My picture book Tulip and Brutus is nearly here!
It’s about friendship, teamwork, differences … and bugs! Some pre-order links are live on my Books page. Looking forward to sharing this stinky little story soon!
My picture book Tulip and Brutus is nearly here!
It’s about friendship, teamwork, differences … and bugs! Some pre-order links are live on my Books page. Looking forward to sharing this stinky little story soon!
I love knowing people’s favourite kids’ books. I feel like it tells me a little bit about that person. Do they gravitate to humour, or are they drawn to the dark side? Literary or commercial? A bit of everything?
I don’t want to pigeonhole myself as only reading and liking a certain kind of book, but then again, perhaps there are some themes tying my favourites together. I do gravitate to realism in the kids’ books I read (and write), then a dose of mystery or magic will find its way into my reading pile, or my keyboard.
Here are some of my favourite kids’ reads, from picture books to middle grade:
Florette by Anna Walker
Herman and Rosie by Gus Gordon
Go Go and the Silver Shoes by Jane Godwin & Anna Walker
Adelaide’s Secret World by Elise Hurst
Maya & Cat by Caroline Magerl
The Underwater Fancy Dress Parade by Davina Bell & Alison Colpoys
Mr Huff by Anna Walker
Harriet Gets Carried Away by Jessie Sima
The Children Who Loved Books by Peter Carnavas
Ginger Green Playdate Queen by Kim Kane
Lemonade Jones by Davina Bell
Isadora Moon by Harriet Muncaster
Truly Tan by Jen Storer
Violet Mackerel by Anna Branford
Polly and Buster by Sally Rippin
The Girl, The Dog and the Writer trilogy by Katrina Nannestad
Stella Montgomery trilogy by Judith Rossell
Nevermoor series by Jessica Townsend
Missing by Sue Whiting
The Secrets We Share/Keep by Nova Weetman
Sickbay by Nova Weetman
The Other Christy (and many others) by Oliver Phommavanh
The Mulberry Tree by Allison Rushby
This is just the tip of the iceberg. There are so many more, but this is the top line ‘Books I REALLY Love’ list. The ones that straightaway come to mind. (I’ve purposefully omitted my writers’ group’s books as it goes without saying I love them all, and I don’t want to accidentally miss one. Yeah, there’s starting to be a lot!). I realise there’s a bit of a female author bias, but hey, at least there’s Gus, Peter and Oliver! Other binding themes – feelings, friendship, heart, and that old cliché, a strong and authentic voice. In the middle grade list, there’s also adventure, mystery and suspense.
I can also see that my current taste reflects that of childhood me. Picture book favourites included There’s a Sea in my Bedroom by Margaret Wild (still love Margaret Wild), Meg and Mog, and lots of Dreamtime stories. A hefty dose of Enid Blyton and Roald Dahl followed, then Selby’s Secret, Hating Alison Ashley, Harriet the Spy, the Anastasia Krupnik books by Lois Lowry, everything Judy Blume (on constant repeat), Paula Danziger’s books and The Baby-Sitters Club.
I loved books set in boarding schools, too. And there were definitely supernatural stories among the mix, I loved things like poltergeists and seances and witchcraft as a kid! A standout memory is Witch Week by Diana Wynne Jones (I so wanted to fly around on a broomstick by myself in the middle of the night). So, late-80s me was probably pretty similar to late 20-tens me – loving stories strong on feeling, with a side serve of mystery and magic.
Do you see any parallels between the books you loved most as a kid vs the ones you gravitate to now? I’d love to know what they are!
So I was book-stalking on Booktopia, as you do, when something compelled me to search for my *own* upcoming picture book. Oh, I don’t think I’ve mentioned the title yet? It’s called (drumroll …) TULIP AND BRUTUS and it’s illustrated by the stupendously talented Andrew Plant!
