I do hope you had a wonderful Christmas and are ready for the start of a bright new year sparkling with possibilities. Last January I wrote about the Push-me-Pull-you nature of January, with all the looking forward and looking backwards. This year, you can find my Looking Backwards over 2018 in the post - 'My Year in Pictures' here.
The year has started off with a burst of administration and organisation, which does feel like a never-ending stream, however it has been happily sprinkled with flecks of gold along the way with the discovery of Marie Kondo and her joy-filled tidying philosophy. She might not be for everyone, and I'm yet to discover how she sorts her books (I have an ominous premonition) but she has brought joy to some mundane tasks and for that I'm thankful! In fact, I think I have to call it... the word for my year is... JOY!
Some other things that have brought me joy this month include:
1 This jigsaw of books (pictured) featuring brave girls from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and these nostalgic books that my family gifted me for Christmas. Brought tears of joy to my eyes, they did. And many, many happy moments lost in puzzle and time.
2 Australia Post Children's literature legend stamps - I love this video:
3 Australia Day honours to creators that make the children's literature space a wonderful place to be: Sophie Masson, Emily Rodda (Jennifer Rowe), Alison Lester and a lovely local honour to Alison Tait. Alison Lester was also awarded the Melbourne prize for literature, presented every three years to a Victorian author ‘whose body of published work has made an outstanding contribution to Australian literature, as well as to cultural and intellectual life.' I don't know about your home library, but Alison Lester books feature prominently in ours.
4 My beautiful stationary that has already inspired me to write and send away two new stories! So much joy!
In January I ran a choc-a-block Monster Mayhem workshop at The Children's Bookshop, Beecroft. We had fun on a gruesome treasure hunt through the store, looking for monster body-parts (would you call that treasure?!) and then assembled our own monster together, before kids were let loose with paper and pencils to design their own monster characters. At the end, the kids all created their own talking monster puppet, using a basic chatterbox design and lots of embellishments. Here's mine:
Discoveries (Apart from Marie Kondo on Netflix):
I've enjoyed listening to a new podcast by some online friends of mine. It's about writing and reviewing books for mid grade readers, called Middle Grade Mavens. If you write for this genre, this is must. The first and second podcasts include an interview with Danielle Binks which gives great industry insights - I recommend having a paper and pen handy!
Another new adventurer on the podcast scene is Tania McCartney - is there anything this multi-talented gal can't do? (she does tell me singing is not something we'll hear her do anytime soon :-). The Happy Book, has tips and information about finding your way in the children's publishing world.
This fantastic article in the Wall Street Journal about The Secret Power of the Children's picture Book. It may be subscriber only now :( but it says how MRIs of kids brains show that reading a story alone is 'too cold' for young kid's brain activity, that animation is 'too hot,' but picture books, where the child is able to synthesise the spoken words as their eyes are free to roam over the pictures at their own pace, are 'just right' for firing up the perfect cognitive processes. It also gives a warning about the effect of parental use of electronic devices and the way that user's facial expressions mirror a depressed affect that is anxiety producing for young children. I found the research fascinating!
On my reading radar:
Girl Running, Boy Falling - is an important YA book for our times, unfortunately. With youth suicide rates a national disgrace, this book speaks to those left behind, like a guiding light through the darkness and into the light. Kate Gordon's book threads a compelling narrative around grief and loss, hints at prevention strategies and seeks to stem the pull of suicide contagion by holding out a hand of hope.
The Things That Will Not Stand by Michael Gerard Bauer - the kind of book I want to hug when I've finished. It's a YA that will suit the younger end of the spectrum; short and easy to read (thankfully, because I couldn't put it down -I read it in an afternoon/evening); humorous yet deep and an ode to creativity that helps us hope for and imagine a better future. So much love for this book. I found it at my local library after not being able to find it in the shops at Christmas time. I think it must be very popular!
Lenny's Book of Everything by Karen Foxlee- for the more mature end of the mid grade market, with its length and themes. A book that would also appeal to an adult readership. It's poignant with an incredible strong and quirky voice that I thoroughly enjoyed. Tear-jerking but not maudlin, infused with resilient hopefulness and unexpected humour.
Who Dresses God by Teena Raffa-Mulligan and Veronica Rooke - I won this book via a Books on Tour competition. It's a gorgeous rhyming conversation between a mother and child within a picture book. The softly painted illustrations profiling faces from different perspectives will engage small children who delight in seeking out faces.
My chats with Katrina Roe on Hope 103.2 this month included these gorgeous junior fiction and picture books. All highly recommended!
Looking forward to:
My interview with up-and-coming author Amelia McInerney on the Just Write For Kids Blog. Amelia's first of five picture books comes out in a month and the first peek will be at ...
The SCBWI conference in February! So much excitement about this! Great events, kicking off with a whole lot of mini book launches (including Amelia's) at The Children's Bookshop, Beecroft on Sunday 24th details here
Robert Vescio launches yet another wonderful picture book - The Box Cars. It's also at The Children's Bookshop, this Saturday 2nd. I hope to be there.
Picture Book Book Club twitter party featuring Shelly Unwin. Do join in if you can!
CBCA Night of the Notables on Tuesday the 26th Feb- when the CBCA announces the long-list for the Book of the Year awards. So excited to see who makes the list!
Laureate summit on the 28th Feb - not sure I can get to this one, but what a line-up!
I'm sure I'll catch up with some of you at one or more of these events!
Wishing everyone a Joyful new year!
I've been inspired by some facebook friends to pick out the top nine photos that highlight my year. (thanks Max Hamilton!) So here goes...
