In May, we seemed to settle into a lockdown routine, so I got a bit more reading done. This month, I read 20 books – the vast majority of those – seventeen – were by Australian women writers – some for review, some my own reads and one or two that I read alongside Isolation Publicity interviews. Below is a breakdown of my current numbers, and a table with each read and the challenge they worked for. Some categories are easier to fill, as always, and some have multiple entries. I’ve got plenty to read – the books keep coming so I’m trying to keep on top of everything as best I can.
The Modern Mrs Darcy 11/12
Book Bingo – 11/12
The Nerd Daily Challenge 45/52
Dymocks Reading Challenge 22/25
Books and Bites Bingo 15/25
STFU Reading Challenge: 10/12
General Goal –89/165
Author: Melina Marchetta, illustrated by Deb Hudson
Published: 2nd June 2020
Synopsis: From the author of Looking for Alibrandi comes this gorgeous series to engage and entertain newly independent young readers.
Zola loves living on Boomerang Street with her mum and her Nonna. Every day of the week is an adventure. But Zola has a problem. No matter how much she tries, she can’t keep out of trouble!
Seven stories in the series – one for every day of the week.
Zola loves to have fun, and at school, she is learning about gardens. At home, she spends time in the garden with her Nonna while her mum is at work. One day Nonna Rosa shows Zola special tomato seeds from Nonno, who is no longer with them – and Zola promises to be careful – can she keep out of trouble and save her Nonna’s special tomatoes?
Melina Marchetta, best known for her young adult books, in particular Looking for Alibrandi, and several others. Here, she has created a series for younger readers, about a little girl named Zola, with one book planned for each day of the week, to be released across the next year or so. This first book introduces readers to Zola and her family, and delightfully sets up Zola’s world on Boomerang Street. It is written in easy to understand and accessible language and looks at the inner world of Zola and children her age.
Zola cleverly teaches children about friendship, family and problem solving through the fun and engaging story and Deb Hudson’s lovely illustrations that give an extra oomph and zing of life to Zola’s world and story. The language used is simple yet complex – early readers will be able to engage and learn how to read and grow their vocabulary and confidence with stories. It might seem simple on the surface, but it is layered in many ways, and can be read differently at each level and for each reader. Confident readers will be able to read the lines, and all readers will find something and someone in the book they identify with. As the beginning of a series, What Zola Did on Monday is filled with diversity and ideas about identity and what kids like to do.
This series would be perfect for kids in their first few years of school, and even beyond, for readers who might want something fun to read in between everything else. It is aimed at six to eight-year olds primarily, and I hope this readership enjoys these books in whichever way they read and connect with them. I look forward to seeing what other adventures Zola gets up to on the other days of the week. A charm,ing series that will enchant all who read it
Synopsis: Left in a pail at an orphanage as a baby, only something magical can save Eloise from a miserable life and give her the one she’s always dreamed of.
Orphaned as a baby, Eloise Pail yearns for a family. Instead, she lives a lonely life trapped in an orphanage and made miserable by the cruel Sister Hortense. Befriended by the village blacksmith, Eloise soon uncovers some strange secrets of yesteryear and learns that something terrible may be about to happen to the village. As troubles and dangers mount, she must learn who to trust and choose between saving the village or belonging to a family of her own. Unless something truly magical happens…
A powerful tale of how magic weaves its way into the real world.
Explores themes of belonging, what it takes to be a friend and what constitutes a family.
Eloise has spent her whole life in an orphanage run by the cruel Sister Hortense. Sisters Genevieve and Bernard, Sister Genevieve in particular, try to help Eloise, and make things a little more bearable for her. Eloise has never been adopted – trapped in a cruel place that doesn’t value her. Her only place of solace and friendship with the local blacksmith, and his horse, Dancy. Her lessons with Sister Genevieve are cut shortly after Janie Pritchard, a newly orphaned girl arrives. At first, Eloise wants nothing to do with her, but the two soon become friends, and start to unravel the mystery of the poisoned water, and the unicorn stories that Sister Genevieve has told them.
