Tag Archives: Australian Authors

Ming & Flo Fight for the Future: (The Girls Who Changed the World #1) – Jackie French

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Harper Collins

March 2022

  • ISBN: 9781460760208
  • ISBN 10: 1460760204
  • List Price: 16.99 AUD

A brand new series from Jackie French is always cause for great excitement, and this one is going to be a corker, given this fabulous start!

We have all been awed by Jackie’s wealth of historical novels and her indomitable female characters over the years. Now younger readers have the opportunity to examine and reflect upon the past, with its many, often hidden, layers while becoming fully immersed in an exciting and engaging narrative.

Young Ming Qong wonders why so much of history fails to mention girls and women, because surely they also contributed to the events that have shaped both Australia and the world. She imagines what it would be like to step back in time and forge destinies as an intrepid explorer or a wise ruler. When a strange purple-robed character appears and introduces herself as “Herstory”, Ming’s chance to see and experience the past is at hand, though not at all as she might have pictured it.

Instead of some grand setting, Ming is transported back to a drought-stricken, barren farm in the late 19th century where young Flo and her mother, try desperately to survive while the man of the family is largely absent – thankfully, as on the rare occasions he is home, it means drunken rages and beatings. When Flo’s mother is killed by snake-bite, Ming/Flo seeks refuge with her mother’s sister, Aunt McTavish, who lives ‘comfortably’ in Sydney. Her stay with her wealthy aunt introduces Ming to many new revelations about the past, especially of pre-Federation Australia: the long fight for both federation and women’s suffrage, the plight of the poor, the lack of education or indeed any other opportunities for betterment, and a far more diverse population than Ming has ever read about.

Can Ming help make a difference? She does her very best by helping Aunt McTavish in her mission to petition for a new referendum on the question of Federation but also, in her work with Louisa Lawson, for the advancement of women. As well, she instigates changes in her own right – teaching at the Raggedy School and rescuing orphaned Emily from dire circumstances.

It’s a cracking read all round. There is, of course, far more than the ‘big picture’ events enhancing this storyline, and Ming’s compassion, insight and empathy make for a terrific, positive example for readers – without any preachiness. The various characters who ably demonstrate that there are multiple aspects to anyone’s personality are memorable, and while we leave most of them behind at the end of the book, we do have the next one to deliciously anticipate, where Ming along with her brother, will be off on another time travel adventure.

This is eminently suited to your readers in Upper Primary up to Year7 or even 8, particularly your Mighty Girls, to whom I heartily recommend it. Congratulations Jackie on yet another fine series, again inspired by your own family “herstory”!

Caroline Magerl – Sunshine Coast Superstar

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Truly I am so very lucky to be able to count Caroline (and her lovely husband) as friends. She is not just a hugely talented creator of children’s books but an incredible artist. On her recent trip to London and beyond, as part of the Illustrators Exhibition at Chris Beetles Gallery, she delighted all of us with her gorgeous watercolours and photographs which formed a vicarious trip for we poor stay-at-homes.

How thrilled am I to be the recipient of one of these treasures?!! Today I received this beautiful gift in the mail to my utter astonishment and absolute joy. Thank you so much Caroline xxx. I can’t wait for our catch up to thank you in person for such a generous and thoughtful gift.

And in other exciting news, I can’t wait to go back up the coast as soon as possible and hopefully spot this gorgeous Sunshine Coast LIbraries bus tootling around with its colourful Caroline artwork. This is the library service that also celebrates children’s literature with the cutest story park benches all up and down the coast.

The Artist, and the Young Peoples Services Supervisor, went to town … in a beautiful Mercedes van.

Thanks Karen Gawen of/and

Sunshine Coast Libraries
and
First 5 Forever

Last time The Kid and I were up the coast we came across this beauty – one of my favourite picture books to share with small humans – who love to stamp and mess about like little dinosaurs.

And just in case you missed them – read my review of Caroline’s gorgeous new book Piano Fingers as well as Nop and Maya & Cat.

All of these marvellous books very highly recommended to you.

