Category Archives: picture books

VP Day and Photographs in the Mud

Today is Victory in the Pacific Day, commemorating the end of WWII 75 years ago.

My first picture book, Photographs in the Mud is set in PNG in 1942. It was inspired by an old tree stump and a true story I heard whilst hiking the Kokoda Track in 2002. Photographs in the Mud follows two fictitious soldiers into battle; one Australian and one Japanese. Jack and Hoshi meet in battle on Mission Ridge, the site of ferocious WWII combat. The men slide down the mountain away from the fighting, lying together in a ditch. Away from the horror, they share a moment of common humanity.

In real life, the surviving soldier never forgets the eyes of the other man, and today on VP Day, I’m remembering these two men from opposing armies who found a moment of peace in a jungle far from home.

Photographs in the Mud was inspired by this true story. It was published in 2005 and has been in print continuously for the past 15 years. After Lighthouse Girl, it’s the most ‘clicked on’ title on my website and I’m delighted to still find Photographs in the Mud in school libraries across Australia. This little picture book was shortlisted for several awards and published in Japanese as, “Nimai No Shashin” (Two Photographs). Photographs in the Mud was also used as an international peace reference and became the subject of a paper published by Professor Jim Martin (Sydney Uni) focusing on ‘Genre, ideology and intertextuality’. In 2009, Kokichi Nishimura‘s full life story, The Bone Man of Kokoda was published by Charles Happell.

After all the hard work that goes into the creation of a book, it’s wonderful for an author (and illustrator, Brian Harrison-Lever) when a title stays in print for so long. Thank you Fremantle Press for keeping this story of hope and common humanity alive.

More photographs of my ten-day Kokoda trek and teaching notes can be found here. Lest we Forget.

Purple Poppies for the Animals

Have you noticed people wearing purple poppies beside their red ones on Anzac Day?

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prelim. sketch for ‘Light Horse Boy’ by Brian Simmonds

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.

Books honouring some of these animals include Anthony Hill’s comprehensive Animal Heroes and Maria Gill ‘s ANZAC Animals,  exploring the backstory of Australian and New Zealand war animals. Mark Wilson has created three picture books about war animals, including pigeon story, Flapper, VC.  Meanwhile, Torty and the Soldier by Jennifer Beck and Fifi Colston celebrates a tortoise that went to war. A  few other titles for teens and adults includes Horrie the War Dog , Bill the Bastard and Prince of Afghanistan. These are just a few titles, there are many more.

Lest we Forget these brave animals.

Wishing friends and readers a safe and peaceful festive season

Thank you teachers, librarians, booksellers, readers and the teams at Fremantle Press, Penguin Random House, Black Swan Theatre, the Literature Centre and CBCA for your support throughout 2018. It’s certainly been an eventful year, with the publication of two new books, In the Lamplight and The Dog with Seven Names, a UK launch and book tour, Candlewick’s US release of Nanna’s Button Tin, school visits across WA and NSW, and the regional WA tour of Black Swan Theatre’s wonderful adaptation The Lighthouse Girl.

Other 2018 highlights include ASA mentoring the super talented Amelia Mellor, speaking at the National ALEA/AATE Conference, Write Around the Murray and the CBCA NSW Kids Bookweek event. I love being part of the friendly and inclusive children’s literature community. Special thanks to the SCBWI West team for all that you do to support creative spirits.

2019 looks like being another exciting year. More about that in a few weeks. In the meantime I’ll be enjoying a quiet family Christmas at home, with plenty of beach-time, reading and the odd glass of bubbles. I’m also happily writing something new. Stay safe and thank you for helping to make 2018 a good year.

 

World War One 1914-1918 resource list – NEW

Thanks for this comprehensive list 🙂

Just in time for Remembrance Day we have compiled a list of fiction and non-fiction reading about World War One. It comprises picture books, some material for middle grade and also resources for high school. It is an excellent starter for a school library collection. We hope you find this useful and as always we welcome suggestions for additions to the lists. World War One Resources

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November Artwork Sale

‘Light’ series illustrator, Brian Simmonds is offering original artwork for sale at half price throughout November. Large charcoal sketches which appear in the books will sell for around $250-$350 instead of approx $700. There are also preliminary roughs for sale at bargain prices. The images appear below. If you would like more information about a particular image please email me via the contact link on my website or Facebook message and I will send a full price list. These photos were taken on my phone and so apologies for the quality – the originals are gorgeous. Artworks are in Albany but could be brought to Perth. I am removing images as they are sold…

Original illustrations from In the Lamplight $350

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School Holidays = Reading :-)

Students and teachers aren’t the only ones taking a break this week…  School holidays are a great time for authors to catch up on reading (and writing). Here are some books that I’ve been enjoying this week.

