Isolation Publicity with Aleesah Darlison

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 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.

Aleesah Darlison is the author of League of Llamas – a series of four books aimed at younger readers that  has come out this year during the months of the pandemic. She’s had to cancel launches and all kinds of author appearances in the wake of the pandemic. She appears here to discuss her series, llamas and animals in writing.

League of Llamas: Undercover Llama

League of Llamas: Rogue Llama

LOL with 4 covers black

Hi Aleesah and welcome to the Book Muse! (thanks for having me!)

Aleesah llama books_March 2020
Aleesah and her first two books
  1. Like many of my participants, you write for children – what attracted you to writing for children more than adults, and which age group do you primarily write for?

I didn’t consciously start out writing for children. I think I eventually gravitated to the genre because I had young children of my own, and because my inner child needed to express herself! One day when I grow up, I might spread my wings and write for adults too. My favourite age groups to write for are 3 – 5 year olds with picture books then 6 – 12 year olds with chapter books and junior fiction.

  1. Where did the idea for League of Llamas come from, and was it a conscious decision to only write four books?

Several of my kids and their friends were obsessed with llamas and we started talking about them one day, bouncing ideas off each other until we came up with the concept of llama secret agents. Once I had that initial seed, I worked with it, developing characters and plots designed to make kids laugh out loud – it’s all about engagement factor, after all! League of Llamas, or LOL, for short works in with that idea. I did consciously develop ideas for four books and that’s what I pitched to my publisher, Penguin Random House. Four is my favourite number and it’s neat and tidy! I have plenty of other ideas for additional stories, so we can always add more.

 

  1. Llamas as secret agents sounds like it would be a lot of fun to read and write – what is it about llamas that you think is so funny?

Writing about llamas doing secret agent business and other silly things was so much fun! I often gave myself (and my editor) a giggle with the stories. I just loved working on these books. My llamas are stand-out characters – they have strong personalities and do naughty things. They’re giddy at times, they have great camaraderie, they have some admirable qualities but also they have many, many faults.

The llama main characters (Phillipe, Lloyd, and Elloise) are all convinced of their own positive attributes, but they’re not so good at recognising their faults, their foibles, and their idiosyncrasies. Being completely oblivious means they have no inhibitions and no boundaries. They don’t hold back so they can be entirely themselves, which tends to create rather hilarious moments.

  1. Following on from that – are llamas effective secret agents, and could our spy agencies utilise them as well as humans?

Absolutely! My llamas can create the best disguises (Phillipe goes undercover as a giraffe), Lloyd is unwavering in his loyalty to his fellow secret agents (he’s as cool as a cucumber under pressure – although he is ruled by his stomach and LOVES donuts), and Elloise is a force to be reckoned with (you have to watch her side-kicks and karate chops). Singularly, they may be vulnerable, but as a team they’re unstoppable!

  1. You’ve written over 50 books for children and young adults – what are the most common themes and characteristics you find appearing in each book?

There’s usually an animal or two or three (or more!) in my stories. My favourite things as a child were books and animals, so I guess it’s natural that I write about animals now that I’m grown up, well, sort of … I get to combine my two great loves and have fun doing it. This all means that I’m well-known for my stories that feature animals and the environment, as well as child self-empowerment, unicorns … and llamas, of course!

  1. Which animals are the most fun to turn into a character of some kind, and why?

All of them! There are so many adorable animals out there just waiting to be written about. As authors, we have an endless supply of potential characters in our animal friends.

  1. Animals are a common aspect in books for children – for both fiction and non-fiction. As a kid’s author and parent, what do you think draws children into books about and featuring animal characters?

Many animal species are familiar to children, so they have a sense of comfort and connection with them from the moment they open a book. Some are super cute and disarming too, a fact that’s helped along by how talented illustrators depict their subjects. I challenge anyone to resist a baby panda or koala or llama? It’s impossible!

IMG_8216
Aleesah reading to a llama

 

  1. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic did you have any launches, events, and appearances planned that had to be cancelled, and what were they for?

Oh, yes! Before the release of my League of Llamas Series, I’d been working for months to create numerous events and activities. The series was even featuring at a festival launch where we were going to have real live llamas for people to meet. I had bookings for to present League of Llamas workshops and talks at multiple festivals, schools, and libraries across Australia. Basically, I had five months’ worth of events and tours that had to be rescheduled. There was so much work put into setting up these events, then there was more work involved in rescheduling, and now there will be more work again in re-confirming and running those events once we defeat COVID. It’s been a challenge to say the least.

