Books and Bites Bingo Fairy Tale Collection: Snow White and Rose Red: And Other Tales of Kind Young Women by Kate Forsyth and Lorena Carrington

books and bites game card
I’m moving through this challenge a bit slower than I’d like – for several categories I do have the books, I just need to read them. For others, I’m waiting for the right or specific book to arrive. One square I might struggle to fill is the book I keep putting off, as I don’t intentionally put a book off if it’s on my TBR or shelves. In a way I am because I have been working on a strategy to get through everything.

SnowWhiteCover copy

Back to this post though, I had a few ideas of what I was going to read, and I finally settled on the latest in the long-lost fairy tale collection by Kate Forsyth and Lorena Carrington, Snow White and Rose Red – And Other Tales of Kind Young Women. This fulfilled several challenge categories, and was a much-anticipated book. It was released at the height of the pandemic, and so I invited Kate and Lorena to appear on my blog in an interview – I am biased in saying it is one of my favourite interviews of the series, because we chatted about fairy tales, writing and illustration processes and many other things about writing and Kate’s books.

This book is lovely – from the stories chosen and retold, to the beautiful layered, photographic and digital illustrations Lorena created to be paired with Kate’s magical and spellbinding words. It is a fantastic fairy tale book and I am glad I chose it for this square.

Isolation Publicity with Dee White

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.

Dee White small author photo 2019 colour
Dee White has two books coming out, or that have come out during this pandemic – Beyond Belief, and Eddy Popcorn’s Guide to Parent Training – she has discussed them both here in one of my longest interviews yet! So it is interesting and exciting to get so many different interviews and responses, and shows how diverse our writing industry is in many ways. Like many authors, the release of Dee’s books was affected by the pandemic, and events have been cancelled. Dee agreed to take part in my series to promote these books and hopefully reach her readers.

Hi Dee and welcome to The Book Muse!

1. You’ve got two new releases that I am featuring here – one of which I do have on order. Could you tell my readers about each of them?

Beyond Belief is a work of historical fiction inspired by the true story of Muslims at a Paris Mosque who saved Jewish children during WW11. It tells the story of eleven year-old Jewish boy, Ruben and his family who are fleeing the Nazis and French police after more than 13,000 Jews were arrested and taken to concentration camps during the Vel D’hiv roundup on 16 and 17 July 1942.

Eddy Popcorn also features an eleven year-old boy, but couldn’t be more different. Eddy Popcorn is contemporary, humorous illustrated fiction. Eddy has been grounded for the school holidays for not doing his homework. Faced with not seeing the beach, or his mates, for the WHOLE holidays, Eddy puts all of his frustration into a helpful book for kids: Eddy Popcorn’s Guide to Parent Training.

2. Beyond Belief is the one I have on order, and was published in early April – can you tell my readers what it is about, and where the idea came from?

As I mentioned earlier, this book is inspired by a true story that I stumbled upon when I was researching another book, Paris Hunting. (Still a work in progress.) After the roundup, Ruben’s parents leave him at the mosque where they know he will be safe while they go looking for his sister Rosa who has been missing for some months. Ruben must wait for there for the infamous Fox who will take him to Spain to be reunited with his family. (The Fox is also inspired by a real historical character). At the mosque, Ruben must learn how to be a Muslim. One hint of his true identity and he’ll be killed, and so will the people trying to save him.

3. Following on from the previous question, Beyond Belief explores one of the untold stories of World War Two. What draws you to these kinds of stories, and how do you think we can get them into classrooms and mainstream discussions of history?

I feel like there’s so much we can learn from the past but also so much that we can relate to the modern world. Racism and propaganda are still issues we face today. In Paris and in other parts of Europe in the late 1930’s the Nazis instigated a campaign of hate against the Jews. They produced posters showing Jews taking over the world and stealing people’s hard earned money. They forced Jews from the ghettos to ‘act’ in films. They dressed them up in opulent clothes and forced them to walk past Jews dying on the streets of the ghettos to convince the general public that these people didn’t even care about their own race. It was all fake news, but people believed it. They used this propaganda to dehumanise the Jews so that when atrocities were committed against them, people wouldn’t step into help. They used these campaigns of hate to turn people against the Jews in much the same way that the Howard government used the fake ‘children over board’ campaign to turn modern day Australians against refugees. They tried to make us believe that parents were throwing their children overboard to save themselves and this was proven not to be true.

I think I’m drawn to these stories because they show the power of human kindness … and that we are all people, regardless of religious beliefs or place of birth. The interfaith solidarity between the Jews and the Muslims crossed all religious and historical boundaries. It was simply an example of genuine human concern for other humans. During the war there were examples of this all over the world between many different races. During my research I discovered an amazing organisation called I Am Your Protector. https://iamyourprotector.org/ I really believe in their ethos. They do amazing things. They are, “a community of people who speak out and stand up for one another other across dimensions of religion, ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation. Through our work, we transcend perceived lines of division between different communities and endeavour to change the way people view the “other”. We share knowledge, stories, and tools that inspire people to become each other’s protectors.”

In February, the Victorian Education Minister, James Merlino announced that the Holocaust would become compulsory learning for Years 9 and 10 and I think that’s a great start to bringing books like Beyond Belief into schools. With themes like racism and fake news, books like Beyond Belief aren’t just a way to examine the past, they’re also relevant today. I think that all we can do is try to get the word out about books like Beyond Belief (like you are doing with your blog) and through social and mainstream media to make schools aware that these books are available and how valuable they can be in the classroom. Publishers like Scholastic also provide curriculum-based teacher’s notes to help.

4. Your other new release, Eddy Popcorn’s Guide to Parent Training, was released on the first of May – what is this about, and is it a stand-alone, or part of a series?

