Picture Book Love: Harriet Gets Carried Away

Harriet Gets Carried Away by Jessie Sima

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.

Perfection!

 

Books and other stuff

The Girl the Dog and the Writer in Rome

Just a few things I’m reading/watching/buying/loving lately:

BOOKS

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.

My Lazy Cat

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!

OTHER STUFF

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.

Sushi Hotaru

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.

5 favourite recent reads

On top – cute pop-up ‘Once Upon a Rhinoceros’ bookmark found in Melbourne bookstore The Younger Sun!

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).

Writers’ Unleashed Festival 2017

 

Writers’ Unleashed Competition – with Zoe Walton, Rebecca Sheraton and Sue Whiting (pic: Ramona Davey)

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.

 

Pic overkill alert! Colleen, me and Rebecca (pic: Amelia McInerney)

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.

August Update

Recent reads (and what I loved about them)

 

Remind me how this ends

Remind me how this ends by Gabrielle Tozer

Milo and Layla are childhood friends reunited, and whether or not they’ll end up together keeps you hanging until the end. Authentic characters, tonnes of feeling, a believable dual narrative, and a trip back to that moment of change and uncertainty post-school, pre-the rest of your life.

 

The Secrets We Keep by Nova Weetman

A wonderful, realistic middle grade read revolving around 11 year old Clem, and the aftermath of a house fire. Heartfelt, empathy-inducing, and well-paced, with secrets withheld right until the end.

 

The Catawampus Cat

The Catawampus Cat by Jason Carter Eaton and Gus Gordon

A picture book about the effect of a crooked cat on a kinda boring town. I loooooove this book. Both the story and Gus Gordon’s amazing illustrations, incorporating collage and all things vintage. Quirky, comedic and cat-tastic. (Catawampus = lopsided, I had no idea!).

 

Boy + Bot

Boy + Bot by Ame Dyckman and Dan Yaccarino

A boy, a robot, misunderstandings and friendship – this story is full of quirk and charm. Have been seeking out all books Ame Dyckman lately, so good!

 

Nevermoor

The current read:

Nevermoor by debut author Jessica Townsend – I miraculously (magically?!) found a review copy on a lonely patch of footpath! It’s not out until October and getting major buzz already, so it was pretty exciting to stumble across. As well as Nevermoor, I’m also reading Wormwood Mire by Judith Rossell and the first Pippa’s Island book by Belinda Murrell.

 

What else is happening?

  • I’m going to the Writers Unleashed Festival later this month, a one-day event in Sydney’s Sutherland Shire with talks and workshops by Allison Tait, Sandy Fussell, Deborah Abela, Sarah Ayoub and more. Lots of favourites, lots of fab topics – can’t wait!
  • I’m partway through Scribbles, a creativity course run by children’s author and community-building, advice-wielding extraordinaire Jen Storer. It’s idea-generating, creativity-unblocking and I’m loving it.
Scribbles

Stuff for all things Scribbles!

 

  • Another bookish thing I’m loving is Picture Book Book Club, a monthly Twitter chat you can stalk or even better, participate in at #picbookbc. It’s a great opportunity to ask questions of the special guest author or illustrator, discover new PBs to seek out, and chat with a bunch of like-minded picture book obsessives.
  • I went to a SCBWI meeting at Woollahra Library the other weekend, and wow, what a library. It has envy-inducing plant walls, cool murals and even a slide! It was fun to catch up with friends, meet some new members and hear about Michelle Morgan’s foray into self-publishing. We also heard from Anna McFarlane, one of Allen and Unwin’s children’s publishers who gave us an inside look at what they’re publishing, interesting stats and more.
  • Other than that, I’m: plugging away with a junior fiction novel and several picture book manuscripts, thinking about the next JF idea, planning a Melbourne weekend (hooray!), eating too much kids’ party food(!!), obsessing over podcasts (try Literaticast if you’re looking for a new writing one), and dreaming of future, far-flung trips …

Picture book love: Gaston

Gaston

 

A favourite spread from Gaston

Gaston, written by Kelly DiPucchio, illustrated by Christian Robinson, published by Simon and Schuster UK, 2015.

