Tuesday, March 31, 2009
They were Sam's. They took my breath away. They were beautiful, haunting portrait shots, all of the same subject, all in black-and-white, and all taken from a variety of angles without the person's knowledge.
Of this last fact I ould be absolutely certain, becuase they were all of me.
So to celebrate the release of my friend Mo Johnson's wonderful book Something More (and to remind everyone of her other wonderful book Boofheads) I have written a poem:
There once was a woman called Mo
who thought she’d give writing a go
'If I put my foot to the floor
I can write Something More
than most of those Boofheads I know.'
The sentiments are mine and so is the awful rhyme. I think it's time I stopped putting words in Mo's mouth and let her speak for herself :
Isla is a Scottish lass from Glasgow and so is Mo Johnson. Is that where the similarities end?
No. Isla’s Custard Pie theory is mine. Her frequently red face is definitely mine and her phobias of driving lessons and swimming pools are all mine. The Dad in my book was my mine too. I didn’t set out to write about my own Dad, it just happened. My Mum and my sister have read the book and both tell me I’ve captured him perfectly. Sadly he died eleven years ago when he was only 54 but I’m sure if he doesn’t agree, I’ll get a sign from him some how.
Do you draw on your experience as a teacher? Will some students recognise snippets from the book?
After 21 years of teaching it’s hard not to draw on my experience and yes I do think some kids will recognize snippets of themselves in there. In fact after Boofheads came out I had lots of boys determined to do just that. ‘I’m in there, Miss, aren’t I?’ they would say eagerly. Of course I would tell them they were just to please them.
Sam, Jack and Isla are all handy with a camera. Are you a photographer?
I did a lot of filming as a teacher. My friend Jo Cologon and I made three or four promotional videos for the College every year and to do so we had to take photos all year round of college life. I have become very interested in photography and love to play around with a camera.
It's interesting that you chose your local area for the setting although it could just as easily any number of Australian coastal towns? Why choose your own backyard for the setting?
I wanted to promote the Illawarra. I live in such a beautiful part of the world and the stretch of road from Stanwell Park to Bulli (NSW) is among the most spectacular driving routes in Australia. It’s equal to anything you’ll see on the Great Ocean Road in VIC. Many people who live in Sydney still don’t know it exists.
I started this novel in 2004 and at that time the community down here was doing it tough with the closure of the road at Clifton while they built the magnificent Sea Cliff Bridge. Two communities were cut off for over two years. Many businesses folded and people had to travel further to get to Sydney. My own son had to change schools in the end because we couldn’t get him there.
When I wrote about the bridge in the book it still wasn’t finished. Now it’s been open for a couple of years and the book has just been released today. You definitely need to be patient as a writer.
You have now written one novel with a male protagonist and one with a female. Do you have a preference? Does one feel more comfortable than the other?
I think it’s easier to write as a girl. The hardest thing about being Tommo form Boofheads was to keep pulling back from being too ‘flowery’ in his expressions. But I don’t think I have a preference. Both characters were so strong in my head that I just listened to them and wrote what they said.
A picture book, a chapter book, a young adult novel. All in the space of a few years Will we see an adult work from Mo in the future?
I am currently working on a the memoir of Kerryn McCann who as many people will know was an Olympic and Commonwealth Games marathon runner. She was a friend of mine and we had been working on her story for seven months prior to her death in December 2008 from Breast cancer. So non fiction at this level is definitely new for me.
There's a strong element of romance in something More as opposed to the all male view on relationships in Boofheads. Is romance a genre we might see more of?
My next YA novel is actually more of a ghost story at the moment. I think romance might just sneak in there too. It’s hard to avoid it when you are trying to write about relationships in an authentic way. We all have little bits and pieces of Romance in our lives however we choose to define the term.
Gran McGonnigle's words of wisdom precede each chapter. She's a feisty character with a strong presence despite not appearing in the book. is there a real Gran McG? How hard was it to think of her Grannisms?
Her grannisms were such fun to write and not difficult at all. There were five Gran McGonnigles in my life. My Mum’s mum did actually say the thing about people dying now who didn’t die before.
My dad’s mum died of TB when he was three. His father was fighting in France and wasn’t demobbed until Dad was nearly six. When my grandmother first got ill she and my dad moved in with her four unmarried sisters who consequently raised Dad after she died. My grandfather did his best when he returned from war but couldn’t look after a small child who pined to be back with his four aunts.
