October this year included CBCA Book Week, (which is usually in August, but this year it was postponed a couple of months due to COVID). We’ve loved all the fabulous photos from families and schools dressing up as book characters and students putting their favourite books in the spotlight.
It’s the last day of the month and that means it’s time for members of our Top Reads Team* to share a list of their favourite books from the last 4 weeks. You’ll find most of them at your local library or favourite bookshop.
Kate Gordon grew up in a very booky house, in a small town by the sea in Tasmania. Now she’s the author of picture books, children’s novels, and novels for teenagers. We’re thrilled to have her visiting to chat to us about her writing and the setting of her new children’s novel The Heartsong of Wonder Quinn.
From the publisher:
Lonely orphan Wonder Quinn lives in the attic of Direleafe Hall with only a gloomy crow for company.
But when a spirited new student, Mabel Clattersham, befriends her in class, Wonder’s dreams seem to be coming true. As the girls grow closer, Wonder discovers her friend has a list of strange wishes: Throw a pie, leap into the sky, break someone’s heart…
What is Mabel’s big secret? Can Wonder protect her heart from being broken all over again?
The Heartsong of Wonder Quinn is an enchanting tale celebrating friendship, bravery and the importance of staying true to yourself.
On with the questions!
Direleafe Hall is a spooky, gothic setting for the school in The Heartsong of Wonder Quinn. Is it inspired by a real-world place?
It absolutely is inspired by a real place! The Midlands of Tasmania is a beautifully gothic landscape, just begging to be turned into (gently) dark and atmospheric stories. I travel along that stretch of road fairly frequently and my favourite thing to do on the trip is stare out the window at the historic buildings – some intact and some broken down by time – on the route. My favourite ones are the broken down ones and my favourite of all is an arched doorway that stands alone in a paddock, the rest of its structure vanished as if into the air. I finally researched the building and found it was a school, once. Of course, I had to set a story there!
How do you like to write: pen and paper, or typing straight into the computer?
A bit of both! I write notes on paper but I type the prose directly on the computer. I make too many mistakes to write my stories longhand. I’d need shares in Tipp-Ex.
How long did it take you to write The Heartsong of Wonder Quinn (from the first idea for the book, to publication)?
I looked up the first emails talking to my husband about my idea for this story. It was around six years ago! And I wrote a very rough first draft in 2015. The story came quickly but the process after that was slow. I’m not complaining at all – I feel like this was a book that needed time to breathe and to grow and the team at UQP had the wisdom to allow that. Sometimes things happen quickly and slowly at the same time and I think the best stories have a bit of both.
Do you have a writing tip for young writers?
I’m going to be that thousandth person telling you to read a lot – but it is so important. Apart from that … just love it. Pour all your love and all your heart and all your enthusiasm on to the page and your writing will sing with it. Write as if the world is ending. Write as if it’s the most important thing you’ll ever do. Write because you need to, and you love it. The reader will be able to see it and they will love the words you make as much as you do.
Can you tell us something about your next writing project?
Absolutely! At the moment I’m still deep in Direleafe territory, working on books two and three (and a sneaky extra story about a girl who runs away to the circus). I’m not ready to leave the world of Hollowbeak just yet!
A Crocodile in the Family by Kitty Black, illustrated by Daron Parton, Hachette Australia, ISBN 9780734419507
Aiden received a review copy of this book from Alphabet Soup.
I like the book because it was all about family. My favourite part was when they said the crocodile was helpful. My favourite characters are the crocodile and the birds. I like the pictures and the bright colours and I also like the texture of the cover, how the words pop out and some of the birds. I also liked the end picture because the crocodile and the birds were holding hands and walking with each other.
As Fast as I Can by Penny Tangey, UQP, ISBN 9780702262814
Anishka received a review copy of this book from the publisher.
Ten-year-old Vivian Hassler would like to pursue her dream of competing in the Olympics. She’s not exactly sure what she’d be good enough at to compete in, but Vivian is sure one day she could compete in the Olympics. Olivia, her best friend, supports this idea and would like to go to the Olympics herself one day too. Vivian thinks she is not even remotely good at anything (unlike Olivia) except long distance running. Vivian took part in races where she constantly won and conquered. Events take an unexpected turn – will Vivian have to give up her dream of going to the Olympics?