When Mrs Poodle gives birth to four adorable puppies, Fi-Fi, Foo-Foo, Ooh-La-La and Gaston, one is a little different to the rest. And as he grows, it’s undeniable that Gaston is a different breed. But that doesn’t stop him from trying super hard to fit in, and to succeed at everything he’s taught. When the family meet Mrs Bulldog and her puppies Rocky, Ricky, Bruno and Antoinette, Antoinette looks suspiciously poodle-like. It seems there’s been a puppy mix-up!

What happens next offers valuable lessons around not judging by appearances, belonging and acceptance. It’s also an interesting look at nature vs. nurture, with Antoinette preferring to be ‘tough’ like the bulldogs, and Gaston to be ‘tender’ like the other poodles. The overarching messages are woven through in a way they don’t feel too didactic, though, with fun, sparkly language and a wonderfully bossy omniscient narrator who insists we see each family of pups several times each. In addition to the writing, I love the illustrations in this book, from the still visible brushstrokes to the striking retro style. There’s a follow-up title, Antoinette, that I now must track down!

YA review: The Impossible Story of Olive in Love

Olive In Love

 

Seventeen-year-old Olive is plagued by a gypsy curse that’s made her invisible to all but her future true love. She has a blind best friend, Felix, a ‘perfect’ sister, Rose, and an estranged childhood friend, Jordan, who just knew that Olive was real, much to the annoyance of her family. Add in AWOL parents, a job writing a gossip column, and a newfound love interest, Tom (who can – gasp – actually see her!) and you have all the ingredients for a fast-paced, emotional rollercoaster ride of a read.

The invisibility factor takes all the angst and uncertainty of relationships in the teen years and amplifies them by a billion (at least!). Olive manages to use her invisibility to her advantage on her rocky road to true love (think stealing phones, stalking ex-girlfriends and revenge face slaps – well, wouldn’t you?!) but inevitably, it throws up lots of obstacles too, particularly while out on dates with Tom or having to meet his family. As for whether Tom really is her true love, you’ll have to read the book to find out!

Olive is one of the funniest, feistiest and most adorably flawed protagonists I’ve come across in ages. There were so many moments I laughed out loud while reading this story (often in public, no less). Olive’s sarcasm and full-on personality provide so much scope for hilarious dialogue, altercations, meltdowns and poignant moments that I don’t even care about her sometimes screwed-up logic, I love her anyway!

This is a book with that all-elusive ‘voice’ in spades – a voice I first encountered when reading chapters from the second Olive book at the writers’ group I just happen to be in with Tonya (yay!). So after loving the bits I’d seen of book two, it was super exciting to go back to the beginning and find out how Olive’s story began. Book two, please come out soon – sneak peeks aside, I still need to find out what happens next!

The Impossible Story of Olive in Love, by Tonya Alexandra, Harlequin Books (HQ Young Adult), 2017

Bookish Highlights: March 2017

Under the Love Umbrella

Inside Under the Love Umbrella – look how gorgeous!

Picture Book Love

Some picture book reading highlights this month include the absolutely gorgeous Florette by Anna Walker – the charming story of Mae who moves to the city and pines for her old garden, then comes up with the perfect solution while on a walk. It’s inspired by the creator’s time in Paris, the illustrations are stunning, the prose is sparse yet touching, the endpapers are lush and jungle-y and it’s perfect in every way! Anna Walker is a firm favourite, I can’t wait to see what she does next.

Also on my picture book radar this month were two more Australian titles, Under the Love Umbrella (by Davina Bell and Allison Colpoys) with its swoonworthy neon illustrations (seriously – this book will have to win all the illustration awards, amazing!), and the poignant One Photo (Ross Watkins and Liz Anelli) about memory and loss, with the most touching ending.

Unicorn Think's He's Pretty Great

Raining cupcake endpapers! From Unicorn Thinks He’s Pretty Great

On the lighter side, I also enjoyed library find Unicorn Thinks He’s Pretty Great, by American author/illustrator Bob Shea. A goat is jealous of the new unicorn in town, with his fantastical feats like making it rain cupcakes. Then unicorn discovers something goat can do – make his own cheese! Competitiveness and mayhem ensue until the two team up. I love the quirk factor this book brings in major doses – so much fun!