In the end he went back to live with them and didn’t leave them until he married Mum. They lived on a street where the old toll gates for trams once crossed so the area was called Tollcross. As kids we called them The Aunts at Tollcross. (There’s a book in that one day for sure). They were seriously nutty and eccentric. We used to visit them every Sunday. I guess that’s where the inspiration for the grannisms came from.
In your wildest dreams what do you hope to achieve as an author? feel free to be as wild as you like.
An all expenses paid trip to the UK to promote my books, followed by a couple of appearances in New York. Ha Ha … as if.
I would also love to write a screen play.
Monday, March 30, 2009
Crime Time by Sue Bursztynski - one of my sons is already eyeing this one.
from chillers to thriller, goofballs to underworld thugs, fraudsters to thieves...
Fire song by Libby Hathorn - Edith's mother asks her to commit insurance. What will Edith decide to do? I love the cover.
Great Rock Whale by Christine Paice and Wendy O'Malley -
This book is visually stunning. And who can resist a blurb like this :
The Great Whale is sad and lonely, lost in the vast oceans of the world. He is looking for his family - to belong. After thousands of years searching he loses heart, and stops to rest and sleep under a cliff. In time, being true to himself and becoming one with the world, he is found by those he belongs to.
I also love the fact that this book is about somewhere close to me and firmly anchored in my childhood holiday memories the Kiama Blowhole.
Sunday, March 29, 2009
This is a uniquely packaged book. It’s hard to know where to begin to review. Do I start with the YouTube video or the free songs you can download? Or do I start with the absorbing story of music, father-daughter relationships and the friendship four teenage girls share? When the book is this good, it doesn’t matter …
Pip, Karen, Angie and Irina are best friends. They go to parties, experiment with relationships, struggle with their families and make music together. Their band, Not Perfect, is finally ready to perform and has a gig at the mid-year school concert.
But the band is well-named, none of the girls are perfect and neither are their families. Pip has a father who is often away but when he returns the whole house changes, with everyone afraid of his explosive temper. Karen shuttles between parents, turning to alcohol and sex as she feels unwanted in both homes. Irina’s strict Russian parents support her music but they want her to play violin, not drums in a rock band. Angie is almost perfect, except she doesn’t like Insomniac Road, Pip’s favourite band and spends too much time looking in the mirror.
After the school concert, everything changes. The words and the performance of their song ‘Psychic Dad’ is a catalyst for each girl and her family. Everyone takes a step, but not necessarily in the same direction.
Technology adds a new and exciting dimension to That’s Why I Wrote This Song. While the written lyrics emphasise the narrative, it is even more powerful to hear Pip and her friends belting out the song. The book has truly come alive. Check out the You Tube video and download the songs and video from the author’s web site
Written by the mother and daughter team of Susanne (book) and Tory Gervay (music and lyrics) this book combines their individual love of literature and music to produce a novel with strong appeal for teenage girls. More than something to read, That’s Why I Wrote This Song is something to listen to and something to watch. Perhaps just the encouragement some young adult readers need to pick up their next book…
Saturday, March 28, 2009
I am a specialist in child growth & development, a teacher and lecturer, am a Director for The Hughenden, a literary hotel in Sydney, am deeply involved in writing organizations. I am on the Board of the NSW Writers Centre, co-head of SCBWI Australia and New Zealand, lead the Sydney Writers & Illustrators Network at the Hughenden and was awarded The Lady Cutler Award for Distinguished Services to Children's Literature in 2007.
Impressed? I am! And if I could add something more, Susanne's junior novel I Am Jack is the closest thing to a textbook on bullying management in Australian primary schools. I am Jack was performed (and toured) by The Monkey Baa Theatre For Young People in 2008.
I interrupted Susanne's busy schedule to ask her my profile question:
1 The last children's book you read (fiction or non-fiction) Nette Hilton's Sprite Downberry which I loved because of its humanity - kids as carers, yet it was quirky, sad, happy and ultimately hopeful
2 If it wasn't an Oz title, then the last Oz title
3 Name one favourite book from your childhood To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee - deeply moved me and made me question who I wanted to be and what values I wanted to embrace.
