These are a few of my favourite books

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:

Picture Books
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

Junior Fiction
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

Middle Grade
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.

80s/90s me LOVED these reads. Hooray for book hoarding!

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!

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.

Recent reads – October 2016

Some recent reads from the ever-growing book stack:

Memoir

The Hate Race

 

I powered through Maxine Beneba Clarke’s The Hate Race (and think you should too!). A memoir about growing up in the whitewashed Sydney ‘burbs of the 80s and 90s – a heartbreaking look at racism and its effects (with the best pop culture references – Lucy’s party on Degrassi!).

You'll Grow Out Of It

 

A fun, New Yorky, zeitgeisty book of essays by Jessi Klein (head writer of Inside Amy Schumer), spanning all the things (life/love/gender). If you zipped through the other recent memoirs of smart, funny ladies (Amy Poehler, Lena Dunham et al), You’ll Grow Out Of It will likely resonate.

Adult fiction

The Girls

Atmospheric, moody, menacing – The Girls paints a picture of an isolated (and quite frankly, feral) California ranch, where floaty girls flock around its leader, Russell. Loosely based on the followers of Charles Manson, and unputdownable.

YA

Becoming Aurora

The debut YA novel of Queensland author Elizabeth Kasmer, Becoming Aurora is a powerful tale of a girl who has lost her way. Aurora is running with the wrong crowd, and after they vandalise a restaurant in a race-related turf war she’s sentenced to community service. Her interactions with ex-boxer Jack who she tends to in a nursing home, and her burgeoning relationship with Essam are woven beautifully together, culminating in a truly touching ending. I loved this.

 

Picture books

They All Saw A Cat

They All Saw A Cat is a buzzworthy debut by Brendan Wenzel, presenting the vastly different perspectives of a cast of creatures.  For more, see my review for Buzz Words here.

 

Captain Sneer

A rollicking, rhyming tale of a boastful pirate, Captain Sneer the Buccaneer is a fun picture book to read aloud. Author Penny has been super busy with readings around Sydney as well as popping up in all the kidlit internety places – in character, no less! And Gabriel Evans’ illustrations are so detailed and clever.

 

Molly & Mae

I keep re-reading this new release by Danny Parker & Freya Blackwood, who last teamed up on another gorgeous picture book, Perfect. Molly & Mae tells a tale of the ups and downs of friendship via the backdrop of a train journey. Stunning.

KidLitVic 2016 (Part 2)

There were so many thought-provoking topics discussed at KidLitVic (see Part 1 for an intro), from gender and diversity in children’s books to what publishers are looking for. Did you know:

  • Picture books are submitted to publishers in far greater quantities than other types of kids’ books (junior fiction and beyond). For example, Melissa Keil of Five Mile Press said for them, it’s around a 30:1 ratio.
  • There is a need for more children’s books featuring female protagonists. From Melissa Keil: only 1 in 11 of their current picture books feature a female lead character(!)
  • There are exceptions to every ‘rule’. For example, picture book authors are commonly told the publisher will source the illustrator, however in the case of Scribble (a new imprint by Scribe), publisher Miriam Rosenbloom said they actually like being approached by an author/illustrator pair.

More from the panels:

  • Other interesting revelations from the Picture Book panel (Melissa Keil, Miriam Rosenbloom and Maryann Ballantyne from Black Dog Books) included picture book word lengths not always mattering (i.e. you don’t necessarily have to stick to the under 500 word guide most often mentioned). You can also submit 2-3 manuscripts at once.
  • The Chapter Book/Middle Grade panel, featuring Clare Hallifax (Scholastic), Marisa Pintado (Hardie Grant Egmont) and Michelle Madden (Penguin Random House), discussed the idea that boys will read chapter books featuring girls, but may feel social pressure to hide it. All revealed their penchant for publishing non-gender specific characters and concepts, however Clare Hallifax commented that young readers often want something gender specific. ‘I hate it, but it is a reality,’ she said.
  • Marisa Pintado and Michelle Madden prefer chapter books that are part of a series, however Clare Hallifax doesn’t mind standalone titles, especially if they can later be packaged with other books by the same author.
  • For illustrators, showcasing your work on websites like The Style File is invaluable. The Illustration panel (Jacinta di Mase (literary agent), Kimberley Bennett (Random House) and Suzanne O’Sullivan (Lothian/Hachette) mentioned they visit this for ideas and sourcing talent.
  • In the world of YA, paranormal is out. Lisa Berryman of HarperCollins said she receives ‘too much fantasy and paranormal’, while Elise Jones of Allen & Unwin said ‘publishers and booksellers are sick of dystopian’, even if readers aren’t yet.