Explanations - L to R each row:
Getting a gig at the Sydney Writer's Festival in their Storytime Clubhouse
Attending the inaugural Flash Fiction Festival in Canberra
Being invited to be the children's book reviewer on Hope 103.2
Being on a panel with my writers' group at the Kids and YA Festival at Writing NSW
The Scared Book getting not one, not two, but three stickers (Cheating a bit here - each one deserves its own pic, but alas, not enough room in this 3x3 collage)
Launching writing buddy Katrina Roe's Lily's Balloon
Being the guest on Picture Book Book Club's October chat
Winning the FAWQ Flash fiction (refined after the above-mentioned Flash Fiction Festival)
My SCBWI Crystal Kite trophy
I also needed a separate nine for all the wonderful celebrations I had with others at their launches (I actually needed a few more thank nine):
From L to R row by row:
Caroline Magerl's Maya and Cat
Katrina Roe and Helene Maggison's Lily's Balloon
Shelly Unwin and Ben Wood's Blast Off
Zanni Louise and Gillian Flint's Tiggy and the Magic Paintbrush
Shelly Unwin and Vivienne To's There's a Baddie Running Through this Book
Sue Whiting and Annie White's Beware the Deep Dark Forest
Francis Watts and David Legge's It's a Story, Rory
Rebecka Sharpe-Shelberg and Andrea Edmonds' Visiting You
Penny Reeves' and Leigh Hedstrom's Camp Max
Penny Reeves' Out of the Cages
Dave Ley's The Institute of Fantastical Adventures
Julie Thorndyke Anna Seed's Waiting for the Night
And two launches I desperately wanted to get to but couldn't: Catherine Pelosi's Quark's Academy and Something For Fleur (illos Caitlin Murray)
And I couldn't resist some fabulous bookweek, library, workshop, school and Writer's Festival visits!
Thanks to all my family, friends and supporters for the wild and wonderful ride this year has been. I really couldn't have done it without you. I have the best fan-club! As years go, I don't think they get better than this!
Now, looking forward...
Wishing you a New Year of health, happiness and some wonderful surprises.
At this time of year, you can’t go very far without being driven from the shops, parcels jammed firmly over your ears like misshapen earmuffs, to escape the looping Christmas muzak. Despite this yearly musical murder, the soundtrack of my Christmas past remains fondly etched into my musical memory like the grooves in the old vinyl record. I only need dig the cover out of the decorations box to start my own rendition of Donde Esta Santa Claus? And now, digging around the internet, Olay! I’ve just found it on YouTube, so I can bring the Do-Re-Me Sing-along Children’s Chorus alive again! What joy my family will experience this Christmas!
Who knows, this blast from the past may eclipse the soundtrack to my children’s’ Christmas in the CD age - Peter Combe’s Christmas Album?!
Enough nostalgia! Now onto the month and half that was:
I was inspired by Sandy Fussell's article in Buzz Words this month to spruce up my website. It’s amazing how quickly things need updating. I'm putting up links to all the author interviews I’ve done for Just Write For Kids in one place on my website. Check them out here. Don't miss the latest two instalments of my interview with Kids and YA author Penny Reeve AKA Penny Jaye. I've also updated my website banner - take a look on the home page. I'm still going on the sprucing, it's a never-ending story!
With Christmas and the end of the year approaching, it's the season for celebrations, and I've been to as many as I can manage!
I had a such a wonderful time at the Sydney SCBWI Christmas celebration. Susanne Gervay had picked up my Crystal Kite trophy all the way from LA and lugged it (and two others – for Tania McCartney and Jess Racklyeft, last year’s winners) home. No wonder she has a bad back! Bless her! She presented it to me on the day (complete with white gloves to hold it!) and I was almost moved to tears (again). Here’s a lovely collage (below) put together by Amelia McInerny (who is about to have 5 books published - look out for my interview with her on the Just Write For Kids Blog in February)
As I was preparing a little acceptance speech, I came across these few lines from a poem by John Dryden that seemed to beautifully represent what I was feeling:
“My heart’s so full of Joy, That I shall do some wild extravagance Of love, in public; and the foolish world, Which knows not tenderness, will think me mad.”
Isn’t poetry perfect for expressing feeling? PLUS – I won a package of books from the One More Page Podcast team who gave a spectacular presentation. They are so fabulous! And so are the books!
Talking about winning, it was my privilege to provide a writing workshop as a prize for the Lunch With The Stars Writing Competition, to Dia’s class at Terry Hills PS. Dia’s story certainly resonated with primary school me, being all about horses and the special relationship with people. Congratulations Dia! She’s one to look out for in the future!
Another winner recently was the delightful Belinda Murrell who is on the committee of my CBCA sub-branch and was named the KOALA legend! I’m so thrilled for her. Find out more about Kid's Own Australian Literary Awards here. Belinda's been out and about on the book-trail recently, promoting her newest in the delightful Pippa’s Island series.
Also in CBCA news, my sub-branch wanted to do something for the kids in the country who are doing it tough with the drought. We thought a Bale of Books from the authors/illustrators of our sub-branch might help lift the spirits of the kids at Condoblin Public School. And by all reports, we did:
‘It made some of the staff teary when they read the card. You guys have no idea how much you hit the nail on the head. It made us smile and that is one of the greatest gifts any one can give when things are grim… Again thanks, you made a difference.’
I love my CBCA Sub-branch! We also know how to put on a good party, and this year’s Christmas bash was a beauty. We had the legendary Kate Forsyth in conversation with the equally legendary John Flanagan. It felt like we were onlookers to an intimate fireside chat between friends. And look what I brought home from the silent auction:
Also on parties, I had my writers' group dinner last night, and I'm so excited that TWO of my group will have mid-grade novels out mid next year. Watch this space!
The Children’s Bookshop had a celebration of publishers from Armidale event recently. Kathy and Peter Creamer from Little Pink Dog Books and Sophie Masson from Christmas Press came to ‘the big smoke’ to show off all the wonderful books that are coming from their region. Did you know Armidale is a publishing hotspot? Do look out for their books. I came home with these (left):
In other news… I have been asked by kid's author and radio presenter, Katrina Roe, to be her regular book reviewer on the kid’s book club segment on Hope 103.2. I get to talk on the radio about books I love. I'm so excited! We kicked off with my favourite genre - Picture Books! I told everyone what I loved about Sue Whiting & Annie White's Beware the Deep Dark Forest and Davina Bell and Alison Colpoys' All the Ways to be Smart.
What I’ve enjoyed reading:
The Tales of Mr Walker – I’m a sucker for beautiful books and books about dogs, and this book is both. Jackpot! The whimsical illustrations by Sara Acton bring to life the humorous dogs-nose view of the world of Labrador Ambassador at the Park Hyatt, Melbourne, Mr Walker. Written by Jess Black, the stories are charming and delightful, and I’m not the only one who thinks so -Mr Walker is longlisted for the Indie Book Awards.
