After Twilight – Shiver!

For some time, following the success of the ‘Twilight’ series, a massive number of Twilight-themed books appeared. Even now, bookshops and chain stores are laden with vampire love stories of various qualities. Now is the time to herald a new wave of  books – this time based on werewolves. (For those who are ‘Team Jacob’ perhaps?)

One well-written example of this is ‘the Wolves of Mercy Falls’ series by Maggie Stiefvater. Beginning with ‘Shiver’, the tales focus on the relationships which develop between humans, and those in their community who morph into wolves when the weather cools down – as winters do harshly in the fictional town of Mercy Falls (likened to forested areas just south of the Canadian border).

Grace has had a fascination of the wolves which live in the woods near her home for as long as she can remember. This is in spite of being snatched off a tyre swing and being dragged into the woods as a young child. For her, there was some unexplained attraction to these wild animals, and to one wolf in particular.

We meet Sam, listening to his thoughts about the sensations he feels, tastes and smells, and become aware of his acute instincts towards Grace. These are heightened when he is able to take refuge in her home – a place rarely frequented by her busy, preoccupied parents. This allows them to time to learn about each other and the forces impacting their lives.

A major complication for their relationship is the fact that Sam has, for many years, changed into a wolf as wintry weather approaches. This is the normal cycle – he can only be human for a short time each year – and this time is shortening each year.

Maggie Stiefvater has created some interesting voices in her tale (the first of 3) and gives differing perspectives – from the points of view of the wolves, the wolf pack and the human communities of Mercy Falls, as they exist side by side. You can almost smell the musky scent of the wolves, feel the crispness of the woods, fear the chill as winter approaches, and sense the anxiety of Grace and Sam as their time together appears to be running out.

On her blog, Maggie writes –

“As an artist and musician, I can’t work in a vacuum when I write—music and art is always in the back of my head in one way or another. Here on this page you’ll find the stop-motion animated book trailers I made for Shiver and Linger, playlists of some of the music I listened to while writing the book, and the music I wrote for the series. Plus, some links to some real wolf howls because that’s just cool.”

To read this, after reading her book, helps you to see how she has worked to evoke your senses, and to appreciate how her ideas have grown from perceptive ‘all-senses’ observations. The link above also gives you access to some quirky little book trailers she has created, with music she composed especially for the process.

‘Linger’ is the next book, with the final book ‘Forever’ due out next year. (N.B. The film rights have been bought and a screenplay has been written, but whether the series makes it to the screen is yet to be determined.)

Till then / before then, read the books!!!

Writers on writing – Sonya Hartnett

sonya_hartnettSonya Hartnett has been writing since she was very young and had her first book published at the age of 15. She has been recognised by many awards in her writing career, so it was interesting to hear her interviewed for the 702 Bookclub recently, where she told some interesting tales about when and how she writes.

As a successful author, Sonya has many books to her name – one of the most recent being ‘Butterfly’ (reviewed earlier). In this interview, she talks about how she takes on the voice of a teenaged girl in ‘Butterfly’, and tells about how and when she writes each day. Listen to the interview by clicking here.

Since 1995, Sonya has received many accolades for her writing, including awards from the Children’s Book Council of Australia, NSW Premier’s Children’s Award, the Guardian Children’s Award and the Miles Franklin Award. Some of her books have been received with controversy as well (‘Sleeping Dogs’ and ‘All My Dangerous Friends’ among these).

Sonya’s books include (see CMIS Focus on Fiction for more details and titles):

    • the Silver Donkey
    • the Ghost’s Child
    • Thursday’s Child
    • Stripes of the Sidestep Wolf
    • And my personal favourite, Forest.

Why not leave a comment about any of Sonya’s books you have enjoyed, or what you think of her writing style and method? Click on (Comments in the title bar)

The teacher took my tennis ball…


Do you remember an Inn,
Do you remember an Inn?
And the tedding and the spreading
Of the straw for a bedding,
And the fleas that tease in the High Pyrenees,
And the wine that tasted of tar?
And the cheers and the jeers of the young muleteers
(Under the vine of the dark veranda)?

