Showing posts from 2019

Review: Lizard's Tale

The heady scent of tropical blooms and odorous perfume of food street vendors waft deliciously throughout this action-packed middle grade read by debut author, Weng Wai Chan. Set in the turbulent early 1940s in pre-war Singapore,Lizard's Taleis an exotic dim sum steamer full of mystery, dubious characters, spies and espionage that barely takes a breath.

Lizard is an all but orphaned boy eking out an existence in Singapore's Chinatown. Home is a windowless cubicle above a tailor's shop and survival means he has to resort to charging money for writing other people's letters and petty theft. It's an unsavoury childhood at best and one he is keen to abandon.

He yearns to return to his home by the sea at Changi, which he shared with his enigmatic Uncle Archie, who has been his guardian since his parents died but after Uncle Archie mysteriously disappears and fails to return home one day, Lizard is left alone and vulnerable. So when he is coerced into a job for the cor…

Review: This Is My Song

Perhaps the greatest expression of song is Yaxley's exceptionally lyrical prose. This is My Song is a sweeping story told in three parts across three continents, embracing three monumental periods of time. The story of young Rafael Ullmann's rising love for music amidst the growing tensions of the 1940s is chocked with heartbreak and wrenching disappointment.

He survives the horrors of a Nazi concentration camp but at the cost of losing his passion for the thing he loved most, music. His song lies withered, abandoned and forgotten like a childhood pet that died long ago. By the time his daughter, Annie arrives, Rafi has accepted his world of silence and regret.

Annie is a child of the sweeping isolation of the Canadian prairie lands, yet she is a bird eager to fly and seeks a freedom she cannot enjoy with her parents. It is her son, Joe, an uncertain modern-day Aussie youth seeking a solid sense of self from a history he knows nothing about, that eventually helps them all reu…

Review: Secrets of a Schoolyard Millionaire

It's a premise that most kids regardless of entrepreneurial motivation will find irresistible, having a zillion (read: million) dollars virtually thrown into their laps to spend with unrestricted abandon and no adult involvement.

This is the princely predicament young Tess finds herself struggling through along with her best mate, Toby. Struggling, because despite their best efforts, spending a gazillion (read: million) dollars as 10-year-olds is not as straightforward as walking into a candy store. It takes more cunning than a weasel and a whole lot of guts especially as said million is the former spoil of her no-good, recently arrested, criminal backyard neighbour.

As Tess and Toby endeavour to right wrongs, distribute funds multifariously and maintain a low profile (which is difficult to uphold thanks to their philanthropic habit of doling out free lollipops and wearing sunglasses indoors - because that's what millionaires do), they encounter more and more moral hurdles an…

Natural Disasters: Fire Fire

This cluster of picture books and middle grade novels has been on my desk since last summer, the advent of winter extinguishing the heat of urgency to share them. It’s hard to feel the desperation of draught and the destructive fear of fire when it’s eight degrees outside and rain is pummelling against the window panes like it will never end. But it has ended and here, in Queensland like many other parts of Australia, the draught which never ended has ignited more anguish and despair. The beauty of these titles though is their ability to transcend sadness and instil hope. Natural disasters will always be a major part of Australian life. Giving kids the ability to understand and manage this is paramount to survival. These commemorative releases do so with candour and compassion.

Ella and the Ocean
Bentley's absolutely captivating illustrations will stir heartstrings into dust-devils of delight as they depict Ella's story of isolation and wonder.

Ella lives in the red-dirt coun…

Sojourns and Celebrations: Pippa Takes Off

Pippa pigeon has certainly been clocking up her flying hours the last month or so. In case you haven't been able to keep up with her feathered fiascoes, here's a pictorial collage from the first couple of Book Launches for Pippa's self-titled story, PIPPA! Enjoy. 
If you want to meet the real Pippa and her amazing chaperon, aka me, Dimity Powell, please do not ignore your urge to get in touch. We'd both love the chance to visit your school, library, care centre, bookshop or event. Assurance Pledge: Pippa is 100% house-trained and exemplary in confined spaces with small humans.
If you can't be bothered scrolling through these book launch happy snaps, check out the mini-movie below for a few of our best moments. (Photo credits to all and sundry who attended, Maria Parenti-Baldey, and George Ivanoff) Pippa Book Launches August 2019

Review: Under The Same Sky

If you're the type to pick a picture book by its cover, you'll find it hard to walk past Under the Same Sky. Its sumptuous velvety blue cover is bedecked with shining rose gold stars in the same glinting foil as the looping title. Stars shoot through the night sky although we don't yet know what they might portend.

Once inside we are plunged into the worlds of two young children who despite living on opposite sides of the world share a common wish - to share their lives as friends. It's an immense concept, wanting and waiting for someone when you are so very far away from them. This story about a city-dwelling nameless boy and countryside nameless girl, explores the desire to reduce distance with metaphoric reality.

The boy draws on figurative comparison - like the sun and moon...always seeking...the sky and the sea...always apart - in an effort to understand his situation. The longing is always there but so is the separation until realisation dawns and with a bit of…

Review: Vincent and the Grandest Hotel On Earth

If you want that eat-all-the-icecream-you-want-super-satisfied feeling, read this exceedingly grand book. Chock-a-block filled with joie de vivre, llamas and teeny tiny dogs, this is a rollicking tale of following your heart's desire, grabbing opportunity by the horns and pure exuberant fun.

Look between the witty one-liners and fabulously named rooms of the Grandest Hotel on Earth, though and you'll find a story imbued with heart promoting the courage to dream.

