Monday, 23 May 2022

Inside Story: The Wonderful World of Writing, Illustrating and Publishing Children’s Books compiled by Sophie Masson, Kathy Creamer, Beattie Alvarez, and Peter Creamer, edited by Jen Scanlan and Sharnee Rawson (United Publishers of Armidale) PB RRP $29.99 ISBN9780648815457

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

Here is an invaluable resource and reference book for aspiring writers, illustrators, editors and designers or anyone interested in Australian children’s books. It is the first publication by the newly formed UPA, a collaboration between two independent publishing houses: Christmas Press and Little Pink Dogs, in association with the New England Writers’ Centre. And what a comprehensive and beautifully designed and presented book it is! Designed by Rae Ainsworth, the book covers all aspects of writing, illustrating, and publishing children’s books. It includes a section on what happens in the publishing process, how to pitch to publishers, alternative publishing models, useful organisations, and resources.

On each page there are coloured photographs and graphics, break-out boxes, and information (and advice) from a wide range of industry workers. Colourful double-page spreads introduce each topic, and there are also numerous lists of children’s books under headings such as picture books, illustrated storybooks, fiction anthologies, graphic novels, and more. Any inspiring author would benefit from the advice and tips offered by authors, agents, editors, publishers, and illustrators such as Stephen Axelson, Pippa Masson, Ian Irvine, Jenny Blackford, and dozens more.

There is, as one would suspect, a clear bias towards books published by Christmas Press and Little Pink Dogs, but other publishers shine in the book, too. It’s gratifying to see that the compilers have included poetry collections and anthologies, with advice from editors and compilers. Ursula Dubosarsky, Richard Tulloch and Duncan Ball share information and tips for writing plays, with Ball sharing his discoveries as former editor of The School Magazine.

In the tail end of this very engaging book is a list of useful organisations and resources for everyone, including editors, designers, and publishers. Numerous publishers have granted permission to use images from their titles, and there is a page of acknowledgements to the many people who have contributed material (and crowdfunding income). Interestingly, there’s a double page spread at the end of the book with photographs and biographies of the compilers, editors, and book designers.

There are many hours of interesting reading in this comprehensive book. Highly recommended!

Sunday, 22 May 2022

Miimi Marraal, Mother Earth

Miimi Marraal, Mother Earth written and illustrated by Melissa Greenwood (HarperCollins) HB RRP $24.99 ISBN 9780733341632

Reviewed by Kylie Buckley

Talented Aboriginal author and artist Melissa Greenwood has created a visually stunning picture book for mothers to share with their babies or toddlers. The gorgeous front cover is reason enough to give this book a prominent position on the shelf. The title ‘Miimi Marraal’ means ‘Mother Earth’ in Greenwood’s native Gumbaynggirr language.

Written in the second person, a mother speaks to her precious baby and tells her of the deep connection they have with each other and to the land, trees, animals and seas. She gently explains that Miimi Marraal has created everything they see and if they take care of the earth, she will take care of them. It promotes the important message to only take from the earth what is needed.

The beautiful contemporary artwork has been created using colours and patterns inspired by the land. Greenwood is the co-founder of the art and design label Miimi & Jiinda which creates fabulous artwork, clothing, accessories, and homewares. For more information go to

Friday, 20 May 2022

The Blood Traitor (The Prison Healer: Book 3)

The Blood Traitor (The Prison Healer: Book 3) by Lynette Noni (Penguin Books) PB RRP $24.99 ISBN 9781760897543

Reviewed by Kylie Buckley

The final instalment of The Prison Healer trilogy has arrived and fans of the first two books won’t be disappointed. It is a captivating mix of magic, adventure, new alliances, deadly battles, deception and a hint of romance.

Kiva finds herself back in Zalindov prison physically and emotionally defeated. She is tormented by her past mistakes, lies and betrayals and sees no future. Meanwhile, the Vallentis royals are reeling from Zuleeka’s takeover of Evalon and must do whatever it takes to save their kingdom and reclaim what they’ve lost. To add to their woes, they discover that King Navok of Mirraven is hell-bent on conquering not just Evalon, but all the kingdoms in Wenderall.

The Blood Traitor is a young adult fantasy novel highly recommended for an audience 15 years and older. 

Wednesday, 18 May 2022

Family: All that You Dream it to Be

Family: All that You Dream it to Be by Byll and Beth Stephen, illustrated by Simone Howe (ABC Books) HB RRP $19.99

Reviewed by Kathleen Grace

The co-authors of this picture book are sisters who are the writers behind the ABC TV musical sensations Teeny Tiny Stevies. This book is a reimaging of their much-loved song, 'Family' ('Love is Los'). The concept of family is shown in words and illustrations as being highly flexible, from families where both parents are same-sexed, where there is a single mother (or father), where there are same-sex parents, and so on. There are also families of colour with the front cover of the book, for instance, showing white, black, brown, and Asian family members.