Anyway, maybe it was a moment of imagining what it would be like to look up your own book and magically see it there, on Australia’s mega-portal to *all the books*. I typed in the title and couldn’t believe it when IT WAS THERE! I swear I actually felt my heart skip a beat. I’m sure most authors and illustrators don’t bat an eyelid at such things after a while, but this being my first book, it felt like a momentous occasion – my first sighting of any mention of my book in the public domain. It then got me thinking, if seeing a not-out-yet book with a not-yet revealed cover listed on Booktopia is that exciting, what else will be heart palpitation-inducing?! Here are five more things …
1) Holding an actual physical copy in my hands for the first time.
There’s a reason for all those un-boxing videos circulating online. An actual book! On actual paper! It’s reeeeal!
2) First sighting ‘in the wild’.
This will be amazing (er, I think I’ve got something in my eye …). A book, on a shelf, in a shop. Something people can actually buy!
3) Spotting it in a library.
This might be even better? Not everyone can afford all the new releases, but there’s always borrowing! This will be super cool. Libraries are the actual best.
4) Reading a review. Or maybe not?
This will be surreal, that a book reviewer/blogger/lover has taken the time to read the book and share their thoughts with the world. Unless it’s one of those shocking Goodreads reviews that pop up from time to time, in which case I’ll see if Kate and Nat want to do a ‘celebrities reading mean tweets about themselves’ kind of skit and we can read them out on the podcast.
5) If anyone buys it or even shares it on social media and it’s someone I DON’T EVEN KNOW!
What??!! If this happens, I’ll be ridiculously grateful forever and ever.
So there you have it, my top 5 surreal (but awesome) things about having a book. Not sure if any of these things will ever feel old?! I hope not!
The other week, something exciting happened – our podcast team (One More Page) were invited to present at a CBCA event! It was a meeting of the Northern Sydney sub-branch, consisting of a fab crew including Wendy Fitzgerald, Jan Latta, Jules Faber, Brydie Wright and more. We talked setting up the podcast, highlights and heroes (a.k.a. every one of our interviewees! Cue Wind Beneath Our Wings …. yes, this happened). It was a lovely supportive crowd and a great venue, The Children’s Bookshop in Beecroft. We also got an early look at The Hole Idea, the new picture book collaboration by the bookshop’s owners, Paul and Beth, illustrated by Nathaniel Eckstrom. It’s brilliant!
More events …
Then not long after, it was time to attend the Creative Kids’ Tales Festival, a wonderful one-day event put on by Georgie Donaghey and the CKT team. I got so much out of the talks by Jackie French, Deb Abela, Jacqueline Harvey and Emma Quay, who all offered words of advice and encouragement, and shared their own journeys (and pitfalls – Emma reading aloud a less than flattering review of Rudie Nudie was a masterclass in developing a thick skin in the creative journey).
I also recently attended the SCBWI Sketch and Scribble event at the Art Gallery of NSW, viewing artworks to spark story ideas. There was also the launch of Cocoon by author/illustrator Aura Parker at Kinokuniya, complete with a live drawing session. The book is everything I imagined and more – warm, charming and bursting with character.
More books …
In other picture book reads – I’ve been reading (and re-reading …) Lottie and Walter by Anna Walker, A Quiet Girl by Peter Carnavas and Love, Z by Jessie Sima. As for what I’m anticipating – loads, but mostly Tilly by Jane Godwin and Anna Walker. You know when you *just know* you’ll love something? That.
Beyond the magical world of PBs, I’ve recently read CATCH A FALLING STAR by Meg McKinlay, a middle grade set in the 70s, that intertwines a historical space event with family and feelings. I really loved the voice in this. I’m currently mid-way through BOY SWALLOWS UNIVERSE, an award-scooping adult read (and feeling like the last person on earth to read it, but I’m enjoying the ride).
What else? Our podcast is careering towards 25k downloads (ahhh thank you, people who listen!), and we’re recording a new episode at the Sydney Writers’ Festival this weekend. We’ll be chatting to two stars of the SWF Family Day events, authors (and so much more) Adrian Beck and Sally Rippin. Can’t wait!