Eddy Popcorn’s character and story are inspired by my boys when they were around eleven or twelve. I love the ironic humour of kids at this age. Eddy Popcorn’s Guide to Parent Training is about the pre-teen relationship between kids and adults – that time when kids are starting to question the world around them and whether parents actually have all the answers. I love this age because kids are starting to develop their own perspective on the world and it’s often very funny.

Eddy Popcorn’s Guide to Parent Training is the first book in the series illustrated by Ben Johnston, whose illustrations are amazing. I’d never met or spoken to him, but he really seemed to connect with Eddy and his story. The second book in the series, Eddy Popcorn’s Guide to Teacher Taming is coming out with Scholastic Australia next year.

5. With both of these books released in the midst of a pandemic, what events, launches and appearances did you have to cancel?

I had a launch at our local library and one at the Little Bookroom organised … and of course these were both cancelled. I had received a grant to do a month long artist residence at a remote regional Victorian school in May/June but this couldn’t go ahead either. I had planned a three-month book tour (in my caravan Luna) from Melbourne to Townsville and return with school, library and bookstore visits and events booked in Sydney, Canberra, Brisbane and the Sunshine Coast. I also planned to visit isolated regional areas because I feel they often miss out on having authors visit their towns and schools. All this had to be cancelled. There were also a number of writer’s festivals that had booked me to appear and these didn’t go ahead either.

6. Did you always want to be a writer, and what do you think you would have been if you hadn’t gone down the publishing road?

I wanted to be a writer since I was seven, but it wasn’t considered a ‘proper job’ at that time so when I left school I actually went into insurance, which I hated, and then marketing and advertising. From this I was able to get a job as a copywriter so at least I was writing and from there I went into journalism. But even when I was working in insurance, I still wrote in my own time. I was compelled to write. For me it has always been as essential as breathing.

7. What are the craziest, or most outlandish things you have done in the name of research for one of your books?

Probably doing a tour of the Paris sewers for Beyond Belief. It was certainly the smelliest thing I’ve ever done. I’ve also been up in a hot air balloon and invented and trialled my own weapons in the name of research.

8. Where have you travelled to research your books, and which of these places has been the most interesting or your favourite?

My research has taken me to different parts of Australia and the world including Amsterdam, New York and Paris. Paris would definitely have to be my favourite. The month I spent in Paris researching Beyond Belief (Thanks to a Creative Victoria VicArts grant) was amazing. Everything just seemed to fall into place. And the information I needed seemed to find me. I was given an interpreter, Laetitia for the sewer tour and she was so lovely. She also happened to be a Muslim who spoke Arabic and she helped me to verify the authenticity of the events I was writing about. Her next door neighbour was the mother of a Rabbin so Laetitia was able to get me into a synagogue in Paris as well.

9. When it comes to research – how do you begin your research process, and are some topics easier to research than others?

I usually begin my research online, but I always love to visit the actual place I’m writing about if I can. It’s definitely easier to find out about some topics than others. France didn’t actually acknowledge their part in the Holocaust until about 1995 and memorials came much later so it wasn’t that easy to find out some things. Beyond Belief was also emotionally hard to research because of the nature of the subject matter. It was just so awful to visit Holocaust centres and memorials and see the faces of babies and small children who had been murdered. It was also a deeply personal story for me because my father and his parents were forced to flee Nazi occupied Austria.

I’m currently researching an historical fiction set in Australia, The Explorer’s Niece, and that’s proving difficult too because there are discrepancies between the information I’ve uncovered. And two of the local historians were at odds over it and disagree on dates and events. The research process is never smooth sailing. There are always places where you stumble. But that’s part of the challenge and fun of it. I love research because you never know where it will take you and your characters. If I do research online I always try and verify its authenticity in some other way through museums, libraries or a local historical society or by visiting the place myself and talking to people.

10. You’re also a certified writing teacher. Do all your classes take place face to face, or do you also teach online, and how has this been affected by the pandemic?

I’ve been running online writing classes for kids for almost ten years now. My students come from all over the world … From USA, UK, Australia and India, to Singapore, Hong Kong and Dubai, so that part hasn’t really been affected by the pandemic. But I also do face-to-face workshops and appearances at festivals, libraries and schools and these have all been cancelled. Also as I mentioned, my one month artist-in-residence, would all have been face-to-face workshops with students from prep to Year 8. I also mentor writers of all ages and this is often done via email so that hasn’t changed either.

11. Is the History, Mystery and Mirth tour still going ahead, or has it been cancelled or postponed – alternatively, has it been adapted into an online tour like some other festivals have?

Unfortunately I’ve had to cancel the tour for this year because of the closure of state borders and also schools are very busy at the moment with all the online learning. They have their hands full just trying to deal with the basic curriculum and paperwork and parents and technology fails etc. Perhaps I might be able to go ahead with tour next year. I’m currently in talks with the school I was going to be doing the artist-in-residence at, and hopefully that will go ahead in 2021. I am doing some online events still. I run the writer’s bootcamps at the CYA festival, which will be happening online in July. I’m also running an online workshop on creating compelling characters through SCBWI ACT on 28 June and that will feature Ruben from Beyond Belief and Eddy.

12. Who else is – or was – involved with the History, Mystery and Mirth tour?

I was organising this tour myself, but I’d scheduled a number of events through SCBWI in various parts of Australia and at a number of schools and festivals. And of course there was my artist-in-residence in Yarrawonga, which was to be part of the tour.

13. Apart from novels for children and young adults, have you had any other writing published elsewhere?

I’ve had many articles published in newspapers and magazines and online and I’ve written for a number of blogs. I started the Kids’ Book Capers blog at Boomerang Books and as well as my own blogs I ran a blog for a school for four years. When my kids were 2 ½ and 8 months old, we travelled around Australia in tents (with the family dog) for about 18 months and as we travelled I wrote articles for publications like Practical Parenting, Good Weekend and Go Camping.

