612ABC: Bookworms

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Tis only March and the publishing world has already released some excellent new children’s and YA titles this year – I fully believe Australian publishers are some of the best in the business: they take risks; they don’t follow *all* trends (okay they followed the wizard thing) and they unearth exceptional artists to reflect our Australian way of life back at us in words and images. My favourite new books from the last little while are below and I’ll be discussing them with David Curnow at 8pm tomorrow (14/3) on 612ABC.

Click on cover images or title links to read more and purchase books. 

‘Lucy’s Book’, written by Natalie Jane Prior and illustrated by Cheryl Orsini. Published by Lothian Books. 

It is really a good thing that I fell in love with this book at first sight/reading as I am featured in it and would have been incredibly awkward had the book been awful! ‘Lucy’s Book’ has been out for little more than a few weeks and it has already connected with so many readers young and old. It’s a timeless story about the joy of libraries and the love of a good book. Author Natalie Jane Prior says‘Lucy’s Book’ is my love song to libraries and the printed word; a lifelong obsession that you can read more about in this blog post. It’s about the special relationship between a little girl, her friends, and her very favourite library book, the one she borrows over and over again.

‘Lucy’s Book’ is also my new favourite teaching tool for Kindy – Year Four/Five students, for when I am talking about what a library is, why they are important and how they work. It’s a great resource to have in a school or kindergarten setting but it’s also the sort of book that will become a very treasured bedtime book, one of those ones that you end up knowing by heart as I’ve read it every night for what seems like years. It is in my opinion, the complete package in a picture book: engaging characters; interesting storyline with moments of tension, a bit of action and times of reflection; illustrations you could pour over for hours and always find something to delight in; words and images working in perfect synchronicity, and a satisfying ending that leaves you feeling like the world is a great place!

‘My Brother is a Beast’, written by Damon Young and illustrated by Peter Carnavas. Published by UQP.

A change of pace from the gorgeous soft illustrations of ‘Lucy’s Book’, to the whacky and wonderfully bright world of ‘My Brother is a Beast’. This is a boisterous and beastly picture book celebrating brothers everywhere and is the fourth in a series which is a firm favourite with our five year old; the complete series series sits on her ‘Favourite – Don’t Touch’ unicorn bookshelf.

Some brothers tap tambourines
as the drummers keep the beat.

But my brother is a beast …
he pounds pianos with his feet

Author Damon Young amuses me greatly as he can go from writing laugh-out-loud funny picture books to serious philosophical texts and his ‘day job’ is as an Associate in Philosophy at the University of Melbourne. At first glance there is nothing particularly academic or philosophical about ‘My Brother is a Beast’ and the other titles in the series, ‘My Nana is a Ninja’, ‘My Pop is a Pirate’ and ‘My Sister is a Superhero’. The brother in question is like any other beastly, loud and annoying brother and the book can simply be read as pure fun and as a game of ‘spot the character’; illustrator Peter Carnavas having hidden the main characters from the other books within the pages. But as with all the very best picture books, multiple re-readings unearth much to discuss and ponder over, perhaps even philosophise over. ‘My Brother is a Beast’ celebrates all brothers great and small and can lead to wonderfully rich discussions about different families and the ways we express love to family members. This is a deceptively simple series, with great richness hidden under laughter, a bit of lunacy and lots of colour. Peter and Damon always seem an odd pairing to me, but they are on a winning streak with this series and I think there is definite scope for more, in fact I insist on more – and so does the extremely beastly five year old in the house.

‘Baby Band’, written by Diane Jackson-Hill and illustrated by Giuseppe Poli. Published by New Frontier. 

On a normal day, a baby creates mayhem in an apartment block, at first disturbing the neighbours in the other apartments, later engaging them in a neighbourhood band. Diane Jackson-Hills words express her passion for music, and its ability to soothe the soul and I’m passing ‘Baby Band’ on to the music teachers as soon as I’m finished with it! Illustrator Giuseppe Poli brings to life the musical theme in the book, transforming an apartment block into a vibrant community. There is lots to ponder in the illustrations: the concept of us living in boxes, isolated and thinking we are happy with our own company; the commonality of the pursuits of some of the neighbours, without them realising…the girls and old lady knitting, the teenage making films, the teacher teaching theatre; the shapes of nature as opposed to man-made structures, undefined and free vs boxes and lines; the baby with it’s circular drum, contrasting with the boxes. The endpapers summarise this journey of a community. The front endpapers shows a normal scene but as you soon find out the people don’t talk to each other.. we live sometimes loners in crowds. A large performance space in the park is empty and quiet. Yet the rear endpapers show the people all coming together. The platform is alive. The apartment block is brighter with warmth.

‘I’m Australian Too’, written by Mem Fox and illustrated by Ronojoy Ghosh. Published by Scholastic Australia. 

I’m Australian! How about you? Many people from many places have come across the seas, to make Australia their home. How Australian is that? ‘I’m Australian Too’ is Mem Fox at her absolute finest and this book is set to become a modern classic.

It celebrates Australia’s multiculturalism but doesn’t shirk at mentioning child refugees and  is written with the most beautiful rhythm to it, ensuring that children will remember and repeat the words and absorb the important message. Indigenous Australians, Irish, Italians, Lebanese, Greeks, Somalians and more are named and their heritage celebrated as Australians and then we come to the image of the refugee child, who the adult reader recognises is pictured in a detention centre. ‘I’m Australian Too’ is Mem Fox’s version of a stern march for refugees and I gave her a mental high-five when I came to this page which simply states,  “Sadly, I’m a refugee – I’m not Australian yet.”. There are so many moments of spine tingling poignancy in ‘I’m Australian Too’.