Also charming is Anne of Green Gables which I’ve delved into after watching and loving the Netflix series Anne with an E. It was a beautiful world to be lost in. I was reminded of Anne when reading the picture book, All the Ways to be Smart: There’s a divine full page spread: ‘and floating off on daytime dreams’ that looks just like Anne dreaming in a field of flowers.
I have adored Oliver Phommavanh’s Natural Born Loser. I think it’s my mid-grade pick of the year. This is a big-hearted book delivered with big laughs. A book I wanted to hug when I finished.
Jackie French’s Just a Girl, is a remarkable historical fiction about a 14 year old girl, Judith, hiding in a cave in Judea, Israel, in 72 AD with her sister, grandmother, a freed Roman slave and a goat. The rest of her family has been murdered by the Roman army. Her grandmother reflects on the life of her friend, Mary, the mother of Jesus. Thought provoking, inspiring and ultimately uplifting, this is historical fiction at its best, and perfect timing to enter into an authentic Christmas experience.
Chip the Lifeguard by Kylie Howarth. This is Kylie's second book about Chip the seagull. It's funny for kids and adults. It's also heartwarming and sneakily teaches kids about surf safety.
What I'm watching:
The Secret Life of Four/Five Year Olds. This is gold for people who write for kids! And so adorable! Watch it on catch up TV, from channel 10.
Things I am looking forward to:
Christmas: Twinkling lights, Christmas tea (think Candy Cane or Sleigh Ride tea), my favourite people and reading. Lots of reading.
And then in the New Year, conducting a Writing Workshop for 6-8 year olds at The Children’s Bookshop, Beecroft, on the 21st January 9-12. Call the store on 9481 8811 for bookings.
I've also booked for the SCBWI conference in Sydney in February, and the Creative Kids Tales festival in April. I've booked a manuscript assessment with Sue Whiting at the latter, and I'm very much looking forward to that. I'd better get my pencil out and start scribbling!
And now to wish you all a wonderful Christmas abounding in love, joy and books.
I can’t gift you a song, like my talented friend, Renee Price who serenaded her friends on facebook, with Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas (so beautiful - sigh!) but I can gift you the soundtrack to my Christmas past! Straight from the 1960’s to you! The song I mentioned before is at 18mins&30secs – but why limit yourself to one song? Press here!
Have yourself a very happy (musical) Christmas!
And for bloopers... here's a Christmas elf trying to rid himself of his elf attire :)
PS What’s the soundtrack to your Christmas past and present?
PPS Some people are saying lovely things about my newsletter. If you enjoy reading these monthly blog roundups, make sure you’ve subscribed – go to the front page of my website.
October for me is always a month of celebrations: two family birthdays plus those of several friends, and a wedding anniversary. This October has had added celebrations: a WIN for me in a Flash Fiction competition, the launch of some wonderful books by friends and colleagues, and some other fabulous news from bookish friends. October has also shaped up to be a great month to creep around with The Scared Book and unleash heaps of Halloween fun! So keep reading to find out more...
First, let me tell you about a fun party I attended early in the month. I keep raving about Picture Book Book Club Twitter chat, which is a big online party on the first Thursday of the month on Twitter. If you're not on Twitter, it is worth joining for! The more the merrier! And this month, I was the star AKA guest with a spooky Halloween feel. Find some fabulous Halloween reads and check out the chat-wrap on their website HERE.
Talking about guest appearances, keep your ear out for a small cameo feature in the October 31st One More Page Podcast! Can you guess the theme?
Still on guest appearances, I was asked to contribute an article to Nicole Melanson's Word Mothers blog. I wrote about building community as an author, with a particular emphasis on my wonderful kid lit community. But wait, there's more... The blog was picked up by Al Tait and Val Khoo on their So You Want to be a Writer podcast. It proved to be a big hit (pun intended :) ) Read it HERE and listen HERE.
In the real world, I had a wonderful time at Gordon library last week for a monster themed story-time and craft session. It was brilliant fun reading The Scared Book among other monster/scary themed books, and making masks and bat bookmarks. We had a great turn out, and they were a delightfully enthusiastic and responsive bunch of kids. I've written up some notes on the event on the blog HERE and The Scared Book illustrator, Kim, has whipped up some ready-made themed masks that I've popped up on my website HERE.
Enough of me, now for the exciting news of others! I was thrilled to see that Suzanne Gervay has been nominated for the internationally prestigious Astrid Lindgren award for services to children's literature. Susanne is an amazing author, literacy campaigner, and powerhouse of support for Aussie authors and illustrators in her role as SCBWI regional advisor . There are some other incredible Aussie authors nominated, like the Ursula Dubosarsky, (sigh in admiration) and Margaret Wild (double sigh) so it will be a very close call.
I was also thrilled that Lesley Gibbes' and Michelle Dawson's Fluke won the young children's book category of the Whitley Awards from the Royal zoological society of NSW. Fluke is such a lovely book and I'm super pleased!
With the school holidays early in the month, came a flurry of launch events at my local, The Children's Bookshop, Beecoft. I couldn't get to them all, but I had fun at those I managed. The dynamic duo of Frances Watts and David Legge have produced a metafictive romp of a book with It's a Story, Rory, taking readers through the production of a story within this story, It's a brilliant resource for schools and creative writing, as well as an hilarious tale in its own right.
Sue Whiting took her book launch to whole new level with a carnivorous plant AKA Paul Macdonald, owner of the bookshop, almost swallowing a child live! The back story to this beautiful quest book's emergence into the world is interesting and a must-read for those who write and aspire for publication: read Sue's blog post Seven Years in the Making HERE and also check out To Quest or not to Quest for an insight into the structure of the text and how to use it in creative writing, HERE
It was also great to catch up with author friends at the launch - in the photo below is Artelle Lenthall, me, Sue Whiting, Victoria McInlay, Katrina McKelvey and Paul MacDonald as a carnivorous plant.
Other books on my radar:
I picked up the picture book Duck by Meg McKinlay and Nathan Eckstrom in a bookstore on the weekend, and laughed out loud! The frustration that duck feels when the farmyard animals dismiss him/her will be instantly relatable to child readers, and the intertexual reference at the end will have adults laughing along too. Great fun! Meg happens to be the guest on Picture Book Book Club this Thursday, so drop on by and say 'hi' on Twitter.