14. Do you have a favourite writing companion or spot to write your novels in?

My goat Molly used to be my muse but sadly, she passed away when she was 14. I’m a bit of a nomadic writer and don’t have a single place that I work. I love writing outside and I love being in the location that I’m writing about and immersing myself in the setting.

15. Do you prefer to write with a notebook and pen, or on the computer, or a combination?

I always start out writing with a notebook and pen. It’s more portable and works well outside because I don’t have to worry about screen glare. Even in the editing process, if I have to rewrite a section I tend to do it with a notebook and pen. It seems to make it easier for me to immerse myself and connect more closely with my story and characters.

16. Do you have a favourite bookseller you’re trying to support during these tough times?

That’s a really hard one. All the booksellers are amazing and having a difficult time too. My local bookseller New Leaves doesn’t have an online store, but you can post your order through a slot in their front door and they deliver to your door. (Good old fashioned country service) Squishy Minnie is also wonderful. They’re in the next town and they have an online store and they have gorgeous books for kids and teens. And I love The Little Bookroom who are always so supportive of me and other creators and they have my books in store and online as well. Collins Booksellers in Sunbury always so enthusiastic about my work too.

17. Which authors or books are you always drawn to?

I love books with heart and a touch of humour and a bit of mystery … and of course, history as well. I love Bren MacDibble’s books because they have so much heart and originality and her characters are always so memorable. Wendy Orr’s books are like that too and I particularly like her historical fiction like Dragonfly Song and Swallow’s Dance. Kathryn Gauci is also an amazing author who writes adult historical fiction. I love Rebecca Stead’s books and Jessica Townsend and Nova Weetman and Chrisse Perry and Adam Wallace and Michael Gerard Bauer. There are just so many wonderful books and authors out there.

18. Many authors I have interviewed have also been involved in reading, writing and literacy programs – is this something you do as well?

I have worked in schools and with individuals on a voluntary basis, helping with reading, writing and literacy, but I’m not associated with any particular organisation.

19. Are all your books published by one publisher, or do you work with different publishers?

I work with different publishers. Beyond Belief and Eddy Popcorn are published by Scholastic, my picture book Reena’s Rainbow is published by EK books, I’ve had books published by Pearson Australia and my YA novel Letters to Leonardo was published in Australia by Walker Books and by Mazo Publishing in USA and UK.

20. How would you like to see people supporting the arts and artists in this time, and beyond the pandemic?

The best way that people can support the arts and artists is to engage with art and spread the word about it. Buy books and music and artworks. Go to live shows and festivals and if you like what you read, heard or saw, tell people about it. One of my local bookstores keeps selling out of Beyond Belief and that’s because people keep recommending it to others. Of course reviews are great too. If you like a book, review it on Goodreads or online bookstores.

21. What books do you have planned for the future?

I’m working on Eddy 2 – Eddy Popcorn’s Guide to Teacher Taming, and I have another historical fiction, The Explorer’s Niece. I’m working on Paris Hunting which is the book I was working on when I stumbled across the story that became Beyond Belief. I also have another historical fiction in the pipeline, Canary Girl and another humorous junior fiction work in progress, Will Smite the Nearly Fearless Knight. So plenty to stop me from getting bored!

Anything you wish to say that I may have missed?

Wow, thank you for your great questions and for having me on your fabulous blog.

I have a Youtube channel  and you can find out more about me at my website  or on social media at Dee White Author.

The other thing I wanted to mention is that I’ve been making Pop Motion videos (stop motion videos using popcorn) for Eddy Popcorn’s Guide to the Apocalypse and it is so much fun! In his pop motions, Eddy shares his experiences and tips on how to survive the pandemic. Eddy’s pop motions can be viewed on my Youtube channel and through Eddy’s page on my website. I’m also happy to do workshops in schools about using pop motion as a storytelling tool.

Thanks Dee!

May 2020 Round Up

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
AWW2020 -53/25
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

May – 20

Book Author Challenge
The Monstrous Devices Damien Love Reading Challenge, STFU Reading Challenge, AWW2020
An Alice Girl Tanya Heaslip Reading Challenge, AWW2020
Daisy Runs Wild Caz Goodwin and Ashley King Reading Challenge, AWW2020
Peta Lyre’s Rating Normal Anna Whateley Reading Challenge, AWW2020
Her Perilous Mansion Sean Williams Reading Challenge
What Zola did on Monday

 

Melina Marchetta and illustrated by Deb Hudson Reading Challenge, AWW2020, The Nerd Daily Challenge
Henrie’s Hero Hunt (House of Heroes)

 

Petra Hunt Reading Challenge, AWW2020,
The Power of Positive Pranking Nat Amoore Reading Challenge, Dymocks Reading Challenge, AWW2020
Edie’s Experiments: How to Make Friends Charlotte Barkla Reading Challenge, AWW2020
Alice-Miranda at School Jacqueline Harvey Reading Challenge, The Nerd Daily, AWW2020
Alice-Miranda in the Outback Jacqueline Harvey Reading Challenge, AWW2020
The Giant and the Sea Trent Jamieson, Rovina Cai Reading Challenge, Book Bingo, STFU Reading Challenge
Shoestring: The Boy Who Walks on Air by

 

Julie Hunt and Dale Newman Reading Challenge, AWW2020
Orla and the Serpent’s Curse C.J. Halsam Reading Challenge
Elephant Me Giles Andreae and Guy Parker-Rees Reading Challenge, Dymocks Reading Challenge, The Nerd Daily Challenge
A Treacherous Country K.M. Kruimink Reading Challenge, AWW2020
Eloise and the Bucket of Stars Janine Brian Reading Challenge, AWW2020
Snow White and Rose Red: And Other Tales of Kind Young Women  Kate Forsyth and Lorena Carrington Reading Challenge, Dymocks Reading Challenge, AWW2020, Books and Bites Book Bingo
Tashi: 25th Anniversary Edition

 

Anna Fienberg, Barbara Fienberg and Kim Gamble Reading Challenge, AWW2020
On A Barbarous Coast Craig Cormick and Harold Ludwick Reading Challenge, STFU Reading Challenge, Dymocks Reading Challenge

 

In June I am hoping to read more and get further on top of all my reviews – look for more great books by Australians and especially kids and young adult books to come in the next few weeks.

