes, because I understand the process more fully this time around than I did before. I understand that a lot of the publicity and marketing will be up to me, and that I have to drive the strategy rather than wait for someone else to. So that’s been quite different for One True Thing. It’s also different now because media, bookshops, and/or other venues know who I am. In fact, some of the media outlets have actually approached me first, which is really helpful and quite flattering. I also know not to say no – these opportunities last for a very short time, and you have to make the most of every single one.

But in other ways, it’s no different at all. The uncertainty of whether it will be a success is equally as terrifying and mystifying as it was the first time around. I know how much is riding on it, which perhaps makes it tougher but the unknowing, the desire to shut your eyes and hope for the best, is just as strong for One True Thing as it was for The Whole of My World – which, both times around, is the worst thing I could possibly do!

Nicole Hayes is an author and writing teacher based in Melbourne. She has an MA in Creative Writing, and taught fiction and screenwriting for more than five years at University of Melbourne. She runs writing workshops for Australian Writers Centre, among other organisations, and is the Creative Writing Facilitator at Phoenix Park Neighbourhood House. Her new novel, One True Thing, comes out May 1. To find out more, visit her website or follow her on Twitter (@nichmelbourne).

Speechie's Couch: F is for Functional Fun

Nothing beats having a bit of power, especially when you are a child. Being able to influence what others do is big, so it’s worth a bit of extra effort—even if that effort is writing.

While many children find reading an effort, even more shudder at the thought of putting pen (or pencil or texta) to paper, so why not make the effort worthwhile?

Are you going to a party? Get your excited party-goer to add the details to your family calendar. Make sure this includes the address and time of the special event and be sure to make a point of reading you child’s entry before you head off. Let them know you value their written skills.

Has your household run out of a particular food? Your young one can add this item to your shopping list. Tiny successes lead to confidence and the wish to write more often, especially if there are concrete rewards (like cheese or fruit or even a favourite sandwich filling).

A pivotal moment like this where your struggling writer moves out of his or her comfort zone should never be a time when perfect letter formation is required. Any faint resemblance to target words should be accepted without fuss or comment at first. However, as the written requests become more frequent and confidence builds, you’ll find that a time will come to bargain for greater writing accuracy.

Jo Burnell is one of KBR's editors and resident paediatric speech pathologist. As reviewer of children’s and YA books, editor of all types of text and freelance writer, Jo is passionate about children's literature in all its forms.  

Librarian's Shelf: Book Clubs

Book clubs are all the rage for adults, and they can be fun for younger readers too. Many libraries host book clubs and librarians are often asked about how you can join or start a book club.

The most common way to run a book club or discussion group is to have the participants all read the same book. Here are some other approaches you might like to try (all are suitable for children and adults):

• Bring any book you’ve read over the last month and share it with the group, it doesn’t matter if no one else has read it because this is an excellent way to find out about new books and authors.

• Choose an author who has written more than one book, and have everyone read one of their choice, then discuss them.

• Invite everyone to read a book that fits a particular genre (e.g. spy fiction, graphic novels or historical fiction). You could change genres for each meeting or perhaps use a single genre to explore over a longer period (e.g. The Mystery Book Club).

• Focus your discussion on a different non-fiction topic each month. This can be a good way to encourage boys to get involved. (i.e. bring your favourite dinosaur book to share).

Parents, teachers, librarians and other enthusiasts of children’s books can have fun with a picture book club, too. It’s a great opportunity to talk about books that you have enjoyed sharing with your children, as well as new stories and authors you’ve discovered.

You could even start an informal family book club. Involve your whole family in talking about what they’re reading. Make books a regular topic of conversation at the dinner table. Discussing books doesn’t have to be a formal activity, so give it a go and see what happens.

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. 

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Review: Gallipoli

Bluey and Dusty are best friends heading off to fight in the Great War as ANZACs and members of the Australian Light Horse.

They travel together to Egypt for training (Dusty feels seasick on the way) and then they board another ship to take them to the battlefields in Gallipoli. The fight side-by-side and encourage each other through the hardships of the war until they were separated by injury. When the war is over Bluey and Dusty returned home. They have changed in many ways, but they are still good friends.

Review: This is a Ball

Kids love crazy. And they love to be driven crazy! In This is a Ball, creative couple Beck and Matt Stanton have nailed the craziness. And then some.

At the opening, we are asked to identify several objects, and to clarify that they are indeed what they are--a triangle, an ice cream (that's not a cat) and a banana.

From there, our brains are turned inside out.

A cube is a ball. A car is a bike. An elephant is a dog. Of course it is. It has four legs and a tail. Wait--it's not a dog? Are you really sure???