I think this book was targeted for readers that had interest levels in sport or just interest in stories where the main character faces difficult choices. Penny Tangey wrote As Fast As I Can and had written many other books which are all fiction and for young people. When she was in year 5, the 1992 Olympic games were held in Barcelona. Penny was inspired by the Olympics. She and her friends vowed they would become Olympic athletes. Penny wanted to write a story about girls playing competitive sport just like she did. And that was how the book As Fast As I Can was made.
I would rate this book 10 out of 10 because it is a truly magnificent book about resilience, persistence, determination and most importantly, acceptance.
James Foley is a Western Australian author, illustrator and graphic novelist. James uses a variety of materials and tools to create his books: pen and ink, pencil, charcoal and watercolour. He also uses digital tools: Adobe Photoshop, a Wacom graphics tablet, an iPad Pro and the Procreate app. His latest book is the fourth instalment in the hilarious S. Tinker Inc series: Chickensaurus.
From the publisher:
Sally Tinker, the world’s foremost inventor under the age of 12, is back with a new adventure in invention. When Sally’s nemesis hatches a fowl and poultry plot, there’s no room for the lily-livered. Sally and co will need all their pluck to return the world to its rightful pecking order.
On with the questions!
Assuming you’ve never seen a real chickensaurus, how did you design your dinosauric creatures in Chickensaurus?
I started off with some of the dinosaurs that everyone is most familiar with – T-Rex, velociraptor, stegosaurus, triceratops and pteranodon (though technically that last one is a pterosaur, not a dinosaur). I drew them normal to start with, then added chicken-y details on and gave them silly names. Sometimes the bits I added were suggested by the silly name I gave them – for example, the stegosaurus became an eggosaurus, so it’s basically a giant walking egg. Some of them just started out as a silly drawing and then I found an even sillier name for them – for example, the velociroosters turned up in my sketchbook in 2016, and there were other versions of lizardy chickens in my sketchbooks as far back as 2012.
Just how many chicken puns do you have in your archives? (Would Chickensaurus win the record for the most chicken jokes in one book?)
I hope so! (Though is that really a record that I want my name to be on? Should I be proud or ashamed?) I gathered as many silly jokes as I could and then found places for them in the book. There’s one particularly pun-filled part that I’m strangely proud of, where a character gives a long ‘villain speech’ using as many chicken and egg puns as I could fit in. It’s very, VERY silly.
Chickensaurus is Book 4 in the S. Tinker Inc series of graphic novels. You also write and illustrate picture books. What’s different about the way you go about creating your graphic novels, compared to your picture books?
They’re basically the same process; graphic novels just have A LOT more drawings and A LOT more words. But there is one difference with my writing; when I’m writing a graphic novel I write it out like a movie script. It’s mostly just what the characters say to each other, with a few descriptions of the settings or the action that are basically notes for myself. On the other hand, when I’m writing a picture book the text is usually more than just what the characters say.
Do you have one tip for young storytellers who’d like to create their own comic books or graphic novels?
Yes, and it’s an easy one – read lots of comics! It doesn’t matter if they’re superhero comics, or funny comic strips, or big fancy graphic novels … just read lots of them. And while you’re reading them, pay attention to the ways that the authors and illustrators tell you the story. Notice the things you like about the comic and maybe have a go at trying some of the same drawing or writing techniques. Notice the things you didn’t like so much about the comic and then ask yourself what you would have done differently. You can learn HEAPS just by reading other people’s work.
Can you tell us a bit about your next project?
My next two projects are a short Sally Tinker comic adventure that will go into next year’s School Magazine, and a picture book about animals in space!
Rowley Jefferson’s Awesome Friendly Adventure by Jeff Kinney with help from Greg Heffley, Penguin Australia Pty Ltd, ISBN 9781760897888
Xavier received a review copy of this book from the publisher.
Xavier’s Awesomely Amazing Book Review
When the new book arrived, I felt excited because I have been a Wimpy kid fan for a long time. I have read every book many times over, so I know the story well. The book is written by Rowley and his adventures with his best friend Greg. There are twists and turns, which you’d expect from a Wimpy kid book, but they are told from Rowley’s perspective for a change.
My favourite part would be the twist at the end (no spoilers!). My favourite character would be Greg. Life for Rowley and Greg is exciting – vacations, blizzards and weddings. Their adventures are always funny and entertaining.
I feel like kids who like adventure and funny books would love this book since it is a combination of both. Other Wimpy Kid fans would definitely like it, there is no doubt. I believe kids aged from 7 to 13 would like this book (and series). I have read them since about 7 years old and still enjoy them at almost 12.
The book is 4.5 stars out of 5 because it is funny and you want to know the ending because Rowley is making a book which is a change from the other books in the series.