4 Name one picture book that you love for the illustrations Mending Lucille by the deeply emotional illustrator Sarah Davis, written by Jennifer Poulter
5 What is your personal favourite among the books you have authored/illustrated That's Why I Wrote This Song because I worked with my talented beautiful daughter on it -she wrote the songs and lyrics.
6 What book do you wish you had written - for love or money DH Lawrence Sons and Lovers - so deeply moving and passionate
7 If you could be a character in a book, who (or what) would you be Elizabeth Bennett in Pride and Prejudice - she's so deliciously flawed and wonderful
8 Do you have a favourite quote - from a book or life in general! Anything. 'War is not brave, but men can be brave in war and life' Quote from he Cave by Susanne Gervay
Friday, March 27, 2009
Thursday, March 26, 2009
- The Tale of Despereaux - Kate DiCamillo
- The Gruffalo - Julia Donaldson
- The Redwall series - Brian Jacques
- Stuart Little - E B White
- Library Mouse - Daniel Kirk
and no, I'm not writing about a mouse *grin*
Does anyone have a favourite mouse book to add?
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
and the complete YA list for 2009... drum roll...
- Dianne Bates - Crossing the Line
- Michelle Cooper - A Brief History of Montmaray
- D.M.Cornish - Monster Blood Tattoo Book two: Lamplighter
- Alison Goodman - The Two Pearls of Wisdom
- Nette Hilton - Sprite Downberry
- Joanne Horniman - My Candlelight Novel
and The Patricia Wrightson Award for Junior Literature shortlist... another drum roll...
- Ursula Dubursarsky & Tohby Riddle (Illustrator) - The Word Spy
- Bob Graham - How to Heal a Broken Wing
- Sonya Hartnett and Ann James (Illustrator) - Sadie and Ratz
- Glenda Millard and Stephen Michael King (Illustrator) - Perry Angel's Suitcase
- Tohby Riddle - Nobody Owns the Moon
- Shaun Tan - Tales from Outer Suburbia
Two of these I haven't read. More reading to do! And more info here on the official website.
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
Clack! It was too late. The lid was on the container again.
Dark eyes looked down at me.
Freaky had returned.
Sting by Raymon Huber is the story of an Oddbee, Ziggy, who doesn't fit in at the hive. I am half way through reading this book. It is a clever blend of adventure, animal fantasy and snippets of information about bees abnd wasps. All uniquely told from Ziggy's point of view. Suited for readers 8 to 12 years.
Monday, March 23, 2009
I love this one. In My Mailbox. For other newbies like me - it's hosted by The Story Siren where you can post links to your blog entry and inspired by Alea of Pop Culture Junkie. It's a list of books or bookish things that arrived in your mailbox during the week.
So here is what I found in my mailbox:
Guantanamo Boy is the story of 15-year-old Khalid who goes with his parents to visit family in Pakistan and wakes into a nightmare. All real.
Khalid is kidnapped and forced to go to a place no teenager should ever see. A place where torture and terror are the normal things. Somewhere he doesn't know if he will ever escape from. A place called Guantanamo Bay.
I've been hanging to read this YA ever since I read about Anna Perera's inspiration - while researching other things she discovered the horrific plight of children imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay. And so the story began...
Aussie Kid Heroes is the latest offering by prolofic Australian author Dianne Bates, the inspiration behind my own writing career. My son has already spirited this one away to his bedroom so I will have to bribe him to get it back for review.
Extreme Animals looks like great fun. It's a real boy book so my parent ears are pricking up while my reviewer eyes admiring the front cover. Wierd and wonderful. Fast and furious. That's the blurb's promise.
Monsters in the Sand is a junior fiction book just for me! It's a story based around the discovery of ancient Ninevah - archaeology and action, ancient cultures and adventure! I've already read the first book in David Harris' Time Raiders series, Blood of the Incas, about the dicovery of Macchu Picchu by Hiram Bingham. Loved that. Sure to love this.
And finally, this beautiful, beautiful picture book. My Baby Love by Meredith Costain. It has an overlay dustjacket - like thick rice paper. I'm not sure what you call it - but it's at the same time sturdy but delicate. By the time I review it I will have it sussed out...
I look at at the contents of my mailbox and feel very lucky!!