Mark Greenwood and Andrew McLean’s The Happiness Box is historical fiction at its best. The story gives deep insight into our shared history with Japan and Singapore in a way that’s accessible for young readers and despite the wartime backdrop of Changi, the tale is uplifting. With it’s interesting endnotes The Happiness Box will be a valuable reference for teachers.

The cover of Frané Lessac’s Under the Southern Cross is beautiful and I smile every time I see that cheerful dolphin popping it’s snout out to smile at Banjo the dog. Children will love searching for Banjo on each page, exploring fun facts and looking for different constellations. This book is joyful and it also has wonderful endnotes.

Cristy Burne’s Off the Track is a super-fun holiday read. Hurrah for books that celebrate ’embracing the great outdoors’ without mobile phones! This is a story for anyone, but I especially loved the WA references to Bibbulman Track markers, snottygobble and so on …

And my current ‘age-appropriate adult read’ is Laline Paull’s The Bees which was recommended by my friend Venetia because she knows I love anthropomorphic stories. The Bees is told from the point of view of a bee, which was strange at first, but once I adjusted to this unusual perspective, I’m loving it. Who knew that drones could be so badly behaved and how rigidly in-hive hierarchies are maintained. This is one of the oddest books I’ve read but it’s strangely compelling. Has anyone else come across it? I’d love to hear your thoughts and I’ll post again once I’ve dipped further into the ‘want-to-read’ pile by the bedside.

A Peek into the Illustration Process

 

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Heather Potter, the talented illustrator of Nanna’s Button Tin has kindly given me A3 photocopies of around twenty pages from her sketch pads to share with students during school visits. These pages are now laminated so that children will be able to examine samples of character development as well as see some of the magic behind cover design and page design.

I love seeing illustrator’s character sketches. In the published book Nanna wears the same white shirt and pink vest that she does in the top left image, however her pants changed to a slightly different floral design in the final.

The sketches on the right give some insight into how much work goes into every page, in this case, the scene where Nanna first met Pop. I love the pigeon on Pop’s head.

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Heather also created a recurring page design that links to sewing and buttons. On four pages she used a thread line to split the right hand side page into two. The above sketches show some of the ideas she was exploring – the dog licking image is almost the same as a final image in the book.

Thank you Heather. Working with illustrators, watching them bring characters and ideas to life is one of the joys of being a children’s author.

 

 

 

Summer Reading #1

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Last week (on Dianne Wolfer – Author) I posted a photo of my first batch of summer reads. I’m making good progress and have already finished Kate Constable’s New Guinea Moon which I very much enjoyed. The story has satisfying and unexpected twists. It’s marketed at a YA audience but like so many teen novels is just as enjoyable for adults. I’m drawn to books with PNG settings; three of my own works unfold there (The Shark Caller is set in the New Ireland Province and Photographs in the Mud is set along the Kokoda Track in 1942). The backdrop for New Guinea Moon is in the Highlands, pre-independence, a time when things are changing for both Nationals and expat Australians. Kate grew up in PNG and her use of local language and culture rings true.

My next read was fun. I have several ideas bubbling for emerging readers and so have been reading titles from the hugely successful I Can Read! series. Think Berenstain Bears, Fancy Nancy and Flat StanleyDanny and the Dinosaur – Too Tall is a great example of a concise book with exciting characters and a compelling, exciting plot. How on earth does Syd Hoff weave this magic in 32 pages? Stories with depth that appear ‘simple’ are hard to create – editing, shaping, editing …

 Michael Morpungo’s books make me cry. They are so good. I love animal characters and Morpungo is a Master of creating stories with powerful links between animals and humans and thought-provoking moments in history. After re-reading his poignant and lovely I Believe in Unicorns, I’ve been visiting Michael Morpungo’s website. I knew he was a prolific writer and I loved Shadow (set in Afghanistan), but there are so many others that look enticing. Perhaps I’ll spend summer reading all his animal novels… I’ve also just noticed that this month he’s releasing Lucky Button. After the synchronicity of the War Horse movie being released just before the launch of Light Horse Boy, I’m glad my Nanna’s Button Tin came out in June.

