Ursula and Tohby together!

Laureate Ursula promotes access to books via library cards!

What a privilege to attend a dinner with Ursula Dubosarsky and Tohby Riddle as guest speakers! What a wonderful way to celebrate nearing the end of a difficult year – dinner at the Farm, Katoomba, with CBCA lovers of children’s literature.

Aside from the amazing location and dinner, we heard from Ursula regarding her role as Australian Children’s Laureate, her long-term association with Tohby Riddle (from early days at The School Magazine) and the things which inspired her to write her latest book, ‘Pierre’s Not There’. Tohby then spoke about ‘Yahoo Creek’ (which was shortlisted this year in the CBCA awards), as well as his recent collaboration with Ursula on ‘the March of the Ants’ (due for publication in MARCH 2021!)

While speaking about her laureate role, Ursula emphasised it was an honour, and a job/role to be accomplished – not just an award for past work, but a challenge to inspire and encourage Australian children as readers and writers. With her many engagements as Children’s Laureate, past and present, she (and her magpie company) will undoubtedly continue to inspire many young readers and the professionals who promote children’s literature.

Tohby also spoke warmly of their past work together at the School Magazine (in publication since 1916, and still going – with subscriptions available!!), and he then introduced some of his latest books. This included ‘Yahoo Creek’ and the upcoming ‘the March of the Ants’.

Providing insights into the work of an author/illustrator, Tohby pointed to the endpapers of ‘Yahoo Creek’ (which are clips of Trove-sourced newspapers) as well as how these articles provided the language for ‘Yahoo Creek’. What an amazing use of historical newspaper records to create an imaginative tale for Australia’s youth!

When it came to illustrating Ursula’s story ‘the March of the Ants’, Tohby identified the ‘monastic’ dedication required to illustrate the multitudes of ants in the story (for an exacting audience who would not accept an illustrator sliding off in his drawing) – all to enable the true telling of the tale. Their past collaborations must have spurred him on in those challenging times!

Finally, Ursula spoke about her inspiration for ‘Pierre’s Not There’ – visiting the Palace of Versailles – almost under protest – at the least, disinterested – then sidetracked by a French puppet theatre nearby. Her puppet theatre visit, subsequent emotions and thoughts about this exploration inspired the events portrayed in ‘Pierre’s Not There’. And her haunting recollections ‘illuminate’ her feelings where this tale began. It’s always interesting to get into the mind of an author and hear where ideas come from…

Fans of both Ursula and Tohby should be looking forward to their new collaboration/publication in March – ‘the March of the Ants’. Here’s a link to the short story which has inspired the picture book. Can you picture how it might be pictured? Can you see it how Tohby may have illustrated it?

# Ursula is one of six Australian representatives recently nominated for the 2021 international Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award.

Past the Shallows

After reading Favel Parrett’s There Was Still Love, I had to find ‘Past the Shallows’ (which I had somehow missed in 2011). This was her debut novel, though she had quite a successful writing career before then.

Just like in ‘There Was Still Love’, the settings and experiences in ‘Past the Shallows’ are beautifully captured, so the visit to the southern region of Bruny Island is well-worth the journey. In fact, the coastal setting and the ocean are significant ‘characters’ within the story.

Three brothers, Joe, Miles and Harry live a troubled existence in this remote location following the tragic death of their mother. Joe has left home and thus, Miles is the one who is commanded to help on his father’s fishing expeditions, while Harry, the youngest is left to his own devices.

For his brothers, the chance to surf is a breakaway from their sad lifestyle, even though the area they surf is tough and unforgiving. Harry, who fears the ocean finds his escape once he discovers Jake and his owner, the reclusive George. Though we might fear a solitary man living in an old rundown cottage, (and maybe Harry should also) George provides a grandfatherly influence in Harry’s life.

As Favel Parrett carefully discloses details about the Curren family’s past, we grieve for their losses and rejoice in the precious snippets of family love they knew. Each of the boys has something to remember, learn from and live through. Is there hope?

Just as their remote location has both grim and beautiful aspects, so too do their lives. There is both joy and sorrow in this tale, with the bond of brothers a strong element. And there will be both laughter and tears as you read this one.

Hear me – Being Jazmine

‘Being Jazmine’ is the third book featuring Jazmine Crawford – part of the Invisible series by Cecily Paterson. That said, it was also a good read as a stand-alone title.

This story challenges readers to put ourselves in the shoes of someone else, as Jazmine struggles with the demands of high school. She is finding it increasingly hard and very, very tiring.

Alongside the usual teenage angst, she faces a change to her family life as her mother remarries and they plan to move out of her old family home. Even though it’s been five years since her father died, and even though her mother’s boyfriend is really nice, it’s a hard and unfathomable adjustment for Jazmine.