Sunday, March 22, 2009
Aurelie Bonhoffen is unlike any of the other kids at school; unlike any other kid you’ve ever known. She lives with her extended family - grandmother, uncles and parents – at an amusement park, Bonhoffen’s Seaside Pier. Everything about her life is remarkable, even before her discovery of the family secret.
She sleeps in a room above the ghost train and sometimes doubles as the back end of a cow. Aurelie spends a lot of time with her unusual uncles, Rolo and Rindolf, strange companions for a girl about to turn twelve. She doesn’t fit in at school and has no friends there. But that doesn’t worry her. Aurelie is strong, independent and capable of standing up to the playground bullies.
After Aurelie’s birthday, her world starts to change. The changes are both good and bad. First she learns the secret and it’s not an easy one to live with. She then makes a friend at school, the mayor’s son. She manages to antagonize the Principal more than ever before. But worst of all, her home is under threat. The mysterious Mr Cook wants to buy the pier and redevelop it.
Aurelie’s father says no but Mr Cook doesn’t accept that answer. With the Mayor’s help, he has ways and means of making things happen. Awful things. After the Mayor’s attempts to sabotage the amusement park fail, he turns his attention to his son’s new friend, Aurelie. With the family in danger of losing her, they finally agree to sell.
But Aurelie hasn’t given up. She has her new friends to support her fight. And then, there’s the remarkable secret.
Fans of the Max Remy series will not be disappointed. Here they will find fun, adventure and a little magic. Or is it just sleight of hand? This is a wonderful book and Abela herself is the real magician.
Saturday, March 21, 2009
Sometimes I wonder who reads my blog. Sometimes I wonder if magic is true. Well, last night magic happened. Right here. To me.
Friday night I blogged about how I wished I had The Magician's Elephant widget. A real live magician, moonlighting at Candlewick Press, waved a wand and there it was in my Inbox on Saturday morning. Thank you Andrea.
And now it's my turn to work a little magic. Abracadabra! There it is in my sidebar for all to enjoy.
Deb's latest book is completely different but every bit as good. And in my opinion, even better. A review of The Remarkable Secret of Aurelie Bonhoffen will follow tomorrow night. After you read the review, you'll wish you had a copy. Or perhaps you already wish you did. The good news is you can win a signed copy by entering the competition on Deb's website. See question 9 below.
Deb is an 'absolutely awesome' speaker (and that's a quote from a kid I know who attended one of her recent presentations). No-one I've ever heard or heard of can inspire a classroom of kids to be creative like she can. No, more than a classroom, a schoolful, no, the Sydney Town Hall full. You get the picture! She's in great demand but always has time for the her fans, even the older ones who come begging with questions in hand!
Here are the questions and Deb's answers:
- The last children's/YA book you read (fiction or non-fiction) Broken Glass by Sally Grindley about two young Indian brothers who are forced from their home. They live on the streets and collect and sell broken glass for a living.
- If it wasn't an Oz title, then the last Oz title The Locket of Dreams by Belinda Murrell about a young girl from Sydney who travels back in time to 1850's Scotland with the help of an old locket.
- Name one favourite book from your childhood Professor Branestawm by Norman Hunter about a wacky professor and his inventions that always go very very wrong.
- Name one picture book that you love for the illustrations Ah! There are so many but if I could choose one of the MANY many that I love it would be Pearl Barley and Charlie Parsley by Aaron Blabey. I want to eat those illustrations they look so delicious.
- What is your personal favourite among the books you have authored/illustrated Ooooh that is too hard. When I first get an idea for a book it is very small and tiny and when I stay with it, I love watching it grow and characters coming to life and plots unfolding. So each book is very special because it is part of that magical process.
- What book do you wish you had written - for love or money? I find each books that I love very special and clever - I rarely wish I had written it. I just enjoy savouring it.
- If you could be a character in a book, who (or what) would you be? It'd be fun to be Max Remy or Aurelie Bonhoffen, my new character. I've always wanted to be a spy like Max Remy and to live on a seaside pier amusement park like Aurelie...even though she has that remarkable secret too.
- Do you have a favourite quote - from a book or life in general! I guess I've always thought to live the life I want to live right now - not wait for it to come later.