However, for me the story is quite a bit shorter than other books I am reading so I read it very quickly. If you are new to reading books and like a laugh this book is for you.
Elizabella Breaks a Leg by Zoë Norton Lodge, illustrated by Georgia Norton Lodge, Walker Books Australia, ISBN 9781760652555.
The story starts when Elizabella goes to a theatre where she watched Rapunzel. She adored the show. Now she wants to put on a show in her school, but Mr Gobblefrump said no, unless she could make the entire play free. Elizabella was not discouraged and she decided to do the play. The other problem she faced was that her best friend Minnie was going to New York for good. Elizabella was thinking how to stop Minnie’s parents.
I like when Elizabella and her class went to the Rapunzel play because they talked about it and she wanted to do the play. Also, I like how Elizabella likes to do pranks such as putting undies on the flag pole. Another funny part was when Elizabella caught her brother kissing a girl. Elizabella also has a cousin called Isabeth who helps her by encouraging her.
I give this book 4.5 stars. I recommend this book for 8 and up.
Tom Jellett is a Sydney based illustrator. For over twenty years he has illustrated a number of books for children including My Dad Thinks He’s Funny by Katrina Germein, Why I Love Footy by Michael Wagner, Whale in the Bath by Kylie Westaway and the Besties series with Sporty Kids author Felice Arena. His latest picture book is Shoo You Crocodile! (with text by Katrina Germein).
From the publisher:
Shoo You Crocodile! is a fun, raucous tale for imaginative young readers and small, brave adventurers. The story offers space for play, real and imagined stories, and families can use the book to play their own make-believe monster games and learn about rhyming words.
On with the questions!
What’s your favourite illustration tool when illustrating picture books?
It has to be pencil. Prismacolor ones are my favourites … I go through a lot of them, though I found sharpening them by hand slowed me down quite a bit. I only recently bought an electric pencil sharpener ($10 from Officeworks! Insane!). It has changed my life.
When you agreed to illustrate Shoo You Crocodile! what was your first step when you sat down to get to work?
The first step, after having read the manuscript a few hundred times is to start figuring out the story within the story, for example, where the story is set, who is being chased … is it a real crocodile or is it a game? Is it set in a zoo? In a jungle? I was pretty certain early on I wanted a ‘real’ crocodile in there so I started with that and ended up with museum … once these things are decided then I can start drawing.
Did you like to play monster games yourself as a child?
I’m not sure about games, but I used to like old scary movies when I was younger. When they were in black and white they were even scarier. I was probably a bit of a scaredy cat … even Doctor Who used to scare me … still does, actually …
Do you have a tip for children who would like to try drawing ‘monster-type characters?
SHARP TEETH BIG CLAWS. The other good tip I find helpful is to start with real animals, and take bits from here and there. I think I stole this tip from Sendak’s drawings in Where the Wild Things Are. If you look at the wild things they are all sorts of bits and pieces … I think one had a parrot’s head, another looked like a bull … all mixed up!
Can you tell us a bit about your next project?
It’s not out for a little while yet, but I just finished a book which has no story at all, but is all about funny sounding words. (Some rude ones possibly … )
Minecraft: Master Builder,Mega Metropolis by Anne Rooney, Welbeck Publishing Group, ISBN 9781787393899
Kobe reviewed her own copy of this book.
For master Minecraft builders, you will know how to build, mine and craft. This book will make it much easier for you. It includes building tips, cool facts and more! Inside you’ll build road systems, housing, parks water slides and even more than before!
My favourite thing about this book is that it tells you all the steps and shows you the steps in the pictures super clearly so that it’s easier to follow. I also think it can improve by explaining what the materials are a bit more. Apart from that I think it was all pretty good.
If I would do building without this book, I would have been hopeless at building, but now this book has taught me how to build properly and beautifully. If you have any trouble building, here’s the key to it!
I hope you’ll be honoured to read this amazing book and enjoy building amazing structures in Minecraft. Try doing all of the structures in the book altogether in a single world and then it’ll look like a real city in real life! Then spawn some villagers to make the city look like it’s full of life!
Bren MacDibble is an award-winning author of books for children and young adults. She grew up in New Zealand, and then heaved on a backpack and spent a couple of years exploring the world. Bren has lived in Whanganui, Hawkes Bay, Waikato, Tauranga, Frankfurt, London, Auckland and Sydney before finally stopping off in Melbourne for 20 years, where she raised two children. She now lives in Kalbarri on the insanely gorgeous mid west coast of Australia. Across the Risen Sea is her 2020 novel for children and hit the Aus, NZ and UK shelves in August.