Eloise wants a family more than anything – but Sister Hortense has a secret that has prevented this from happening and will do anything to punish and break Eloise, making her watch the Littlies get adopted and leave the orphanage with new families, and punishing her when she starts to look happy. But with a curse threatening the village, and whispers about men wanting to hunt the unicorn for their own gain. What will Eloise sacrifice to save the unicorn and her village?
Eloise and the Bucket of stars is a charming, delightful and magical story – set in an orphanage during Victorian times, it shows the hardships faced by orphans, and the treatment they received in places like the orphanage Eloise lived in. It also shows how harmful beliefs can be when taken to the extreme and the lengths people like Sister Hortense will go to protect dark secrets – even from those they work with, just to make sure they’re not outed as what drives her to punish Eloise.
At its core, this is a story about friendship, being yourself and family – and what makes a family. How does someone like Eloise find a family, and find love, when every time she finds herself in a place where she is happy, it is taken away from her. The world is shown through Eloise’s eyes – and you truly feel for her. Eloise drives this story, and it is slow and lyrical on purpose – we’re meant to feel the drudgery and frustrations of Eloise’s daily life, and her feelings of hopelessness. It is gentle yet when action is required, it happens when and where it needs to.
Family and friendship are strong themes here, where the characters let their individuality, and bonds of friendship shine through the uniformity that Sister Hortense forces upon them. Sully, the cook, is one of Eloise’s friends. Everyone can see how Sister Hortense treats Eloise – but what will make her realise she needs to stop?
This tender story is about finding family and following your heart, and never giving up on your beliefs or compromising for anyone. Staying true to yourself and your dreams is a message at the core of this novel, and it moves gently and eloquently through towards this goal. It is one of those novels that demands time be spent with it to take everything in and let it sink in properly, following Eloise on her journey – the physical journey to get water every day and her own inner journey to finding family and friendship. It is Janie who sparks this journey and what will happen in the second half of the novel, and Janeen has created a beautiful story that will be beloved by many for years to come.
I loved this book – it evoked the same sense of wonder that The Secret Garden did all those years ago, with an orphaned child discovering magic beyond what she could ever imagine in a mundane world that didn’t appreciate her at first. Orphans are common in children’s literature and dealing with them in gentle ways, and each story is of course different, and this one had a sense of magic and wonder about it that many don’t, which is what made it so special and why I really enjoyed it, and hope that younger readers do as well.
Synopsis: A spooky adventure set in Cornwall; Famous Five with a twist.
A long-dead Cornish witch to thwart and a curse to stop – it’s just another family holiday. Orla thought she was in for a relaxing break, but when she finds a mysterious glowing necklace in the woods, it turns out there is a slight possibility she may have uncovered a witch’s ancient curse. After meeting a coven of suspicious old ladies, it becomes clear that Orla’s arrival in Cornwall is no longer a coincidence. The curse is poisoning the land and destroying everything it touches, and Orla is the one person who can stop it. But she’ll need help from the only other member of the family with good instincts – Dave the dog.
A witchy 10+ children’s debut from Sunday Timesjournalist C. J. Haslam.
Orla is a budding conservationist and the curse in the book manifests itself through poisoned and barren land.
Has an incredibly appealing character in Dave, the grumpy Jack Russell who thinks he’s a member of Special Forces. Orla has two older brothers and a newly acquired friend called Raven – together, they make a great modern-day Scooby Doo gang / Famous Five.
Orla Perry is off to Cornwall with her mum, brothers, Tom and Richard, and faithful dog, Dave. They arrive at the cottage – but their holiday is far from relaxing. After Orla begins to explore their new surrounds and meets Mrs Spark and her friends, after she finds a mysterious necklace in the woods. This is only the beginning of her problems. As the story moves along, Dave distances himself from Orla, the old ladies Orla has met begin to tell her of witches and curses, and a woman called Pedervander Masey, and a mystery surrounding the area that is slowly revealed as Orla and her brothers and their new friend, Raven, seek to uncover the truth behind all the darkness of the area.