- How can readers win a signed copy of your latest book? All they have to do is go to: www.deborahabela.com On the front page is an invitation: 'Win a copy of Deb's Latest book' Click on that and you'll be able to read about The Remarkable Secret of Aurelie Bonhoffen. To enter the comp you need to get your parents' permission if under 18 and answer this question: What do you think Aurelie's remarkable Secret could be? I'm not looking for the actual secret but the 5 most imaginative and creative answers to the question. Get thinking!!
Friday, March 20, 2009
Newbery Medalist Kate DiCamillo’s eagerly awaited new novel, The Magician’s Elephant (Candlewick, Sept.), illustrated by Yoko Tanaka, continues to move forward. This week Candlewick revealed the cover art and announced a hefty first printing of 500,000 copies for the 208-page fable, in which a boy who learns from a fortuneteller that not only is his sister alive but an elephant will take him to her.
As part of the promotion, says Laura Rivas, manager of marketing, publicity and events at Candlewick, the company created a widget of the first chapter of The Magician’s Elephant, which booksellers can place on their Web sites.....
To date, five co-editions have been lined up for an international laydown date of September 8.
And my reaction
- I can't wait. Never could.
- I love the cover.
- I've got to get one of those widgets!
- 'Laydown date of September 8'? Not sure what that means - but if that's the day I can get my hands on a copy I'll lay down in front of any bookstore!
The left hand cover is the Australian and UK one and the right hand is the US.
Thursday, March 19, 2009
But here is how the pros do it - presenting two of the best - whose books I just happen to have read recently (and Deb is my Oz Lit profile for this weekend so come back then and hear some more about the book and it's author):
Deb Abela and The Remarkable Secret of Aurelie Bonhoffen
Enjoy! I did.
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
But life can change in an instant.
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
So introducing When the HipChicks Went to War by Pamela Rushby... drum roll...
We left. We were in the way.
This is written for primary school children but the dry humour of the prose makes it a treasure for any age group. It is set in a sort of alternate Japan with no pretensions of being anything else, a Japan where samurai training schools compete annually in games and there just might be real tengu. Each of the children has some sort of handicap but regards this as an advantage not a hindrance but Fussell doesn't labour this point nor become preachy, instead she maintains a light tone. She pokes gentle fun at some of the conventions and clichés of martial arts novels and films, particularly zen. "The hardest question is: 'What is the sound of one hand clapping?'" Niya tells us, adding, "Mikko knows the answer. Clapping with one hand is what a one-armed kid does all the time.... Great fun, the first of a series. - White Crane
The sequel to White Crane sees the motley crew of the Cockroach-ryu racing against their enemies to stop a war which is brewing among the mountain lords. To do this they must reach the Emperor who is staying at Toyozawa Castle.... This is another rollicking adventure set in an imaginary Japan, narrated by Niya in his inimitable style with his usual humorous asides ("'When you have lost your place in the world, you are enlightened and your mind will triumph in battle,' Sensei taught us. That's good news for me. I've got a terrible sense of direction and I get lost often. I'm on the fast track to enlightenment and victory."). - Owl Ninja
And as for Plum Rain... Here's my review
Plum Rain Scroll – Ruth Manley – Paperback – Young Adult $18.95 – Australian - UQP Press
The Plum Rain Scroll was first published in 1979 and won the CBCA Children’s Book of the Year. Re-released in 2005 it will immediately appeal to today’s young fantasy lovers. It is the first book in a series which also includes The Dragon Stone and The Peony Lantern.
This is an unusual story. While it reads like an authentic Japanese folk tale, it is a work of Western imagination. Queensland author, Ruth Manley, loved Japanese culture, history and literature, and it shows in her writing.
The hero, thirteen-year-old Taro, is an orphan odd job boy who lives with Aunt Piety and Uncle Thunder. It’s a strange household and they are living in peculiar times. Marishoten, the evil Black Iris Lord is preparing to overthrow the Mikado and enslave the world. Taro can see it in his dreams.
But first Marishoten must find the Plum Rain Scroll and uncover its secrets – immortality, the ability to turn metal into gold and the Unanswerable Word which paralyses enemies. The scroll’s whereabouts is unknown and only Aunt Piety can translate it. Then Aunt disappears too.
Taro and his companions; Prince Hachi (Lord Eight Thousand Spears), a ghost named Hiroshi, an Oni monster with a taste for poetry, a Roof Watcher creature and a young girl named Oboro and her strange dog; set off to find the scroll, rescue Aunty and save the Chrysanthemum throne.
