And the winner is… (CBCA Awards 2015)

protectedHow exciting! Congratulations to local Blue Mountains authors and illustrators who were awarded highly in this year’s CBCA awards.

Firstly, Claire Zorn, who was nominated last year for her debut novel, the Sky so Heavy, took out the Book of the Year honours in the Young Adult category with the Protected. A timely book – dealing with bullying, sibling relationships and the impact of the untimely death of youth – the Protected is raw, real and thoughtful, and well deserving of the CBCA accolades. Previously reviewed here – we loved it too!

Another Blue Mountains winner was Freya Blackwood who was shortlisted in 3 categories.. and won in 3 categories. Obviously, the authors with whom she collaborated were part of the equation, but to to be teamed with the likes of Libby Gleeson and Irena Kobald, Freya must have proven her worth. Having worked with Libby since their first collaboration on Amy & Louis, won a Children’s Book Council of Australia Book of the Year in 2007, Freya’s talents have continued to shine through in 2015.

‘It’s the first time in the awards’ 69-year history that a single creator has been honoured three times in the same year’
. [Three times lucky…]

Freya’s beautiful pencil and watercolour illustrations in The Cleo Stories: The Necklace and The Present combine well with Libby’s prose to tell a tale many young children will identify with, if they have enough imagination to look for ways to have fun.

cleo cover_s

Freya and Libby also paired to win the Early Childhood category with Go to Sleep, Jessie! – a heart warming story of a sister trying to find a way to comfort her little sister.GotoSleepJessie

my two blIn My Two Blankets, Freya’s illustrations combine this time with Irene Kobald’s concise prose to reflect a cautious integration into a new culture by a young refugee girl.

The gentle nature of the illustrations, with the repetition of the safety of the blanket, and the slow development of the girls’ friendship help to show how new relationships can grow in the face of change; just as Freya works in a different relationship with another author.

# I loved this year’s awards, so much much to ponder  – the first time in many I have actually agreed with the judges!

What did you think? Did you agree with the judges for 2015? or were there other more deserving winners?

History meets fiction

I thought of Micky – there was nothing useless or dirty or stupid about him. He was funny and worked hard. He was smart too. Actually he was just, well, normal. And that man on the television, Charles Perkins, spoke better than half of Walgaree.

freedomThis quote comes from Sue Lawson’s book, Freedom Ride; a fictional tale tied into the real events of the 1965 Freedom Rides which occurred in NSW. (Their aim was to draw attention to the poor state of Aboriginal health, education and housing.)

In Lawson’s book, we are introduced to Robbie – a teenager in a fictional (but representative) country town in NSW. Through Robbie’s eyes, we quietly see the subtle segregation that was ‘accepted’ in Australian history. Naturally, Robbie’s youthful views are his family’s views, but these are slowly adjusted as he critically observes the practices and beliefs of different adults around him.

With little previous exposure to the plight of Aborigines in his community, Robbie only begins to question community values when a holiday job sees him working side-by-side with Micky.

Historic events litter the tale, setting it in a real time and place in Australia. For a brief history about the time in which it is based, see BTN Freedom Ride

Was this how things really were in country towns in the 60’s? Some would argue this was not the case. But Sue Lawson has taken a pocket of humanity to illustrate the racist attitudes which promoted the Freedom Ride movement. Many who lived in similar locations would agrue that these emotions were not rampant in their mind’s eye – but for those suffering racist taunts and restrictions, it would have felt this way.

An interesting tale to put young adults in another person’s place and time in history.

Thirst by Lizzie Wilcock


  • a car accident in the desert
  • driver (probably) dead
  • 2 foster kids stranded
  • one totally disenchanted with foster care
  • the other a young boy

This is the way Thirst begins, and, as we learn a little about the stranded kids, 14 year old Karanda and 8 year old Solomon, it seems that there is little chance their luck is likely to improve in a hurry.

Karanda’s emotions are mixed – angry, perhaps privately scared, but she is determined to get away from her miserable existence as a foster child, passed from family to family. On the other hand, Solomon simply wants to tag along, as Karanda begins to storm off who-know-where, but away from the car-wreck (which is probably their one chance of discovery and rescue). What other option does he have, really?

In her anger, Karanda is uncaring; suspecting that it would be easy for searchers to eventually find sweet little Solomon near the car wreck. However, he is persistent, and keeps up as she marches away from the wreck and her old existence. Thus their circumstances ends up binding them together in a struggle for survival; which would challenge anyone of any age.