Do you remember an Inn, Miranda,
Do you remember an Inn?
And the cheers and the jeers of the young muleteers
Who hadn’t got a penny,
And who weren’t paying any,
And the hammer at the doors and the din?
And the hip! hop! hap!
Of the clap
Of the hands to the swirl and the twirl
Of the girl gone chancing,
Backing and advancing,
Snapping of the clapper to the spin
Out and in–
And the ting, tong, tang of the guitar!
Do you remember an Inn,
Do you remember an Inn? (Tarantella by Hilaire Belloc)


I had a little beetle
So that beetle was his name
And I called him Alexander
And he answered just the same
And I put him in a matchbox
And I kept him all the day
But nanny let my beetle out
Yes nanny let my beetle out
She went and let my beetle out
And beetle ran away…. (part of A.A. Milne’s poem, Forgiven)

The Teacher Took my Tennis Ball

The teacher took my tennis ball

She took it for the day

Just because it broke some glass

She said I couldn’t play… (part of The Teacher Took my Tennis Ball by Libby Hathorn)

Each of these poems, and many others, hold a special place in my life. The first one , Tarantella, echoes the rhythmic introductions of a special teacher in Grade 3 (Thanks, Mr Simmons). Other memorable poems performed by this teacher included A.B. Paterson’s, the Man from Ironbark, and of course, the Man from Snowy River – I can always remember the gasp from the class when “Murder! Bloody Murder!” was pronounced.

Later as a parent, I wanted to show my children the best of the old and the new – poetry I enjoyed from my parents’ introductions and the new from authors of the day. Thus, poetry memories for my children include those of A.A. Milne and Libby Hathorn (with quirky poems like the Teacher Took My Tennis Ball).

My thoughts on poetry were revived again by the launch of a new poetry collection at a recent CBCA conference held in Sydney. Libby Hathorn was there to promote her poetry anthology, The ABC Book of Australian Poetry. To quote Libby:

I have been concerned that works of certain classic Australian poets may be slipping out of sight, while the fine works of poets of our time may never be heard or read by young people. This anthology gave me the opportunity to invigorate classic works and highlight contemporary Australian voices, using the metaphor of the river of life for each section and reflecting so aptly on the phases of our history.

As I reflect on the poetry I was introduced to early in my schooling (primary school years), I too desire that today’s youth is exposed to both classics from the past, and new and upcoming poets. Indeed to be inspired to become poets themselves. As a start, students could look at Libby’s Poetry Parade  to submit their own poems. Those already writing their own poems should, as other writers do, read widely, to discover their own interests and style of writing while experiencing a varied and diverse taste of poetric styles. Indeed, a reading through the ABC Book of Australian Poetry reveals the different styles of poetry around us – writing to inspire us, as we look back in fondness to poets of Australia’s past, and forward to those of the future.

abcbookofaustralianpoetryRhythm or rhyme?

What’s your style?

What does it take

To make you smile…?

(Or frown).

What gets you down?

Or makes you think?


Whatever it is –

Just take note now

To have it there for all to see.


## For ideas have a look at:

Where The Streets Had A Name: Randa Abdel-Fattah

randaI recall listening to Randa Abdel-Fattah decrying the fact that many books about other cultures are written by those outside the culture. How authentic could such novels be, she asked? She also seemed to indicate that this lead to an urge for her to be the provider of the authentic experience – writing from her heritage from the things she herself knew and understood – as an Australian Muslim of Palestinian and Egyptian heritage.

‘Where the Streets had a name’ certainly meets the criteria Randa has set for authenticity. It reflects her high interest in Palestinian human rights and introduces the average Australian young adult reader to situations of dispossession, the daily struggles of people living with the Palestinian/Israeli conflict, and life under military occupation.

Hayaat, as a young but determined teenager, centres the story, after introducing her family situation and daily events – which can include curfews, rationing and disruptions to normal routines. As her grandmother, Sitti Zeynab  is ailing/dying, she longs for the homeland she knew – before her family was dispossessed and moved to a foreign place. Hayaat commits to bringing to her grandmother, soil from her homeland. While this homeland is physically only a short distance  away, there are many barriers to Hayaat’s mission due to political restraints. But she goes nonetheless, with her Christian friend, Samy, in tow.

To the average Australian teenager such a journey may seem incomprehensible, given the political situation, but with the humour and the silly optimism of Hayaat, Samy and their various encounters, there is much to be considered. And it provides an insight into life in Israeli-occupied Jerusalem – life in ‘an open-air prison’.

As an ‘Australian-born-Muslim-Palestinian-Egyptian’, Randa Abdel-Fattah lives in many worlds. She has always been passionate about Palestinian human rights campaigns due to her heritage. Her work as a lawyer is intricately combined with her authorship, and she is often called upon to talk about all of these things. A visit to father’s birthplace, Palestine, in 2000 inspired this book, as the tale of her grandmother’s own dispossession became clearer to her. 

There is lots to be learnt from this tale, as Randa grounds it in her in own life story. In her (first) book dedication, she states:

To my Grandmother Sitti Jamilah, who passed away on 24th April, 2008, aged 98. I had hoped that you would live to see this book and that you would be allowed to touch the soil of your homeland again. It is my consolation that you died surrounded by my father and family and friends who cherished you. May you rest in peace. And to my father-May you see a free Palestine in your lifetime.