The Plum Rain Scroll is peopled with eccentric characters such as Lord Sweet Potato, who spreads sweet potato seeds across Japan, but no-one laughs – because he’s also very good with a sword. Hiroshi is a samurai ghost – honourable and brave – except when it comes to umbrellas. He’s terrified of them.
The tone is both exotic and unfamiliar, as befits a story from another time and place. In ancient Idzumo, unusual is the usual state of affairs.
This is a wonderfully innocent tale of good triumphing over evil, of legend coming to life. Best suited to younger readers 8 -12 years and fantasy lovers. Adults with an interest in ancient cultures and folklore will also enjoy this one.
Monday, March 16, 2009
It's the best library I've ever been to and I keep my membership even though I don't live there any more. It's worth the 45 min trip each way just to borrow and return books. They have a great range of historical non-fiction. This trip I borrowed What Life was Like On the Banks of the Nile, Isak Dinesen's Africa, Sudan: Ancient Treasures, The Legacy of Ancient Egypt, Magic Stones: The Secret World of Ancient Megaliths, Portraits of Africa, Sahara Man, The British Museum: Africa, The Ancient Egyptians: Life and Customs and Journey to Mauritius. Yes, I am researching my next historical novel. No it's not about Ancient Egypt!
Crossing the Line by Dianne Bates - Ford Street Publishing. Paperback rrp $16.95
Neglected and abandoned by her mother and then rejected by her aunt and uncle, Sophie has finally put the foster family merry-go-round behind her and moved into a share house with Amy and Matt. But as hard as she tries to put her demons to rest, they just won’t stay quiet. When her chaotic emotions become too much to bear, she cuts herself. Physical pain is the only thing that keeps her from tumbling into the abyss.
Not since reading Joanne Greenberg’s, I Never Promised You a Rose Garden as a teenager have I so completely empathised with a character. Sophie will break your heart, but so, too, she will fill you with hope, for no matter how barbed life is, there are always roses to be found. Sophie’s roses are Amy and Matt, whose friendship is offered freely and without conditions. With their help, Sophie is finally able to pull herself back from the brink.
Sunday, March 15, 2009
It gives me great pleasure to have Di as my first profile as she is my writing mentor (and hero!) - she taught me so much I wouldn't know where to begin. But it gives me even greater pleasure to have Di as my friend. So without further ado [grin] here are Di's answers to eight quick questions and tomorrow I will post my review of her latest YA novel Crossing the Line (soon to be released in the US).
- The last children's/YA book you read (fiction or non-fiction) Something More by Mo Johnson (Allen & Unwin) Actually I am still reading it.
- If it wasn't an Oz title, then the last Oz title NA
- Name one favourite book from your childhood The Swiss Family Robinson
- Name one picture book that you love for the illustrations I’ll Take You to Mrs Cole by Nigel Gray, illustrated by Michael Foreman
- What is your personal favourite among the books you have authored/illustrated The Belligrumble Bigfoot
- What book do you wish you had written - for love or money Where the Lilies Bloom by Bill and Vera Cleaver
- If you could be a character in a book, who (or what) would you be Dicey Tillerman from Dicey’s Song by Cynthia Voigt
- Do you have a favourite quote - from a book or life in general! Anything. Consider bonsai: there but for restricting bowl would be a giant
Thursday, March 12, 2009
Hello God is not about religion but about the questions we all ask, adults and children alike. We want to know why bad things happen to good people. Why does God allow wars and sickness? Why do children die? And why can’t anyone answer these questions?
It is a gentle book, beautifully written. But don’t be deceived by the simple and poignant language. This book tackles some very complex issues – birth, death, friendship and God.
Twelve-year-old Kate chats to God about everything. She keeps him updated in case he’s too busy to read his files. She tells him about the new girl Stephanie. Stephanie is strange and not part of the ‘in’ group. But as Kate gets to know Steph, she reassesses what friendship means.
Kate has many issues to deal with – peer group pressure, changing friendships and values, needing glasses and the unexpected news of a new brother or sister. Some issues are indicators of even bigger problems. When Kate worries about ants drowning in puddles, it is a snapshot of her wider concern with all the suffering in the world and particularly that which has reached into her own. Stephanie has fallen ill and she’s not getting better.