Elizabeth Cummings has written a book that deals with the sensitive topic of grief and loss, The Forever Kid, published by Big Sky Publishing. I followed the Books on Tour blogs out of interest, and Elizabeth is launching the book next month at... you guessed it - The Children's Bookshop!
Robert Vescio and Kathy Creamer have a new book released by Little Pink Dog Books, and I love the cover, because Great Danes were my first doggy love! The 'Apollo of Dogdom' was how Suzanne Troy described them in my much-loved copy of 'The Joy of Dogs.' I have heard great things about Bigger than Yesterday, Smaller than Tomorrow: check out Dimity Powell's review on the Boomerang Books blog, where she also mentions another book I have my eye on, Drew Prattley's Empty, and fave of mine, Katrina Roe's Lily's Balloon HERE. You can also read my interview with Robert from a while ago HERE.
Some beautiful books are coming out from the relatively new Little Pink Dog Books publishers - like Michelle Worthington and Katrin Dreiling's new one, Johnny's Beard, a follow up combo from the Notable The World's Worst Pirate. I was jumping-up-and-down-excited that my partner in creative crime (I'm talking about The Scared Book video!) Renee Price, creator of Digby and his series of books, has signed a contract with Little Pink Dog Books for a picture book to be released in 2021. So thrilled! Can't wait!
Speaking of publishers, the CBCA Northern Sydney subbranch held an event at the Lindfield Learning Hub with Zoe Walton from Penguin Random House and successful self-published author Jan Latta about traditional or self publishing choices. As usual, the evening was a warm, welcoming and bubbling over with ideas and conversation.
On the JWFK blog this month, I posted the first instalment of an interview with Penny Jaye AKA Penny Reeve, about her powerful new YA novel, Out of the Cages. It was a fascinating interview of insights into the process of writing this confronting true to life story. If you missed it, you can find it HERE. Watch out for the second instalment at the end of this week, when we focus on Penny's books for younger children, like Camp Max, which just won the children's AND overall category of the Caleb Prize for faith inspired writing. Congratulations Penny!!
Talking about JWFK, I had the absolute pleasure helping judge the Picth It Competition. We had over 100 entries and it was a fascinating insight into what it must be like for publishers sorting through a slush-stack. My top-scoring entries leapt out and grabbed me by the heart or funny-bone, or tickled my curiosity, and were inventively crafted, like a well-told story. You can find about the comp and shortlisted stories HERE.
And now about my winning story... I am thrilled that The Fellowship of Australian Writers Qld (FAW Qld) awarded my super-short story 'Tagging' first place in their flash fiction contest. It's a bit of a gruesome tale and not for kids, but it's great training for writing kids stories, being picture book length. I took an early draft of this story to the inaugural Flash Fiction Festival in Canberra earlier in the year, and worked on it in Irma Gold's instructive workshop. Looks like it paid off! You can find the full list of winners HERE. Congratulations to the others and I look forward to seeing your stories in print in an up-coming issue of SCOPE magazine.
CBCA NSW A Night for Aspiring Writers on the 8th November at Harper Collins office, Sydney.where the winner of the Aspiring Writer Mentorship is announced and Liz Anelli and Sheryl Gwyther are speaking. Should be a good night. I'm not sure I can make this one, but I commend it to you.
CBCA Christmas party with John Flanagan on the 22nd November at Dee Why RSL - there's still a few days left to book. I've got my ticket!
SCBWI Christmas party on the 9th December at Woollahra library (I might finally get my hands on that Crystal Kite trophy ;) )
I hope to see you at some of these events, or in cyberspace!
And as a special treat, in keeping with the spirit of Halloween, and my recent trip to the Blue Mountains to celebrate my wedding anniversary, I'll leave you with a fun and spooky story by my writing buddy, Marian McGuinness (pictured) for The School Magazine. We workshopped this in our writers' group and I love how it turned out! I'm attaching it here with Marian's permission as she has been unable to post it onto her website as yet.
(And if you feel a tingle in your spine this Halloween, you know what to do... grab a copy of The Scared Book and scratch, rub and blow the fears away! )
PS if you haven't already subscribed to my monthly news, you can do so HERE.
The Scared Book is chock-full of monsters, and what better time to let the monsters out than Halloween? The following is based on a monster author story-time and craft activity I ran at Gordon library last week, in the lead-up to Halloween.
1. Scary Night by Lesley Gibbes and Stephen Michael King sets a great Halloween mood. It has the perfect blend of suspense, warmth and fun.
2. The Scared Book. Before reading, I like to warm up the crowd by playing Simon says - the book is going to ask them to help it, so it’s good to practice following instructions. After reading, look at all the monsters and discus what makes them monster-like.
3. Monsters are Knocking by Alison Lester. This is a brilliant flap book that shows children how their imaginations can lead to unfounded fear, but also gets them working their imaginations about the shadow behind the door flap.
4. Monster Match by Caroline Grey. There are lots of different size, shape and coloured monsters in this warm and friendly monster book.
Use paper plates and over-sized paddle pop sticks as the base of a mask. Allow children to decorate with a variety of craft supplies, like paper patty-pans, pipe-cleaners (velour sticks), Pom poms, balloons, paper, textas and crayons. Help children cut holes for eyes in the paper plates.
See the photo for ideas. The nose is a balloon, lightly inflated, tied, with the knot inserted into a small hole in the paper plate.
Alternatively, Kim Siew has made some ready-wear masks from characters in the book. You can download them here and either print them on paper and glue to lightly thicker cardboard, or print them onto thicker paper/card (I used Officeworks).
Make origami book marks in the shape of a bat – watch this video for instructions. I also keep ideas on this pinterest board where you'll find a bat-shaped bookmark that I used as inspiration for my own bat.
This activity engaged both children and parents alike.
Books – any other books with monsters like:
Monsters by Ann Fienberg and illustrated by Kim Gamble and Stephen Axelson
The Dreadful Fluff by Aaron Blabey
Craft: See my pinterest board
Hope you find these ideas helpful to run your own story-time and craft activity. Have FUN!
I find that nothing quite lifts my spirits as the scent of spring, which came to us late this year but now wafts intermittently as I walk the dog around the neighbourhood. Its companions are the striking pink and white blossoms that are bursting from once naked, craggy branches. And I can’t help also being buoyed by the tropical-sounding calls of the channel-billed cuckoo. I look forward to its arrival every spring, despite its unfortunate looks and lack of civic manners. A walk around the block has become a feast for the senses. The only sense I am on guard against, however, is the jab of Magpie’s beak! I saw one taking on a cyclist the other day – it takes road rage to a new level!
