Book reviews by Rebecca, teachers' resources

Review: Our Australian Girl series

A brilliant new series for girls: Our Australian Girl

Review by Rebecca Newman

Under the main title of the Our Australian Girl series, there are four Australian girls who each have their own series. The four girls are Grace (a convict girl from 1808), Letty (a free settler in 1841), Poppy (a gold rush girl in 1864) and Rose (a Federation girl in 1900).

Penguin Books sent me the first book for each girls’ series. Each book is an adventure and you learn a bit about Australia’s history without even trying to. They aren’t true stories, but they are based on the lives of children who lived in those particular times in Australia.

Here’s a bit about each of the books:

Meet Grace (book 1 in Grace’s series). Author: Sofie Laguna Meet Grace (cover)

Grace is poor and lives with her uncle in London. She loves horses, particularly the horses on Fleet St and one day she steals an apple from a cart to give to one of them. Grace is seen stealing the apple so she runs away and she’s terrified about being caught—she knows she might be sent to prison or something even worse.

Meet Letty (book 1 in Letty’s series). Author: Alison Lloyd Meet Letty (cover)

Letty’s big sister is about to go on a sea voyage to Australia to start a new life. When Letty and her father go to wave goodbye, there’s a misunderstanding and Letty somehow ends up on the ship too. There’s no way to go home to her family, she has to stay on the ship and nobody seems pleased to have her on board. Life on the ship is hard, but what will life be like when they arrive in Australia?

Meet Poppy (book 1 in Poppy’s series). Author: Gabrielle Wang Meet Poppy (cover)

Poppy lives at Bird Creek Mission near Echuca during the Gold Rush. She hates it there—and her brother, Gus, hates it, too. When he runs away from the mission, Poppy really misses him. She decides to run away from the mission and find him. But how can she escape without being caught? Will it be easy to find Gus when she doesn’t know the way?

Meet Rose (book 1 in Rose’s series). Author: Sherryl Clark Meet Rose (cover)

Rose lives with her family in a big house in Melbourne. She’s a bit of a tomboy and in those days girls weren’t supposed to play cricket or climb trees. Then Rose’s aunt comes to stay and she’s not like the other women in Rose’s life. Rose is not even sure her mother will let her aunt stay. With her aunt around, maybe her life will start to change …

I loved all four of these books. The girls are similar to girls today, and things that are important to today’s girls are important to them, too—friendship, to feel safe, to have a home and a family that cares about you. But back then these girls also had different challenges—like having to make all the decisions because there were no grownups around and you were in danger. Or like girls not being allowed to wear comfortable clothes, especially trousers (unless they were secretly disguising themselves as boys!), having to wear a corset even when you were still a kid, and not being allowed to go to school. (Sometimes you might think it would be better if you didn’t have to go to school. But imagine if you weren’t allowed to, or that you weren’t allowed to read a lot or ride a bike or play sport either because it wasn’t ‘ladylike’. Would your life be different?)

These books are suited to girls aged 8–11, especially girls who love reading books in a series and like stories with adventures and friendships.

Extra bits:

Check out the series website with extracts from the books, quizzes, activities and competitions. (The second books in the four series are out now!)

Don’t forget to read our interview with Gabrielle Wang about writing the Poppy series!

These four titles from the Our Australian Girl series were sent to us by Penguin Books Australia.

Sandy Fussell – author of the Samurai Kids series

Sandy PortraitsAs promised, today we are talking to Sandy Fussell – the author of the Samurai Kids series. The fourth book in the series – Monkey Fist – was published on 1 August 2009. (It’s hot off the press!)

To celebrate its launch, Sandy is taking Monkey Fist on a Blog Tour. We’re excited to have her visiting Soup Blog today, and we asked her some questions about how she does the research for her books.

But first, a little about Monkey Fist:

Set in 17th century China, Monkey Fist follows the adventures of a group of samurai students and their teacher, Sensei Ki-yaga. Each student has a challenge to overcome on his personal journey. When Kyoko is kidnapped and hidden away in the Forbidden City, Sensei and the kids hurry to her rescue. They are aided by the Lin, a group of Chinese forest ninja and by Master Jang, the Poisoner.

And now, some questions for Sandy!

How do you do the research for your books?

I love the Internet but when using it for research you have to be very careful that the information is coming from a credible source – someone who knows the subject. The internet is both trap and treasure. I have been collecting history books since I was a child so have a huge personal collection covering my areas of interest – and am always looking for an excuse to buy another book. I like to write about the periods of history that are not so well known so there aren’t many relevant books in my local libraries. I do consult experts and they are always very happy to be involved in research for a children’s book.

Do you have a favourite way to research?

I love the internet because it is a real treasure chest. Following a link can lead to the most interesting and obscure information. I find things I didn’t even know I was looking for.

My real favourite of course, would be travelling overseas to do my research first-hand but I don’t think that is going to happen in the near future. Unfortunately. *Sigh*

How do you record your research, and why do you do it this way?

I make lots and lots of notes. I photocopy book pages and print out web sources. It’s important to document all the facts used when writing history.

I found this out the hard way. After I finished my first book, White Crane, I threw out all my notes. Then my publisher, Walker Books asked me for references to support the historical facts I had used in the narrative. I had to relocate everything and reproduce 30 typed pages of notes. It felt like I had written another book!

Before you write anything, do you get all your research done first? How do you know when to stop researching and start writing?

I like to spend a solid month researching and thinking about where my plot will fit – as in the geographic location, any significant events occurring at the same time. Then I start to write.

I am very structured and the Samurai Kids books are always on a deadline. I allocate a month because a month is all the time I’ve got.

How do you use your research when you sit down to write?

I reread constantly. Little facts take on new significance as the story emerges. I particularly like to read primary sources – texts written by people alive at the time. One of my favourites is The Book of Five Rings by the legendary samurai swordsman Miyamoto Musashi.

Do you enjoy the research as much as the writing? (Or is the writing more enjoyable?)

If I am writing a historical novel the two are so entangled they are impossible to pull apart. But I don’t want to try as I love doing both.

Do you ever find out something in your research that means you have to take the story in a direction you weren’t originally planning to?

Recently I discovered an arquebus (gun) from the mid-seventeenth century can only fire once before reloading. In the second chapter of my current manuscript (book 5) my character shot two birds in succession. So far it has always been small stuff like that and doesn’t affect the story direction. However I am a stickler for getting the facts right and check my references quite thoroughly so I don’t often find research errors.

How much time would you spend on each book in Samurai Kids?

The Samurai Kids books are generally on a six month schedule. I research for one month, write for four months and then revise and rewrite for one month in addition to the revision I do as I go. I always say there is a lot of mathematics in writing – the planning, the pacing and all those word counts!

Monkey Fist by Sandy Fussell
Monkey Fist by Sandy Fussell

This is the eighth stop on the Monkey Fist Blog Tour. You can find out more about Sandy Fussell, the Samurai Kids series, and Monkey Fist by visiting the other hosts on the tour. (You can also visit the Samurai Kids website for fun activities related to the books, and take a quiz to find out which Samurai Kid you are!)

Blog Tour stops:

1 August

2 August

3 August

4 August

5 August

6 August

7 August

8 August (You’re here!)

9 August

10 August