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I had another wonderful year reading many great children’s titles. Here are my top picks. They may not have been published in 2014, but I read them this year and fell in love with them.
The Mighty Lalouche
by Matthew Olshan (Author), Sophie Blackall (Illustrator)
I love this book because it works on so many levels. Set in Paris, Lalouche is a postman, but when electric cars replace his job he turns to boxing to make a living. He is nimble and small, yet mighty.
Why it works?
It has an adult main character, but children will relate to being overlooked because of their small size. Lalouche doesn’t give up. The boxing is child-friendly punch ups and you want to barrack for Lalouche! Great history lessons at the end of the book. The illustrations are whimsical of Paris.
by Kyo Maclear (Author), Isabelle Arsenault (Illustrator)
Spork’s mum is a spoon and his dad is a fork. They love him just as he is, but the other cutlery don’t see where he fits as he is neither a spoon or a fork.
Why it works?
Children will relate to their parents loving them for who they are, but struggling to fit in socially and the attempts Spork goes to connect with the other cutlery. I love that the book doesn’t paint over the lows of the character, yet Spork finds his own special place in the world when he is the only one who can help. Great twist at the end!
Dogs Don’t Do Ballet
by Anna Kemp (Author), Sara Ogilvie (Illustrator)
Biff is a dog who doesn’t do dog stuff and all he wants to do is ballet.
Why it works?
A dog who is dog-darned determined to be a ballet dancer. Children will benefit from the resilience to keep going when everything tells you should give up.
Early chapter books/Early Junior Fiction
Friday Barnes: Girl Detective
by R.A. Spratt
My new favourite series of books. Friday is a very mature girl who solves a bank robbery and uses the reward money to send herself to the most exclusive school, Highcrest Academy. On arrival, Highcrest is a crime hot-bed and there are many mysteries for Friday to solve.
Why it works?
Great character name – Friday! Friday is smart, but socially awkward with a dead pan sense of humour. She doesn’t compromise on who she is, what she wears (I love her hat) and she finds her own feet at school. Friday has one great friend and roommate Melanie, a fantastic arch nemesis in Ian Wainscott, a supportive uncle, clueless scientist parents and many mysteries to solve, including a Yeti. I can’t wait to read book two, Under Suspicion. Watch out Sherlock Holmes!
Jake in Space: Moon Attack
by Candice Lemon-Scott
Another great series. Moon Attack is the first in a series of six books to be released in 2014 and 2015. Jake is sent to remedial driving school on the moon when he has failed his license again.
Why it works?
Kids will love the fact that young boys and girls learn to drive space crafts much earlier than they are allowed to in real life. They will love summer camp, but set on the moon and that people now live on other planets in the solar system. It is fast paced, fun and a great mystery for Jake to solve.
Older Junior Fiction
My Life is an Alphabet
by Barry Jonsberg
Candice Phee is a 12 year old girl and she is asked to submit a journal based on the 26 letters of the alphabet. Candice is the glue that holds her family together and brings joy to those around her through all the ups and downs in her life.
Why it works?
Candice is a strong, caring character that is well developed, quirky and yet relatable to all people. Despite being a misfit, she doesn’t see it that way in her world and she does what she can for those around her. I love the recount style of the book and each journal entry has a fully developed storyline and idea. Funny and poignant, a great read.
The Fault in our Stars
by John Green
Hazel has terminal cancer, but has received treatment which has extended her life. At a Cancer Kids Support Group Hazel meets her best friend Augustus Waters.
Why it works?
Just read my whole blog post dedicated to it.
So what were your top reads for this year?
Scorching Aussie Christmas
What a scorcher! Sweat dripped off my forehead. A massive heatwave hit Queensland. The hottest Australian Christmas on record ever and here I am stuck driving out to the middle of whoop-whoop with my whole family.
“How much longer to Uncle Ned’s and Auntie Karen’s farm?” I complained.
“Jake, you know Blackall is far away!” said Mum.
“It’s not all black. It’s all dust. It should be called Dustall,” joked Dad.
“Ha, ha. That’s so corny, Dad,” said Lisa.
“Mum, can you turn the air-conditioning up?” I asked.
“Rrrr,” groaned Mum, giving me the not-one-more-word look.
“I’m almost as scorched as a scorched almond!” said Dad, laughing at himself.
“Seriously Dad, enough. Those aren’t even jokes,” said Lisa.