I’m delighted that spring this year also saw the arrival of a number of book babies that I had been anticipating. The first was my writing buddy, Katrina Roe’s Lily’s Balloon, which I was honoured to launch for her, with the wave of my magic bubble wand. This is a beautifully whimsical and philosophical book that can be read on many levels. Katrina wrote it as a reflection on letting go of things we value and how our loss can be someone else’s gain. To me, it spoke of finding joy in the small things and how disparate people can be united by sharing in that moment. (You can see an interview I did a while ago with Katrina for JWFK here).
Next, was Shelly Unwin’s There’s a Baddie Running Through this Book, which is an hilarious rhyming romp as the racoon baddie is chased through the book, ripping things off the page as he goes. I love the playful, metafictive elements and how the narrative engages the reader. Kids will want this read again and again – it’s such fun! I went to the Sydney launch, complete with gate-crashing raccoon - here are a few photos:
(You can read an earlier interview I did with Shelly here).
Another was Dimity Powell and Nicky Johnston’s new picture book, At The End of Holyrood Lane. I was fortunate to win a copy of this and their latest collaboration, The Fix-it Man, in an online competition. One of the things I adore about picture books is their ability to render sombre and difficult themes with a lightness of touch that is also deeply profound, and Dimity and Nicky are masters in this field. I commend these books to you – The Fix-it Man is about the death of a mother, and Holyrood Lane is about a child weathering storms as a metaphor for domestic violence.
As I said in my last news, The Scared Book has turned one, and coinciding with the anniversary of its launch in September last year, Kim Siew made a cute little animation to celebrate. I couldn't work out how to attach it in this blog, but you can view it in twitter here.
I was thrilled to see The Scared Book Book Week costumes on social media - how gorgeous!
I have been out on the road with my books a bit this month, starting with a full day at Orchard Hills Public School speaking with classes K-6. It took me good few days to recover my voice! I loved the question from a year 1 boy – ‘How many friends helped you write your book?’ You couldn’t get a better intro into the importance of feedback and the value of a writing group!
Lunch with the Stars, put on by the Northern Sydney Sub-branch of the CBCA and organised by the amazing Belinda Murrell, was another brilliant success. Such a buzz in the room as the authors and illustrators were treated like rock stars and we listened to John Flanagan and Serena Geddes, and even tried our hand at drawing a dragon! My school, St Thomas’ Willoughby, won the best decorated table, and well deserved too. They had taken photos of themselves being scared of The Scared Book, and came dressed as monsters. So creative!
Authors and illustrators from the Northern Sydney sub-branch also ventured west this month to attend Our Lady of Lourdes primary school in Seven Hills. It’s always a thrill to see kids getting excited about books!
I was also at Westfield Hornsby for Australian Reading Hour this month, thanks to Berkelouw Books for hosting and organising. I was in picture-book heaven, reading for an hour to the cosy crowd that joined me.
In cyberspace, I posted the final instalment of my interview with the fascinating Catherine Pelosi on the Just Write For Kids blog this month, and I’m looking forward to interviewing YA author Penny Jaye (AKA children’s author Penny Reeve) over the next few months, starting with the 5th October.
I was also thrilled to see that two of my cyberspace friends, were publicly celebrated this month. Michelle Worthington, creative dynamo behind Share Your Story, won gold at the AusMumpreneur awards, for her business which helps authors and illustrators on their journey to publication. But of course, Michelle has established so much more than a business, she has developed a community, and one that has been a blessing to me. Congratulations Michelle!
Sally Odgers won the Alice Award from the Society of Women Writers for her distinguished, long term contribution to Australian literature. Sally is a generous member of the Australian kid’s lit scene, and I have been privileged to be part of her Prints Charming anthologies. Congratulations Sally!
Now for what's on my radar: this month I have been binge-watching Anne With an E on Netflix. The cinematography is sumptuous and I've fallen in love with Anne, Mathew and Marilla at Green Gables. I wish it will never end!
What I am looking forward to in October:
1. I’m the special guest at the Picture-book Book Club twitter chat on the 4th October. I’d love for you to join in on Twitter 8-9pm. These parties are such fun – bring out your favourite scary picture books.
For more info and to check out past chats, go here.
2. Book launches at The Children’s Bookshop. The bookshop has a range of fantastic authors and illustrators over the school holidays. I’m planning to see Francis Watts and David Legge (2nd Oct) and Sue Whiting (5th Oct). Check out what’s on offer here.
3. CBCA Northern Sydney sub-branch publisher’s panel event at the Lindfield Learning Hub on 17th October.
5. I’m doing a Monster Mayhem storytime and craft session on the 24th October at 4.30 at Gordon Library.
6. Reading all the entries for the Just Write For Kids Pitch It competition.
7. SCBWI Sketch and Scribble event at the Art Gallery. I’m looking forward to being inspired!
8. My niece has a lead role in the musical We Will Rock You put on by the Blue Mountains Musical Society. It looks like so much fun – I can’t wait to see it. You can find out more here.
And looking further ahead... I booked for two conferences next year:
So much to look forward to! Hope to see you in the real world or online! Here are some cheery flowers from my walks...
August is the most marvellous time on the children's literature calendar! It's when preschools and school playgrounds are over-run with super heroes and heroines, monsters and maidens, witches and wizards, sleuths and sloths, villains and vampires and even a pink flamingo. Yes, I'm talking about Book Week when students get to dress up as their favourite book character. I put together a little blog post about making monster book week costumes - you can see it here. Although book week is over for another year, the costumes are multi-purpose and Halloween is just around the corner ;)
Wendy Fitzgerald (President of CBCA Northern Sydney Sub- branch) and I went in to the city for the CBCA NSW book of the year announcement event. What a buzz! YA author Erin Gough MC'd the event with her trademark dry humour, and WA author Diane Wolfer was the keynote speaker. The theme of Book Week this year was 'Find Your Treasure' and I got goosebumps listening to Diane talking about finding treasure in so many serendipitous moments as she sought out her stories. But there was even more treasure in the room in the form of the student talent! We listened to a number of students review the books on the shortlist, and they were eloquent and insightful. Below are a few of my tweets from the day:
I wonder if your favourite books were the winners - or how did you go picking the winners? Here's a fabulous collage of them all put together by Sandy Fussell for Buzz Words. It shows the winners in each category first, followed by the two honour books. It's a marvellous collection of books.