More things …
There’s been many a new food find lately, with my kids discovering a newfound love of bubble tea (just find us at your nearest Gong Cha). We also had biang biang noodles and ‘Runaway Chicken’ (think fried chicken piled high with dried chillis and sichuan peppercorns) at Xian Eatery in Burwood, and the best massaman curry at Khao Pla in Chatswood – yes, will happily traipse all over Sydney (and beyond) for delicious eats.
It’s cooling down, it’s binge-watch weather, and there’s so much great viewing right now. Am currently addicted to Killing Eve – onto Season 2 now after a mega catchup-athon. And of course, Game of Thrones, and for some food-related wanderlust, Street Food on Netflix, which makes me want to hop a flight to check out the eat scene in Osaka.
… to reveal more news (and the colourful cover!) of my own upcoming picture book release … sooooon!
I’m fresh from the bookish buzz that was the Sydney SCBWI Conference, an epic multi-day series of events headed up by everyone’s favourite literary lady, Susanne Gervay! From a series of mini-launches at Beecroft’s The Children’s Bookshop to a mega conference day, a dinner, and a workshop day afterwards, it was full on and fun. There are some excellent summaries of the sessions over on the SCBWI blog, if you want to check them out. And there are some great blog posts by Oliver Phommavanh and Debra Tidball with pics and highlights.
As always, so much of it was all the catching up and meeting new people in the kids’ book industry. Highlights for me included the dialogue masterclass run by Penguin Random House publisher Zoe Walton, an excellent, helpful manuscript critique by Nancy Conescu on my chapter book series, and a great session on author websites, social media and branding via Allison Tait and Valerie Khoo – part pep-talk, part stand-up special! Speaking of Allison Tait, guess who’s the latest guest on our podcast, One More Page?! Except this time, she’s donning her authorial blazer as A.L. Tait, chatting about her two middle grade series. You can take a listen here. So, what else is happening?
THE BOOK CHOOK! This is my friend and fellow critique group member Amelia McInerney’s debut picture book with Omnibus/Scholastic, illustrated so vibrantly by Connah Brecon. It’s the hilarious tale of a chicken called Ray who realises he’s not actually a real chook, he’s a drawing in a book! Amelia launched it as one of the 9 ‘speed launchers’ at the SCBWI event, with more events (and more books!) to come.
I’ve also just read a brand new YA thriller called LOVE LIE REPEAT by Catherine Greer, which has a really compelling (if not sinister) voice. It’s set in Sydney in the world of privileged, private school teens where all is not as picture perfect as it seems. Totally recommend!
My next read (for my adult book club) is Jane Harper’s THE LOST MAN. Her debut THE DRY was one book we all actually loved, which rarely happens! So I’m really looking forward to this one.
Kids’ book podcasts (I mean beyond One More Page)! I now have a constant feed full of awesome kidlit inspiration, whether it’s hearing about the latest middle grade reads or words of wisdom from top MG authors on Middle Grade Mavens, to in-depth advice on the craft and business of writing on Tania McCartney’s The Happy Book. There’s also a ‘vodcast’ to either watch or listen to (innovative, much?!), The KidLit Club with authors Adrian Beck and Sally Rippin. Each of these podcasts has its own personality and feel, and I’m so pleased One More Page is part of this new wave of kids’ book reviewing, interviewing and all-round fandom!
Anna Walker newness!!! LOTTIE AND WALTER is almost here, written and illustrated by my (and possibly everyone’s) picture book idol. I can’t *wait* for this to grace my bookshelf! I had a sneak peak at The Children’s Bookshop at the SCBWI speed launch event, and it’s stunning in every way. Yay!
What else? More books, more launches, more writerly things. I’ll be heading to the launch of Aura Parker’s beautiful new bug book, COCOON soon (a bigger launch, post-SCBWI mini-launch, where Aura presented the book in a really clever way, relating metamorphosis to the kids’ book creating journey).