Vincent is ordinary and often overlooked until the day not-so-ordinary, Florence Wainwright-Cunningham III invites him to her family's hotel establishment high in the Mabombo Ranges. Armed with nothing but his toothbrush and his grandfather's fantastical shoe-cleaning box, Vincent embarks on a journey of marvellous discovery.

Although miles out of his comfort zone, Vincent soon adapts to the grandeur and unbelievable improbabilities the Hotel presents. He learns to love the art of shoe shining and repair whic…

Book Bites: Father's Day Fun

Roll out the wheelbarrow. You’re going to need it to hold the barrow-load of beaut books tossing around to share with Dad this Father’s Day. These are some of the best funny-bone-tickling picture books around right now plus I’ve thrown in something that helps Dad maintain his ‘legendary’ status. As if he needed any help…

Dad Hacks: 101 Easy Tips to Save Families Time and Money
Celebratory chippie, Rob Palmer, has thrown together a truly gob-stopping compendium of DIY hacks, many originating from his hugely successful YouTube Channel. Conveniently grouped into categories that cover every skill from surviving life around the home with kids, DIY basics, the great outdoors and even baking, I tell you, this page-by-page guide is easy to read and understand. Best of all, the hacks actually work! I love Palmer’s down-to-earth, laconic chatty style. 

He shares his survival secrets (a few words of backstory accompany many of his tips) with sincerity born from experience (having three young kids …

Review: Detention

Tristan Bancks signed my copy of Detention with a note hoping it kept me turning pages. This book lived up to that promise and then some. Packed with page-turning tension and relentless drama, this is one middle grade novel that may cause a few kids to miss their dinner call.

Yet despite the raw gritty urgency that suffuses nearly every page and the elevated sense of dread and desperation that keeps your heart in top gear, the pace is never too manic nor too hectic to enjoy the energising mix of edgy excitement and sincere emotion Bancks does so well.

Dan is an inner suburban boy living on the outer perimeters of life. He’s classified as trailer park trash because of his permanent residence at the social-economically deprived Midgenba caravan park. It’s a title that comes with an ineradicable smear of hopeless. Deep down though, Dan’s a good kid, a caring kid. The type of kid who’ll risk his own face to save a vicious dying dog, which he does one day after finding Rosco tied up and aba…

Review: Window Of Hope

Had the word disabled not featured in the blurbs, this story would have been even twice as impacting. The preclude to Max's situation however in no way diminishes the extreme beauty and elegance both author, Vescio and illustrator, Haughton demonstrate telling this exquisite tale about one little girl's seclusion and isolation from the rest of world.

The seasons parade relentlessly past Max's window of confinement as do her opportunities to play with others her own age. Yet Max never appears overtly forlorn. Her large liquid eyes reflect a subdued resignation, an acceptance of things as they are for they feel 'safe and comfortable, ...right'.

Then one day a visitor appears at Max's window, a small fragile thing with a vibrant red beak and perky nature. At first, because the small bird only has one leg, Max presumes it is broken, perhaps like her. But as is often the way with wild creatures, the bird spares little time or thought on its apparent deficiencies r…

Review: The Surprising Power of a Good Dumpling

Wai Chim's latest YA is a tempting hot pot of teenage coming-of-age angst, family values, cultural cohesion, mental health oh and yes, dumplings! This is a hearty, satisfying read about Anna, the eldest child in a Chinese immigrant family who rely on the family restaurant to survive. That premise alone could have been redolent with cultural stereotypical clich├ęs however Chim has blended Anna's story with the careful addition of a host of interesting and authentic ingredients; characters like, Rory, who is the local delivery boy for the restaurant and also, ultimately Anna's first love and saviour.

As Anna trudges through her 11th year in High School, she is repeatedly put upon to keep the home fires burning for her younger tween sister, Lily and 6-year-old baby brother, Michael. Their overworked father is rarely at home, dossing in the restaurant storeroom under a cover of avoidance.

Perhaps the character that both disturbs and delights the most is Ma, Anna's mother w…

Shout Out: Maria Marshall A Picture Book Haven

Maria Marshall is a fellow SCBWI member hailing from North America. She's a seasoned traveller, avid wildlife photographer and passionate contributor to all things Kids' Lit who loves using picture and chapter books to make reading and nature fun for children. I might never have met her had our paths not crossed at the Sydney Australian East New Zealand SCBWI Conference last February, (thanks to Vivian Kirkfield who introduced us!) As Maria states, encounters like these spur inspiration and that special kind of camaraderie and admiration that lingers long after the flight home.

Maria impressed me immediately with her attentiveness and drive to absorb as much of my exuberant volley of picture book love as I could fire at her (rushed exchanges are often the norm at these events). We both knew we wanted to share more and after she allowed me to sign a very personal copy of At The End of Holyrood Lane for her, she invited me to be part of the wonderful sanctuary of picture book lo…

Review: The Boy In The Big Blue Glasses

Sammy is sad. His eyesight is not the best but worse is his dented sense of self-esteem and identity. Forced to wear big blue glasses to enable better sight, Sammy feels they now segregate him from the rest of the world: his peers and family. All he wants is to feel like his old-self again. He does everything he can to bypass wearing his glasses but they always find their way back to him.

Despite assurances from the grown-ups in his life that the glasses make him look more handsome and heroic than he's ever looked (their acclamations only serve to define his difference), Sam is unconvinced, feeling lost, alienated and alone, even more so when one disastrous school day, his best friend, George is away sick.

Then, after a few innocent digs from his classmates persuade him to clean his glasses, Sam discovers a whole different world within his classroom and his way of viewing his situation dramatically improves.

Gervay's considered story from a small boy's point of view is su…