For a behind-the-scenes look at how these awards are decided, listen to the interview with Gail Erskine, NSW President of the CBCA on the One More Page Podcast here. You can also find interviews with Eve Pownall Honour book author Claire Saxby and winner Idan Ben-Barak in prior episodes. The are well worth listening to.
After the announcement, book week is in full swing, and I got to speak with students at a number of schools and preschools - we had such fun talking about books! Thanks to Greenleaf Press for organising these visits. Two of the school visits were KinderFests and it was a joy to present alongside Georgie Donaghey, Narelda Joy and Jan Latta. Here are few snaps:
I've got my first booking for book week next year - it's not too early to book me up - hint hint ;)
Love you Bookshop Day was also in August. Some bookshops went all out with festivities - like one of my Fave bookshops - The Children's Bookshop in Beecroft - who had events throughout the day including live alpacas! I went along to hear author/illustrator Caroline Magerl in conversation with Susanne Gervay about her gorgeous, latest picture book, Maya and Cat. Of course, I had to show some bookshop love with my credit card!
This month's interview on the Just Write For Kids blog is a continuation of my interview with the lovely Catherine Pelosi and the final instalment will be on the blog next week. I've got so much out of hearing about Catherine's experience in the kid lit world.
I've also managed to read a few books for adults over the past few months - you can catch up on what I've enjoyed over on Goodreads.
And just when you thought it couldn't get any better - August is also Birthday Month!!!! Not only is it my birthday at the end of August, but it's also The Scared Book's birthday! This time last year I was preparing launch celebrations and festivities. So here's a cake for both of us (made and decorated by my darling daughters).
The mug was a perfect birthday present (I broke my previous fave mug recently), and just so there's no confusion, it's a French Bulldog on the mug, not a pug!
Things I am looking forward to in September:
1 My writing buddy and Hope 103.2 radio host, Katrina Roe, is launching her latest book, Lily's Balloon on Saturday 1st September. I'm so excited and proud to be able to help her launch this special book, published by Wombat Books.
2. The wonderful CBCA Northern Sydney Lunch With The Stars is on Tuesday the 4th September, where a bunch of authors and illustrators have lunch with a great-hall full of school students and this year we get to listen to author John Flanagan (Ranger's Apprentice) and illustrator Serena Geddes. I can't wait!
3. Another school visit - to Orchard Hills PS on Tuesday the 11th September.
4. Joining other authors and illustrators at the CBCA Authors in the Hills event speaking to school students in Seven Hills on the 21st September.
5. Australian Reading Hour is on Thursday 20th September. I have a To Be Read pile that would mount to the ceiling if it weren't scattered around the house! Any excuse to read for an hour!
6. Just Write for Kids is launching a Pitch It competition that runs for the month of September. Send in a winning pitch for a kid's book and you could have your manuscript jump the slush pile and land directly on a publisher's desk! Details here. I'm a judge. Should be fun! If you write, consider entering - what have you got to loose?
Just for laughs:
I'll leave you with this pic - just for laughs: my favourite book week facebook post that had me in stitches! It's from a wonderfully supportive f/b community I belong to, called The Duck Pond. You join via subscribing to Girl and Duck. Zoe Collins helps out at 'the pond' and she is an amazing creator - check out her website here. And here is the joke:
Until next time,
August is here again and that means one of the funnest times of the year... Book Week! When we get to celebrate all things book - Yay! And dress up as characters from our favourite books - Yay! And if your favourite book is The Scared Book, then you are so in luck with dress up options that kids can do ALL BY THEMSELVES and exercise their creative muscle ALL IN ONE! And even if The Scared Book is not your favourite book (don't say that out loud, though, you'll hurt its feelings) if you want an excuse to dress up as a MONSTER for Book Week, you can say that it is!
(With so many exclamation marks in this paragraph, how can you not be excited??!!!! I know I am!!!)
So lets see what I'm talking about...
If you didn't know, The Scared Book is full of MONSTERS. The book is scared of MONSTERS and I'm sure there's a MONSTER or two still lurking somewhere in the book that we haven't discovered yet... so here's your chance to dress up as MONSTERS of your choosing!!!! Yay!!! What could be more fun than MONSTER dress ups??!!
Last year at Lunch with the Stars in Manly, my table of students dressed up as all different sorts of MONSTERS - using wigs, Styrofoam balls as eyes, fairy wings and cheap bought or hand made masks decorated with oodles of eyes, even bat-wing headbands - your imagination is the limit!
You can see from the photo with the butterfly above, that I was dressed by Peter Alexander - the PJ fashion designer, as he had serendipitously designed MONSTER PJ's just in time for The Scared Book launch! So if you have any monster PJ's, slippers, scarves, beanies, T-shirts, they'll do too :). Anything left over from Halloween could work well too. Below right, I'm in MONSTER slippers (Peter Alexander, of course!) and a beanie/scarf all-in-one. I've also put together a MONSTER look in the two photos below using beanie and sports cap with ping-pong ball eyes attached with velcro dots. The more eyes the better! Velcro dots are very useful when it comes time for Book Week, I find!
When I ran my draw/make a MONSTER competition last year, I was dazzled by the imagination and creativity of all the kids who entered. You can see some of the amazing ideas in my blog posts here and here. I'd love to see what kids can come up with for MONSTER Book Week costumes! Please post me a snap on facebook, Instagram or Twitter.
Of course, you can always dress up as the book itself! Because, after all, the book is a character in its own right. I have an oversized book cover with a hole that would be perfect for the job - but at home you could enlarge and copy, or draw the cover onto cardboard, cut out a hole for your head and hey presto! You're now The Scared Book - just like Digby Fixit in the photo!
What ever you choose to dress up as for Book Week, I hope you have MONSTROUS (as in huge) fun!