Peta Lyre

Isolation Publicity with James Foley, Author and Illustrator

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.

James Foley is a children’s author and illustrator, who has illustrated anthologies, written for anthologies and published several of his own books, including the current series, Toffle Towers, which was written by Tim Harris. So far, James hasn’t had to cancel or postpone any events yet. Yet getting the perspective of author-illustrators was something that interested me, and I wanted to expand this series to other authors as well if they were interested. It’s always interesting to hear the different stories behind the books and creations.

Hi James, and welcome to the Book Muse!

  1. You’re a writer and an illustrator – what came first – writing books, or illustrating?

When I was a kid I was always doing both. I was making little short stories, picture books and comics; they were two sides of the coin for me.

 

  1. Your new series is Toffle Towers – of which I have just ordered the first two. What is Toffle Towers about, and where did the idea come from?

Toffle Towers is about a 10yo boy called Chegwin Toffle who inherits a hotel. As the new manager, he has to find a way to bring in new customers or the hotel will close down and all the staff will lose their jobs. It’s written by Tim Harris and illustrated by me; I’m not exactly sure where Tim got the idea, but I know that the British comedy Fawlty Towers was an inspiration.

 

  1. Toffle Towers is aimed at middle grade readers – are all your books and series aimed at this age group, and if not, which ones are for younger or even older readers?

Some of my books are aimed at middle grade – definitely Toffle Towers, as well as my graphic novels series S.Tinker Inc. There are three books in that series so far: Brobot, Dungzilla and Gastronauts; the fourth is called Chickensaurus and is out this October. The series stars Sally Tinker, the world’s foremost inventor under the age of twelve, and follows her adventures in invention.

I’ve also done picture books for younger readers – The Last Viking, The Last Viking Returns, In The Lion – and a picture book for older readers called My Dead Bunny. The sequel to that, There’s Something About Lena, is out this October.

 

  1. You write graphic novels as well – is this more of a challenge than novels?

I wouldn’t know – I’ve never written a novel. A novel would be a bigger challenge for me because I’ve never written anything that long that was predominantly words. A graphic novel has its own challenges; there are just so many pictures to draw.

  1. Do you do your own illustrations in your work, or do you work with other illustrators, or both?

I’ve mostly worked as an illustrator for other authors. When I’ve been the author, I’ve always done my own illustrations.

  1. Toffle Towers 2 has just come out – did you have any events or launches planned around the release, or any events and appearances in general?

I know Tim did. Most of my gigs are booked for later in the year, and they’re mostly still booked (for now – fingers crossed).

 

  1. As a children’s author, I imagine school visits are important. Did you have to cancel any, and secondly, what do you enjoy about these visits?

I haven’t had to cancel any yet, but it might still happen- it depends if the social distancing restrictions are lifted by August. I enjoy being able to meet my audience, to encourage them to make their own stories, and to make up stories together – it’s so much fun.

 

  1. Many middle grade books now have illustrations – I think this is a really interesting trend, and not something I remember after I reached a certain age in my books – what do you think has driven this trend, and where did you first notice it?

I’ve no idea. It’s been a thing for a while now. I don’t have anything interesting to say on this question, haha

 

  1. Have you ever contributed to any anthologies, and what have these been?

Yes, I contributed to Total Quack Up in 2019, a fundraiser for Dymocks Children’s Charities; also Funny Bones in 2020, a fundraiser for War Child Australia.

funny bones

  1. Have any of your books ever won any awards?

They’ve been nominated for a bunch; the Children’s Book Council of Australia’s Book of the Year awards, the children’s choice awards, the Aurealis awards; I’ve had a book selected for the International Youth Library’s White Ravens List.

  1. Are there any literacy related charities you support, and what made you choose these ones?

 

I support Room To Read and Books In Homes Australia. Both aim to get books into the hands of kids who might not otherwise have access to them.

  1. You’ve worked with Disability in the Arts/Disadvantage in the Arts Australia (WA) – what was this experience like for you, and has working with places like this and Indigenous organisations informed your writing in any way?

It taught me that art is a great leveller; lots of people like to draw and paint when given the chance. It’s taught me to be grateful for my skills and to try to share them as much as possible.

  1. Apart from creating your awesome stories of course, what is your favourite thing about being a kid’s author?

Hearing from kids who really enjoyed your stories.

  1. Favourite illustration medium and method to work with?

I’m mostly working digitally these days – I use a Wacom cintiq digital display and Adobe Photoshop software. But if I’m working traditionally, I love some big sheets of paper and charcoal, and I also love pen and ink and watercolour.

  1. Favourite way of writing – pen and paper or tapping away at a keyboard?

Pen and paper first to get down ideas, then the keyboard to edit and finalise.

 

  1. What has SCWBI done to help you in your career?

 

Heaps. It’s been my support network, it got me my first gig, it helped me meet editors and publishers across Australia. It’s been absolutely vital.

 

  1. What has been your favourite writer’s festival?

They’ve all been great but a few have been extra special. I did Brisbane Writer’s Festival a few years ago and spoke to some massive crowds; I did the Whitsunday Voices Youth Literature Festival and spoke to some big crowds there too. I’ve done some great regional festivals in WA as well, including one in Geraldton – that included a little plane ride and an overnight stay at the Abrolhos Islands. And there was a little festival on Bruny Island in Tasmania – that was spectacular.