Thirst, by Lizzie Wilcock, is peppered with great descriptions of the Aussie outback, and many unique survival tips from the wise-for-his-age Solomon – lucky for Karanda that he follows along.

Karanda’s anger and struggles are palpable throughout, while Solomon’s quiet perserverence is far beyond his years – making much of Karanda’s action seem quite immature and thoughtless.

The physical situations they face are a good reflection of the harshness of the outback; and their emotional battles give the reader lots to pause and think about. But whether it is a realistic story has been questioned – there have been mixed reviews. It is a good survival story, if you just go with the flow.

In the end, is it worth the struggle? What do we learn? What really challenges us the most from this tale?

The hills are alive…(with book creators!)


Emily Rodda

Well, the mountains really, are alive with many Australian children’s authors and illustrators – and many of them came together last week at the (inaugural) Blue Mountains chapter of the CBCA at the Carrington Hotel. They gathered together with many bibliophiles, such as teachers, teacher librarians, publishers and others interested in promoting children’s literature; and in particular, with a local focus.

Actually, there has been a CBCA chapter in the mountains in the past so this was more of a revival – boosted by the enthusiasm of those who attended. Authors old and new, included Emily Rodda, Tohby Riddle, Margaret Hamilton and, illustrator Freya Blackwood, who has three books shortlisted for the 2015 Children’s Book of the Year Awards. Sadly, James Roy, Stephen Herrick and Stephen Measday were unable to attend at the last moment. Perhaps, we will see them next time.

It was a time to applaud the achievements of these creative Blue Mountains residents, and gather to chat with them and those who promote their fabulous books.

Freya Blackwood

Freya Blackwood

Quotes about the night included:

  • It was a fabulous event. 
  • Wonderful to see so many people passionate about children’s literature! Looking forward to many more.
  • Special evening and wonderful atmosphere. Always a pleasure to match the minds with the works!

Aptly held in the Library venue of the Carrington Hotel – warmly panelled in wood and offers a large open fireplace, comfortable lounge seating, it was well worth venturing out into a cold winter’s night to join the literary soiree. One of the joys of such meetings is to chat with book creators, hear what inspires them, to find out their future plans and also hear how passionate they remain about getting kids to enjoy reading at each and every level!

Tohby Riddle

Tohby Riddle


Of course, no such evening is complete without the purchase of books, (thanks to Megalong Books for attending), and the compulsory signing and discussion of books with these fabulous book creators.


Moving on – but sisters forever

protectedAlmost 12 months after her sister’s accident, and with a court case looming, Hannah is still struggling. But she is not alone – her mother drifts aimlessly about much of the time and her father has also lost his spark, sustaining both physical and emotional injuries. This is much as you might expect when a family loses a sister/daughter.

Hannah, however, must continue her journey as a school student, facing the many trials and tribulations of adolescence.

Strangely, in some ways, life is easier at school without her sister. Before the accident, Hannah was bullied at school, with little help from her older sister, Katie. In fact, Katie’s presence often made things worse, as Hannah failed to develop the same standing at school, and Katie failed to lend any sisterly support. (Should Hannah feel guilty about this?)

The enjoyable part of Claire Zorn’s writing is how she captures place and time. Set in the Blue Mountains, the school and social situations in the Protected ring true. As with the Sky So Heavy, her characters are authentic, move about in real places in the community, and some act as thoughtlessly as egocentric teenagers sometimes do.

However, Hannah doesn’t have to struggle alone all through the book, and there are ultimately different degrees of healing for the family. Quirky little inserts (lists, goals, likes and dislikes) hint at the sisters’ relationship, differences between them and add the flavour of sibling intimacy. Thus, some of the situations will make you squirm, while others will have you cheering on the efforts of those who aim to help.zorn2

So, the story probably isn’t new (reflect back to the Incredible Here and Now, a male perspective), but the way in which it unfolds is real and believeable. Since people react to loss in many different ways, it is valuable for us as readers to take the time to step into someone else’s shoes; which indeed we can do as we read the Protected.