This month I've taken advantage of the long string of sunny Sydney winter days and popped to the beach. My family and I are not particularly beachy. Truth be known, I’m not a fan of salty scarecrow hair, clods of sand in swimming togs and fly sandwiches. But something happens to the beach in winter. Everything is softer, like a gossamer blanket has been thrown over it. The water is lit up with twinkling fairy lights, not blinding floodlights. Delicate baby blue skies melt to fairy floss pink and something inside me melts and softens with them. I took this photo on a day trip to Balmoral Beach.
I had some more fabulous book news this month -just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, The Scared Book has been shortlisted for another award: The Speech Pathology Australia Book Of the Year! You can see the full list of brilliant books here. It's wonderful to think that my quirky little book can be used to help children in this way. Cecile, a speech pathologist with a fabulous website - Book Share Time - has blogged about just that: how to use The Scared Book in speech therapy with children! Thank you Cecile!
My amazing publisher at Lothian, Suzanne O'Sullivan, had ‘the most scathingly brilliant idea’ which she gifted to me this month. So I worked up a manuscript and sent it in. Fingers and toes crossed that the team love it as much as us - and as much as I love The Trouble with Angels from which I’ve quoted Hayley Mills’ character in the top sentence. It’s one of my all-time favourite movies ever!
I've been Out and about a bit this month, starting with the Kids and YA festival at the NSW Writer’s Centre (now Writing NSW) directed by the wonderful Belinda Murrell. It was a brilliant day. (Technically in June, but as it was the last day of the month it made into this July newsletter!) I was on a panel with others from my writers’ group in the morning, and we had a full house! There was something for everyone at all stages of their writing career, and so much goodness to take away. The ‘Make us Laugh’ panel with RA Spratt, Oliver Phommavanh and Tim Harris, chaired by Jacqueline Harvey, did just that! Below are my three favourite photos of the day:
Talking about Writing NSW, if you are a writer, you should subscribe to their free, weekly Newsbite e-newsletter. It’s a fabulous resource for courses, competitions and information on writing. They even have give-aways! And this month, I won a copy of Bluebottle by Belinda Castels! Thanks Writing NSW! Also, consider joining - check out the website for all the fabulous benefits of membership.
The day after the festival, I attended a SCBWI event with publisher Heather Curdie from Penguin Random House and my publisher at Lothian, Suzanne O'Sullivan. As you would expect from a SCBWI event, it was informative and very helpful, and great catching up with old friends and meeting new ones.
On a cold winter evening I attending the launch of Penny Jaye’s YA Out of the Cages and I was well rewarded not only with an insight into the writing of this powerful and important book, but also with a Nepali inspired feast! Exotic delicacies that I couldn't resist popping into my mouth and washing down with Chai that was rich, smooth, warm and comforting. I’ve reviewed the book on Goodreads here. Katrina Roe launched this important story about an experience that is horrifically all too real.
Talking of interesting launches, Julie Thorndyke launched her debut picture book, Waiting for the Night at the Children’s Bookshop on the weekend, and kids brought along torches for a bit of spotlighting the animals from the book that were displayed on the walls. She also had a lightbox for shadow puppet animals as the story was read. What great ideas! Libby Hathorn did the launching honours for this book written in beautiful, lyrical rhyme, perfect for bedtime. Published by IP.
Still on the subject of launches, I attended the launch of another debut author, Dave Ley, and his mid-grade novel, The Institute for Fantastical Inventions which Tim Harris described as ‘the best mid- grade book I’ve read this year. It’s smart and funny combined.’ With that recommendation, I’m looking forward to reading it! Published by Harbour Publishing House.
On my radar this month:
I’ve spoken before about the fabulous One More Page Podcast, and their recent roving reportage of the CYA Conference in Brisbane recently was a standout for me. Their interviews with speakers, attendees, competition successes and organisers captured the essence of this writing game – the process, perseverance and persistence that are essential for progress and publication.
I’ve also spoken about the fun to be had each month on Twitter with Picture Book Book Club. July’s chat was about using the senses in picture books and the guest was the lovely Tania McCartney. I even discovered a new (to me) illustrator and a book to help with my work in progress! So much goodness from one hour of twitter fun! August chat will be with Anna Walker - so for a chance to chat with this legend, join in on the first Thursday of the month.
I picked up a copy of Finn’s Feather by Rachel Nobel in a bookshop this month. This is a gorgeous, gentle book that deals sensitively with the issue of the death of a sibling. The relationship between Finn and his friend Lucas, is heart-tuggingly both wise and innocent and made me gasp out loud in the bookshop! Simply beautiful.
I have a soft-spot for goats, so the latest junior fiction from prolific and award-winning husband and wife duo Dianne Bates and Bill Condon, The Adventures of Jellybean, was always going to appeal to me! A gentle, feel-good story with playful, endearing characters, a spattering of dad jokes and plenty fun facts about goats. If you want to find out more, there's a good review on the Buzz Words site:
I caught up with the lovely Catherine Pelosi, author of Quark's Academy and the soon-to-be-released Something for Fleur on the Just Write for Kids Blog this month. The launch for Something for Fleur is on this coming weekend - see the flyer. I'm so disappointed that I can't get to this launch, but if you can, Catherine would love it! Part two of my interview with her is on the blog on Friday.
What I'm looking forward to:
1. Book week, book week, book week! I’m off to a number of schools for author visits over the course of the week. I’m so looking forward to having fun with the students and teachers.
2. CBCA Northern Sydney Sub-branch is having an illustrator’s panel event on the 8th August. I can’t make this one but if you can, then do go along - it will be fabulous.
3. Love your bookshop day on August 11th. The Children's Bookshop Beecroft is hosting a raft of events - including LIVE ALPACAS! I'll be attending the launch of Caroline Magerl's picture book, Maya and Cat on the day, and sadly missing out on Oliver Phommavanh's launch of Natural Born Loser at Better Read than Dead, Newtown. Make sure you pop into your local bookshop and show them some love.
4. With book week comes the Book Of the Year announcement by the CBCA. You can attend the Sydney event on Friday the 17th August - details here. I hope to be there.
5. On the 1st September I'm so excited to play a part in launching my writing buddy, Katrina Roe's most recent picture book with Wombat Books, Lily's Balloon, illustrated by Helene Magisson. I can't wait!
How will you share in all the children's book and bookshop love this August?
My goodness, it's the middle of the year already! I hope you are able to keep snug on these winter days. I've needed the heater on to warm the house, but this newsletter is filled with the warmth of childhood recollections, endearing books and news that has put a glow in my heart.