Whoosh! Splutter-splutter STOP!
Steam poured out from under the hood.
That’s not good, I thought.
Dad popped the bonnet and checked the engine. “Radiator’s gone! I’ll need to call for help.”
This was perfect! What’s worse than being stuck in the outback? Not going out or heading back home, I thought.
Was it a mirage? No a miracle on wheels. A blurred haze of rusted steel chugged straight towards us.
“Hi Jensen’s. I’m Steve. You’re heading to Ned’s and Karen’s for Christmas?” called Steve from his old tractor.
“Too right. We’re having a bit of car trouble,” said Dad. “Can you give us a tow?”
“Sure can! I’ll have you hooked up in no time.”
And we chugged slowly behind Steve all the way to Ned and Karen’s farm.
“Thanks mate,” said Dad, shaking Steve’s hand. “Come in for a drink?”
“No, I have to get to my own celebrations. Glad to help.”
“Well that’s an entrance,” cried Uncle Ned.
“Merry Christmas!” shouted Auntie Karen, squeezing me so hard and covering me in kisses.
“Where’s the kids?” asked Dad.
“Oh, floating up in the dam. That’s where we set up Christmas!”
I couldn’t have been more wrong. We floated in tubes on the dam, barbecued Christmas lunch, ate under the tarp and slept in our swags under the stars.
It was a dam good Christmas!
Don’t be scared of a good critique
For some writers when you hear the word ‘critique’ you want to bite off all your nails. I still get a small amount of butterflies in my stomach before a critique and even more nervous when I sit in front of an editor.
While I think it is nerve wracking, I have learned so much from other people reading my work in my writing group, swapping critiques with friends over email and for paid editor appointments.
How to get the most out of a critique?
1. Sit in on a critique session at a writing group first to see what the process is like. Have agreed rules.
2. Find someone you trust or a group of writers you feel comfortable showing your work to. Talk about your expectations and then swap critiques.
3. Be open to what others have to say and listen to them fully.
You never know which bit of advice will pay off. One editor appointment I went to last year didn’t feel so great. But she gave me one fresh idea that helped transform a whole manuscript.
4. You don’t have to agree.
I sometimes get varying critiques. While helpful, it can be confusing too.
5. I choose which pieces of advice I think will work.
Sometimes I try different things and it works and other times it doesn’t.
6. It’s okay to put your work away.
Sometimes you develop a love/hate relationship with your work. One editor asked me to do something completely amazing and fresh to a manuscript I showed her. It was confronting. In fact, I was so scared it sat in a drawer for five months. Today, I pulled it out for the first time to write it.
When to get a paid critique?
I recently sent a picture book off for a manuscript assessment. I was ready for a good critique. I had worked on the manuscript and got is as polished as I could. I’d had advice from editors and had it critiqued in my writing group and I was now stuck.
To be honest, I was a little nervous. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I was pleasantly surprised. I was greatly encouraged by the feedback and instead of sending me into a hole to hide, I actually couldn’t wait to get back to writing. It was the best money I have spent. It really helped me to see the strengths and weaknesses of my manuscript.
I can tell you I have learned so much from other writers letting me see their work. It is a privilege and it encourages me to show my work to them.
Hopefully, you will enjoy critiquing, as much as you can.
Do you have any tips on how to survive a critique? Share your tips below.
As soon as you start to dip your toes in the kid lit world, you quickly make a lot of friends with rather friendly, zany, fun, creative types like yourself who like to call themselves writers, illustrators or both. You also end up attending their book launches.
And can I say there is nothing more thrilling than to celebrate this milestone with the very people who understand all the blood, sweat and tears that go into producing the pages, words and illustrations all beautifully bound together in that now tangible object, the book.
A book launch is a celebration for all involved including the author, illustrator, publisher, bookshop for the sales, family, friends and fans.
Over the weekend I had the pleasure of attending two book launches for two very talented Queensland authors who have also become my friends.
Animal-lover and advocate, Samantha Wheeler launched her second book Spud & Charli, published by the University of Queensland Press at Riverbend Books in Bulimba on Friday night.
The book follows Charli as she heads off to riding camp where she is matched with the somewhat ugly duckling called Spud, a former racehorse. Also there’s the dreaded bats and the Hendra Virus risk that scares Charli. Young girl readers will love this horse riding adventure. Here’s a great review already on Spud & Charli.