I’ll be posting more Summer reading blogs over the next few months. My Want-to-Read book tower is tall but I always love hearing recommendations …

 

Button Holiday Fun

This morning people of all ages had fun with buttons at Albany Public Library. It seems I’m not the only one who loves button tins.

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It’s school holidays around Australia and here are a few easy ideas for button craft.

  • Decorate a lost and found tag for one of your furry toys or pets (like we did today).
  • Stick a button (or several) onto card/paper and make it into something – the button could be the centre of a flower or a monster’s eye …
  • Thread buttons onto wool or elastic to make a necklace or bangle.
  • Decorate an old photo frame with buttons of all sizes.
  • Draw the outline of your favourite animal and fill it in with colourful buttons.
  • Stick buttons onto an old hairclip or a bag/shoes from the Op shop

You might think of other crafty button ideas, please send me photos if you do!

Nanna’s Button Tin – first peek

This afternoon something special arrived in the mail. After publication delays beyond my control, I’m so excited to at last hold my new picture book, Nanna’s Button Tin. Heather Potter’s illustrations are beautiful and every time I read the story I find lovely details in her artwork. The release date with Walker Books is June 1st but here is a first sneak peek…

The story was inspired by memories of playing with my mum’s and grandmothers’ button tins. I loved tipping their tins upside down, sorting shapes and colours and looking for my favourite buttons. Some buttons held special memories; a favourite party dress or a bear-shaped button from a cardigan. The book is dedicated to every Nanna with a button tin.

First Review:

I couldn’t have hoped for a better first review than the one published in the current issue of Books+Publishing by esteemed publisher, academic, author (and more) Margaret Hamilton AM. She writes: …The heart-warming story is sensitively told in simple and expressive language. The reader is invited to join this loving family to experience the special relationship between a small girl and her nanna and to relive treasured family memories, all through the special buttons in nanna’s jar…  Stories about family togetherness are very important in the life of a child. They reinforce family experiences and loving relationships, and when they are as warmly portrayed as those in this book, they become keepsakes.

Thank you Heather, Editor Mary Verney and the rest of the team at Walker Books.

 

 

Kokoda Track: 75 years

2017 is the 75th anniversary of WW2 battles along Papua New Guinea’s Kokoda Track. As part of their Serial Reading programme, in Term Two the West Australian newspaper’s ED! supplement will be serialising my picture book Photographs in the Mud. 

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The story set in 1942, explores Kokoda from two perspectives; through the eyes of an Australian soldier and also from a Japanese soldier’s point of view. The book was inspired by a story I heard during my 2002 trek from Kokoda airstrip across the Owen Stanley range to Ower’s Corner (near Port Moresby).  During one bloody battle, two soldiers locked in  combat, rolled down the steep mountainside away from the main battle. They found themselves alone and injured in a jungle ditch. This moment and the imagined aftermath became the core of my story with a theme of common humanity.

Although mostly fictitious, Photographs in the Mud was inspired by an incident experienced by Kokichi Nishimura, a soldier of the 2/144th Regiment of the Imperial Japanese Army. Mr Nishimura’s amazing life story, including his return to PNG to collect the bones of war dead, was later explored in Charles Happell’s The Bone Man of Kokoda.

My picture book, published in 2005 by Fremantle Press and illustrated by Brian Harrison-Lever, has been utilised as an international peace reference. It’s suitable for middle primary readers through to senior high school and is often used in visual literacy units. Teaching notes and more details, including photos of a much younger me, can be found on my website.

 

WAYRBA 2017

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The West Australian Young Readers WAYRBA  have announced their three shortlists and I’m thrilled that The Shark Caller is included amongst the 16 titles in the 2016 Older Readers’ category. I’m in good company; the list features six international books, nine from Australia and one fellow West Australian title; Norm Jorgensen’s fun The Smuggler’s Curse. There are also lists for Younger Readers and Picture Books with terrific Australian titles on both.

