Virtual apples for all the amazing educators heading back to schools after a well-earned break. Thanks in advance for all you do to inspire a love of books and stories in our children. Over at my Animals Who Talk website, there are some Back-to-School book title suggestions.
Today I updated the Talks and Workshops tab on my website, ready for the year ahead. If you have time, take a peek at the fresh blurbs and session ideas. I’m also regularly updating the Events tab, so hope to see you somewhere on my 2023 book travels …
After a huge year in 2022, with three new books in three different genres with three different publishers, I’m currently catching my breath before the publication of my middle-grade novel, Scout and the Rescue Dogs in a few months.
In the meantime, I’m beyond excited about the forthcoming Theatre 180 CineStage adaptation, The Lighthouse Girl Saga. It’s based on the four books in my ‘Light’ series with Fremantle Press. The show opens in Albany on February 23rd before heading to Busselton and other parts of WA. More about that soon. Fingers crossed that the show will also travel to eastern Australia.
Researching and writing about a wartime horse was challenging. I needed to add layers differently. There are excellent historic records for humans that served, but that’s not often the case for animals.
The Last Light Horse is divided into four parts, linked to four of the significant men in Sandy’s life. The first is Francis O’Donnell. His family owned the brick kiln in old Tallangatta where Sandy hauled bricks. Francis was keen to serve, however as a Catholic, he was encouraged not to support an ‘English’ war. Instead, Francis donated his best horse. You can read more about Francis here.
The next important figure in Sandy’s life was Major General Bridges. His dying wish was that Sandy be brought home to Australia. The page below shows details of his funeral. In the left-hand image, boots are turned backward to denote a fallen soldier.
After the death of Major General Bridges, Captain Leslie Whitfield, a veterinarian, cared for Sandy In Egypt. When Whitfield was transferred to France, Sandy went too. The veterinarians rode horses to the edge of battle to treat wounded animals. A steady horse like Sandy was invaluable.
Archibald Jordon met Sandy at the Calias Veterinary Hospital. Archie became Sandy’s groom and was the soldier chosen to accompany the old horse home. Their shipdocked in Melbourne soon after the 1918 Armistice was signed.
Sandy had been away for over four years. He spent his remaining days at Maribyrnong until, aged 23, and almost blind, he was euthanised. Archie died a few months later.
Each year on Remembrance Day, as well as wearing a red poppy to remember the people who served, I wear a purple poppy to remember the animals that have gone to war. There are other warhorse-related blog posts on this site, focusing on different titles in the ‘Light’ series. To read more, use the search function. Lest we Forget.
Around 136,000 horses were sent from Australia to the First World War. Just one came home; Sandy, the favourite horse of Major General Bridges.
Sandy was raised in the high country of Victoria. He carted bricks in Tallangatta until the O’Donnell family donated him to the war effort.
The strong Waler soon became the favourite of Major General Bridges. They travelled from Melbourne together on the Orvieto flagship, joining other ships of the 1st AIF convoy in Albany.
From Albany, the convoy of Australian and New Zealand ships travelled to Egypt where the men trained near the pyramids. Then in April, they sailed to the Gallipoli peninsula. It was too steep to land Sandy and the other horses.
A few weeks after the landing, Major General Bridges was shot by a sniper. Legend has it that the Major General’s dying wish was for Sandy to return to Australia. Those wishes were honoured in 1919.
The Last Light Horse explores Sandy’s journey from Tallangatta, through the war years until his death in Maribyrnong in 2023, via text, archival images, and evocative charcoal sketches by Brian Simmonds. This week, in the lead-up to Remembrance Day, I will be posting images on Instagram to honour the men, women, and animals who sacrificed so much during wartime. Lest we Forget.
Skye always wanted to be an entomologist. Her unusual childhood pets included ‘Fluffy’ the tarantula and ‘Woodstock’ a giant burrowing roach that blows kisses and has starred in video clips.
She followed her dream and studied bug science as well as food science. Now, as Australia’s first farmer of edible insects, and a future foods pioneer, Skye and her trailblazing team, teach people that insects are an eco-friendly, and delicious, food alternative.
Most of all, Skye loves inspiring the next generation to follow their passion to achieve their career dreams.
The Aussie STEM Stars series celebrates Australia’s leaders in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. To celebrate the new release, Skye’s online shop, Circle Harvest, is offering a book and edible bugs bundle. I’ve tried all the delicious products in the pack except one …
It’s 80 years since the horrific WWII battles along Papua New Guinea’s Kokoda Track. In 2002 I hiked the track to research a YA novel (yet to be published). An unexpected outcome of the trip was the publication of my first picture book, Photographs in the Mud. It’s 17 years since Fremantle Press published this story, told from both Australian and Japanese perspectives. It has also been published in Japanese.
In the latest edition of ‘The Open Book,’ you can read more about this book’s journey. I’m grateful to Fremantle Press for keeping this title in print for 17 years!