  1. What is, or are, your favourite things about school visits, and why these in particular?

It’s always the kids. They’re amazing and so full of fun and joy. They’re always eager, friendly, and welcoming.  Seriously, it’s one of the perks of the job to be able to work with kids.

  1. Do your kids inspire any of your stories and characters, and in what way?

All the time. Either with silly, funny, or clever things that they do or say and which I then translate some way into a book. Otherwise, it might be with ideas and information about things that they like that could form the basis of a story or character. Kids think in the most imaginative ways and come up can often come up with things that you just wouldn’t think of as an adult.

 

  1. You write series and stand-alone books – what are the challenges for each one, and which do you find the easiest to write, or at least, to get started on?

Each book has its own challenges. Sometimes a stand-alone story will simply flow onto the page, sometimes you have to push. With a series you need unique stories with the same characters so it can be tricky to maintain stamina over the long haul. Series are a lot of work because you’re often writing and editing multiple instalments at once and to multiple tight deadlines. Plus, you have to keep track of everything to ensure you’re not repeating yourself. Planning is paramount, so I’d suggest that if you really don’t like planning your stories that you don’t tackle a series.

  1. How far have you gone to research something for one of your books, and what has been the most interesting thing you’ve uncovered so far?

When I was first starting out, I was really into historical novels and went a long way towards writing two manuscripts (one biographical, one fiction). These manuscripts are yet to see the light of day as I still haven’t gotten them quite right. I’d go to the NSW State Library almost every day or night researching on microfiche and old  newspapers, digging up court documents and purchasing birth certificates and war records from the archives (which I still have). Historical novels are a huge amount of work! It was fascinating reading the court transcripts to a case that involved one of the real-life people I was writing about. Those transcripts showed so much of the reality of the world these people lived in and their personalities and back stories. It wasn’t just about the court case – it was their own relationships and personal interactions, the social mores of the time, and the prejudices people actually held and honestly believed they had a right to feel.

 

  1. You love llamas – would you enjoy having one as a writing companion, or would something like a cat or a dog be easier?

I’ve seen that people use llamas as yoga companions … so maybe they would work as a writing companion too. I’ve visited a lot of llama farms, so I have been up close and personal with them. If I had one of my own, I’m sure they’d make for great writing inspiration … but they would be tricky fitting in a house. So, I guess I’d have to go with a dog. I’ve had dogs as pets for years and they’ve always stuck by me with my writing. My current dog, Lexie, has a bed under my desk and she spends most days there if I’m writing.

 

  1. With each picture book, you seem to have worked with a different illustrator – how has that process worked with each book and illustrator?

Publishers choose the illustrator for a project and each story has a different feel or essence so requires a different style of illustration. Sometimes, I can suggest illustrators, but usually the publisher has a firm idea or preference for who they would like to work with on a project. Sometimes, I’ve known and met the illustrator. Sometimes, I’ve never met them or spoken to them. Illustrator choice often isn’t up to the author, it’s up to the publisher so authors tend to run with it. So far, it’s always worked out well for me!

  1. You also have two series for younger readers – Little Witch and Unicorn Riders – are there more books planned for these series?

No, those series are a little older now. Unicorn Riders was my second series (after Totally Twins) so came out about ten years ago. There are eight books in that series so while I thought I’d explored the unicorn stories in quite a bit of depth, I would have loved to create a companion series called Griffin Riders and based in one of the neighbouring kingdoms. Maybe one day I’ll get back to that idea!

 

  1. Are there any new series or stand-alone books planned for the future, or is there anything in the works right now?

I have ideas for other series that I’m currently developing, but – most exciting – is that my publisher, Penguin Random House, recently accepted a new picture book series from me so that will keep me busy for the next few years. We’ve currently got four books planned for that series, so I need to get cracking with the writing!

  1. I ask a question like this to as many people as possible – how do you think the arts will be impacted due to the pandemic, and what can people do to help?

From what I’ve seen and heard, many creatives have lost presentation work, which really supports us more than book royalties. On top of that, they’ve lost launch opportunities and book sales because book stores have had to close or don’t have any foot traffic due to self-isolation and lockdown restrictions. Then you have the potential for publishing contracts and new releases to be stalled or cancelled altogether. I haven’t heard much on that front yet, but it may happen.

The other impact is that, although many people have found themselves at home more and you’d think this means more writing time, the worry and stress of the virus or of losing income has depleted any ability to focus on creativity. Many authors like myself also have children who need to be home schooled, so we’re busier than ever before, but not with our writing.