  1. Working in the arts, what has been something you have noticed about the importance of the arts for all ages, and the way people interact with the arts?

I’ve noticed that lots of adults say they can’t draw, ‘they can’t even draw a stick figure’. They can draw, they just need to learn how. I’ve noticed too that most primary school kids LOVE to draw, and when you can take them through a drawing step by step, they feel really proud. I think most people see drawing as some kind of magic skill, but when you teach people how to do it, you demystify it, and it gives them a great sense of achievement to be able to do it.

 

  1. You illustrated the Total Quack Up books – how did Adrian and Sally decide your style worked best for the stories?

I don’t know why they chose me – I’m glad they did though. It was a lot of fun and it led to me working on the Toffle Towers series.

 

  1. Finally, what have you been doing to help kids with isolation in terms of reading, literacy, fun and homeschooling?

I’ve been working with Littlescribe to provide some free online creative writing lessons. They’re on the Littlescribe facebook page and youtube channel. You can check those out here:

I’ve also done a session with my local indie bookshop, Paper Bird Children’s Books and Arts; it’s available on their youtube channel.

Any further comments?

Thank you James, and good luck with Toffle Towers!

Books and Bites Bingo Progress Report One – First Bingo

I should be doing this for each bingo line I hit – with the regular book bingo, it is being included in the relevant post. For this one with Monique, I am trying to update as I complete a line.

books and bites game card

 

My first BINGO of the sheet is the top lime – which I actually completed last month but have only just managed to find time to write this brief post. This was possibly the easiest line – some squares I am still finding books, or waiting for a release, or am, not sure what I will use. Luckily, these are fairly broad categories and I can go with anything for many of them, so when I find something that fits, that is what I will use. This is my overall challenge strategy and I am finding it less stressful as it allows me to read what I have and if it fits, that’s a good thing.

This was a challenge I signed up for later than the others, but am having fun with it nonetheless. Of the books I used in this challenge, I loved them all and there were so many others that could have worked here. I admit to stretching the travel memoir category – using a fictional book with travel that felt like it could be a travel memoir – I expand on this more in the post, however.

I look forward to filling the rest of the squares and reporting on them in the coming months.

Books and Bites Bingo
Set in Europe:Josephine’s Garden by Stephanie Parkyn

Debut Novel: The Soldier’s Curse by Meg and Tom Keneally (Monsarrat Series Book One)

Travel Memoir: The Strangeworlds Travel Agency by L.D. Lapinski

Published More than 100 Years Ago: The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Written in the First Person: Pippa’s Island: Puppy Pandemonium by Belinda Murrell

Peta Lyre’s Rating Normal by Anna Whateley

Peta LyreTitle: Peta Lyre’s Rating Normal

Author: Anna Whateley

Genre: Fiction, Young Adult

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 28th April 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 248

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: At sixteen, neurodivergent Peta Lyre is the success story of social training. That is, until she finds herself on a school ski trip – and falling in love with the new girl. Peta will need to decide which rules to keep, and which rules to break…

‘I’m Peta Lyre,’ I mumble. Look people in the eye if you can, at least when you greet them. I try, but it’s hard when she is smiling so big, and leaning in.

Peta Lyre is far from typical. The world she lives in isn’t designed for the way her mind works, but when she follows her therapist’s rules for ‘normal’ behaviour, she can almost fit in without attracting attention.

When a new girl, Sam, starts at school, Peta’s carefully structured routines start to crack. But on the school ski trip, with romance blooming and a newfound confidence, she starts to wonder if maybe she can have a normal life after all.

When things fall apart, Peta must decide whether all the old rules still matter. Does she want a life less ordinary, or should she keep her rating normal?

A moving and joyful own voices debut.

~*~

Rules help Peta navigate her life, and the social world around her. She is neurodivergent – ASD, SPD and ADHD – and these rules help her remind herself how to act around people who might not understand her neurodivergence, and the way she is, and how she might fit into society. Her friend Jeb, and Aunt Antonia have helped her with these rules and working out how to do things, and supporting her for who she is for many years. Ever since her parents gave up and quit, Peta has been living with Aunt Antonia – Ant, as she calls her, attending a local College for years eleven and twelve, and has had some success in keeping her routines and normal ratings steady.

When Sam starts school, and Peta’s careful routines that help her maintain her normal crack as they head on the school ski trip, Peta starts to find new confidence in romance, – can she have a normal life, or will her old rules matter when things fall apart?

AWW2020

This is a touching, evocative and honest own voices debut that can spark a conversation about what is normal. Is normal what society deems normal, or does everyone have their own normal that should be accepted. Or are both right? Can society have an expectation of appropriate behaviours and interactions that we learn through socialisation whilst we are able to maintain our own individual normal and individual routines at the same time? This is perhaps one of the most complicated things to unpack yet also, the simplest. For Peta, what she does is normal – her normal, Jeb’s normal, Ant’s normal. Normal in their lives – like in everyone’s lives – is what they know and experience.

Yet at the same time, there are societal ideations and expectations of what is normal, and all the characters must navigate this. To add another layer, the normal of the College Peta, Jeb and Sam attend is different again – every student is different, has a different normal and I think it is safe to say, nobody seems to fit into what society and others around them demand and expect is ‘normal’ – like Big Kat.

So what is normal? Normal is me, normal is you. Normal is Peta, and normal is the author, Anna Whateley. Normal is what we make of it, and our lives, our routines. We can change and adapt our normal as our confidence grows and as we find our place in the world as this book shows through Peta and her experiences at the snow, and how it helps her uncover and begin to talk about her feelings, what she wants to do, and how to let other people in.

