Tag Archives: Australian Authors

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

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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!

 

 

The Book That Made Me – Edited by Judith Ridge

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ISBN: 9781922244888
Imprint: WALKER BOOKS AUST

Release Date: September 1, 2016

Australian RRP: $19.99
New Zealand RRP: $22.99
Although the publishers suggest an age range of 14 up I feel that it is going to be adults who will enjoy this most. Judith Ridge has compiled a wonderful collection of anecdotes from thirty-two of Australia’s leading storytellers.  Each describes the impetus for them becoming readers and indeed writers with many engaging childhood memories or reminiscences of that moment when a book transformed the reader.

Some of us have been gobbling up books since the age of three but others have come later and by various paths. For booklovers this is a delightful retreat into the thoughts of other avid readers. And it is not just the aspect of reading that I found fascinating. For instance, when I read Simon French’s piece (I have always admired his writing) I felt immediately connected when he told of his father being a wireless operator in a Lancaster bomber based in the north of England – as was my dad. I wondered if the two fathers had known each other and then marvelled that both of them survived what was the most dangerous role in Bomber Command.

Of course it was also resonant to read of shared ‘book loves’ such as Kate Constable describing her passion for ‘Tom’s Midnight Garden’ (Phillipa Pearce) – these are the threads that bind us together as humans.  Alternatively, reading of someone’s great love of a book such as Emily Maguire’s choice – Grand Days by Frank Moorhouse – which made me think “I should try that out.”

Some of these pieces are amusing, some serious, some lyrical, some more prosaic but all are truly engaging. Shaun Tan’s quirky illustrations between each offering are both funny and apt.

Some of our girls in secondary book club might enjoy this but I have no doubt that it will be most popular with our avid reader staff.  And aside from the joy of the reading, knowing that the royalties will go to the Indigenous Literacy Foundation is a huge incentive to add this to your collection.