There have been many negative impacts of COVID on the writing industry, as there have been for many industries. I think the main thing to focus on is that the restrictions and ‘hibernation’ won’t last forever and that if we can stay healthy and well, then we can pick ourselves up and carry on. Hopefully soon. And hopefully without losing too many talented creatives to the virus.

Social media and Zoom have been lifesavers in keeping us connected and supporting one another. The Australian children’s writing industry is a tight-knit group, so those connections are helping many us hang in there.

  1. Do you have a favourite local bookseller, and why this one in particular?

I’ve been supported by many booksellers over my career, so they’re all absolutely wonderful, they’re the life-blood of our industry. They work so hard! If I could name a few Sunshine Coast local ones it would be QBD Kawana, Harry Hartog Maroochydore, Annie’s Books on Peregian, Pages & Pages Noosa, and The Little Book Nook in Palmwoods.

  1. When not writing, what do you enjoy doing or reading?

 

I have a penchant for detective and crime stories and also Stephen King! I do tend to read a lot of children’s books too and I’m a sucker for a clever picture book.

  1. Finally, will there be more League of Llamas books for younger readers to enjoy?

Absolutely! Books 3 and 4 come out on 3 July. If kids and parents want to grab copies, they can order via www.penguin.com.au or they can visit QBD, Harry Hartog, and other booksellers OR purchase online at Amazon or Booktopia. Go the llamas!

Anything I may have missed?

Thanks Aleesah!

That’s it, thanks so much Ashleigh!

 

June 2020 Wrap Up

 

The Modern Mrs Darcy 11/12

AWW2020 – 67/25

Book Bingo – 12/12

The Nerd Daily Challenge 45/52

Dymocks Reading Challenge 23/25

Books and Bites Bingo 15/25

STFU Reading Challenge: 9/12

General Goal –110/165

 

In June, I managed to read eighteen books in total, fourteen by Australian authors, and all but one of those were Australian women authors. Fifteen of the eighteen were by women authors from Australia and the United Kingdom, and my reading crossed all kinds of genres and audiences this month as I work towards my yearly reading goals.

Towards the end of the month, I participated in an Emma versus Pride and Prejudice read-along with some blogger friends – it seemed several of us went with Emma- perhaps because we had not read it yet and had already read Pride and Prejudice – and two of us found we could use it for a classics book bingo square.

I’m moving slowly through my stacks of books to read, and will hopefully be on top of all of them soon.

June – 18

Book Author Challenge
Elementals: Battle Born Amie Kaufman Reading Challenge, AWW2020, Dymocks Reading Challenge
Lilies, Lies and Love Jackie French Reading Challenge, AWW2020
Kid Normal and the Final Five Greg James and Chris Smith Reading Challenge
Toffle Towers: Fully Booked Tim Harris and James Foley Reading Challenge
Monty’s Island: Scary Mary and the Stripey Spell Emily Rodda and Lucinda Gifford Reading Challenge, AWW2020
Wonderscape Jennifer Bell Reading Challenge
When Rain Turns to Snow Jane Godwin Reading Challenge, AWW2020
League of Llamas: Undercover Llama Aleesah Darlison Reading Challenge, AWW2020
League of Llamas: Rogue Llama Aleesah Darlison Reading Challenge, AWW2020
Kensy and Max: Freefall Jacqueline Harvey Reading Challenge, AWW2020
The Silk House 

 

Kayte Nunn Reading Challenge, AWW2020
The Mummy Smugglers of Crumblin Castle

 

Pamela Rushby and Nellé May Pierce Reading Challenge, AWW2020
Roxy and Jones: The Great Fairy Tale Cover Up Angela Woolfe Reading Challenge
Alexandra-Rose and Her Icy Cold Toes by

 

Monique Mulligan and Kate Fox (Illustrator) Reading Challenge, AWW2020
Meet Mia by the Jetty Janeen Brian and Danny Snell Reading Challenge, AWW2020
Meet Sam at the Mangrove Creek Paul Seden and Brenton McKenna Reading Challenge, STFU Reading Challenge, Dymocks Reading Challenge
Death by Shakespeare: Snakebites, Stabbings and Broken Hearts  Kathryn Harkup Reading Challenge
Edie’s Experiments: How to Be the Best Charlotte Barkla Reading Challenge, AWW2020

 

 

 

 

 