There is so much more I could tell you – but if you write or illustrate children’s books, you might just have to come to the hotly anticipated 2017 event! A few more attendees have done some fabulous write-ups too:

  • Sylvia Morris includes some helpful links on permission protocols if writing from a cultural perspective that’s not your own (with some specific advice relating to indigenous content)
  • Ramona Davey features some great snapshots of what each of the presenters like (oh, and a pic of our lovely critique group too 🙂 )
  • Megan Higginson has a detailed, fly on the wall account that will make you feel like you were there, even if you weren’t

KidLitVic 2016 (Part 1)

Chapter book and middle grade panel at KIdLitVic 2016

I thought I’d recap some highlights from KidLitVic 2016 before I descend into a post-conference, hot chip and gravy scoffing pile of exhaustion *may be too late*.

This was the first ever KidLitVic conference, also known as ‘Meet the Publishers’, put on by children’s authors Alison Reynolds, Dee White and Jaquelyn Muller, and illustrator Nicky Johnston (who all did the most amazing job). Held in Melbourne’s State Library on 7 May,  it was a day full of insightful panel talks on everything from picture books through to YA, featuring some of Australia’s top children’s publishers. There was an illustrator showcase, one-on-one feedback appointments with editors/publishers/an agent plus pitching sessions, all followed by a cocktail party. So, what did we learn? Gazillions of things (like, hardly any guys come to children’s writing festivals, haha!), but I came away with a few strong overall messages:

Think commercially

This was reiterated again and again. Your writing might be good, but if your book’s not marketable it won’t be picked up. As a writer (or illustrator) you have to think beyond the story you want to tell to whether it will sell. This is the reality of publishing. So, the more insights you can gain into what publishers and the market want, the better.

You are your brand

Self-promotion in the form of social media and everything internet, along with events like writers’ festivals, school visits etc. are all part of being an author. Clare Hallifax of Scholastic said ‘you do become a brand’ and ‘there is a huge need for authors to be self-promoting’. Michelle Madden from Penguin wants ‘a person who can empathise with gatekeepers’.

Write all the books

Publishers are not interested in one hit wonders. Many said that they want to know you have (and can) write lots of books – that you’re worth investing in. Marisa Pintado of Hardie Grant wants ‘an author ready to write lots of books’. Publishers want career authors, not someone who’s rustled up a manuscript and just wants it published, with no intention of a book-creating future.

More to come in Part 2!

Snapshots 20.08.15

Luna Park

Daytripping – Luna Park fun

 

August so far has seen hot weather hopefulness with trips to the beach, lots of good reads, much picture book love and some delicious Sydney food finds for good measure.

Kids’ books

We are fully aboard the Andy Griffiths train in this house, with the obligatory purchase of the latest Treehouse book (made all the more exciting after meeting Andy at the Sydney’s Writer’s Festival this year!). Here are a couple of great articles post 65-Storey Treehouse release: the importance of humour in kids’ books, and why Andy Griffiths thinks many children’s stories are boring.

Other favourite kids’ reads right now: Lulu by Georgie Donaghey, Lisa absolutely loves art by Sophie Norsa, The Cleo Stories by Libby Gleeson, The Colour Thief by Gabriel Alborozo and Why I love Australia by Bronwyn Bancroft (you can read my review for Buzz Words here).

 

Kids books we love - August

 

Lulu author Georgie (who signed her book for my kids at the recent CYA Conference) sent us a lovely package of Lulu-themed craft and fun things (like chocolate) – the kids were super impressed to receive something in the mail from a real-life author!

 

All things Lulu

 

Other reads

I recently devoured Bejing Tai Tai by Tania McCartney, an expat memoir of the now kids’ author (and brains behind Kids Book Review, one my favourite go-to kids’ book sites) on her expat years in Beijing. I felt swept up in her story as it was so relatable, There were many things that mirrored my own time living in Asia in the late 2000s – everything from maid dramas and navigating expat friendships, to cultural differences and bringing up kids ‘elsewhere’. It’s humourous, warm, insightful – a bit like reading someone’s diary. I don’t think I’ll ever tire of expat or travel non-fiction.