Then there was P. Crumble’s The Cat Wants Custard, illustrated by Lucinda Gifford, who I enjoyed hearing speak at the SCBWI conference last year. I love the attitude-laden voice of this cat who will stop at nothing for a bowl of creamy custard – until he actually tastes it, that is! This book has become a series, so I can’t wait to read the other titles!

And speaking of cats with attitude, there was the super cute I Don’t Know What To Call My Cat by Simon Philip and Ella Bailey. A difficult to please cat arrives on a girl’s doorstep one day, and doesn’t suit any of the names she comes up with. Then it leaves! I won’t ruin the ending for you, but let’s just say it gets a very suitable name in the end. A fun ‘extra’ is the pictures of all the cats on the front and back covers, each with names appropriate for their appearance.

The Secret Science of Magic

New YA

Other reads beyond non-stop PBs included new YA novel, The Secret Science of Magic, by Melissa Keil. The story features Sophia, a science whiz and Joshua, a magic lover and slacker, navigating their last year of school and Josh’s longstanding crush on Sophia. Sophia turns to logic and science to explain everything, especially when things seem out of her control. The book is told via both character’s points of view, with non-stop smart and sassy dialogue. The entire time I had my fingers crossed for them! I have a review of this book coming up on BuzzWords’ blog sometime soonish.

Adult fiction

Then there were my latest book club reads – The Dry by Jane Harper, and Relativity by Antonia Hayes. Both by Australian authors, both incredible. The Dry is a rural crime page turner and I was hooked from the start. Based in the fictional country town of Kiewarra, a city-based cop has returned to investigate the supposed murder-suicide of an old high school friend. Secrets from the past unravel the further he digs, and it’s lots of fun trying to guess the culprit. Addictive!

Relativity feels so raw and real, with the author drawing on her own situation where her child suffered from shaken baby syndrome at the hands of a partner. The aftermath is completely compelling and heartbreaking, but with many moments of warmth and hope throughout. I loved the familiar Sydney setting too, with real-life landmarks around Glebe and the city.

Picture book love: latest from the library

Here are four stand-out picture books from the current mountain of library loans (actually, the mountain is more like a river, cascading over every surface of the house!):

 

Teacup

Teacup (written by Rebecca Young, illustrated by Matt Ottley, Scholastic Press, 2015)

A hauntingly beautiful story with a wonderful message of hope, Teacup follows the boat journey of a lone boy. Where he’s from or where he’s going isn’t stated, giving it a fable-like quality, though I see it as an age-appropriate introduction to the plight of refugees.  The illustrations veer from dreamlike pastels to dark tones, mimicking moments of hope and dangerous encounters. The idea of the teacup holding earth from home and the new life it provides is truly magical.

 

The Underwater Fancy-Dress Parade

The Underwater Fancy-Dress Parade (written by Davina Bell, illustrated by Allison Colpoys, Scribe Publications, 2015)

This is a repeat borrow – I absolutely love this book and this clever pairing, and can’t wait to read their second book together, Under the Love Umbrella. The blue and orange toned illustrations have a striking, retro feel, and the emotional journey of Alfie (who doesn’t feel brave enough to be Captain Starfish in a school parade) is so realistic and relatable. It’s a wonderful book to share with children to show they’re not alone – anxieties about seemingly small things are so very real – and from a writer’s point of view it’s a fabulous mentor text.

 

Seagull

Seagull (written and illustrated by Danny Snell, Working Title Press, 2015)

Seagull’s freedom to fly is at stake as he becomes tangled in some rubbish on the beach. No one seems to be able to help despite their efforts, until a small but kind gesture is just enough to set Seagull free. This is a gentle yet touching book with some important themes, from caring for the environment to noticing and helping those in need. The changing colours of the sky reflect the story arc – a beautiful touch.

 

The Cloudspotter

The Cloudspotter (written and illustrated by Tom McLaughlin, Bloomsbury UK, 2015)

Franklin is a loner with a big imagination, and, you guessed it, spots all manner of things in the clouds. Actually, not just things but ‘adventures in the sky’ (love!). When Scruffy Dog comes along and joins in the fun, Franklin is far from impressed and plots to get rid of him. But cloudspotting is a lonely affair, and perhaps two cloudspotters are better than one! So full of charm and fun, with vibrant illustrations, The Cloudspotter is for dreamers of all ages.