To save the land from the curse, Orla, Raven, Tom and Richard must follow a strange set of directions and an unusual path with items from one of the resident witches, or pellers, as they are called in this novel, to prevent the curse from poisoning the land – even if this means travelling back in time. What is it about the mysterious glowing necklace that draw Orla to it – and what trouble is it causing? With dark magic at work, Orla is drawn to the desire to investigate and find out what is going on – and stop the curse from destroying those she loves, and anyone else in the area. She’s a gutsy girl, and seeing the breadth of the types of characters children can relate to these days.
Set in the same area as many of the Famous Five books, this is a fresh tale on the idea of adventuring and gallivanting children – minus the lashings of ginger beer with added magic and spells. It is filled with wonder and danger, and can be scary in some parts, in particular the climax, which is where the high stakes scenes take place in most books. This is a fantastic book, and one I loved to review for Walker Books Australia – the middle grade landscape these days is a wonderful array of books, and there are many more that I am going to be exploring in coming reviews.
We all need a bit of magic in our lives, and in this book, it is delivered in spades. Tragedy happens in some places, and the kids go off on the adventures as they do in The Famous Five, but there is still a parental figure around, though she’s got no idea what Orla and her brothers are up to during their holiday.
This world really came to life – everything had an element of magic within in, and for someone who has never been to Cornwall, but would like to one day, the sense of place in past and present, from the cottage of the sea, and the surrounding countryside and forest. The setting is as much a character as the human characters, and Dave is one of the best characters – an astute dog who knows who he can trust and who to help, it is instincts that will help save the day.
Filled with magic, mystery, humour and the thrill of the cashes, Orla and the Serpent’s Curse is a delightful middle grade novel for readers aged ten and over.
Due to recent events, many Australian authors have had to cancel book launches and festival appearances. For some, this means new novels, series continuations and debut novels are heading into this scary, strange world without much publicity or attention. The good news is, you can still buy books – online or get your local bookstore to deliver if they’re offering that service. Buying these books, talking about them, sharing them, reading them, reviewing them – are all ways that for the next six months at least, we can ensure that these books don’t fall by the wayside.
Over the next few months, a lot of us will be consuming some form of art – entertainment, movies, TV, radio, music, books – the list goes on. It is something we will be turning to take our minds off things and to occupy vast swathes of free time. One of the things I will be doing to support the arts, and specifically, Australian Authors, will be reading and reviewing as many books as possible, conducting interviews like this where possible, and participating in virtual book tours for authors.
Kylie Howarth is the author of several picture books, and the new Fish Kid series. The second Fish Kid book was released in March, as restrictions started coming in, and would have had launches and events cancelled. It looks like a really fun series, too. Like many authors, Kylie has turned to online publicity – the best we can do in these times, across as many channels as possible. I hope this interview helps more readers find their way to Kylie’s work.
Hi Kylie and welcome to The Book Muse
You write and illustrate books – did you start with illustrating or writing, and when did you begin to combine the two?
Initially a friend approached me to see if I’d illustrate a book she’d written. We soon discovered that was not the way things are usually done in the publishing industry. This sparked something in me though, so from there I began writing and illustrating my own stories and was lucky enough to find a publisher who was keen to acquire them.
Can you tell my readers about your illustration process, and the mediums you work with?
I love to use my children’s paintings as background textures in my books. We have messy backyard art sessions, then I scan the textures we create into my computer. I’d usually draw all my linework in pencil on paper, then add colour and texture digitally. More recently though, I’ve begun drawing my linework in Procreate and illustrating my books on my iPad.
What style of books do you usually write – picture books or longer works, and what age group do you aim to write for?
I initially started out creating only picture books as these were the type of books I was reading to my children. As they grew and became interested in junior fiction, I began writing and illustrating my Fish Kid chapter book series. I have two books in this series out now, which is great for kids aged 6 – 12 and am currently working on the third. I’m also working on a new picture book which is top secret for now.
When you first submitted to a publisher, what was that process like, and how long did it take you to be accepted?
It took submitting three different picture book manuscripts before I had one accepted. A publisher I met a SCBWI event, was interested in my very first manuscript. She held onto it for a year! I’d sent her another in the meantime and eventually she contacted me to say they weren’t going to take either. She did however ask if I’d consider illustrating another author’s book. I agreed to take a look at the manuscript and at the same time, sent her a third story idea of my own. She picked up the phone five minutes after I’d sent ‘Fish Jam,’ and said she wanted to publish it! She then asked how soon I could get the final artwork to her.