The Creative Kids’ Tales festival is coming up (my first!) which I’m really looking forward to – author talks on tap. Then not too long after, it’s time for *another* writers’ conference, KidLitVic in Melbourne. I’ve been every year so far and to be honest, was thinking I need to reign in the conference attending (and spending) but once the program was out, do you think I could help myself? It also ties in with a Scribbles Masterclass run by author Jen Storer, so there’s that, too. Of course, I totally have to go! Maybe I’ll see you there?
Harriet Gets Carried Away by Jessie Sima, Simon & Schuster US 2018
Harriet loved costumes. She loved them so much, she wore them all the time! On the day of her own dress-up party she went shopping for supplies with her dads (while dressed as a penguin, of course) and got carried away – *actually* carried away, by penguins!
This is an absolutely adorable story that blurs the line between reality and fantasy. It highlights the magic of getting ‘carried away’ and is ultimately about belonging. The purple-toned illustrations with their touches of yellow suit both the urban and Antarctic settings, and lend the book a unique feel. I love everything about the design of this book, from the hot-air balloon endpapers, to the different cover under the dust jacket (Harriet in all different costumes – cute!).
Aesthetics aside, the story is so well constructed and full of memorable one-liners, with a very satisfying ending. It also has one of my favourite lines discovered in recent picture book readings:
Harriet was almost out of ideas
when one emerged from the sea.
Just a few things I’m reading/watching/buying/loving lately:
YA // Between Us by Clare Atkins – compelling new #LoveOzYA about an Iranian asylum seeker, and a boy she meets at school whose dad works works at her detention centre. So well-crafted with alternating narrators, some parts told in verse.
MG // Missing by Sue Whiting – a gripping new middle grade mystery about a girl determined to believe that her mum who’s missing in Panama is still alive. Heartbreaking and had me hooked right to the end.
JF // The Girl, the Dog and the Writer in Rome by Katrina Nannestad – charming, quirky, wanderlust-inducing (and will leave you craving raspberry gelato) – a gorgeous kids’ novel about 10-year-old Freja Peachtree’s adventures with a madcap writer in Rome. Quirky characters, a unique feel and LOTS of delicious food.
PB // My Lazy Cat by Christine Roussey – Boomer the cat arrives on the narrator’s doorstep one day, and quickly becomes her best friend. But the girl decides Boomer’s quite lazy, unlike her with all her activities, from judo to yoga. When her day doesn’t quite go to plan she follows Boomer outside, and discovers the art of doing ‘nothing at all’. Love this story, and the illustrations are adorable!
Shopping: at Miniso – hello, Japanese sheet masks (and other random fun stuff).
Eating: at Sushi Hotaru – favourite sushi train ever, great for a post-Kinokinuya browse.
Watching: I, Tonya – shocking insights into Tonya Harding’s background, phenomenal acting!
Listening to: Lots of podcasts, including (surprise) ours! Episode 1 of One More Page debuted last week, and articles have popped up in a few places, like Books + Publishing here and the SCBWI blog here. Exciting times – and it’s almost time for Episode 2 next Wednesday, with our guest interviewee the talented illustrator Nicky Johnston.
Other bookish podcasts I’m listening to lately include That YA Podcast, Better Words, and Words and Nerds, plus long-time favourite So You Want to be a Writer. And in non-bookish pods, excited to discover Wowee!, interviewing artists and creatives, like jewellery designer Emily Green.
Favourite recent reads include my fortuitous footpath find, a (lost? abandoned? manifested!?) review copy of Nevermoor by hype-worthy debut author Jessica Townsend. I tore through this middle grade fantasy, with its enchanting world and characters reminiscent of children’s classics, from shades of Willy Wonka in the eccentric Jupiter North, to a giant cat with an Alice in Wonderland feel. Despite these perhaps subliminal influences, Nevermoor still feels totally unique and fresh. I fell in love with the shape-shifting wonders of the Hotel Deucalion, and the plucky protagonist Morrigan Crow, a cursed girl doomed to die until she’s whisked away to Nevermoor, with a chance to join an exclusive society if she passes a series of trials. It’s a magical ride, with everything from suspense to wry humour, and the writing is simply amazing.