Round the Twist – Paul Jennings

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Penguin Australia

  • February 2022
  • ISBN: 9780140342130
  • Imprint: Puffin
  • RRP: $14.99
When an author has been voted Australia’s favourite by the children who love his work, over forty times – yes FORTY! – no one can deny his enduring appeal. When you tell your Welsh friend about this book, which combines both original stories and TV show insights, and she goes crazy because the whole family has loved RtT for years, no one can deny his global appeal either!

I was saying to someone just yesterday that, in our pursuit to promote new books, we sometimes forget that back catalogue titles also demand to be shared as each new crop of readers comes along. I am acquainted with so many young adults (that is, anyone younger than me) who exclaim with delight ‘Paul Jennings books!! That’s how I got hooked on reading!’. Going right back to my very first library, I never had any PJ books on the shelves. As fast as they were being returned, some other kid was grabbing them with ferocity.

Paul’s biography (such a delightful and also poignant read) gave readers some insight into his venture into TV script-writing, but it was pretty much slanted to more mature readers. This volume is one that the kids themselves can get into, as they re-visit some favourite stories, learn more about the actors as well as the entire process of creating one of the most successful Australian children’s series ever.

Kids who have yet to experience the absurdity of Paul’s stories but have seen the TV show, now on Netflix, will be keen to pick this up, and what a way to hook those reluctant readers! I would definitely share it with the readers in my new library, but this copy is earmarked to go express post to Wales!

Highly recommended for your readers from around Year 4 upwards – don’t miss out! it’s just TOO good!!

Piano Fingers – Caroline Magerl

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Walker Books

March 2022

ISBN: 9781760652616
Imprint: Walker Books Australia
Australian RRP: $26.99
New Zealand RRP: $28.99

I have been watching the development of this truly beautiful book for around two years; from the very first balsa wood model, that was to inform the illustrations of the piano, to endearing portraits of the original subject with her little red corduroy shoes, to work-in-progress video trailers. At last, all is revealed and what a revelation it is! Once again Caroline’s evocative artwork provides the reader with the most exquisitely sensitive, and stunningly realised insight into a little person’s emotions and dreams.

Bea’s big sister is able to make beautiful music with her violin, while Bea is not at all impressed with the ‘tink’ of a triangle. She dreams of much more imposing musical interludes. And with the help of Maestro Gus, the piano ghost cat, her leap of faith propels her into a world of swirling melodies. Big sister Isla joins her in her pursuit of perfect piano fingers, and together their refrains fill hearts and minds. Your young readers will not just appreciate Bea’s experimental exploits with the piano, but easily recognise that it’s no failure to not excel at everything, especially with the support of loving siblings to help you reach out for your dream. I would predict that there will be many would-be budding tiny pianists after sharing Bea’s story – though there may be some disappointment when no Maestro Gus (who is just adorable!) materialises.

Caroline’s undeniable creative talent has earned her accolades across the world, not only as an author/illustrator but as an exhibiting artist. Her recent sojourn in the UK as invited participant in Chris Beetles’ Gallery’ annual Illustrators Exhibition, alongside such guest luminaries as Michael Foreman, Michael Morpurgo and Joanna Lumley, is indicative of her stature as an illustrator/artist. Her work is always tenderly realised and expertly rendered, and she is always able to capture the very essence of any scene she paints. Aside from her boundless talent, those of us privileged to know her, are also aware of her gracious warmth and generous nature.

My highest recommendation for this stunning book, for readers from around 4 years upwards. I fully expect more award nominations and recognition to come Caroline’s way once Piano Fingers tinkles across the literary landscape. This is one to make my heart sing!

Searching for Charlotte: The Fascinating Story of Australia’s First Children’s Author/s-Kate Forsyth, Belinda Murrell

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Paperback | Nov 2020 | National Library of Australia | 9780642279699

AUD$34.95, NZD$39.99

I had hoped to review this when it was released – sadly, the publicists did not get the memo and I missed out.

But it was always going to find its place in our collection given both its subject matter and the authors. After some hiccups with our suppliers this term it finally arrived and no sooner was it processed than it came home with me earlier this week!!