Did you have any new releases coming out in the next few months, and what were they?
Fish Kid and the Mega Manta Ray was just released in March.
Did you have to cancel any events, launches or author appearances due to the pandemic, and if so, what were they?
Yes, my book launch for Fish Kid and the Mega Manta Ray was scheduled for the 29th of March. I’d ordered all the book stock, booked the venue, printed book marks and bought 2 boxes of sea creature lollies. My wonderful friends had bought manta ray cookie cutters, sea creature costumes and shark fin cupcake toppers, as they always help and support my book launches. Unfortunately the launch was cancelled due to the pandemic, so I’ve had to eat a lot of sea creature lollies all by myself.
School workshops and festival events I was booked for were also cancelled.
What do you usually do during school visits, and how many have you had to cancel over the next few months?
At school visits I like to get kids excited about the themes in my books. For my Fish Kid talks I bring along shark egg cases, read out crazy fish facts, show them images of me diving with hammerhead sharks and swimming with humpback whales, and even play them songs on my conch shell! I explain how these experiences inspire the ideas for my stories. Then the kids draw along with me as I show them how to draw sea creatures step-by-step. For the younger kids, I’ll read them my ‘Chip’ picture books, teach them how to draw him, then we have fun brainstorming things we could find on the beach to dress him up in disguise.
I had several visits and events cancelled at the end of last term, as well as a trip to Sydney to promote the Dulux colouring in book I’d recently created. I’d normally start to get a lot of school visit bookings coming in now for Term 2 but that won’t be happening.
In saying that, I’m thrilled that the CBCA have delayed Book Week until Term 4 this year. Term 3 is usually the busiest for authors, and hopefully now, all our Book Week bookings will be postponed rather than cancelled.
Your Fish Kid series looks like fun – what age group is it aimed at, and did you illustrate this series as well?
They are aimed at kids aged 7 – 12 but I’ve found that people of any age enjoy them.
I illustrated the first book in the series, Fish Kid and the Lizard Ninja, using pencil and ink on paper. Then I got my fancy new ipad and actually illustrated the second book digitally. So it’s interesting to compare the two – most people can’t see a difference.
Your website says you run workshops for all ages – how do you alter these presentations for younger children compared to middle grade or young adult readers?
It’s actually fairly easy to adjust to the different age groups. I show them similar images and talk about similar things, but just add more detail for the older groups.
For the kindy kids I’ll print out a template with the basic shape of ‘Chip’ the seagull already on it, and they can add the beak and eyes etc from there. The older kids will get to do a few different drawings, develop their sea creatures further into characters and then begin thinking of story ideas for those characters as well.
What is your favourite thing to draw – either for your books or just for fun?
Definitely sea creatures.
Do you prefer in person events, or online events?
I do like in person events because its wonderful to engage and interact with the kids personally. In saying that, you can still do that to a degree online. You can also wear your Ugg boots!
Favourite medium to work with, and why?
I love the HB pencil brush in Procreate. Working digitally is saving me so much time right now, particularly when I’m working on roughs. I can draw a scene quickly, erase, enlarge and move bits around, then hit ‘share’ and email it straight to my art director. No scanning or cleaning up the scanned images in photoshop.
What inspires your stories and illustrations?
My kids and the adventures we have together. I write stories that I think they will love, about things that they are interested in. We spend a lot of time snorkelling and boating as a family, which is why the ocean is a consistent theme in my books.
As an arts industry worker, what is the most important thing about the arts and supporting the arts for you?
If the pandemic has proved anything, it’s how important the arts really are. Everyone is relying on the arts for enjoyment, schooling, mental health and so many other reasons, right now. Its important to support our creators as the world would be a sad and boring place without us.
Do you have a favourite local bookseller where you live? What do you like about them?