Even with good support from her school friends, certain school teachers and her grandmother, Jazmine still finds it all a bit too much. Why is she so tired all the time? How is she meant to accept this new phase of her life? With the added complication of being deaf, she feels caught between different worlds and the expectations of family and friends.

This story is one to make you think about the things we often take for granted, and things we don’t really see clearly. It highlights the importance of having understanding adults – parents, teachers and grandparents in particular. A book about belonging (or not), and seeing things from the perspective of others.

Recommended 12+

# Other titles in this series are Invisible and Invincible

Atticus Van Tasticus (Younger Readers)

Suspend all normal thinking. Suspend being a normal ten-year-old. Atticus wants to be a pirate!

He may not have known that, on the morning of his tenth birthday; but once he found his gift of choice at his Grandnan’s, that’s what he wanted to be.

In this rollicking tale from Andrew Daddo, Atticus does indeed become the leader of his pirate ship – once he has gathered together a motley crew. It is a story which will be enjoyed by kids and parents alike with fabulous quirky illustrations from Stephen Michael King, and hilarious asides from many curious characters. (Can you identify a certain world leader among these characters?)

Daddo plays with fun crew members –  Stinkeye, Fishface, Hogbreath, Wrong Wat Warren and more – and fun Aussie phrases like “landing like a butterfly with sore feet” and “(his breath was) worse than a fur seal on a hot day”. (Clearly, there is a lot here from his experience of growing up in a household of 4 brothers and 1 sister, living near the sea…)

‘Atticus Van Tasticus: It’s a pirate life for me’ is the first in the series (with The Map of Half Maps also published, and The Treasure of Treasures is due out soon.) All the books are more than just words on a page, so pause and read the illustrations too. And pause and think about the inventiveness of the crew of the pirate ship, Grandnan.

Older readers and parents might like to actually hear thoughts from the author in this interview from last year when Atticus was first launched. (You will need Facebook access.).

And here’s a small book trailer introduction to the first book.

A fabulous example of NOT suspending your imagination, and letting it roll about as much as you want. And another marvellous collaboration between author and illustrator, each contributing their own amazing talents to a fun series. Recommended reading for 8+ and their families!

#Who is your favourite character in this series?

## Available as ebook.

Derek Dool Supercool (Younger readers)

With so many great YA books about, it’s not often I pick up and review something for younger readers. However, I have just chuckled my way through the first book of ‘Derek Dool Supercool’ series – ‘Bust a Move’.

Young readers will love Derek, as he tries to convince everyone else at his school that he is as cool as he thinks himself. Especially if he can win the dance-off at Rutthill’s school disco!

Even though Derek often has other kids laughing at him (they get points if they doink him on the head in their handball games), and he is on permanent litter duty at lunchtime, he somehow still believes he is the COOLEST, FUNNIEST and most HANDSOME kid at school!

This book is full of fun characters – including Derek who’s ego is bigger than most, his “friends” Booger and Big Denise, and his arch-enemy, Carmichael Cruz. Author Adrian Beck brings them all to life through their over-exaggerated actions and emotions. We learn little things about them in short sections within the story – e.g. how Booger gets his name.

Characters Big Denise, Derek and Booger from the back cover.

Add to this wildly entertaining illustrations from Scott Edgar, and you have a great book for a relaxing but fun read. Even the text and page layout are enjoyable. Words jump out at you. Dad Jokes appear. And special characters, Gilbert and Gertie, make sarcastic comments about what is likely to happen in the story.

This is probably a book for 8+ age group, but who’s going to stop anyone older investigating what younger readers are laughing about? A fun book for the family/class to share.

# The good news is that Derek, Booger and Big Denise return in ‘Derek Dool Supercool – Going Viral’ book very soon! 

CBCA Notables 2020

CBCA Notables 2020 – https://cbca.org.au/notables-2020

Once again, there is an amazing array of titles selected for this year’s CBCA Notable List. Books in the YA category range from those from well established Australian authors – like Garth Nix, Neil Grant, Robert Newton and Vikki Wakefield, alongside newly found authors like Lisa Fuller.

[Lisa has already received the David Unaipon Award for an Unpublished Indigenous Writer for Ghost Bird.]

There is also a range of genres and settings on the shortlist, including lead characters dealing with:

  • coming of age issues (It Sounded Better in My Head),
  • cross-cultural family complications (The Surprising Power of a Good Dumpling & The Honeyman and the Hunter),
  • broken families (Promise Me Happy)
  • coping with changing teen relationships (When the Ground is Hard) and challenging misfit roles (Aurora Rising)

With such a great selection of books, it is not only hard to contemplate what the shortlist will be, but also which ones to read first. It’s certainly a great collection to guide our YA readers! Some have already featured on other award longlists like the Indies and the ABIA awards for 2020.