League of Llamas #4: Rogue Llama by Aleesah Darlison

.jpgTitle: League of Llamas: Rogue Llama
Author: Aleesah Darlison
Genre: Humour
Publisher: Puffin Books Australia
Published: 2nd July 2020
Format: Paperback
Pages: 144
Price: $9.99
Synopsis: High-action, high-adventure and high-humour – the League of Llamas series is perfect for fans of Diary of a Minecraft Zombie and The Bad Guys.
League of Llamas secret agent Phillipe Llamar is on the run! Determined to clear his name after being framed for a crime he didn’t commit, Phillipe dons a disguise and goes on the hunt for the true criminal – one Ratrick Tailbiter. But the more Phillipe investigates, the less the case makes sense and the more things start becoming suspiciously . . . smelly.
From Ratopia to Catagonia, Phillipe’s journey leads him far from home. Will he be able to solve this mystery alone? Hunted by friends and enemies alike, this is Agent 0011’s most daring adventure yet!
~*~

Phillippe, League of Llamas Agent 0011, is on the run. Ratrick Tailbiter has framed him, and now Mama Llama has sent Elloise and Lloyd to get Phillipe back. But Phillippe is determined to prove his innocence – and will take any risk to do so. Phillipe is far from home as he tries to clear his name and restore his reputation in the League of Llamas and ensure the rat who tricked him and those working with Ratrick do not succeed in their evil plans.

What’s a llama to do? When Lloyd turns up, he decides to help Phillipe – and the two orchestrate disguises and a way to stay hidden and remain on the run – as they try to clear Phillipe’s name. But what do the rats and other characters have in store for the llamas?

Returning to the world of the llamas, who are hot on the tail of the badger, General Ignatius Bottomburp, this story is yet another escapade in a world that mirrors ours, but with animals – each country named for a certain animal – Catagonia, Ratopia, Chickenlovakia – and many more. In my interview with Aleesah, she mentioned this was the final League of Llamas book – you can find out more about what she said about it on Friday in her Isolation Publicity interview!

In this thrilling conclusion to the League of Llamas series, Phillipe must rally his friends around him, prove his innocence and capture Ratrick and those who framed him for blowing up a statue. On his journey, Phillipe meets many animals, and takes on many disguises – including a giraffe! The story is fast-paced and filled with humour that readers of all ages can appreciate – and is a book that can be read out loud or silently and still have the same entertaining effect on the reader, regardless of their age. It is accessible and interactive, and this is what makes it a great book for all ages.

AWW2020Confident readers will gobble these books up, perhaps in one sitting, although it is also fun to stretch out – and is suitable for junior readers, middle grade readers and beyond to be entertained, expand their vocabulary and to discover a world of words and fun with the friendly llamas. I loved reading these books – they are something different in the world of Australian children’s literature. They have in-jokes for adults – though I’m not spoiling this, you’ll have to read the books to find them for yourself! And will make kids laugh.

Animals as spies is very effective – llamas, and another author has crime solving pigeons – what next? We’ll have to just wait and see.

League of Llamas #3: Undercover Llamas by Aleesah Darlison

LOL 3Title: League of Llamas #3: Undercover Llamas

Author: Aleesah Darlison

Genre: Humour

Publisher: Puffin Books Australia

Published: 2nd July 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 144

Price: $9.99

Synopsis: High-action, high-adventure and high-humour – the League of Llamas series is perfect for fans of Diary of a Minecraft Zombie and The Bad Guys.

After failing to apprehend some dangerously peck-happy hens, the League of Llamas are going undercover! But these aren’t any ordinary secret identities – Phillipe, Lloyd and Elloise are joining Bruno Llamars (and his grumpy manager, Wally Chimpopo) as band members on the pop star’s next tour . . . to Chickenlovakia.

As the stakes – and tensions – climb higher and higher, will the LOL agents’ cover be blown before they can track down their feathery foes? Only time and some rather alarming discoveries will tell!

~*~

The League of Llamas – Phillippe, Elloise, and Lloyd, led by Mama Llama – are tasked with an undercover mission to uncover the plot of the chickens from Chickenlovakia led by Hilda. Whilst they are undercover as band members with Bruno Llamars, they are tasked with finding out what they can about a secret organisation linked to Chickenlovakia and to apprehend the chickens that have eluded them once before. But who can they trust? Is Wally Chimpopo on their side or is he trying to help the evil hens? It is up to the secret agent llamas to find out and stop the evil plot Hilda hopes to launch on the world.