More details here and via other blogposts on my website.
The heart of a school is the library, and when schools invest in dedicated library staff, literacy flourishes.
Last week, I saw the difference that great librarians make, not just in fostering a love of literacy, but also in the well-being of a whole school community. Colleen Wright and her enthusiastic library team at Bunbury Catholic College go above and beyond to make their library an exciting, safe and welcoming space. And not just for students. They love welcoming authors and illustrators.
Visiting the BCC library feels like being a rock star. There are giant book cover posters and cleverly curated displays extending the themes, character details, and setting of stories. The last time I was there, the team built a huge lighthouse – with a working light!
This time my visit focused on The Dog with Seven Names, a novel the Year Eight students are reading. This wartime story, set in the Pilbara, is told anthropomorphically through the eyes of a small dog, separated from its owner. During the novel, it’s given seven different names; Princess, Dog, Flynn, Engel, Pooch, Genji, and Florence. Colleen’s library team created an amazing display for each. Some are shown below.
Other library displays included dogs in literature and information about anthropomorphism. There were dress-up your dog images for students to contribute to, student-made newspaper articles based on events in the story, a brilliant ‘make an alternative cover’ activity, and a competition to guess which dog belongs to which teacher. I’ll post more about these great extension ideas soon.
As if all this wasn’t enough, we had a morning tea with students who’d read a certain number of books, and one of the students, Jess, crafted a beautiful necklace for me. It’s based on the cover image with a small dog and a separate aeroplane tag. I Iove it.
Thank you Bunbury Catholic College for a fabulous visit and for all the great things you do to inspire a love of reading in your students. You are literacy superstars.
Dogs and Reading are two things I love. The fantastic Story Dogs program combines both. Story Dogs help young readers at risk. Their mission is: To make reading fun for children, so they become confident lifelong readers. When children read to a dog, the outcomes are amazing! How wonderful that the non-judgemental nature of dogs can help make this magic happen.
The Story Dogs’ mantra that No child should be left behind in literacy has always resonated deeply with me. I’ve wanted to sign up with Harry for years, but volunteers need to turn up every week. Even in Covid times, I travel a lot for work, so I’m excited to announce that I am now the proud sponsor of … Buttercup and Sally.
Sally and beautiful Buttercup will be visiting the Year Two class at Parklands School in Albany every Tuesday. Part of the sponsorship funds Buttercup’s bright orange jacket and I was invited to forward a logo. I didn’t have a logo, so have adapted an image from my other website, Animals who Talk. Seeing it on Buttercup as she moved between young readers last week was the most wonderful feeling.
Story Dogs say that when children read in a non-judgemental setting, the children’s focus improves, their literacy skills increase and their confidence soars. The accepting, loving nature of dogs gives this program its magic and helps children relax, open up, try harder and have fun while reading to a friendly, calm dog.
I’m so proud to be a Story Dogs sponsor. Maybe you’d like to get involved as well …
Thank you Jen McRae, Kathryn Le Gay Brereton, Joanna Thiel, Sally Thomas, Carly Talbot, and Buttercup for your wonderful facilitating.
Dianne Wolfer’s Light series is a standout historical book series for kids … The Last Light Horse is a fantastic conclusion to the series and a heartfelt look at an unsung hero … With an educational focus and breathtaking illustrations, this is one inspiring story of courage and sacrifice, perfect for fans of Stephen Spielberg’s War Horse.
Thank you Better Readings. Here is a link to the full review plus a pre-ordering link. The Last Light Horse will be released April 1st 2022. In the meantime, you can find out more about this special horse on my website, under The Real Sandy tab.
How lovely to see Light Horse Boy back in The West Australian newspaper’s ED! lift out.
For those who’ve been following the WWI story, it’s now Week Seven and Jim has been evacuated from battle with terrible wounds. Back in Melbourne, his sister, Alice, and Jim’s mate, Chook are desperate to hear news of him. Meanwhile, Jim’s unable to write and is haunted by scenes of battle, and the last glimpse of his beloved horse, Break
Light Horse Boy was published in 2013 by Fremantle Press. It won the 2014 WA Premier’s Award was a CBCA Honour Book. It’s the second title in my ‘Light series’. I didn’t know then that it was going to be a part of a series. In the Lamplight followed in 2018, exploring the story from nurse Rose’s perspective, linking to the Suffragette Movement and life in Harefield, UK during WWI. And in a fortnight The Last Light Horse will be published sharing the story of Sandy, the only horse of 136,000 Australian Walers to return. More about that title soon. In the meantime, I’ve loved reading Letters to the Editor and hearing from young readers and their teachers who are enjoying the serialisation.
Today we farewell Don Watson, the son of Lighthouse Girl, Fay.
Don will be sadly missed. He and his family have been part of my ‘Light series’ writing journey from the beginning and we have shared many wonderful moments since.