Her character is authentic – and many of her experiences are based on Anna’s, which is what makes this book engaging, fresh and honest. It works on all levels.  I loved the support Peta’s friends and school gave her and I loved how she resolved things – it felt honest and fair, and made the book feel as much about friendship, family and coming of age as it did about the romance – and it was Peta’s rules and structure that helped shape how she approached things and that hopefully, gives readers an insight into what people who had ASD, SPD, ADHD and other neurodivergent conditions go through. This will differ from person to person, but hopefully this will resonate with people as well. The way Peta interacts might not be the same for everyone in her position – yet through this book, maybe readers can learn ways of helping – or how to ask what they can do to help – or just to listen and make an effort to understand.

Seeing how Peta grappled with being honest and blunt and how this wasn’t necessarily socially acceptable was an eye opener, and can open up conversations, I hope. How one person sees and understands the world is not the same as others – and throughout the novel, we see Peta trying to walk the tightrope of how to interact socially and act according to her normal. In a sense, trying to find what some might call a happy medium to please everyone, and herself.

It deals with themes of family, friendship, LGTBQIA relationships, and invisible disabilities in a way not often seen – in a positive way, where for sure, bad things happen but it is resolved and understandings are reached, and a normal way of life is forged for everyone involved. A great read for teens who want to see themselves represented and also for those who wish to understand these issues.

April 2020 Round Up

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.

April – 19

Book Author Challenge
The Deceptions Suzanne Leal AWW2020, Reading Challenge
Puppy Diary: The Great Toy Rescue Yvette Poshoglian AWW2020, Reading Challenge, Dymocks Reading Challenge
The Octopus and I Erin Hortle AWW2020, Reading Challenge
Friday Barnes: Big Trouble R.A. Spratt AWW2020, Reading Challenge, The Modern Mrs Darcy
The Strangeworlds Travel Agency

 

L.D. Lapinski Reading Challenge, Books and Bites Bingo
Inheritance of Secrets Sonya Bates Reading Challenge, AWW2020
Secrets of a Schoolyard Millionaire Nat Amoore Reading Challenge, AWW2020
Jane in Love Rachel Givney Reading Challenge, AWW2020, Dymocks Reading Challenge, The Nerd Daily
Persuasion Jane Austen Reading Challenge, Books and Bites Bingo
The Austen Girls Lucy Worsley Reading Challenge
The Unadoptables Hana Tooke Reading Challenge
Friday Barnes: No Rules R.A. Spratt Reading Challenge, AWW2020
Anzac Girl: The War Diaries of Alice Ross-King Kate Simpson and Hess Racklyeft Reading Challenge, AWW2020
Sherlock Bones and the Natural History Mystery Renée Treml 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 
Nim’s Island Wendy Orr AWW2020, Reading Challenge, STFU Reading Challenge
Ribbit Rabbit Robot Victoria MacKinlay and Sofya Karmazina AWW2020, Reading Challenge
Nim at Sea Wendy Orr AWW2020, Reading Challenge
Rescue on Nim’s Island Wendy Orr AWW2020, Reading Challenge
The Complete Adventures on Nim’s Island Wendy Orr AWW2020, Reading Challenge, STFU Reading Challenge

Isolation Publicity with Dr Anna Whateley

 

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.

Peta Lyre

Dr Anna Whateley is a neurodivergent, #OwnVoices author – and it is exciting to hear from her about her debut novel, Peta Lyre’s Rating Normal, which was released on the 28th of April 2020. Anna put some of herself into Peta, and I think this will make for interesting and authentic reading. Like many authors during the next few months, Anna is missing out on the release, launch and events related to her debut novel. Since starting this series, several events and launches have moved online, which is great – but this series is still vital I think – to showcase as many authors as possible affected by the pandemic in a variety of ways and in at various stages in their careers.

Hi Anna, and welcome to The Book Muse!

1. Your first novel, Peta Lyre’s Rating Normal is released this year – can you tell the readers a little bit about Peta, and where she came from?

Peta Lyre is 16, and from an area just south of Brisbane called the Redlands. She is doing year 11 at a TAFE college, and lives with her Aunt Antonia. Peta is autistic and gifted, and she has ADHD and sensory processing disorder, so life can be a bit intense! She has been following all the social rules perfectly, masking and ‘passing’ as normal for years. Her best friend is Jeb, a funny and sensitive guy stuck in a mechanics course when he wants to branch out. When Samanta arrives at college, Peta falls in love. They go to Perisher Valley for a ski trip and everything becomes more difficult. She is left with conflicting rules, an avalanche of emotions, and her worst fears are realised.

Peta’s voice was natural for me, a certain way of thinking I share, but her story is her own. She’s more sensible than me, and probably smarter!

2. You’re the second author I’ve interviewed represented by Danielle Binks, who was the first Isolation Publicity interview – how did you meet Danielle, and how long have you been working with her on the novel?

I met Danielle at the CYA conference in 2018, where I pitched Peta Lyre’s Rating Normal. I was pretty nervous, but she was supportive and yet straight to the point (I like that!). After she signed me up we had some young interns read Peta’s story, and they loved it. We didn’t really do any edits before sending it out to publishers in early 2019.

3. I understand that Peta Lyre is your first novel – what events and launches were planned for this novel prior to the pandemic shutting everything down?

Before the pandemic I was contracted to the Sydney Writer’s Festival, and a few other events that still haven’t been announced (or they haven’t decided what to do yet). I absolutely love festivals, so I’m a bit crushed. Apart from those, I’d planned to have a launch and a few bookstore events – they’ve mostly moved online, so that’s great!

4. Without giving too many spoilers away, is there anything about Peta and her story that was inspired by yourself, or anyone you know?

I share her diagnoses, and she takes the same medications I do. I also went to a TAFE for years eleven and twelve of high school and went on the ski trip. I’ve drawn on those years to create Peta’s world, but not directly, and nothing in her family life is like mine was really. We did struggle for money in those years, and I really wanted to show what low SES living can be like. Not in a dramatic way, just in a mundane sort of day to day life way – like not going to the movies or having sponsored ski trip thanks to the government and package deals with local private schools. Being the charity kids, as it were. We still enjoyed it, but there’s always a moment when you realise that other people live and experience life differently. Apart from that, I drew on key moments – emotional punches – from my teenage years. Like the moment you realise someone has judged you for kissing a girl, or when you realise you’ve hurt someone you love. The situations are different, but the core emotion is shared.