Hello God has a very positive message although it doesn’t patronise the young reader with a fairytale solution. Throughout the book Stephanie tells wonderful stories about Sharmi, a small cat who is adopted by bears. But one day a boy comes along and Sharmi must leave those she loves to follow her destiny and reach the rainbows. It’s a sad tale but full of hope.
When Kate looks for a sign from God, she is also looking for confirmation that the world is all right. She hopes to see a rainbow - but in the end it’s something much better than that.
This is an inspiring and uplifting book. Regardless of their religious background or belief, children from 8 – 12 who like to ask tricky questions, will learn some answers here. Our world is a good place to be.
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
Unfortunately I discovered this on Wednesday. So tonight I am doing a variation on the theme and inventing my own Walk-in Wednesday. I love the beginning paragraph of books - where I walk-in to the story and decide whether I'm going to hang around for the whole narrative. It's also my favourite part of the writing process and often my preferred piece in anything I write. When I started to write for children I learned that the first paragraph has to grab the editor regardless of what the rest of the manuscript holds because research has shown primary readers make their decision whether to continue reading right then and there. Adults and YA will allow a bit more latitude - if they think a story is slow but a friend has recommended it they'll continue on a bit longer in case it improves.
So here if the first paragraph of the book I am currently reading and it's brilliant. From Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book:
There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife. The knife had a handle of polished black bone, a blade finer and sharper than any razor. If it sliced you, you might not even know you had been cut, not immediately.
The knife had done almost everything it was brought to that house to do, and both the blade and the handle were wet.
On a different day I might quote one of my first paragraphs but I'm not silly enough to follow on after that wonderful beginning.
Sunday, March 8, 2009
But what about junior historical fiction? One of my all-time favorites is Pharaoh: The Boy Who Conquered the Nile by Jackie French. Tonight I'm going to review it, even though I read it a few years ago, for two still very important reasons. First I love ancient Egypt. My first year of work I saved every dollar possible so I could go to Egypt and touch the pyramids. I admire Pharaoh as a new take on Ancient Egypt. It's not easy to find a new angle in a setting done so often and so well - but Jackie French has. And secondly, this novel taught me a lot about structuring action. When I was first writing, I would take novels where I felt the action was well done, like the battle scenes in Pharaoh, and transcribe the beginning paragraph, strip the action and keep the end paragraph. Then I would write my own version of the action in between and compare it to the original to see what else I could or should have done. So you could say Pharaoh was one of my early writing text books.
Pharaoh by Jackie French. Junior Historical Fiction. Harper Collins Paperback rrp $15.99 Australian
This is a marvellous piece of writing and an excellent history resource. There are many reasons to recommend Pharaoh, but perhaps most important of all, it is a wonderful story of adventure and conquest.
Pharaoh is set in 3000BC, in an Egypt most readers will find unfamiliar but fascinating, long before the time of the pyramids, hieroglyphics and mummies. Prince Narmer is destined to rule Thinis, the greatest city on the Nile. Beloved by all, talented and handsome, he is ‘the Golden One’. His life is perfect until his jealous elder brother, Hawk, lures him into the path of a crocodile. Narmer survives the attack, but he now physically disfigured, he is no longer considered fit to rule.
The timely appearance of the Sumerian Trader and his young companion Nitho provides Narmer with expert medical help and a future. He leaves Egypt to travel with them, journeying through Punt and on to Ur, where he finds a new home as the Trader’s adopted son.
When the opportunity to return to Thinis arises, Narmer finds the city in ruin, defeated by flood, Hawk’s ineffectual leadership and raids from the nearby Yebu people. Narmer rallies support for his brother and helps lead an attack on the Yebu city. When Hawk is killed in combat, the final victory sees Narmer acclaimed as Pharaoh. The historical unification of Egypt has begun.
Narmer was a real person, the man behind the famous relic, Narmer’s Plate. However, little is recorded about his early life. Jackie French has taken the known and mixed it with the probable to produce a credible account of what might have been.
Best suited to readers 10 – 14 years, Pharaoh is a valuable teaching resource. The book contains a comprehensive appendix of historical reference and background information, including a timeline and recipes! If you are parent of a Year 7 child who needs a historical novel for ancient history (as I once was), this would be an excellent choice.