12 Curly Questions with author Chris Collin

1. Tell us something hardly anyone knows about you.
As a kid I used to play lots of sports. I was a better than average (but not great at all) bowler. Once however (and only once), I was the hero of the day by scoring 50 runs to win the match batting at my usual spot of number 11. What made this feat truly amazing was that my previous highest score was 7.

2. What is your nickname?
I don't really have one but people are starting to call me the Funky Chicken!

3. What is your greatest fear?
Big hairy spiders. I am improving though as we have a resident huntsman at home (named Jane) who looks after the annoying bugs for us and since she hasn't crawled on me yet she can stay.

4. Describe your writing style in ten words.
Whacky, rhyming verse to be enjoyed by young and old!

5. Tell us five positive words that describe you as a writer.
Fun, funky, quirky, whacky and weird!

Monday, 13 April 2015

Review: Rhymoceros

Rhymoceros features a cute blue rhino who demonstrates rhyming words. The words come in pairs which don’t often have any connection to each other, but are fun none the less. You’ll find things like shower and flower, stinky and inky, and alone and on the phone.

It introduces more complex concepts rather than simple ones, but that’s one reason this book is different to others - it stretches the minds of young readers. There are sixteen rhyming pairs altogether, and little details to look for, from the simplicity of the grumpy rhino’s frowning eyebrows, to the tiny dog who appears several times.

Review: Lest We Forget

When a young boy visits his grandfather, they share stories about the important days in their lives. Days they want to remember, and days they want to forget.

As the young boy shares his memorable moments – his first day at school, the birth of his younger sister, and a walk to school in the sun with a heavy backpack – illustrations reflect similar experiences for his grandfather – leaving for war wearing his new uniform, holding a photo of his newborn child, and trekking through the jungle with wounded men on stretchers.

Review: Ella Diaries - Ballet Backflip (Ella Diaries #2)

Meredith Costain’s second book in the Ella Diaries is built around Ella’s love of ballet and physical activity. The fantastic illustrations by Danielle McDonald give visual reinforcement to the fast and clever dialogue that becomes Ella’s daily and nightly diary ritual.

Ella’s Saturday morning ballet class at La Madame Fry’s Ecole du Ballet (Madame Fry’s Ballet School) has given her great confidence and flexibility. She loves to practice her plie, jete, jumps and twirls, and pays special attention to her technique and keeping her bottom tucked in.

Madame has written a dance play for the children to perform. But alas! There is only one lead role; that of Fairy Queen. Ella believes because of her dedication, the part will be hers, and she’ll get to wear a floaty dress of tulle. Her thoughts and dreams are duly recorded, as are her hopes to influence Madame Fry to create an added role for her BFF Zoe, as Butterfly-in-Waiting.

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Review: Anzac Sons - Five Brothers on the Western Front

While many of the stories for Australian children about World War I focus on Gallipoli, Australian soldiers also played a significant role in the battles that were fought on the Western Front. Anzac Sons: Five Brothers on the Western Front offers younger readers a compelling story of five brothers from Mologa, Victoria who enlisted as soldiers. Only two returned home.

There were so many young Australians who lost their lives during World War I (more than 60,000 of the 330,000 who served). The small farming town of Mologa had 22 men go to war and only 12 return. Three of the men who died in battle were sons of Sarah and Charles Marlow. The second oldest son, Charlie, married his sweetheart just before leaving Australia, not knowing that his wife was now pregnant and he would never have the opportunity to meet his daughter.

Book List: Picture Books about Worry and Anxiety

It's an unfortunate fact that young children can sometimes feel troubled by anxiety. Their worries can range from little everyday issues to much more serious problems. Picture books with characters that worry can offer parents and carers a prompt to start conversations with children about the things that bother them, providing opportunities to discuss healthy ways to deal with worries and calm anxious thoughts.

Lessons of a Lac by Lynn Jenkins and Kirrili Lonergan (Little Steps Publishing, $14.95, 9781925117028) KBR review

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Review: I'll Give You The Sun

Jandy Nelson’s novel tells the story of twins Noah and Jude, written from alternating points of view – Noah tells the story of their 13th year (before the catastrophic event that changes their lives) and Jude tells it when they’re 16. Each character has four chapters and the novel is beautifully narrated within this framework.

Noah and Jude used to be so close, Noah was convinced they shared a soul. Now they hardly speak to one another.

Thirteen year-old Noah is a talented artist, thinks in art and colour, and his descriptions (in artistic form) of everything going on around him are captivating and sassy. But Noah is also a loner, considered a dork, gets picked on by bullies and is trying to understand his sexual orientation. He resents his dad and can’t seem to please him.