Being shortlisted for a children’s choice award is a wonderful thing. Committed teachers and librarians make up many judging panels, but when the power to choose is handed over to kids it makes being selected such an honour. Young readers make honest critics. As part of the judging process they’re asked to read titles on the lists and evaluate  them as  ‘terrific’, ‘good’, ‘okay’ or ‘awful.’ Fingers crossed that my ‘Shark’ doesn’t receive too many of the latter!

For WA creators there are still challenges involved in bringing a book to the attention of readers – there are so many other great books from interstate and overseas. The annual WAYRBA lists help ensure that Australian settings such as ‘Abalone Cove’ (Greens Pool) and Broome, which appear in The Shark Caller, reach a wider readership. Thank you to the organising committee for their hard work behind the scenes and teachers, please help your students access the WAYRBA titles, encourage them to vote – and to be gentle with the ‘awful’ slips…

5 sleeps until Bookweek

This year the theme is Australia! Story Country.

In addition to the amazing books that are shortlisted, here is a quick shout-out for Frane’ Lessac’s terrific new picture book, A is for Australia.

My favourite page is the Rottnest Island spread. With lots of fun facts, it’s a great Bookweek resource.

This year I’ll be at Newman College, Mel Maria Primary, Presbyterian Ladies College and Iona Presentation College for Bookweek. I’ll also be in Paraburdoo as part of Rio Tinto’s Groundbreaker Pilbara Exhibition. I’m looking forward to meeting hundreds of young readers and hearing all about their favourite Australian stories.

Better Beginnings is a fabulous program that promotes early literacy.

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The pilot scheme began in 2004 with six WA libraries providing reading packs to the families of newborn babies. What a wonderful way to encourage a love of reading!

IMG_5061Since then, the program has grown and includes far flung communities from Wyndham to Esperance. Each year over 60,000 families  receive a Better Beginnings reading pack. I’m honoured that  Granny Grommet and Me, my picture book with illustrator, Karen Blair is one of the 30 recommended books for 4 and 5 year olds.  And the cover image sits beside one of my all-time favourite stories, Harry the Dirty Dog.

IMG_7022Better Beginnings is sponsored by state and local government as well as Rio Tinto. This year, to commemorate 50 years since iron ore ship, Houn Maru left Dampier for Japan, Rio Tinto is facilitating the Groundbreaker Pilbara Tour.

Last week I travelled from Perth to Wickham in the Pilbara to help celebrate Rio’s ongoing link with Better Beginnings.

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While I was there, I met lovely Pre-Primary to Year Two students from Wickham Primary. They were keen readers and we had fun sharing stories. I even met the son of one of the real Granny Grommets.

Before my sessions I squeezed in some sightseeing, with a quick trip to the old port of Cossack, the Burrup peninsula and a selfie with the wonderful Red Dog.

In August I will be visiting two other Pilbara communities as part of the Groundbreaker Tour. On 19th August I’ll be in Dampier and then on 22nd August I will travel to Paraburdoo. Thanks to the Rio Tinto organisers. I’m looking forward to meeting more Better Beginnings readers soon …

AQWA Story Readings

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Lilian loves stories

This week I’ve been meeting young readers at the WA Aquarium for story-time.

We’ve been reading Granny Grommet and Me in front of a tank that’s home to some of the sea creatures that appear in the story. Lilian spotted angel fish in the tank and in the book!

Young book lovers also knew the names of sea stars, leafy sea dragons and many other marine animals.

I’ll be reading again tomorrow at 11.45, so please come and say hello if you are planning a trip top AQWA.

For middle and upper primary teachers and students, I’ll be back again on July 29th to read from The Shark Caller on the same day it will be launched.

My favourite sea creature so far, was this friendly ray in sick bay.

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Gairdner Primary

The K-Year 2 students at Gairdner Primary and their teachers are very talented artists. Look what they made after we read Granny Grommet and Me!

I love the way the budding illustrators mixed the bright colours with edacol dye. If you look closely you can see all sorts of sea creatures; saw fish, octopus, jellyfish, angelfish, whales and even leafy sea dragons… Thank you for inviting me into your classroom.

World Oceans Day

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Happy World Oceans Day.

I had hoped to be celebrating with a walk at beautiful Middleton Beach in Albany, but given the wintry weather, have made do with a brisk walk at the harbour instead.