AWW2020

League of Llamas is filled with humour, and nods to the real world, as well as the tropes of spy stories – it takes these tropes and makes them fun and accessible for kids, and older readers who enjoy a good laugh. These books are great for reading out loud, to yourself or for parents to read with kids – the alliteration and nods to things adults would know about and appreciate in the context of what they know are cleverly tied into an engaging and amusing story for younger readers eager for that bridge between early readers and middle grade books. It is set in a world that resembles Europe but in a very unique and different way. It has good guys and bad guys, which highlight the contrast between good and evil. Yet at the same time, if you dig a little deeper, it shows the depths that the characters will go to so they can achieve their goals.

As previously stated there are things in this series for adults and kids – and I’ve also read and reviewed the fourth book – there are only four books in this series, as I discussed with Aleesah in my Isolation Publicity, appearing here on the sixth of July. I loved this book, and think kids and readers of all ages will enjoy it!

 

Aussie Kids: Meet Sam at the Mangrove Creek by Paul Seden and Brenton McKenna

sam mangrove creekTitle: Meet Sam at the Mangrove Creek

Author: Paul Seden and Brenton McKenna

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Puffin

Published: 2nd July 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 64

Price: $12.99

Synopsis: Aussie Kids is an exciting new series for emerging readers 6-8 years.

From a NSW Zoo to a Victorian lighthouse, or an outback sheep farm in WA to a beach in QLD, this junior fiction series celebrates stories about children living in unique places in every state and territory in Australia.

8 characters, 8 stories, 8 authors and illustrators from all 8 states and territories!

Come on an adventure with Aussie Kids and meet Sam from the Northern Territory.

Hi! I’m Sam
I have a new throw net.
My cuz, Peter, and I can’t wait to try it out.
We want to catch a BIG barra!

~*~

The fabulously diverse and entertaining Aussie Kids series continues, this time in the Northern Territory, with Indigenous characters Sam, and his cousin Peter as they go fishing in the local mangroves. But what happens when they can’t use the new net to catch fish? Here we have a fabulous story told by Brenton McKenna for kids aged six to eight.

The Aussie Kids series are simply told, but they don’t talk down to kids. They give the story in an accessible, fun and relatable way in each story for all kids and open the world up to them as well. It shows a world that kids outside Northern Territory might not have experienced, and allows them to experience it through the page, in an accessible way for all readers, whilst showing the diversity of the Australian population and giving Indigenous kids representation in the literature and books that they read.

Much like the other books in the series, it takes place over a single day, or part of a day, and each story is its own entity but collaboratively, they showcase an Australia that is in some ways familiar and in other ways not so familiar across the board – depending on what the readers and children know. This series will build their reading confidence, vocabulary, and knowledge of diversity and the country they live in.

Combined with lovely illustrations by Paul Seden, this story is delightful in every way. It is a fabulous addition to his series and I hope all readers enjoy this new story.

 

Alexandra-Rose and Her Icy Cold Toes by Monique Mulligan

Alexandra-RoseTitle: Alexandra-Rose and Her Icy Cold Toes
Author: Monique Mulligan
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Serenity Press
Published: May 2020
Format: Paperback
Pages: 34
Price: $14.99
Synopsis: Alexandra Rose has ice-cold toes and she knows the best way to warm them up. But will her family like her foot-warming, wake-up-fast idea as much as she does?

Fergus the Farting Dragon and My Silly Mum author Monique Mulligan returns with another delightfully mischievous tale for children of all ages. Complemented by vibrant, funny illustrations, this cheeky story is perfect for reading aloud, with or without socks on.

~*~
Alexandra-Rose wakes up with icy cold toes one day – and finds her family is still asleep! So she comes up with a plan to wake them up – and warm her toes at the same time.

Monique emailed me earlier this year when we were all in lockdown, around the time we were sorting out our Isolation Publicity interview for the series due to end in mid-August. She asked me to review this book, and her upcoming novel in September, and I agreed as I love supporting Australian authors. I received this earlier this week and read it almost instantly. This is a delightful story about a family, and perfect for those cold, winter nights when you’re snuggled up, away from the cold.

It is also a very cheeky story, told in delightful and fun rhymes, accompanied by beautiful and bright illustrations that make the story and pages pop and come to life with a family filled with love and fun, and who are supportive and are always there for each other. Even the cat is quite the character, as many cats often are, and had a wonderful role in the story alongside Alexandra-Rose and her family.

AWW2020The pictures tell the story just as much as the words, from Alexandra-Rose’s icy blue toes, to the final image of her family together, with her brother in a wheelchair, which is excellent disability representation, and the images have their own life beyond the words.

Monique’s book has also been read, and the reading recorded, by Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York. This shows how far Australian books, authors and publishers can reach – Monique’s book is a shining example of how Australian books and stories have a place in the world and beyond the audiences it will find in Australia.