There are some fabulous bookstores in Western Australia and I thank them all for being so supportive of local authors. Paper Bird Children’s Books & Arts are particularly amazing. During the pandemic they’ve been running Home Club live on Instagram, where a different author or illustrator joins them each day, shows you around their studio and does craft and drawing activities with the kids watching. I was supposed to be on this week, but unfortunately tweaked my neck and have been bed ridden, but I’ve certainly enjoyed watching them all! If you don’t catch them live, you can watch the episodes later on YouTube.
Title: Elephant Me
Author: Giles Andreae and Guy Parker-Rees
Publisher: Hachette/Orchard Books
Published: 26th May 2020
Synopsis: The empowering story of little elephant Num-Num, who discovers the importance of simply being YOU! From the creators of international bestseller and much-loved classic Giraffes Can’t Dance.
It’s time for the Elephant Games! One by one, the young elephants compete to impress King Elephant Mighty and earn their Elephant Name.
Nina is the strongest, so she becomes Elephant Strong.
Norcus is the loudest, so he becomes Elephant Noisy.
Little Elephant Num-Num thinks he will never discover his own special talent – until he learns that the very best thing you can be is YOU!
Elephant Num-Num has to show King Elephant Mighty a special talent to get his Elephant Name during the Elephant Games – every other elephant can, but Num-Num finds he doesn’t have a special talent – he’s just him. Driven away from the Elephants, Num-Num befriends the other animals, who see him for who he is and encourage him to be him – the best thing he can be! Discover how Num-Num encourages the other elephants to discover the best them and be who they are, not who they are expected to be.
Through a rhyming story that ebbs and flows, Giles Andreae tells the story of a young elephant searching for who he is, and in turn, teaches the other elephants to be who they are. Accompanied by delightfully fun and colourful illustrations of the elephants and the other animals by Guy Parker-Rees, the story really pops and comes to life beautifully. He brings the African bush to life, in a fun and accessible way, using colour and bright shades. The animals all being friends by the waterhole is a lovely image, and one of my favourites of the entire book. I loved that each elephant had its own personality through the words and images, and both of these elements worked together to show the beauty and individuality that we should all celebrate within ourselves.
The words and images capture what it is like to be you and not fall into line with what others expect, and what it means to face up to those who have tried to make you believe you shouldn’t fall into line. The bright images are fun, and engaging, and the rhyming, lyrical feel of the words is great for readers at all stages, whether learning to read, being read to or just looking for a fun read that teaches kids that being who they are is sometimes more important than following trends and trying to fit in for the sake of fitting in.
This would be great to be shared between parents and kids, in classes across the board, or just for people to read for themselves. It’s a fun little story with an important message, and best of all, it uses elephants to tell the story – and really, where can you go wrong with elephants in a story like this? It is truly a beautiful book and one with a lovely message that will always be treasured.
In April, we found ourselves amidst a pandemic – and I found myself with an influx of review books, some quite long, and some not so long. As I usually do, I aim to read ahead in my review stack, to get things cleared, and posted or scheduled to save time. I’m still a bit behind, reading some books that should be on this list on the day of writing and posting. However, this is the case due to the fact that the books may have arrived after or a day before publication date due to the current overload of deliveries due to the COVID-19 crisis we’re facing.
I’ve also been doing an Isolation Publicity series with Australian authors – which by the looks of things will take me into mid – late August at this stage, a month short of the planned lockdown. Some of these interviews are really exciting and make me wish I could share them now, but the schedule means everyone gets a special day for their interview. Many authors have had launches cancelled, festivals and appearance cancelled or moved online – which has meant a loss of income and has been detrimental to the arts sector. These authors need the love and publicity the book blogging community can give them so their work can get into the hands of readers.
I read 19 books this month, and all except The Austen Girls and The Unadoptables have a live review at this stage. The Austen Girls will be appearing around the 19th of May with several other reviews and posts. The latter is appearing in June. I also ticked off a few challenge categories – not as many as I had hoped, however, I am getting there and should hopefully have filled them all in by the end of the year.
Reading Challenge, AWW2020, The Modern Mrs Darcy (Nominated for the 2020 Readings Children’s Prize)
Shortlisted Readings Children’s Book Prize 2020 AU; Shortlisted Speech Pathology Award, Eight to Ten Years 2019 AU