In case you missed it, I’m thrilled that The Scared Book won the SCBWI Crystal Kite Award for Australia and New Zealand. This is a peer voted award and I’m honoured that my peers chose The Scared Book! I made a video of heartfelt thanks - if you want to watch, it's at the bottom of this post.
I also made some Goosebump Bites to help celebrate – because what’s a celebration without food? See the blog post here.
The Scared Book is also on the Premier’s Reading Challenge for NSW – I’m thrilled about that too! I continue to be delighted when parents tell me how much their children enjoy interacting with my playful book – crumpled pages and Vegemite stains attest to its popularity 😊. Laura sent me a video of her 2 year old son reading it. She said:
“I wish I'd kept recording because he started sniffing the book because of the smelly monsters. By the time you get to sign it I fear it will be very "well loved" by two little people who have demanded I read it "again, again!" constantly since it arrived. Miss E is already almost reciting the whole thing along with me as I read it. I love that books excite them like this though. Hopefully they hold on to this kind of lifelong love.”
This makes my little heart sing! Thanks so much Laura!
Being part of the launch of the new CBCA Eastern Suburbs sub-branch was a blast! You can read about it here. Involvement in my local sub-branch has been a massive source of inspiration, support and encouragement for me over the years (so much so, I'm now the secretary of the Northern Sydney sub-branch!) plus its a brilliant way to engage kids with literature, and we know how vital that is for so many positive life outcomes. Here's an article I read recently about Storytime's Hidden Power.
I thoroughly enjoyed prepping for the CBCA talk, and boy, was it a trip down memory lane! I spoke about my love of my own sub-branch, and connecting with literature, as that is the heart of CBCA. I looked at how I connected with literature, particularly picture books, as a child, as a parent and then as a writer. And boy, oh boy, those memories (and a few tears, to be honest) came flooding back!
What really blew my socks off was the development of a vibrant, strong Australia and New Zealand kids lit industry that had grown up in the space of my early adulthood, and the explosion of picture books as a genre.
My childhood was limited to little golden books, with a few notable exceptions, like Harry the Dog, and this treasure, below, that I rediscovered on this beautifully curated website. (My copy of Peter and the Wolf was in English) I spent hours listening to the music and narration on a vinyl record, and following along in the book. Look at how stunning these illustrations are!
Back in current time, I attended the launch of Kate Simpson’s picture book, Finding Granny. This is a beautiful book after my own heart. Like my When I see Grandma, the child in this story finds her granny hidden by illness – in this case, not dementia but a stroke.
On my radar:
It was an absolute delight to read Tonya Alexandra’s YA The Implausible Story of Olive Far, Far Away. The story of feisty, invisible Olive and her journey of self-discovery was surprising, funny, wise, and poignant. I loved it! The YA themes are subtle enough for readers at the younger end of this genre.
I was lucky to have a sneak peek at Catherine Pelosi's new picture book, Something for Fleur, out at the end of July, about Bo Hippo's birthday present to his friend, Fleur Flamingo. Caitlin Murray's illustrations are candy-coated goodness and this book leaves you with a warm, fuzzy fruit-tingly feeling.
I have listened to two audio books this month:
1. Mr Bambuckles Remarkables by Tim Harris. Mr Bambuckle is a year six teacher like no other. He sees the unique qualities in each of his students and establishes an environment in which they come to value themselves and each other. Each student has a story to tell, often with outrageous (highland fling) and fanciful (killer washing machine) elements. Mr Bambuckle's and the children's voices were vividly brought to life on the audio recording by Englishman Kris Dyer. I interviewed Tim for the Just Write For Kids blog last year - if you missed it, you can track back through the interview from here.
2. Two Wolves, a YA novel by Tristan Bancks. This is a suspenseful, taut and tense coming of age story with references to My Side of the Mountain which I vividly remember from my High School days. Thirteen year old Ben Silver wrestles with the ultimate moral dilemma of loyalty to his family and being true to himself - and discovering himself along the way. The ending is incredibly powerful and satisfying. With a background in acting, Tristan eloquently reads this book himself on the audio recording.
Not so much for kids, but I have really enjoyed watching Employable Me on ABC i-view. This three part series follows adults with neuro-diverse conditions such as autism and Tourette Syndrome as they search for meaningful employment. I found it uplifting, warm and insightful.
Sandy Fussell’s Write-tech newsletter. I’ve mentioned it before, and it continues to be a great source of help for this non-tech savvy writer. This month's tech is all about finances, and I'm pleased to say I'm ahead of the game here, having already a Square reader, for taking credit card payments, in my possession. Advice re receipts etc, I'm keen to action.
Chrissy Byer’s video about her 'disastrous' experiences at a manuscript assessment session with a publisher at the recent KidLitVic conference in Melbourne is delightful and insightful. She describes a litany of errors with great warmth, respect for the publishers and self-deprecating humour. If you are considering having a publisher assess your manuscrpt at any time in the future, do yourself a favour and watch the video on Chrissy's website, here.
The third and final instalment of my interview with the fabulous Katrina McKelvey is on the Just Write For Kids Blog here. Next month, I look forward to interviewing mid grade and picture book author Catherine Pelosi.
Things I am looking forward to:
1. The NSW Writer’s Centre Kids and YA Festival. I’m on a panel taking about writing groups. It's technically still in June (30th), but this blog will be posted before then.
2. SCBWI, Polishing, Pitching and getting Published event on the !st June in Woolhara.
3. Launch of Penny Jaye’s YA Out of the Cages about child trafficking. I’ve read an extract here and can hardly wait to read the rest. Definitely YA with strong themes. I’m sure it’s going to be a tough read, but worth it.
4. Virtual book launch of Tabitha Page’s Mikah's Big Move, about a cheeky monkey who's deaf and uses sign language, and for whom moving home threatens his security. The launch is on the 6th July- find out about it here.
5. Launch of Pat Simmons’ picture book, Ziggy's Zoo on Saturday 7th July. Sadly I won’t get to the event, but I'm excited for Pat.
Finally, I hope you have found a place to snuggle down these cold winter evenings, like my cat, Opal. who I found in my warm winter woollens. Note to self - close the drawer if you don't want cat fur all over your clothes!