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.
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.
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.
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 Moonwhich 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 Calleris set in the New Ireland Province and Photographs in the Mudis 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 Stanley. Danny 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 …
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.
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.
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.
The West Australian Young Readers WAYRBA have announced their three shortlists and I’m thrilled that The Shark Calleris 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…