Thursday, March 5, 2009
- Twilight - Stephanie Meyer. Yes I know I am probably the only person in the world that hasn't read it yet but ask me again next week!
- Thirteen Reasons Why - Jay Asher
- One Dead Seagull - Scott Gardner - it's from 2003 but it was his debut novel so I think it still counts. And I've always intended to read it!
- Skellig - David Almond. OK This one is old too - but I haven't read it despite good intentions. And it won both the Carnegie Medal and the Whitbread Award for Best Children's Book so I think it's listworthy!
- The Worry Tree - Marianne Musgrove
- The Shadow Thief - Alexandra Andornetto
And one more that I would love to put on the list because it's a great debut novel - but I can't. It would be cheating as Ive already read it. So I'll post a review instead:
A Brief History of Montmaray by Michelle Cooper. Random House, Young Adult fiction. Australian. Paperback rrp $17.95
Set in the imaginary island kingdom of Montmaray, this book brilliantly blends fictional history with real life events of the 1930’s.
Sophie FitzOsborne, her younger sister Henry, her cousin Veronica and Veronica’s father (mad King John) are the royal family of Montmaray. They live in a rundown castle beside a village with barely any inhabitants. The island is isolated and communications are unreliable.
Veronica is beautiful and could easily make an advantageous marriage but her heart belongs to learning and she spends her time writing a history of the island. Into a fictional history, Michelle Cooper weaves incidents from recent history - the rise of Nazi Germany, the abdication of King Edward to marry Wallis Simpson and the Spanish Civil War – to name a few. The author provides a list of historical events and people cited at the end of the novel.
The young Montmaray royals are devoted to their cousin and future king Toby, who is away at boarding school in London, and determined to see the monarchy survive the combined threat of poverty, international diplomacy and war.
Told through the eyes of Sophie and the words of her journal, this is the story of two very different heroines with ultimately the same purpose. Sophie and Veronica must save the people they love and somehow rescue Montmaray from ruin.
A Brief History of Montmaray is a unique novel which will appeal to those readers looking for something a little different. It doesn’t quite read like a historical novel but has many threads of history woven through it. And there’s plenty of action and adventure with just a touch of fantasy and romance. It’s in a category all of its own. Recommended reading.
Tuesday, March 3, 2009
Here is my text book list. All these books were recent prize winners in the YA and Children's arena so I figure they all contain something I need to know:
- The Ghost's Child - Sonya Harnett. Winner of the 2008 Children's Book Council of Australia Older Readers Book of the Year
- Dragon Moon - Carole Wilkinson. Winner of the 2008 Children's Book Council of Australia Younger Readers Book of the Year
- The Graveyard Book - Neil Gaiman. Winner of the 2009 Newbery Medal. A friend is lending it to me tomorrow so this will be my first lesson
- On the Jellicoe Road - Melina Marchetta. Winner of the 2009 Michael L Printz Award . I'm looking forward to this as I recently read Finnikin of the Rock and loved it. I heard Melina speak at the Lady Cutler Award dinner and she signed my book for me! And the book itself was a gift from special friends.
- The Knife of Letting Go: Chaos Walking - Patrick Ness. Winner of the 2008 Guardian Children's Fiction Prize This is a Walker Book and I'm a Walker Books author so I think this has to be excellent!
- Here Lies Arthur - Philip Reeve - Winner of the 2008 Carnegie Medal
- Snake and Lizard - Joy Cowley - Winner of the 2008 New Zealand Post Junior fiction (It's on my desk!)
- Salt - Maurice Gee Winner of the 2008 New Zealand Post Young Adult Fiction (I've already read this one! Brownie points! Read my review here
Monday, March 2, 2009
To quote Dr Seuss: “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go.” I loved Dr Seuss as a child, an adult and a parent. As a reader, a writer and a poet. I have to admit I wasn't initially keen on his artwork - as a child some of the images frightened me. But they have grown on me and with me. My own kids loved them from the word go (Go being one of the 250 words!)
Here are my favorite books:
- One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish
- Fox in Sox (I love those tweetle-beetles)
- Yertle the Turtle
- Oh the Places You'll Go
Kids can have lots of Dr Seuss fun on-line here at Seussville.
And now I'll just sneak in a few favourite quotes:
“A person's a person, no matter how small.” (Horton Hears a Hoo)
Happy birthday, Dr Seuss!