Space cadet, Candice Lemon Scott launched the first in a series of six books, published by New Frontier called Jake in Space: Moon Attack at Black Cat Books, Paddington on Saturday.
Jake is learning to drive at space car driving school when he discovers a plot to blow up the moon. In order to save the day and the moon, Jake puts his lacking driving skills to the test. This book is guaranteed to thrill young boy readers with space, cars and things blowing up. Two more Jake in Space titles are to be released this year and three in 2015. Check out the Jake in Space website.
So here are some things I’ve learned from attending a lot of book launches in the last year.
1) Buy the book before the launch starts. It’s a great idea to support our independent retailers.
2) Have any camera device ready to snap an impromptu photo, just as the author/illustrator is breezing past you. When they stop to say hello, ask them to pose for a photo with you. This works, of course if you know them. Smile Candice!
3) Have a notepad or app to jot down dot points when they are giving their presentation.
4) Go enjoy some snacks first and as the queue gets shorter, get your book signed then. This is a good time to ask for a photo if this is your first time meeting the author or illustrator.
5) Don’t be afraid to talk to people. Network and you will get to meet some of your favourite authors and illustrators that way. They go to these events too, to support their colleagues.
6) Have a business card ready in case a relevant industry professional asks for your contact details. It makes you look professional.
7) Enjoy yourself and the snacks.
Remember the cool ideas for your own book launch. I hope you enjoy meeting an author or illustrator at a book launch in your area soon.
If you are a kid with an imagination, or even if you think you don’t have much of one, the Sydney Story Factory is likely to generate plenty of it for you as soon as you step inside, and that is inside an alien carcass!
Don’t believe me, here’s the proof. The whole store is decked out like an extra-terrestrial’s skeleton. All classes take place at the back of the store, right at the alien’s heart.
Sounds great, right!
Who can come?
The programs suit upper-primary and high-school students who have learnt some of the basics of writing. It doesn’t matter if you find writing a bit hard.
Reasons to go
The tutors make writing fun. You get to write all kinds of stories about zany things. It’s not boring.
You only have to share one volunteer tutor with two or three kids. So much better than school where you have to share one teacher with what, like 20 something other students. They will help you write something really cool.
You leave with a published piece of your work after each session to show whoever you want. Total bragging rights!
You will make new friends.
Reasons not to go
There are none.
Even if English isn’t your strongest, that doesn’t matter. Any young people are welcome, whether you are Indigenous or from a non-English speaking background. The tutors are great and they are there to help you.
Types of programs
There are after-school programs and programs run on Sunday’s and in school holidays.
You can even get your school teacher to bring your class on an excursion for a two-hour workshop in school time.
Reasons to convince your parents, caregivers or teachers to bring you
You will develop your language skills.
You can communicate your thoughts and feelings better. Happier kids = happier parents/adults.
You start to like writing.
It makes you more confident in yourself and at your school work.
You enjoy having your opinions heard and being able to express them in your own writing.
For parents and adults
Why can’t all classrooms be like this?
The Sydney Story Factory is a not-for-profit and is located at 176 Redfern Street, Redfern, Sydney. For more information visit their website www.sydneystoryfactory.org.au.
I visited the Sydney Story Factory when I went to Sydney for the SCBWI Conference in July 2014. Even adults don’t want to leave, like me!
I have to admit, I cheated. I saw the movie before I read the book. The movie, is an excellent and very close adaptation of the book, and yes, I cried a lot. Although seeing the movie first did not prepare me for the onslaught of constant tears streaming down my face, while I read my way through the book in the middle of the night. Be prepared to stay up late with lots of tissues!
Now if you don’t know what The Fault in Our Stars is, it is today’s equivalent of Nicholas Sparks’s book A Walk to Remember, also a movie starring Shane West and Mandy Moore, which I watched endlessly when it came out. I have to say, John Green, I prefer your version. It is less schmaltzy and saccharine, seeming to be a more realistic romance story.
What I loved:
Last week I was in a race. I applied for a dream writing-related job, I attended a book launch for Wendy Orr’s latest book, Rescue on Nim’s Island and I went to my second CYA conference. I’ve spent so many months preparing for this wonderful conference. I networked, I had three editor pitches, caught up with old friends and made new friends and I absorbed all I could from workshops. The conference was fantastic, exhausting and all over in a blink of an eye. I can’t wait for next year!