I may have had a wait but it was worth it – without a doubt. I had known about Australia’s first book published for children – Mother’s Offering to her Children: By a Lady, Long Resident in New South Wales – by Charlotte Atkinson for years and when I was living/teaching in Canberra a decade ago was so privileged to see this rare book in a special ‘behind the scenes’ tour of the NLA. In addition to that, I had, of course, read Belinda Murrell’s The River Charm which was largely inspired by this remarkable woman.

When I first learned that Belinda and her sister Kate were working on this joint history of their ancestor, I was tremendously keen to read and learn more.

The young Charlotte who travelled to Australia aged 15 to take up a governess’ post was a girl clearly of astonishing courage and fortitude. Her meeting with James Atkinson on that long and risky voyage, and her subsequent marriage to this impressive and energetic man is the stuff of romantic fairy tales. Their beautiful home, Oldbury, in the Southern Highlands of NSW and their growing family of lively children were highly regarded and no doubt envied by the colonial society of the times. Sadly, as so often happens, especially in the oft-perilous times of the 19th century, fairy tales can crash and Charlotte’s certainly did. The death of her beloved James and her inexplicable marriage two years later to a man of dubious character sent her entire life into a downward, dark and depressing spiral of abuse and personal danger to both herself and her children. Their escape from the increasingly manic Barton and Charlotte’s ensuing long and painful battle to retain the rights to her children and the income from the estate has every harrowing hallmark of the bleakest of melodramas – although an all too common scenario for many women, both past and present.

Travelling through their research and family – both past and present – with Belinda and Kate was the most enchanting way to spend some quality ‘me time’ at this frazzled end of term time. My admiration and awe of this family’s achievements is second only to my regard for their innate warmth and generosity of spirit. The discovery that we both have long ago connections to the Norman de Warrene family (and there’s even some Warren connection in their later history) was a bonus joyful fillip that warmed my heart.

I can certainly endorse the many glowing recommendations this book has garnered since its publication late last year. Whether as a personal read or a significant literary ‘memoir’ of real interest to readers both young and old, I would urge you to seek out a copy.

Untwisted: the story of my life – Paul Jennings

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Allen & Unwin

September 2020

Imprint:A & U Children

RRP: $34.99

When I took over the reins of my first school library Paul Jennings was the undisputed king of children’s books and those on our shelves were, in fact, not there very often! To say they were on high rotation through circulation is an understatement and there was a constant need to buy new copies as they became shabbier and shabbier. This wasn’t my first encounter with Paul’s genius though as I had been reading his stories aloud to my various classes for years and without fail, there would be paroxysms of laughter, sharp intakes of breath and gasping groans depending on the particular story.

And now this – a memoir which is achingly honest, often very moving while at other times extremely funny, as Paul peels back the layers of his multi-faceted life and reflects on his careers as teacher, lecturer, speech therapist, author, script writer as well as complex relationships with others and his struggle with depression. So deeply involved with his reflections was I that I read way past my regular ‘bedtime’ over several nights until I finished.

I love the way this is structured. With his typical skill Paul chooses not to tell his story in a linear chronological way but roams across various periods of time and even within these intersperses with additional anecdotes. Far from being disjointed this is almost like enjoying a conversation with him which makes for a truly engaging reading experience.

If you want to know more about the craft of writing, read this. If you want to know more about compassionate and empathetic teaching, read this. If you want to know more about living with mental health issues, read this. If you want to know more about making children laugh, cry and love books, read this. And most especially, if you want insight into this giant of children’s literature in Australia, read this.

What can I say? This is without doubt the best biographical book I’ve read in a long time about a person for whom I have the greatest admiration. I’ve never been in the right place at the right time to meet Paul but oh! how I would love to!

Highly recommended for all lovers of great Australian children’s literature and this acclaimed author.

Clancy of the Overflow (The Matilda Saga #9) – Jackie French

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Harper Collins

October 2019

ISBN: 9781460754771

ISBN 10: 1460754778

Imprint: HarperCollins – AU

List Price: 29.99 AUD

This little hobby of mine has brought me so much richness. I’m able to read the newest titles from so many fabulous creators. But as you probably have realised I stand in complete awe of our maven of literature for children, teens and adults, Jackie French, and what a privilege for me to have the opportunity to read the last of the Matilda saga well before its release date.