For the past three years as I’ve reworked drafts of nearly-published, The Shark Caller (Aug 1st), my mind has been focused on underwater creatures and the challenges threatening our oceans. Since completing the final draft in January, the situation has become even more dire for our Great Barrier Reef and here in WA, we hear heated community discussions over sharks and keeping swimmers safe. Sadly there are no easy answers.

I love swimming, diving, snorkelling and walking along the beach, and hope future generations will also be able to enjoy these simple pleasures in an ocean free of pollution and acidity.

The Shark Caller has been one of those stories that’s had a very long gestation, with the first idea, sparked by wonder at the beauty of marine life on a reef in Papua New Guinea. Despite our various inventions and deep-sea explorations, for me the ocean still holds that sense of wonder, mystery and adventure, qualities evident in some of the old classics like Hemingway’s, The Old Man and the Sea or Jules Verne’s fabulous, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. I never finished Moby Dick  but with whale season just starting, maybe I should give that one another go.

And there are so many fun ocean stories for children. My favourites include: Kylie Howarth’s Fish Jam, a jazzy picture book for young and old which is currently CBCA shortlisted; Bruce Whatley’s Looking for Crabs and Naomi Kojima’s quirky Singing Shijimi Clams (might be hard to find the latter). Karen Blair’s illustrations for Granny Grommet and Me also always make me smile! face3

For music lovers who like ocean themes, Simone Keane’s latest album, The Breath of the Ocean  donates proceeds to Sea Shepherd, and for me, one of Simone’s earlier songs, Life’s Ocean conjures lovely memories of Fay Catherine Howe (it was played at the Albany launch of Lighthouse Girl accompanied by historic photos of Breaksea Island)

There are so many ways to enjoy Ocean Day. I hope you find one…

 

 

Booktrailers

Book trailers are a wonderful way for readers to peek into a book and gain a quick understanding of what the story is about so they can then decide whether to buy/borrow and read.

James Foley and Fremantle Press created a cracker clip for my Light Horse Boy, and there are multiple clips linked to Lighthouse Girl (details below), however as yet, there are none for my other books. And so, my resolution for March, is to make at least one more book trailer…

There are two specific Lighthouse Girl clips on Youtube. I love the trailer that was created by Year 4 students at Rosalie Primary School in 2010 – great that it’s still out there…

Then there is my own first attempt at creating a trailer. It’s quite factual and a bit basic as far as clips go, but it gives a nice view of King George Sound and Breaksea Island.

There are many, many YouTube clips linked to the Little Girl Giant, a character which was inspired by the book, Lighthouse Girl (more details on earlier posts). Amongst the terrific clips below, is one posted by Tracey Timmins, the granddaughter of Fay (the lighthouse girl). It’s a crackly but close-up view of Fay as the Little Girl Giant at PIAF 2015. There’s also one that I posted, and others by people I don’t know.

The first waking up

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A lovely soundtrack version clip linked to Lighthouse Girl is by Caddy Cooper  Her clip features a song that she wrote, The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter which was inspired by Fay.

I hope that more clips of my books will appear soon. In the meantime, you might like to check out these clips by other WA authors and illustrators:

My Dead Bunny , The Last Viking Returns, Ned Kelly and the Green Sash,  A is For Australia, Zac and Mia,

This is just a sample, you will find more on most authors’ websites…

 

An Alternative to Red Hearts

Junior school teachers are probably helping their students make heart cards this week. As I walked past a mass of commercial ‘Made Somewhere Else’ heart stuff that may end up in landfill, I thought that a wonderful alternative present for a loved one, is a book celebrating love, not just romantic love… And that got me thinking about picture books with themes of love. Two favourites came to mind immediately; Old Pig (Margaret Wild & Ron Brooks) and Samsara Dog (Helen Manos & Julie Vivas).

I love both of these books. Both honour selfless love (perhaps that’s the best kind) and loss. Both are also anthropomorphic. I love animal stories too. Animal characters cross gender and racial boundaries. For me, they strip away the ‘trimmings’ and help young readers find the core of a story.

Love. There are so many other wonderful picture books on my shelves celebrating love; in glorious shades and forms. Great picture books like Old Pig and Samsara Dog can be read on many levels. Perhaps it would be fun to discuss different kinds of picture book love while the sticky heart card glue is drying…

Happy Valentines Day 🙂

* keep the tissues handy for these titles