BOOK OF THE YEAR: OLDER READERS: NOTABLES 2020

The Man in the Water by David Burton

Devil’s Ballast by Meg Caddy

*The Surprising Power of a Good Dumpling by Wai Chim

The Boy Who Steals Houses by C.G. Drews

The Last Balfour by Cait Duggan

How It Feels to Float by Helena Fox

Ghost Bird by Lisa Fuller

The Honeyman and the Hunter by Neil Grant

*Aurora Rising by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff

*It Sounded Better in My Head by Nina Kenwood

Monuments by Will Kostakis

All That Impossible Space by Anna Morgan

*Promise Me Happy by Robert Newton

Angel Mage by Garth Nix

*When the Ground is Hard by Malla Nunn

Four Dead Queens by Astrid Scholte

Invisible Boys by Holden Sheppard

*This Is How We Change the Ending by Vikki Wakefield

Take the Shot by Susan White

Impossible Music by Sean Williams

*These books have been/are being reviewed here.

# The full 2020 CBCA Longlist for all categories is worth a look for ALL reading ages.

Revisit: the ‘Once’ series

As the 75-year commemoration of the liberation of Auschwitz approached on January 2020, it was a good time to revisit the ‘Once’ series.

Written by 2018-19 Australian Children’s Laureate, Morris Gleitzman, this series has had world-renown for many years.* The first book, ‘Once’, was written in 2005 and presents Felix, a young Jewish boy, who sets off on a quest to find his parents in war-torn Poland.

What follows are several books which introduce the (younger) reader to the trials faced by those who suffered under the Nazi regime in World War II.

In spite of its tragic setting, among the events of World War II, and Hitler’s attempt to exterminate the Jewish population of Europe, ‘Once’ (and the following titles) is also a story of hope and friendships that stood the test of these times.

As Felix tries to make sense of the Nazi’s book-burning (a shock when his parents are booksellers. Why would anyone do that?) and other even more atrocious activities, the realities of his life (first in an orphanage, then further afield) reveal the conditions for many people in Poland at this time.

The life of Janusz Korczak among Jewish  orphans inspired Morris to write this series

Felix’s view of life (as a ten-year-old) at first seems naive, but it enables him to have a somewhat positive perspective, as he hopes to track down his parents. However, as his story continues, different aspects of life under the Nazi regime become apparent – things like the increasingly cruel treatment of Jews AND anyone who might offer them help. As Felix’s understanding grows, there is more to be learned, each step of the way.

Author, Morris Gleitzman explains how his family background (his grandfather was a Polish Jew) lead
him to research and, ultimately, to write the ‘Once’ series:

My grandfather was a Jew from Krakow in Poland. As a young man he left Poland, decades before the Holocaust, and ended up living in England. But many members of his family stayed in Poland and most of them were killed by the Nazis.

So researching and writing Once became a personal journey. It took me to Poland for the first time. To the streets of Kazimierz, the ancient Jewish area of Krakow, and to the Jewish cemetery where I found a memorial with my family name on it… (From Morris Gleitzman website on ‘Once’.)

There are currently 6 books in this series – the final (?) title, ‘Always’, should be released later this year. Are you ready for it? Or are you like me, in need of a re-read of this important series?

* ‘Once’ has been translated into many different languages, and won the 2011 Katholischer Kinder- und Jugendbuchpreis, (the Catholic Children’s and Young People’s Book Award in Germany) among many other awards, national and international.

** Morris’ books have been published in about twenty countries, including the UK, the USA, Germany, Italy, Japan, France, Spain, Portugal, Holland, Sweden, Finland, Iceland, Indonesia, Czechoslovakia, Russia and China.

*** The publication order for the series is: Once (2005), Then (2009), Now (2010), After (2012), Soon (2015) and Maybe (2017) – though I’m sure I heard/read Morris state they can be read out of order, each book complete within itself…

**** Available as ebooks and audiobooks.

Laureate – “Read For Your Life”

Ursula Dubosarsky was welcomed as the new Australian Children’s Laureate for 2020/21 at the National Library of Australia today.

In keeping with previous laureates, Ursula is renowned and well-revered as an author of children’s books, across many age groups; as well as being one driven to promote reading among the youth of Australian for many years.

If children learn to love to read—not just to be able to read—then they will be readers their whole life long. It’s about human motivation. A child has to want to read for themselves, not be told to read,’ said Dubosarsky.