In 2005, after reading a newspaper article written by Ron Crittall about WWI troops gathering in Albany in 1914, I became curious about Fay Howe, the Breaksea Island lighthouse keeper’s daughter. A paragraph in the article mentioned Fay relaying final messages for the soldiers, then later receiving postcards from them thanking her. They were addressed to, ‘The little girl on Breaksea Island’.
I wanted to find out more. The article mentioned ‘Perth man, Don Watson’ so I began searching phone listings. After several wary replies to my question, ‘Are you related to a Breaksea Island lighthouse keeper?’, eventually I found the right D. Watson. Don and his lovely wife, Peg, invited me to lunch and so began our friendship and shared Lighthouse Girl journey.
Although the WWI postcards have been lost to history, Fay’s son, Don, remembered reading those beautiful embroidered postcards as a child and was able to tell me about the messages. Since then we have seen Fay become a giant.
And her story has also been adapted for stage, commemorated in song, gifted to a Prime Minister, inspired a TV documentary and two US podcasts, as well as countless library displays, school shows and Book Week costumes.
Fay’s son was a generous, family-oriented man who volunteered with many organisations. Knowing Don and his extended family has been a great honour. May he now rest in peace with Fay and all those long ago soldiers.
Have you noticed people wearing purple poppies on February 24th or purple poppies beside their traditional red ones on Remembrance Day?
Purple poppies commemorate the bravery and sacrifice of animals during wartime, and funds raised by sales of the pins helps The Australian War Animal memorial Organisation (AWAMO) establish memorials, train PTSD support dogs and care for retired animals that have served their country.
Thousands of horses, dogs and pigeons have accompanied Australian servicemen and women into battle while animal mascots including wallabies, cockatoos, cats and dogs have brought comfort to troops far from home.
Dear Lockdowners, many authors have free activities, book-trailers, and fun information on their websites, along with teaching notes and downloadables. Earlier this year the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators WA (SCBWI) compiled a resources page that will keep you busy for hours.
Author, Nadia King‘s lovely Pippa likes to dress up as the flying doctor.
And there’s more … Earlier this year, the team from CBCA WA created library holiday presentations, and for a limited time, they will all be online. There are eight sessions by WA creatives for different age groups. Here’s mine and here are the short introductions to all eight. I hope you enjoy them and fingers crossed for a short lockdown…
This interview has led me to network with worldwide groups of lighthouse aficionados, all passionate about preserving lighthouse histories and also passionate about sharing fascinating stories about individual keepers. The lights shine on.
2020 was challenging. Plans to post regularly on my new Animals Who Talk website fell into a heap. But onwards bravely… and now I’m excited to share my 2021 plans.
While this blog space remains for general posts, over on the other site, on the 1st and 3rd Tuesdays of each month, I’ll be sharing books that are anthropomorphic or that feature interesting animal characters. 1st Tuesday posts will be for adult books. 3rd Tuesdays for children’s titles.
There is even a new post over there now, with more details. Wishing you and yours a wonderful 2021.
In 1918-1919, nurses risked their lives to care for vulnerable patients. Their dedication was a major inspiration for my writing process. I tried to imagine their stoicism and fear. It’s estimated that a third of the world’s population became infected by the Spanish Flu and that over 50 million people died.
Today, around the world, medical staff are again risking their lives, this time to save people suffering from Covid-19. At the time of writing, over 1 million people have died from coronavirus with more than 50 million people infected.
Images from WWI hospitals helped bring my fictitious characters to life. I wonder what future creative responses will be inspired by the current images of healthcare workers in P2 masks, gloves and body gowns.
Lest we forget; not only the brave nurses of the past, but also the selfless dedication of our current medical heroes.
I am so pleased that this translation was able to go ahead during this challenging time, and hope that many new readers will enjoy the story of a small dog in north-western Australia during WWII.
Thank you, Min Zha for your translation. I wish I could speak/read Chinese so that I could enjoy your words! Thank you also Zhuang Yuan for editing and steering little dog on her exciting new adventure. I love the cute cover image (full jacket below) and feel sure that Princess, Elsie, and all the other characters would too.
The team at Wild Dingo Press has been busy creating a wonderful website dedicated to the new Aussie STEM Star series. It’s designed for young readers and adults with information about each book, clips, and interviews with the authors and of course details about the inspirational STEM Stars themselves. Check it out here.
Often we don’t realise how important an educator has been in our life until years later. Today is International Literacy Day and I’d like to give a special shout-out to Colleen and her fabulous library team at Bunbury Catholic College. Not only do they create amazing displays that inspire young readers and make visiting authors feel like celebrities… they also support less fortunate students. BCC staff and students recently raised $450 to support Room to Read, an organisation that helps support worldwide reading and literacy. Congratulation Bunbury Catholic College for modeling kindness during this challenging time.