Being able to support authors like Monique is one of my favourite things about this blog, and why I try to focus on Australian authors and authors that might not have as big a following as some very well-known authors worldwide.

Children of all ages will love this book, and it is perfect to read out loud with its rhyming and lilting tones and structure, and will be great for readers learning to read and confident readers – readers at all ages and levels will get enjoyment out of this delightful little book. I loved reading it and can’t wait to read Monique’s adult novel coming out in September.

 

Isolation Publicity with Petra James

 

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 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.

Petra James is the author of the Hapless Hero Henrie series, and the second book came out in May in the midst of the pandemic. Part of her publicity for this book is the following interview we arranged ages ago, just after I read the first book for Writing NSW. This interview was done before the advent of online events, so doesn’t reflect the changes that other authors have made.

Hi Petra and Welcome to The Book Muse
It’s lovely to be here – thank you.

1. The second book in your Hapless Hero Henrie series is out in May – what is the basic premise of this novel?

Henrie is on her first Hero Hunt – with Alex Fischer from Hapless Hero Henrie and a girl called Marley Hart, who has rung the Hero Hotline seeking a hero. There’s a mystery about Marley’s great aunt Agnes (an archaeologist), a missing gold statue, a secret from the past, and a new villain.

2. How many books do you think you have planned for Henrie Melchior’s story?

At the moment, it’s just the two books but Violetta Villarne (from Villains Inc) has a habit of popping up when she’s least expected so I wouldn’t be surprised if she has more to say and do. She loves making trouble …

3. This is one I’m really looking forward to after getting to review the first book for Writing NSW earlier this year. Where did the idea for House of Heroes come from – a family where no girls have been born for decades?

Thank you so much for your wonderful review of Hapless Hero Henrie. I’m thrilled you enjoyed it.

I’m the youngest of four girls and I was supposed to be a boy but, obviously, I wasn’t so I grew up with this sense that I wasn’t quite who I was supposed to be. I took this idea to the extreme by wondering what dramatic events could be set in motion if a girl was born into a family business, governed by tradition, and males.

I also wanted to reclaim the hero space for girls because, of course, girls can be heroes too!

4. What, if any, events and appearances did you have planned for the release of this book before the pandemic crisis forced their cancellation?

We’d really just started talking about this when COVID struck but I was hoping to attend some bookshop book clubs, visit some schools ….

5. Out of all the characters you have created, do you have a favourite, and why this character?

This is always a tough question to answer. I guess each new character is like a new friend so there’s a joyful sense of discovery as you get to know each other. So Henrie is probably top of the list at the moment because she’s the main character of my latest book. But then all the characters in my other books are like old friends, and old friends are equally cherished.

6. How did you get your start in children’s publishing, and what is your job within the industry these days?

I worked for a literary magazine in the UK when I left university and soon realised that publishing was the job for me. I loved every part of it. And still do. I’m a children’s publisher now – working with amazing authors, illustrators and designers. I feel pretty lucky to have such a job.

7. Do you have a favourite children’s book, series or author, or many, and what are they?

I have so many favourites. For so many different reasons. This question could take me months to answer. And I’d probably want to keep changing it. It would be like the Magic Pudding of answers – I could never ever finish it.

8. How do you think children’s books and stories have changed over the years, compared to what you may have read as a child?

I think there’s a much greater range of stories now with so many more authors writing for children. I think humour is more prevalent too.

9. Growing up, what sort of books did you find yourself drawn to in particular, and why?

I loved all the Enid Blyton books, especially the Famous Five and the Secret Seven. I planned for a while to be a spy. And Ferdinand the Bull was my favourite picture book, probably because my dad loved this story and read it to me constantly.

10. What was it about the arts, writing and publishing that made you want to make a career in this industry?

It was a serendipitous discovery. I feel as though it found me rather than the other way around. And once in the publishing/writing world, I knew no other career could ever fit so well.

11. Can you tell us what is next for Henrie and the House of Melchior?

That is a question without an answer … for the moment.

12. In times like these, how important do you think the arts are going to be for people so they can get through it?

Creativity is fuel for the soul. Our physical worlds may have shrunk but the world inside a book is immense. We may not be able to leave the house but we can still explore the most magnificent inner worlds by reading, singing, dancing, playing the ukulele, writing, haiku-ing …

Anything I may have missed?

Thank you Petra, I look forward to more Henrie Melchior stories.

Thanks so much to you and I hope you enjoy Henrie’s Hero Hunt.