So many of us have followed the travails of Jackie’s characters both historical and fictional, spanning a century, and now the narrative comes full circle encompassing both the past and the contemporary. The characters with which we have engaged and loved have made the past come alive and the present realised in a sweeping story of strong women particularly and vivid history.

Those readers who are familiar with the series (who isn’t?) will expect that this last volume will continue our connection with Jed and Sam, Scarlett and William plus Alex, as well as Nancy so I don’t really feel the need to expand on the plot – because clearly you will want to read it for yourself. What I want to focus on is the scope of this body of work – as Charlotte would say, arguably Jackie’s ‘magnum opus’. By saying that I would not imply that Jackie has reached her peak or we can expect any less in the future but to my mind this series represents and encapsulates so much of what Jackie strives to achieve and bring to her audience as well as embodying so much of herself in so many ways.

Jackie’s unequalled ability to place her readers firmly in the period of which she writes and the skill with which she connects us to the characters is unparalleled. But even more so is her deftness with interweaving so many threads of historical narrative throughout her work: to do so over a series of nine books is to my mind a superb accomplishment. This final volume of the series not only continues the narrative but expertly brings in the references to earlier books and the exquisite blending of fact and fiction is enthralling. Of course, as readers we hang on waiting to know the fate of Jed and Sam, as well as Scarlett, but now we are also privy to the amazing love story of Clancy and Rose – as well as the unfulfilled connection between Clancy and Matilda. As a long time devotee of Banjo Paterson (thanks Dad!) this blending of history and imagination just delights me so much and Jackie has the innate skill of making the events and circumstances so utterly believable.

My regard for Jackie goes well beyond her unerring skill as a storyteller, a diligent researcher and an accurate historian. I know her to be a warm, generous and caring human with a drive that is enviable and a nature that is beautiful. She is truly an admirable Australian whose passion for our history – whether good or bad – and our unique culture is to be celebrated.

In case you haven’t picked up on it – I cannot recommend this highly enough – and all I can say is if you haven’t read the first eight books – shame on you

Story Time Stars: Favourite Characters from Australian Picture Books – Stephanie Owen Reeder

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Storytime

NLA

September 2019

ISBN:   9780642279408

RRP: $24.99

 

During the week the Story Time: Australian Children’s Literature exhibition was officially opened at the National Library of Australia.

Judging by the photos posted by many friends it was a superb occasion with the glitterati of our children’s literary creators and supporters in attendance.

To commemorate this special celebration a range of products is available but most significantly this truly beautiful book compiled by Stephanie Owen Reeder. This retrospective look at over a century of children’s publishing features outstanding characters from so many much-loved stories. I can only imagine the difficulty that the author had in narrowing her selection down but also, no doubt, the immense joy in presenting each of these in a way that is both informative and light-hearted.

From the 1910s with Albert the Magic Pudding to the 2000s and the always outrageous Mr Chicken this is a truly inter-generational volume that will delight everyone who picks it up. Everyone in the family from grandparents to toddlers will find familiar and fun friends from their favourite childhood books.

It is a delight to hold in one’s hands with the quality of production that we have come to associate with NLA publications and would make a beautiful gift for either someone who cares deeply about our children’s books or perhaps to demonstrate to others our fabulous creators over time

An extensive afterword details the work of so many in preserving the history of our children’s literature including that of the NLA and also the National Centre for Australian Children’s Literature.

Whether you are looking for an addition to your personal shelves as a lover of our Australian classics for children or perhaps as a professional reference as you guide youngsters through the rich history of our literature for little people, this is a sublime choice.

I cannot recommend it highly enough – just divine! And not leaving my shelves!

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The Puffin Book of Bedtime Stories

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Penguin

9780143796732

July 2, 2019

Puffin

RRP $29.99

bedtime

If you are looking for a special gift for a little reader – and it’s never too early to think about Christmas, let’s face it! – this would be the perfect fit. Eight of Australia’s best- loved picture books from some of our best and brightest authors and illustrators are beautifully presented in this hardcover omnibus.