5. Since the pandemic started to shut things down, you’ve started an #AusChat video series – what inspired this, and how many people in the book industry in Australia have you spoken to so far?

Ha, this was a strange thing! I was swept up in a moment of loneliness and sadness that I wouldn’t be seeing my writer community. I can easily slip into isolation anyway, and forget that I need other people, and when it looked like everything was shutting down, it became overwhelming. So, I guess my ADHD-self took over and decided to chat to people I know from Twitter using zoom, and just see how they’re going. Then I thought I’d record it and pop it up on my YouTube channel. Kay Kerr helped me figure out a few parameters and was always going to be my first chat. We’ve shared a lot of our publishing journey together and had previously thought we would do some online conversations. I’ve recorded thirty chats now and have more booked in! I’m stunned people have responded so well, and I’ll keep going so long as the need is there.

6. You’ve got a PhD in young adult literature – where did you study this, and in particular, what aspect of young adult literature did you focus on?

I do, but not in creative writing of YA! I analysed young adult fiction with a theoretical framework. It’s an academic way of understanding where our society and culture sit on a particular issue. For me, it was understanding how people continue on after they realise they’re going to die. That sounds simple, but there’s a moment where you understand what death really means, and that it’s always present in our lives (perhaps even more so at the moment). These revelatory moments are key to YA texts, and I specifically looked at the role characters who didn’t fit the binary codes of society played in each narrative. I could go on forever! Basically, I found that young adult fiction does an amazing job of processing and incorporating death in a productive and transformative way. More than that, characters who don’t fit simple binaries are crucial to survival. Perfect.

7. Did you study children’s literature prior to the PhD, and what did the course focus on? What aspects of a children’s literature course do you think are important?

I came from doing a teaching certificate in the UK, and before that I completed a BA with Honours in English Literature. Not children’s literature at all! I studied all the classics, from William Shakespeare to Toni Morrison. I loved every moment, though I’d say my favourites were the Romantic period, and postmodern literature. My honours looked at environmental discourses over the last two hundred years, winding in feminist, post-structural and postcolonial theories. I have taught children’s and YA literature to pre-service teachers more recently, where I think it’s really important to keep the texts current, while leaning on historical writing. We need to show a genuine respect for the books we study, whether they are adult, YA, picture books, graphic novels, or poetry. Popular or unpopular, they all show us something about the culture that produced them.

8. How important are #OwnVoices stories to you, and what do you think they bring to the book world?

Own voices writing is incredibly important to me, and I’m lucky to have come along at the upsurge of a movement that amplifies my own voice. We’ve had post-colonial theories for a long time, questioning the writing of Othered/marginalised people by those in more powerful positions (Western, usually male, white writers). Own voices is expanding these ideas and drawing attention to how problematic it is to have disabled, queer, or otherwise marginalised people written, rather than writing. The caveat is always that some writers may not want to expose their own position, or identify a text as own voices, so it’s good to remember that before criticising any text for not being own voices. I think our books bring a sense of authenticity, and it’s changing the publishing industry for the better.

9. #OwnVoices has been around for a few years now. What are some of your favourite #OwnVoices stories, and why these in particular?

I really like Erin Gough’s writing, her short stories and novella in particular, but obviously her YA, Amelia Westlake, too! To all the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han is wonderful, and Invisible Boys by Holden Sheppard also had a big impact. I’m really looking forward to Kay Kerr’s Please Don’t Hug Me, as an autistic own voices YA novel. I like these ones because they have a voice I identify with, or that I don’t – and then I can learn and expand my own world understanding by reading them. [Just a note, these authors may not all identify these novels as own voices!]

10. During these difficult times of isolation, what authors or books do you find yourself turning to?

I’m reading a strange pile right now, mostly inspired by #AusChat! Mirandi Riwoe’s Stone Sky Gold Mountain, is taking my breath away. I’m expecting my copy of Deep Water by Sarah Epstein to arrive any day now, and I can’t wait. My reading has changed a lot over the years, perhaps as a teenager I would have turned to a long fantasy series, with a contemporary novel or two on the side.

11. There are several new releases over the next few months that have either been delayed or rescheduled due to the virus or are coming out without any launches or events attached to them. Which ones are you the most excited to read when you will be able to get them?

Ah! Luckily, I’m involved with OzAuthorsOnline, where we are doing YA launches for people who have had their events cancelled. Soon, I will have Sarah Epstein’s Deep Water, Katya de Beccera’s Oasis, and Danielle Bink’s The Year The Maps Changed, of course!

12. Favourite author, series or book that you always go back to?

Oh, once up on a time I’d have said Twilight, but the long-time favourite is Anne McCaffrey. For contemporary writing, I’d say Judy Blume.

13. What writing method works for you – handwriting, typing or a combination?

Typing! I scribble things, but my hands lack strength and I type much faster.

14. What do you enjoy doing when you’re not writing?

I have SO many hobbies. They include reading, jigsaws, felting, sewing (badly), camping, mushroom photography and Minecraft!

15. Do you have any writing buddies, like a cat or a dog?

I have two dogs, Teddy and Buddy, and two rescue guinea pigs called Autumn and Winter. They all keep me company! Teddy barks a lot, but he’s very sweet.

16. How do you think the arts community will help people through this tough time, and how do you hope it will come out at the other end?

The arts give us escape, entertainment, a reason to go on, and a way to process what’s happened. These things are equally important.

Thank you Anna!