While this indicates the heart with which Randa has written the book, it also gives hint to the urge she has to present realistic  reflection of life as a Muslim in the global  world today. One reviewer hoped that it would help young readers to:

‘grasp the seemingly endless turmoil of the occupied West Bank and Israel’ and ‘help adults grasp the ridiculous realities of insult constantly faced by residents of occupied Palestine’.  Naomi Shihab Nye, Wisdom and laughter in a child’s view of Palestine.The Electronic Intifada, 10 December 2008 Sourced from:

For more about what inspired Randa Abdel-Fattah to write this and her previous books, ‘Does My Head Look Big in this?’ and ‘Ten Things I Hate About Me’, visit her web site FAQ page:

Do you think it is important for people to write what they really know? or can an author complete a certain amount of research to write an authetic novel?

Short and Scary

short_scaryWant to be a writer? Have you ever dreamed of having your stories published? What about being published alongside well-known authors like Carole Wilkinson, Shaun Tan, James Roy, Andy Griffiths, Terry Denton, James Moloney, Sally Odgers, Susanne Gervay or Gabrielle Wang? well, it can be done!

Just ask Ben, Jared, Joshua, Kelsey and Stewart. After lots of hard work, creating, pondering and editing, they were fortunate enough to have their stories and illustration included in the newly released ‘Short and Scary’ anthology, published by Black Dog Books this April.  They are now published authors!

‘Short and Scary’ is a collection of short stories, poems and illustrations designed to have you wondering, peeking carefully around the next corner, and wondering about all things creepy and chilling.

‘Short and Scary’ follows on from a previous book from Black Dog Books – ‘Short’, which also included stories from well known Australian childrens’ authors and contribtions from students. Authors for both books receive no royalties, which actually go to support Big Brothers Big Sisters , mentoring program – the honour for our students, of course, was being published in the same book as recognised authors!

See comments on other websites on ‘Short and Scary’:

So please check it out from the school library – or buy your own copy from most book stores, to get it signed by our authors. You may have a momento of a famous author one day!

Being creative: 1 – Anne Spudvilas

peasant-prince-coverAnne Spudvilas is the illustrator of ‘the Peasant Prince’ – the picture book derived from ‘Mao’s Last Dancer’ by Li Cunxin. At the recent Children’s Literature Festival, at Norman Lindsay’s Gallery (on March 20 and 21 2010), she described the journey she undertook to create this book with Li Cunxin.

The first task was to reduce a story, which was first published as an autobiography covering 450 pages…

 “During a holiday at Lorne, in Victoria, soon after he stopped dancing, a friend, Graeme Base, the children’s author and illustrator, persuaded him (Li Cunxin) to list the big turning points he had experienced. This 10-page “general sketch of my life” led to a deal with Penguin. Two years later, helped by two editors, he had expanded the sketch to 680,000 words, then cut them down to 160,000 covering 450 pages.”

(Neil Jillett September 6, 2003. Dance of the Peasant Prince.

For a picture book, this needed to be reduced further – to less than 40 pages! Quite a task! How do you do something like that?

Anne described the process she often follows as:

  • beginning with thumbnail sketches
  • creating a storyboard with these
  • revision with the author (Li Cunxin)
  • additions of descriptions to storyboards (filling out details)
  • use of a databank of images (to find faces, places and realistic detail of the story)
  • concertina of the storyboard (to see how it flows)
  • research into appropriate illustration techniques ( for ‘the Peasant Prince’, this included studying Chinese brush painting)
  • use of post-it notes to highlight details she needed to check for authenticity
  • continual revision  and review with the author

To create ‘the Peasant Prince’, Anne was fortunate to be able to travel to China for 3 ½ weeks, and be with Li Cunxin on one of his speaking tours. She was therefore able to see some of the places and indeed, meet some of the people he wrote about in his autobiography, firsthand. She was also given access to family photos and memorabilia which she used to bring a realistic feel to the book.

To contrast, Li’s poor beginnings in China, Anne used a low colour palette, including the use of found old newspapers illustrating the meagre inside of his family home. For Li’s life in the United States as a principal dancer with the Houston Ballet, she used vibrant richer colours in layers of oil paints and glazes. And the shine on his parents’ faces in the audience scene is glowing in the final pages to represent their great pride in the achievements of their son.

The journey of the illustrator is an interesting tale – a tale about revealing a tale – and the steps along the way are always exciting as they unfold. They are unique for each special book like ‘the Peasant Prince’ and inspiring to hear about. Thank you, Anne.

N.B. Recent titles illustrated by Anne Spudvilas (with links to her website) include:

Baby days | Covers | In my backyard | Jenny Angel | Woolvs in the Sitee