Congratulations to Claire; just like the Sky So Heavy in 2014, the Protected has been shortlisted for the Older Readers CBCA awards in 2015. (For a little insight to the author, you can read: Claire Zorn, author of The Protected, answers Ten Terrifying Questions)


A10567 – just a number?

altmannAs I read Alexander Altman A10567, I recalled Suzy Zail’s earlier book the Wrong Boy – and it made sense that this book should follow. It made even more sense, when I read an interview where she spoke of wanting to tell her father’s story of surviving Auschwitz.

As Suzy stated in this interview:

There were history books and photos in the library, but not all children liked to read history books. Not all of them were ready for graphic images. I’d been to schools and libraries and talked to children about their holocaust reading and knew that the best way I could help them understand the holocaust was by giving them a character to care about.

In Alexander Altman A10567, she certainly gives young readers someone to care about (primarily 14 year old Alex). And as she describes the trials and desperation of those in concentration camps, there is also lots to think about on a personal scale. In doing so, Zail has not protected young minds from the brutalities of war, but causes you to think about the dark things that have happened in the world’s history, and the powerful instinct of survival.

Alexander’s world is understandably turned upside down as his family trudges towards the Jewish concentraion camp of Auschwitz. The alone, in survival mode, his wits are sharpened and his trust in others switches off. He sees too much, and questions everything in his efforts to survive. Truly a reflection of the brutal experiences and suffering which Zail researched – but there is hope and humanity to be discovered – somehow.

As another reviewer stated:

Alexander Altmann A10567 is not for the faint-hearted. People die horrendous, senseless deaths between its pages. However, Alexander Altmann A10567 is not to be missed if you can manage to push through. The power of one simple act of kindness truly can change the world.

pic-A-U-Auschwitz concentration camp gate

Auschwitz Concentration Camp Gate

With the character of Alexander Altmann based on the experiences of a real Auschwitz survivor (Fred Steiner), Zail has personalised history, shared the atrocities of war and made history accessible to young readers. Many will identify with the changing emotions of Alexander – even though it might be really hard to imagine being in his place. Certainly, it provides another way to understand some of the impacts of the Holocaust on the Jewish people – fitting well alongside other books such as the Book Thief, the Boy in Striped Pyjamas and of course, the Wrong Boy.

# One of the 21 CBCA Book of the Year Awards Notables for 2015.

Deceiving book covers – Zebra Forest

zebra_forest_cover-330When Zebra Forest was first shown to me, I was attracted by the cover – but it gave little away about the story beneath. That said, this debut novel by Adina Gewirtz is an intriguing and thoughtful novel about family relationships, and the shaping of our memories.

Annie B. and her younger brother Rew live with their grandmother. They know little about their past – not even their mother’s name, and assume their father is dead. Their unusual family setup is accepted by their local comunity – even school fails to worry should they not turn up regularly, as Annie takes on tasks for her brooding grandmother.

As summer vacation approaches, eleven year old Annie is suddenly confronted at home by a prison escapee, and all her understandings about her family history are shaken, as she and Rew and Gran are taken hostage.

Who is this escapee? How will they, as hostages, deal with their situation? And what will it mean for their family – this threat, this intrusion on their day-to-day existence? Will anyone notice their absence?

Perhaps one of the tragic points hidden in Gewirtz book is the fact that there is little intrusion or investigation when Annie and Rew don’t appear at school; and there is little community concern for Gran – an elderly person repsonsible for the care of 2 young children. Is this a reflection of society today? Or would there be more concern for the family held hostage by a convicted murderer in reality?

Is this just poetic licence explaining away family isolation? What do you think? Could the events of Zebra Forest happen in real life? If so, what should we do about it?

Here’s a book trailer introduction to Zebra Forest:

55 years later…

New novel from Harper Lee

New novel from Harper Lee

Today marks the release of a long awaited book – the second written by Harper Lee, finally published 55 years after her first published book, To Kill a Mockingbird! (TKMAB)

Many thought this day would never come, so the book’s unexpected discovery has readers in a fervour to see how it unfolds.

Early reviews have indicated that the book is told from Scout’s point of view as a 20 year old, and also that it reveals (surprising?) bigotry of Atticus Finch. The explanation of this may be that Go Set a Watchman was actually written before TKAMB, and that it was not what her editor wanted at the time:

Go Set a Watchman was written in the mid-1950s, before she wrote To Kill a Mockingbird, which was published in 1960. She set it aside when her editor suggested that she write another novel from the young Scout Finch’s perspective. –

Naturally, there has been lots of fanfare preceding the book’s publication:

Go Set a Watchman review – more complex than Harper Lee’s original classic, but less compelling,

Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman goes on sale

Go Set a Watchman: Eight things reviewers say about Harper Lee’s new novel:

There’s only one Atticus Finch: why I won’t be reading Go Set A Watchman -

Author Harper Lee

Author Harper Lee

There have also been releases of the first chapter to entice readers in… which you can either read, or listen to a Reese Witherspoon narration here.