Kensy and Max: Freefall by Jacqueline Harvey

kensy and max 5Title: Kensy and Max: Freefall
Author: Jacqueline Harvey
Genre: Adventure
Publisher: Puffin
Published: 3rd March 2020
Format: Paperback
Pages: 400
Price: $16.99
Synopsis: Where do you draw the line when your family and friends are in grave danger? Do you take action even though it means ignoring the rules?
Back at Alexandria, with their friend Curtis Pepper visiting, Kensy and Max are enjoying the school break. Especially when Granny Cordelia surprises them with a trip to New York! It’s meant to be a family vacation, but the twins soon realise there’s more to this holiday than meets the eye.
The chase to capture Dash Chalmers is on and when there’s another dangerous criminal on the loose, the twins find themselves embroiled in a most unusual case. They’ll need all their spy sensibilities, along with Curtis and his trusty spy backpack, to bring down the culprit.

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Kensy and Max are on their summer break at Alexandria with their grandmother and Song, and new friend from Sydney, Curtis Pepper when they’re summoned to New York! A family vacation – how fantastic! Only…it’s not. When whispers of Dash Chalmers coming to find his family arise, Kensy and Max find their family and themselves in the middle of a race to keep Dash from finding his family and uncovering the culprit behind the poisonings from letters and parcels.

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At the same time, Dame Spencer has her own reasons for including Curtis – she sees him as a possible recruit and spends much of the novel assessing him – we know from the blurb on the back that Curtis is a recruit being considered by Dame Cordelia Spencer. Kensy, Max and Curtis must work together to find out what is going on and who is behind it – and why all the adults around them are suddenly so secretive.

AWW2020The Kensy and Max series gets more and exciting as it goes on, and each book should be read in order – some characters pop in and out of the series, the books refer back to previous events, but don’t give a full recap of what has come before, and there are new things to learn all the time that need to be connected to the previous stories. The codes and ciphers are always fun too – in this one, Jacqueline uses the A1Z26 code – where each letter of the alphabet is represented with the numbers one to twenty-six in that order.

Be swept up in a New York adventure as Kensy, Max and Curtis hone their spy skills, and seek to uncover the person who has been sending poison through the postal system. This is yet another highly addictive adventure in the Kensy and Max series, and as more secrets and hints at why the family is constantly targeted are revealed, we get closer to finding out why Anna and Edward had to go into hiding for so many years.

Kensy and Max: Freefall ramps up the action in the final chapters, where everything seems to happen quickly and seamlessly as Kensy, Max and Curtis get caught up in finding out who they’re after and saving Tinsley and her children, and many other people. It has the perfect balance of humour and action, and I love that Kensy and Max get to be who they are, but are growing and changing across the course of the series. This is a great addition to the Kensy and Max series, filled with continuity and in jokes, and a new take on the spy novel that has a fresh take on the world of spies and their training and gadgets. I am looking forward to Kensy and Max book six when it comes out.

Tashi: 25th Anniversary Edition by Anna Fienberg, Barbara Fienberg and Kim Gamble

Tashi 25Title: Tashi: 25th Anniversary Edition

Author: Anna Fienberg, Barbara Fienberg and Kim Gamble

Genre: Fantasy

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 16th June 2020

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 112

Price: $16.99

Synopsis: Tashi’s adventures have been loved by children all over the world for twenty-five years. This special edition of the original Tashi book celebrates Tashi’s anniversary, and includes a story about Tashi’s first birthday, ‘Tashi and the Silver Cup’, and ‘Kidnapped!’ from Tashi’s Storybook.

OVER ONE MILLION COPIES SOLD!

For twenty-five years Tashi has been telling fabulous stories. He escaped from a war lord in a faraway place and flew to this country on the back of a swan. And he wished he would find a friend just like Jack. In this first book of his daring adventures, Tashi tells Jack about the time he tricked the last dragon of all. Now, a whole generation of readers will know that when Tashi says, ‘Well, it was like this …’ an exciting new adventure is about to begin. This special anniversary edition includes the stories ‘Tashi and the Silver Cup’ and ‘Kidnapped!’ together for the first time.