On the inspiration for this powerful book, Mem says, “I was listening to something ghastly about our immigration system, and I found myself reflecting on the less-than-positive attitude we have always had to newcomers in Australia. Weirdly, in spite of that, because our basic national character is one of such magnificent, open warmth and friendliness, and ultimate acceptance—we end up living as the most harmonious multi-cultural country in the world. Go figure, as they say.” (read more here).

‘I’m Australian Too’ should be on every school library shelf and every home bookshelf in the country – surely their is a grant somewhere that can make this happen? In typical Mem Fox style she packs a hugely powerful punch with a selection of carefully chosen words and phrases, all of which combine to make literary magic. The final line ties the tale together beautifully, “Together now, we live in peace, beneath the Southern Star.”, it reads like a prayer or a dream for the future and is so highly recommended.

‘You Choose’, written by George Ivanoff. Published by Random House Australia.

As a child of the 80’s ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ books were my thing…they were like online adventure games where you are in charge, before there were online adventure games! I remember years ago, when I worked in a all-boys school, thinking that it was such a shame these books didn’t exist as they put the reader in charge and a perfect for kids who love fast paced action. George Ivanoff emerged a few years ago from ‘somewhere’ (don’t know much about you George! Sorry!) with his first ‘You Choose’ book and I was immediately impressed and did a little happy dance. Several years on and there is now even flip-book versions of his ‘You Choose’ books – two action-packed stories, hundreds of different choices, in one flip book. Finish one book, flip it over, start again. Genius!

In Super Sports Spectacular will you become the athlete of the century or a phenomenal sporting failure? And in ‘Trapped in the Games Grid will you be crowned an arcade games star or find yourself prisoner in a digital world?

‘My Life and Other Weaponised Muffins’, written by Tristan Bancks and illustrated by Gus Gordon. Published by Random House Australia. 

Tristan Bancks makes himself so incredibly available to his young (and teacher librarian) fans – on social media and through his many, many public appearance and workshops. The first time he ever came as a visiting author to my school, the kids were just beside themselves that he was once on ‘Home and Away’, but now when he comes he is actually more adored for his writing, his humour and the joy he brings to a room full of eager young writers. He shares his immense knowledge of writing techniques freely and is genuinely interested in the writing of young people and helping them to refine their work. Tristan can go from writing the powerful and haunting ‘Two Wolves’ to the whacky humour of his character Tom Weekly in the ‘My Life’ series with seeming ease and I’m always interested to see what he will publish next. This fifth ‘My Life’ book is as laugh out loud funny as the others and the third to include a story written by a young writer.

‘My Life and Other Weaponised Muffins’ is packed full of great images by Gus Gordon, short stories, jokes, cartoons, quizzes and lists ‘by’ character Tom Weekly and includes the idea of selling your head lice for fun and profit and raspberry and white chocolate muffins as weapons of minor destruction.

Bangalow resident Anjali Dutton’s story ‘Toffee’, about the challenges of being a Byron kid with vegetarian, smoothie-loving, sugar-hating parents features in ‘My Life & Other Weaponised Muffins’. ‘Toffee’ was written when Anjali was just 11 years-old and the story won the annual NSW Pilot Pen short story competition judged by Andy Griffiths, earning her $1000 in prize money. Since then, Anjali has worked with author Bancks and Penguin Random House editor Brandon VanOver to develop the story further. Anjali explains the story’s path to publication: ‘Tristan read it and said he’d like me to expand it and he gave me some tips and advice. And, earlier this year, he said he’d like to publish it in his new book… and the rest’s history!’  ‘Toffee is a really silly, funny story,’ says Bancks. ‘But Anjali is such a professional in her approach. The original story was very strong but I hoped that it might be a bit longer for the book. Anjali threw herself into the editing process, developing the characters, the conflict and the comedy. She’s done a great job.’

Being a Northern NSW kid isn’t easy and ‘Toffee’ explores what happens when sugar is inadvertently offered to a group of local kids who are usually denied such contraband. ‘It’s based on a true story,’ Anjali says. ‘I go to a Steiner school (Shearwater) where sugar is scarce. I am vegan and many of my classmates are sugar-free, gluten-free, meat-free, dairy-free, raw and organic-only! I was at a Year five gathering at school and my friend’s mum brought in a huge plate of toffee. Suffice to say, the kids went wild.’ The results of this sugar rush and their teacher’s reaction make ‘Toffee’ a hilarious read that lots of local kids will relate to.

‘The Turnkey’, written by Allison Rushby. Published by Walker Books.

Flossie Birdwhistle is the Turnkey at London’s Highgate Cemetery. As Turnkey, Flossie must ensure all the souls in the cemetery stay at rest. This is a difficult job at the best of times for a twelve-year-old ghost, but it is World War II and each night enemy bombers hammer London. Even the dead are unsettled. When Flossie encounters the ghost of a German soldier carrying a mysterious object, she becomes suspicious. What is he up to? Before long, Flossie uncovers a sinister plot that could result in the destruction of not only her cemetery, but also her beloved country.

Highly recommended – even if you don’t like ghosts (actually I feel bad even saying that, Flossie was absolutely gorgeous and I’m sure we would be friends, if she existed, which I kind of hope she doesn’t because…well…ghosts).

The titles of each book takes you to the Australian based online bookstore Booktopia. You can also compare prices on Fishpond and Bookworld for Australian purchases.If you live in the US or would prefer to use Amazon click here. If you live in the UK or would prefer to use Book Depository click here. Purchases clicked through from the Children’s Books Daily site result in a small commission. Commission is used in part to maintain Children’s Books Daily and to support community groups which connect children with books.

2 COMMENTS

    • Oh that’s so lovely Tristan! Thank you! Darned David cut me off just as I was getting started on My Life!!! Only got to talk about it briefly!

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