‘Joining the library gives them access to an unbounded wealth of reading material, where slowly they can start to find what they really want to read. A child becomes a lifelong reader not by chance, but by opportunity. That’s how you make a reader for life.’ (Quote from Ursula via Books+Publishing website)

From all (Twitter) accounts, her selection was greatly applauded today – by those present at the National Library of Australia today, and in online spaces too.

Certainly deserving for an author of more than 60 books (which are listed here). In addition to this are the many hours she has dedicated to workshops and presentations for students, teacher librarians, teachers and other professional associations over many many years.

Australian Children’s Laureate theme 2020/21

And so begins her new mission to encourage:

… a generation of readers that would continue to read their whole life long and to do that, children need access to all kinds of books, and “more books than any one family or even school can every provide”. (From SMH article: New children’s laureate worries for teen readers)

Congratulations, Ursula. We are right behind you!

Wearing Paper Dresses (with feeling)

Wearing Paper Dresses is a story you can feel. In its pages, even a city-slicker can begin to understand the stresses and strains of rural life – and to anticipate the troubles to come.

In this debut novel, Anne Brinsden introduces us to a family dealing not only with the struggles of drought but also the struggles of adapting to a ‘foreign’ lifestyle. For indeed that is what it is like for Elise, who marries Bill while he is working in the city (where she belongs). In the city, they start to build their family life.

When Bill’s father (known as Pa) calls him back to help on the family farm in the Mallee region of Victoria, Elise and their daughters must follow. Her urban background offers little to support her in her new environment (a working farm planted in tough conditions), and her own upbringing stands her apart from the community into which she must now try to blend.

“But Elise wasn’t from the Mallee, and she knew nothing of its ways.”

The Mallee, its weather and even their farmhouse are alive and important in this story. Each of these elements has emotions and thoughts, as they ‘watch’ events unfold. Through them, you are forewarned of looming difficulties. You really feel ominous tremors as you read.

Mallee scrubland

Subtle changes in Elise arise as she tries to adapt to rural life. Unfortunately, Bill is either too busy, or reluctant, or unable to see these changes. While Pa and others try to point these out, their daughters Ruby and Marjorie run wild. They also bear the brunt of Elise’s difficulties and take on many of her family responsibilities.

Thus the girls spend their time ‘on eggshells’ – anticipating the next time Elise will do something strange or moody or threatening. Her attempts to become part of the rural community fail, as she is viewed as too glamorous for the country. Her cooking skills are too fussy (especially for the shearers who want plain country tucker). Some local women find her pretentious and show-offy in her Paris-inspired home-sewn creations. Even her musical talents don’t seem to impress – at least that is what she begins to think.

Indeed, much of the difficulty comes as Elise begins to doubt herself, and as she fails to understand how to adapt to her country home. Lacking emotional support, Elise suffers several breakdowns – which youngest daughter Marjorie identifies as the ‘glimmer’ beginning.

Wearing Paper Dresses speaks to the heart of the many struggles faced by those on the land, even though it focusses on the mental health of an outsider unable to cope, rather than the fraught farmer. But does Bill’s inability to act for Elise simply show a different coping mechanism? and a danger to his family?

At this time of drought, as Australian farmers struggle to survive, this is a challenging story which reminds us of the harshness of our beautiful land. It honours the resilience of many rural communities while illustrating the fragility of some personalities who may live there. It recognises the impact of things out of our control. Ultimately, it reveals the strength of human spirit and the optimism which ties people to the land, which we should aspire to and wholeheartedly applaud.

Recommended for 15+ / adult audience.

Liars – capturing your imagination

The Truth App is the first in the Liars series, written by Jack Heath – author of Replica, reviewed here previously. Like 300 /400/500 Minutes of Danger, it is written for readers about 10-14 years old, and should entice even the most reluctant reader.

It introduces young Jarli, the inventor of an app which can identify when people are lying. Imagine that! You would expect this to be a good thing, but certain events which occur in Jarli’s hometown of Kelso suggest that might not be the case.

As in most Jack Heath novels, the action starts early, with Jarli and his father involved in an attack on their car – no accident, but the police don’t want to believe him. As his father recovers in hospital, Jarli tries to work out what actually happened.

Meanwhile, he has other issues with his Truth App. He releases it free online to have others help him perfect the coding. The unexpected fame which results is both a blessing and a curse, including attacks from fellow students – those who don’t want their lies uncovered.

But there are bigger things at stake, which are revealed as Jarli and his friends work through what is happening in the sleepy little town of Kelso. Soon, Jarli has to decide who he can trust, and who will best help out in the dire consequences he faces.

The Truth App is not totally resolved at the end – with much more to come in the series – followed by No Survivors (and now at book 5, the Armageddon). To decide if this action-packed book for you, there is an extract available here – you won’t be sorry!

# Have a look at Jack Heath’s website for even more intriguing information about him and his writing.