‘The Tashi stories are some of my all-time favourites: a world within a world and a magical place for children to lose themselves in.’ Sally Rippin, bestselling author of Polly and Buster and Billie B. Brown

‘All children should meet Tashi. He can be their mentor on the road to reading, feeding their imaginations with fantastic stories. The Tashi stories have the evergreen qualities of classics.’ Magpies

‘I read my kids Tashi – it’s this story that they love.’ Angelina Jolie

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Tashi is one of those series of books that children have loved since it the first book was published back in 1995 – and was one of those books that was always out at the library! And then it felt like it disappeared – or maybe it was just always sold out or borrowed when I checked. So this is the first time I’ve been able to read an entire Tashi book, written by Anna and her mother, Barbara, and delightfully illustrated by the late Kim Gamble, who died in 2016. I remember meeting Kim at school at an illustrator visit and buying his book You Can Draw Anything – which I still have, and he signed it. He was lovely and encouraging – and we all knew him as ‘the Tashi illustrator’, because Tashi was so big at our school!

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Anna and Barbara’s story about Tashi, and his adventures with dragons and giants, stories he tells Jack, are as well-known as many of the older stories and classics of childhood. It has a quasi-fairy tale/fantasy feel to it. Jack and his parents live in the real world, but Tashi is from another world where giants and dragons live, and where he has used his wits and tricks to get out of tricky situations and get back to his family. Anna and Barbara have told a whimsical and magical adventure for younger children about being brave, about family, and about friendship. Their words weave a special kind of magic around the reader. Even as an adult, I could feel the magic and wonder of the words just as they would be for younger readers.

The words are accompanied by Kim Gamble’s delightfully playful black and white illustrations that tell as much of the story as the words do and give life to the characters beyond the page. This is a delightful book that will enchant all ages and is sure to become an Australian classic that will be visited and revisited for generations to come.

 

Monty’s Island: Scary Mary and the Stripe Spell by Emily Rodda and Lucinda Gifford (Illustrator)

montys island 1Title: Monty’s Island: Scary Mary and the Stripe Spell
Author: Emily Rodda and Lucinda Gifford (Illustrator)
Genre: Adventure
Publisher: Allen and Unwin
Published: March 2020
Format: Paperback
Pages: 176
Price: $14.99
Synopsis: Monty lives on a perfect island in the middle of a magical sea. Sometimes the sea throws up something interesting … and Monty goes on an amazing adventure!
On a tiny island far away, in a sea that ripples with magic, Monty never knows what he might find…

Monty, Tawny and friends receive some startling news: Scary Mary and her pirate crew are on their way, looking for a new island to call home.

What can they do? There’s no way they can hide – especially when Bunchy accidentally turns the whole island stripy with her new magic wand.

It’s going to take one of Monty’s best ideas to save them!

An adventurous and delightful new series from beloved author Emily Rodda.

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Emily Rodda’s new series for junior readers, Monty’s Island, is a fun new adventure. Set on a tropical island, a young boy, Monty, lives there with his friends, Marigold, Bunchy the magical elephant, Tawny the lion, Sir Wise the Owl and Clink the Pirate Parrot. As the day starts, the Laughing Traveller, a dolphin, swims by to warn Monty and his friends that the dreaded pirate, Scary Mary and her crew are headed towards the island – they want a new home. As they try to hide, Bunchy turns the whole island stripey in an attempt to hide them from the pirate crew. So what do they do? How will they break the spell and defend themselves and their home? Monty will have to come up with a brilliant idea to help his home and his friends!

The start of a new series is always exciting, and this one aimed at readers aged between six and eight is no exception. It is a child and animal driven world, where the characters stand together and find a way to solve their problems and challenges together. It is a story of family and friendship, with magic and adventure. This series, where the main character, Monty, and his friends, loos to be a promising and fun series for younger readers and anyone who likes a good story. It is filled with humour, magic and diverse characters who exist for who they are, and what they do. Each brings something unique, interesting and fun to the story.

AWW2020It is the little things that make the world of Monty’s Island easy to slip into and live in. I read this one in preparation for the second one, should I get it for review, and found it charming and delightful. The adventure in this story is on a smaller scale to Deltora Quest – which is aimed at confident middle grade readers whilst this is aimed at early readers. Long-time fans of Emily Rodda will love this new book and series, and it will bring a new generation of readers to her entire back catalogue.

Setting a series on an island, where the child character drives much of the action with his talking animal friends is something that I think many readers will be eager to experience – Monty is unrestrained in some ways yet in others, he still has things to learn. He is also a great problem solver, and loyal to his friends on the island. Friendship and individuality and coming together are the key themes in this novel, with encouragement and kindness driving the way for the friends to solve the problem of the Stripe Spell and Scary Mary.

This was a delightful book to read, and an excellent series opener. It sets the scene well, and opens the door for so many adventures to come. It is a series I will be watching eagerly!