What are you thinking? Do you want to read the rejected manuscript? Can you handle characters who may not be the same as you remember them? Does it change the way you view TKAMB?

Do you wonder what Harper Lee thinks of all the promotion happening right now? Is it (the publication) authentic?

Guest post : the Minnow

minnowThe Minnow, by Diana Sweeney, tells of a young girl’s difficult journey of growth through early adolescence into a new way of being.

Our storyteller, Tom (Holly), is orphaned at the age of fourteen when her parents and sibling (Sarah) are killed during a flood which affects many residents of a small lakeside town.  Tom’s ability to both perceive, and also speak to, family members who have died is at first somewhat confusing to the reader. But the most poignant introduction occurs with the voice of “the minnow”. When Tom survives the flood and takes up residence with Bill, a family friend, her first sexual encounter is the result of his abuse. Although she escapes his daily influence, moving in with close friend Jonah, Tom becomes aware that the child she carries (the minnow) will connect her to Bill and his predatory behaviour. And, although she has adult friends who would help her, Tom remains silent.

In the character of Tom (Holly), Diana Sweeney’s first novel sensitively conveys how difficult it is to report sexual predation. Tom’s fear must first be acknowledged and she must be sure of a safe passage for herself, and for her child (the minnow). Sweeney also exposes a dislocation, imaged by the flood event, whereby Tom’s life experiences separate her from school friends and the normal priorities of adolescence. This isolation is evident within the absences that Sweeney embeds in her narration. Tom’s voice consistently grounds the novel in the viewpoint of a fourteen year old and avoids adult perspectives. Even as water imagery infuses the telling and is accompanied by the voices of underwater creatures, the reader must rely on this perspective to link events with consequences. Ultimately Tom accepts her new life as Holly, and her child (the minnow) emerges to a life and voice of her own.

Although Sweeney tells of an adolescence that is experienced through loss and predation, Holly’s emergence unfolds with grace: a deep sense of renewed hope, a capacity to trust, and a connection with life’s possibilities convey images of survival that remain in the mind of the reader long after turning the last page.

Review written by Dr Yvonne Hammer.

# Note: this is one of the shortlisted books in this year’s CBCA Young Adult section.

Words, words, words!

Way back in primary school, I had a teacher who wasn’t prepared to accept just anything from his students, and who remains today an inspiration for many things I do (thanks, DS). One thing in particular he ‘taught’ was a love of words, and I can remember him encouraging us (as 8-9 year olds) to use variety in our writing.

In year 3, many lists were compiled to replace words like ‘nice’, ‘good’ and ‘walk’ so that in our “compositions” the characters ‘perambulated’ or ‘strolled’ along in their ‘fine’ outfits to have ‘exciting’ adventures along the way. Indeed, my compositions were full of flowery adjectives, as I played with many alternative possibilities to ‘good’ and ‘bad’. [And even now, I pause to use the word ‘nice’.]

rogetWhat fun then, to come across a picture book about a man of words, Peter Mark Roget!

The Right Word : Roget and His Thesaurus by Jen Bryant and Melissa Sweet illustrates/explains/describes the source of our contemporary thesaurus, Roget’s Thesaurus in a wonderful/pictorial/playful representation. Bryant tells of Roget’s sombre childhood, the intricacies of his own introverted character, and his love of words and lists.

His achievements as a doctor (at an incredibly young age), as the inventor of the slide rule, a lecturer and an author are now part of history, but it is his legacy of lists, which made Roget a household word.

The Right Word is a highly visual text which will delight wordsmiths and artists alike – as texts, lists and imagery combine to tell, explore and articulate the evolution of Roget’s Thesaurus. Notes at the end of the book also give context and meaning to the book, with a list of historical events from Roget’s life.  As well, notes from the author and illustrator, and a copy of a page from Roget’s original word book are included. With fascinating end papers, The Right Word is a delightful, enchanting and remarkably creative work that everyone deserves to dive into and enjoy.