From the publisher:
Neoma and Jag and their small community are ‘living gentle lives’ on high ground surrounded by the risen sea that has caused widespread devastation. When strangers from the Valley of the Sun arrive unannounced, the friends find themselves drawn into a web of secrecy and lies that endangers the way of life of their entire community. Soon daring, loyal Neoma must set off on a solo mission across the risen sea, determined to rescue her best friend and find the truth that will save her village.
Across the Risen Sea is an action-packed, compelling and heartfelt middle-fiction adventure, set in a post-climate change landscape, from the multi-award winning author of How to Bee and The Dog Runner.
On with the questions!
In Across the Risen Sea your main character, Neoma bravely sails off on her own to rescue her best friend. Had you done much sailing yourself before writing the novel?
Have I done much sailing? A little. Not enough to feel completely safe on the water, but enough to understand how the sails and rigging work. When I was in my 20s I went out a couple of times on hire yachts in the Bay of Islands NZ with friends. The last time I did that I got hit by a swinging boom and went flying across the deck and landed on a stanchion and I still have a scar on my spine! My advice: when someone yells tack, duck! This person didn’t yell tack. I’m still angry at them. I sometimes go out when I’m in Auckland, the city of the sails. Last time I went out on Auckland harbour, the skipper went to take a phone call and left me in charge and a ship was coming in. So I was whispering, I have to tack! I have to tack! And he was waving his hand for me to wait. And then the ship sounded its fog horn! Those things are so loud! We had plenty of room to tack, but it was still terrifying! That noise goes right into your chest and stops your heart!
Your characters’ names all seem to match their characters perfectly. How do you come up with names for characters?
I love how the fashion for names change constantly. Names in Western Australia are fun and modern, names in Melbourne are traditional, and so I try to think about future people. What might they name their children? What’s important to them? It was easy in How to Bee, fruit and flowers. In Across the Risen Sea it was a little harder. Fish and boats are important but they are everyday so I thought about what was exotic, big cats may well become extinct if people are forced up into high country so Jaguar was easy. The moon and tides are important and so is new beginnings in this story. Neoma means new moon. Sometimes I just use names I grew up with. Saleesi was one of those.
The consequences of climate change is a recurring element in all three of your recent children’s novels. Can you tell us why you write climate change into your fiction?
I mainly write about post climate changed worlds to keep the conversation about climate change going. I realise it’s scary and when humans are scared we turn away from the thing that scares us, so by writing about children surviving in these worlds, I’m hoping to keep people looking at climate change instead of looking away. We can only solve problems we face. I’m hoping it also gives a safe fictional space for people to talk about these issues. ‘What would I do if I were Neoma?’ is easier to talk about than, ‘What would I do if my family was threatened?’. Fictional problem-solving is always easier than real life problem-solving but it uses the same brain muscles and I think everyone needs to develop more problem-solving muscles.
Do you have a tip for young writers who might like to write their own dystopian adventure stories?
Leap a little bit into the future. Change something and then write a list of all the things affected. You’ll be surprised how much everything is connected. As we’ve seen, warming temperatures lead to sea level rise, leads to coastal erosion, relocation of cities, building of dykes and sea walls, and fresh water issues. Felling forests leads to invading wild animals habitats, their extinction, excess fresh water runoff, new deserts, new diseases. You decide which ones you want to use in your story, it’ll be too hard to use them all. In truth our planet is small and EVERYTHING is connected, but as humans we can only examine a few ideas at a time, and this is a story not a text book. Ask yourself, how do people live now? What’s important to them? It will always still be family, friends, water, food, shelter, peace and safety. Can they find these things in this ruined world? Make sure they do, at least by the end, or your story may be too scary!
Can you tell us a bit about your next writing project?
I am working on two projects right now. One with Zana Fraillon, so that’s like half a project because she is a very good team member and has made it so easy. We are writing a children’s novel together which combines an ancient myth with the present and brings a boy (Zana’s character) to the future, where he meets a girl (my character) living in a sparse kind of Utopia, where humans care for the planet. I’m also working on a story alone set in the desert where strange new humans are being born and the main character is fiercely protective of their little toddler sibling who is one of these strange new humans. I like writing this one, now I practically live in the desert! Red sand will be pouring out every time readers turn a page!
Across the Risen Sea is out now. Look for it at your favourite bookstores and libraries!