In adult fiction, I’ve read and recommend Bridget Crack by Rachel Leary and The Gulf by Anna Spargo-Ryan. The Gulf is a raw, realistic story about fractured families, domestic violence and survival. Teenage Skye will do anything to protect little brother Ben from their situation (think a bleak town, their mum’s loser/dealer boyfriend, constant threat) resulting in a desperate need for cash and escape. It’s a riveting read, and so well crafted – heartbreaking and hopeful.
Bridget Crack is historical fiction set in 1800s Hobart, about a convict servant who finds herself caught up with a bushranger group on the run. A key descriptor here could be ‘harsh’, from the treatment of convict women stuck in a cycle of servitude and abuse, to the unforgiving Tasmanian bush landscape so vividly depicted. I have a feeling both of these books will fare well in next year’s literary awards. Fingers crossed for Stella Prize nominations!
As for picture books, there have been two standouts from the ever-growing, library card-maxing stack. One is Once Upon a Small Rhinoceros by Meg McKinlay and Leila Rudge, about an adventurous little rhino with a yearning to see the world beyond her muddy riverbank home. She’s strong and brave enough to dismiss the others’ negativity and take matters into her own hands. Super inspiring – loved it (and bought it, as it definitely transcends a library lend!).
The other is Feathers by Phil Cummings and Phil Lesnie, a beautiful story about a bird that flies across war-torn scenes, fleeing families, and treacherous floods and storms. It loses feathers along the way, offering hope to those who find them. It’s a deep and moving picture book, multi-layered and lyrical. These are two of the most special picture books I’ve come across this year (these two, plus Anna Walker’s Florette).
Exciting times at the Writers’ Unleashed Festival, a one-day writers’ fest in Sydney’s ‘The Shire’ – not only did I get to experience a day immersed in the world of books (and book lovers), but placed in a picture book comp! Somehow, twice!
The competition results were announced by the judges of the shortlist, Zoe Walton of Penguin Random House and Sue Whiting (ex-Walker Books, author and editor). The lovely Rebecca Sheraton was the winner, and two of my manuscripts placed second and third. A member of one of my writers’ groups, Colleen, was shortlisted too, adding an extra level of yay. It was an exciting (if knee-shaky) moment accepting our awards in front of the whole conference, especially when there was a paparazzi-like swarm taking our pics afterwards (mostly writers’ group friends, but still, SCARY!).
It’s funny, some people have asked me, ‘So, what was the prize?’ as though prompting for details about piles of sweet, sweet cash and a gazillion-dollar publishing deal, but the real prize (for me, anyway) is encouragement to keep going.
Tips from the festival sessions
Aside from the comp announcement, there were some great sessions like Sandy Fussell‘s talk on all things tech and social media for writers (she’s a fan of apps like Trello, Feedly and buffer to schedule posts). YA author Sarah Ayoub spoke about creating relatable female characters, with a focus on identity and diversity. She made an excellent point about not taking away someone else’s chance to tell their story, but instead, weaving in diverse secondary characters. And there was a fantastic picture book masterclass held by Sue Whiting. Some of her key tips include recording yourself reading your manuscript aloud to discover the clunky bits, figuring out what your story is about at its core so every word can drive the story, and to be specific about details to develop your characters and make your story stand out (she used Gus Gordon’s Herman and Rosie as an example, where even a yoghurt flavour is mentioned). Children’s author and everyone’s favourite podcast host Allison Tait was there too, talking strategies on making time to write (which I sadly missed). By all accounts it was excellent. Overall, an inspiring (and encouraging!) day.