Each double-page highlights a family: for example, on page one at 29 Adelong there’s a girl and her mum on bikes who ride the neighbourhood chatting to house-dwellers on the way. There are numerous houses featured, such as at 118 Karingal Street where a mum and a dad ‘and three kids under three. Once a year their half-sister flies out, from Mexico on her school holidays.’ The final page ends with a mixed-colour family -- and pet dog -- at the dinner table (one member of which is in a wheelchair), with accompanying text that reads, ‘You just love who you love, and you build a great team, because family’s all that you dream it to be.’

The sentences are written to be read aloud, with the use of full and half-rhyming lines that make for a strong rhythm. The illustrations are clear and colourful and ideal for poring over.

This book would be ideal for an adult – such as a teacher – to discuss with readers aged 5 years and up what makes a family. And what families do for entertainment and fun.

Tuesday, 17 May 2022

The Cult of Romance

The Cult of Romance by Sarah Ayoub (Harper Collins) ISBN 9781460758946 RRP $19.99 PB

Reviewed by Nean McKenzie

This young-adult story is about Natalie, who is blindsided when her best friend Janet returns from a trip to Lebanon, engaged to a guy she met there. Natalie has long been sceptical about marriage and love (views she thought her friend shared). She is thrown into the job of bridesmaid, travelling to Lebanon to help organise a wedding she disapproves of. Will she be able to keep her friendship if she tells Janet how she really feels about the wedding? The good-looking best man George, who has a tendency to mansplain, and Natalie’s grandmother, who constantly tells her to behave like a ‘good Lebanese girl’, only make things more complicated.

As we read on, we discover Natalie’s reasons for being so against the idea of love. Her mother left when she was young for uncertain reasons. A university student, Natalie is determined to make her own way in life, and she wants that for her friend as well. Natalie finds it confronting to go to Lebanon, when she has never been there before, but so much of the culture is part of her. She doesn’t really know where she belongs. Natalie’s friends Mark, with an Iraqi background and Thi, with a Vietnamese background, also have their own issues with identity and sexuality, which are explored in the story

The dialogue between the friends is quite believable and the slow-developing romance between Natalie and George works well. The descriptions of locations in Lebanon, in Beirut and the surrounding countryside are great, along with the cultural traditions for weddings and delicious-sounding food. The backstory about Natalie’s mother and what happens when she finally meets her, also adds another dimension to the book.

The Cult of Romance is a romantic comedy with diverse characters and plenty of wedding drama. It’s suitable for older YA readers.

Monday, 16 May 2022

What We All Saw

What We All Saw by Mike Lucas (Penguin Random House Australia) PB RRP$19.99 ISBN 9781761045936

Reviewed by Kathleen Grace

One of the characters in this YA novel, Shell, is blind, which has roots in the Australian author’s own personal experience of vision impairment. That the book is chilling is evident in its first sentence: ‘Nineteen seventy-six was the year we covered up the death of a twelve-year-old boy, hiding his body from his family and the world forever.’

Sammy is the narrator. He and his friends Gray, Charlie, and Shell live in the south-west of England near an old quarry in Hags Drop into which witches were said to have been thrown. Witches only exist in stories. Everyone knows that. But what if the stories were real?

This is a suspenseful novel about coming of age, standing by your friends, and about the power of storytelling to change our perceptions. Prepare yourself for witches, curses, ghost stories and dark forests with dark secrets!

Saturday, 14 May 2022

Zadie Ma and the Dog Who Chased the Moon

Zadie Ma and the Dog Who Chased the Moon by Gabrielle Wang (Puffin Books) PB RRP $16.99 ISBN 9781761046513

Reviewed by Kathleen Grace

The author of this novel is award-winning, and born in Melbourne of Chinese heritage. Currently she is Australian Children’s Laureate. Here she publishes a new, heart-warming story set in post-war Melbourne about courage, friendship, the magic of stories, and one girl’s unwavering love for her dog.

Chapter One starts with the words, ‘The day she turned eleven was the day Zadie Ma discovered her superpower.’ Zadie writes in her writing book, a story titled ‘Little Ant, Cassandra’ when her mother tries to kill some ants invading her kitchen. When she returns to the kitchen, her brother Teddy says the ants ‘wented away. Disvapowed.’ When Zadie writes another story called ‘Little Kit’ she realises some of her stories can come true. Magical!

One day Zadie starts to write about rescuing a poor, unwanted dog called Jupiter. Will this story bring to life her most important story of the dog of her dreams?

This, like all of Wang’s books for children, is easy to reading and compelling. At the front of it is a photo of her as a child of ten with her grandfather and her dog Rusty. Also at the front of the book are framed sketches of Zadie with her brother (1955) and father (1951), and another of her Mama and brother in the family shop (1954). The book has numerous sketches, including a comic strip of Jupiter the dog rescuing the Ma family from a fire.

As with other books she’s written, Wang’s stories are a blend of Chinese and Western culture with a touch of fantasy. This book is ideal for readers aged 9+ years.