Bed Tails by Meredith Costain and Mitch Vane

Sophie’s Big Bed
 by Tina Burke

Baby Tawnies by Judy Paulson

It’s Bedtime, William! by Deborah Niland

One Very Tired Wombat by Renee Treml

A Bear and a Tree by Stephen Michael King

Jesse by Tim Winton and Maureen Prichard

Come Down, Cat by Sonya Hartnett and Lucia Masciullo

Take a peek inside here.

Whether as a read-aloud for snuggling up on these wintery days and nights or for the newly independent reader this will be the ideal choice to inspire imagination and a love of stories.

The special touches of the pages framed in lilac tones and the glorious endpapers along with the beautiful textured binding all combine to make this a treasured addition to the bookshelf.

Be prepared for many cries of ‘read it again!’ from your chosen audience.

Highly recommended for little ones from toddler upwards.

Australia Illustrated – Tania McCartney

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ausillustrated

Exisle Publishing

November 2016

ISBN 9781925335217

RRP $29.99

 

Five years ago while the teacher-librarian at Red Hill Primary, Canberra, I invited a local author about whom I had heard good things to come on an author visit to talk about her popular ‘Riley’ picture books.  Elegant Tania McCartney walked into my library and we were instantly friends. The children were entranced by her presentation (one little boy wrote and illustrated his own Riley book the next day) and all of us looked forward to seeing more from this talented woman.

In the last few years I have watched with great pleasure as Tania’s work has grown and blossomed into books in which her creativity has gone to greater and greater heights.

During the process of this latest (and greatest) of her books it has been such a pleasure for so many of us to feel as though we had something to contribute as Tania sought opinions and feedback on ideas she was developing. Little did I know that my own granddaughters were going to provide inspiration for some of her illustrations!

Australia Illustrated takes readers – both children and adults – on a virtual trip around Australia to examine the beauties, nature, culture, icons and quirks of each of our states.

With a glorious binding to complete it, the book begins with some pages of general information about Australia as a whole. The double page spread underlining our diversity is marvellous but each page is a revelation and a delight. Tania’s sense of fun comes through in each new vista. The double page ‘café style blackboard menu’ that details so many of our iconic favourite foods is just one example and one of my personal favourites.

After this overview of our country we move from state to state seeing children from all over with their own unique local flavours and settings. Each new state’s pages is heralded with a detailed and stylistically fun map and already I have had children (and grown ups) delightedly pointing out places they have been or know.

The virtual trip takes in all that is special, unique or iconic of the individual states illustrated in such a glorious fashion that this will prove a book to which to return over and over to continually discover new details.

The overriding emotion evoked by this armchair travelogue of our great country is one of joy in all that we, as Australians one and all, and our beautiful land have to offer. I have already sent off two copies to my Welsh friends, who recently visited and were entranced by the very small snippet they saw, for their grandchildren to savour. The appeal to adults is validated by the fact that Tim, Welsh grandad, had to have it prised out of his hands to be put away for the children!

In a social climate when we are eager to encourage our young readers to embrace all that is good about our nation – the people, the diversity, the beauty and the traditions – this is a book which resonates with a patriotic pride in its purest sense.

This is a definite ‘must have’ for your library collection indeed but also for your personal bookshelves and for you to share with your friends overseas. I know ours will be treasured and enjoyed for years to come.

Australians all, let us rejoice! That we have author/illustrators of Tania’s calibre is indicative of what we have to offer to a world too often troubled with negative and destructive images.

Congratulations Tania on a simply superb creation. Roll on the lavish praise and recognition for a truly remarkable book!

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 Riley’s red planes flying over Red Hill library!

 

Postscript from Tim: As the Welsh grandad referred to, but not because I’m he, I would endorse the review wholeheartedly. As a visitor, it gives a bite-sized introduction to Australia that informs but doesn’t overwhelm. I loved it and look forward eagerly to being able to share with my grandies!