Current reads

I’ve also just read Motherhood and Creativity by Rachel Power, a collection of stories by Australian women who grapple with juggling motherhood with a creative career, whether it be acting, art or writing. It was so interesting to read insights into these women’s lives, especially admired writers like Sally Rippin and Nikki Gemmell. Such a great read for anyone balancing all things kids with a passion pursuit.

Now, I’m reading Emily Bitto’s The Strays (loving so far), with a side detour into YA for uni (Risk by Fleur Ferris and Just_a_Girl by Kristen Krauth – both engaging yet chilling in their own ways).

 

Weekend wanderings // Sydney

Smalltown

 

Daytrips, food loves and fun things of late have included:

+ an exploration of the far northern beaches (winter denial), including a pitstop at a great Avalon cafe, Smalltown (like a slice of the inner-west, transported to beachland)

+ Luna Park on a blue sky day, with a side serve of Americana at Batch burgers in Kirribilli

+ a sushi train restaurant with iPads for ordering (new favourite city sushi)

+ oysters at The Gretz and dinner at Hartsyard (balancing all the ‘heartiness’ – ahem, fried chicken – with their amazing broccoli dish)

 

Wanderlust wishlist

+ this cafe

+ this hotel

+ this restaurant

 

Takeaway tips on children’s publishing from Hachette

typewriter

 

The world of children’s publishing can seem elusive at times – what are publishers really looking for, and how can you reach them?! Thankfully, certain industry events can offer a window into the workings of publishing houses, and reveal some all-important inside knowledge. Enter – the free monthly members’ event at NSW Writers’ Centre called First Friday Club, where a staff member hosts a chat with an author, editor or publisher. The August event featured NSWWC Membership Officer Sherry Landow in conversation with Suzanne O’Sullivan, a children’s book publisher from Hachette.

Topics spanned Suzanne’s career history in publishing to the current state of the children’s book market, what she looks for in a manuscript and her thoughts on author platforms. Here are some of the key points Suzanne made on all things children’s publishing:

 

Thoughts on the market

+ Sales of kids’ books are very healthy, particularly due to blockbuster titles (e.g. Andy Griffiths’ books)

+ Middle grade and picture books are the healthiest sectors

+ YA authors have to compete with US authors, as many teens turn to the internet for book recommendations, and are exposed to US content

+ Meanwhile adults buying books for younger readers will often ask a bookseller for recommendations of Australian authors

 

What she is looking for

+ Always looking for picture books

+ Would like to see more junior fiction (emphasised this is the main area where opportunities lie, and is particularly interested in series’)

+ Interested in middle grade

+ Believes lots of people are writing and submitting YA, so it’s more competitive

 

Tips for working with Suzanne as an author or illustrator

+ Be a nice person!

+ Be open and communicative

+ Be conscious publishers are busy (i.e. don’t harass)

+ Be open to feedback but have a clear sense of how you see your work

 

How to stay out of the slush pile

+ Have a clear sense of the market and what’s selling, and know where your book fits a genuine gap

+ Honing your writing. Really workshopping and editing, and not sending something until you’re confident with it

+ In a cover letter, mention a bit about yourself but don’t include alot of supporting information, as the most important thing is the writing

+ Wants to know you have more books in mind or the potential to write similar books that appeal to the same audience

 

What she’d like to see more of

+ Humour, as long as it’s alongside story

+ Friendship themes, particularly in junior fiction

+ Adventure

 

Word count recommendations

+ Junior fiction (for more advanced readers): 15k – 20k words

+ Middle grade: 35k – 50k words

+ YA: 50k – 70k

 

Thoughts on author platforms

+ Being on social media can help – if you are already on social media but don’t have a large following, there’s a profile to build on

+ Having a web presence shows that you’re willing to put yourself out there

+ Your own website is a great place to keep all your information together, but the issue can be people finding it

+ It’s much less common for an author to just write and not promote

+ Honing your writing is still the most important thing

 

How to get your work read by Hachette

Hachette is currently closed to receiving unsolicited children’s book submissions. Suzanne receives manuscripts via literary agents, or by request following face to face contact, such as appointments at conferences and literary speed dating events.

However – she may have a one month opening for submissions later in the year or early next year. This will be announced via social media and Hachette’s website, so if you’re interested, keep an eye out!