Isolation Publicity with Middle Grade Mavens

 

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.
Some of my first interviews were with authors who have had events cancelled – and if there is more interest, I will be including as many as I can over the next few months, because books are what will get us through. Another artform and piece of media that will get us through is podcasts, and whilst I have written about the ones I listen to before, I’ve never interviewed a podcaster. So, the first podcast I will be interviewing is Middle Grade Mavens. Pamela has answered most of the questions where it doesn’t specify a name with two answers. It’s interesting to see how the book community is adapting and promoting the literary world, and in the midst of this pandemic, are promoting kids’ books for all ages across their social media platforms.

 

It was interesting to see that we enjoy some of the same books and podcasts as well.

middle grade mavens

Hi Julie and Pamela, and welcome to The Book Muse!

1. I started listening to your podcast late last year in 2019 and binged it to catch up. First of all, can you tell my readers what the podcast is about?
Middle Grade Mavens is an Australian book review podcast by myself, Julie Anne Grasso and Pamela Ueckerman. It’s aimed at anyone who loves middle grade books; that is, books aimed for ages 8-12. We provide detailed book reviews on new and not-so-new releases and author interviews. We sometimes create bonus episodes for aspiring authors such as a series we ran over the summer interviewing of children’s book editors.
2. When you began the podcast, as a team and as individuals, what did you hope to achieve with each episode?
Julie: Pamela and I both have an intense love for middle grade books. Sometimes we have intense views about how they should or should not be written, but regardless of our views, we knew we wanted to get the word out about great middle grade books we’ve encountered. To do that, we decided we would just start talking about middle grade books. From there it morphed into interviewing authors, illustrators, editors, publicists, booksellers, and anyone who wants to join us on the journey of promoting and discovering wonderful middle grade books. The world is our oyster really.

3. The connection you have as podcasters is great to listen to – did that develop as you planned out the podcast, through a working relationship, or another relationship, and how long have you been friends for?
Julie: It’s funny, Pamela and I met at Kidlitvic (industry conference) a few years ago and hit it off immediately. We talked about books, our views on the industry and how we hope to be a part of it. When I bounced the idea off Pamela of a podcast about middle-grade books, she jumped at the chance. We didn’t really have any idea how to go about it, so we just wrote up some questions we’d like to ask each other about the books we were reading, and went from there. We use a simple platform called Anchor, which is a mobile phone app. We record on Skype and upload our segments and interviews to the Anchor app, which then distributes our show to 10 platforms, like Apple Podcasts. Pamela is also whizz at websites, so she built one for us. The rest is history!

Pamela: It’s always great to hear that people enjoy our connection. We had already been part of a writing mastermind group for a year or so when Julie suggested a podcast, we knew each other fairly well but it has grown from there with working so closely. We spent a few months planning and preparing before we started recording so I think that also helped. We’re quite different in many ways but similar in our approach to our careers. We take things seriously, but not too seriously, and while we’d love to be perfectionists, we know with children and the limited time we have that perfection is unattainable so we don’t let that stop us.

4. What was the book that made you fall in love with reading, and was it a middle grade book?
Pamela: I’ve always read, I can’t remember a time when I didn’t love books. One of my fond childhood memories is on my 7th birthday, my dad waking me up to give me a beautiful book of nursery rhymes and fairy tales from our next-door neighbour. I still have that book, although it’s not very PC any more. I also have an annual that was my mother’s when she was a girl. One of my favourite books as a child was Roald Dahl’s The Twits and another was The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. I loved escaping to other worlds, or other versions of our world. I still do!

Julie: I am going to surprise you, but I was not a reader at all as a child. I didn’t get the reading bug until I was well into my late teens when I read, Anne McCaffrey’s The Rowan Series. Those books made me a reader and I still read them today and love them. Plus, I was always a sci-fi nerd, watching Dr Who as a child, so a sci-fi book series is what it took to get me reading.

5. I’ve been studying, reading and following literary circles and trends for a while – and the last few years have been the first time I have heard the term middle grade, at least in Australia. How do you feel the trend in using this term has grown for readers aged around eight to twelve?

Pamela: Middle-grade was a new term for me when I started writing for kids. Until I had my own children, I hadn’t read children’s books in many years and while they were little, I was mostly immersed in picture books. As a kid, I would jump between reading younger books like Enid Blyton’s Magic Faraway Tree, maybe a Babysitter’s Club, classics like Little Women and then adult books like Mills and Boon and a French detective series I discovered at the library. There were books in between, of course, but not like they are today. I love that the focus has grown in this area because it’s such an important developmental growth period for children, especially as they no longer have the freedom to explore the world as they once did. But also, a great middle-grade book can be enjoyed by teenagers and adults as well, without darker themes, violence or heavy language that they might want to avoid. It’s hard for me to tell if the term has trended recently because I’m so immersed in it, but I like to think we are champions for middle-grade books and helping that readership to stand on its own.

6. When we were younger and in the nineties, the terms middle grade and young adult didn’t seem to be around or as visible – the bookshops and libraries were broadly divided into kids, adult and sometimes teen sections – do you think the addition of young adult, and middle grade has helped to address how we present books to readers of all ages?

Pamela: Yes, I think the terms really help the gatekeepers and the readers home in on books that are appropriate for their age level and also help booksellers and publishers to target their marketing. Which isn’t only great for sales but it’s also great for attracting kids to read. If they pick up a book that looks interesting but is too advanced or to dark, they might be put off. Likewise, they might be put off if a book seems too easy or babyish. Having these loose categories really helps everyone involved to know what to expect.

Many years ago, children’s books were seen purely as educational opportunities, very moralistic, so I think a part of carving out this niche is that the books are written with an understanding of the age group, writing from a child’s point-of-view rather than the perspective of an adult trying to teach a child. Story is much more important than moral now, which gives authors more scope and allows them to have more fun.

7. Maven Julie is a librarian (if I have this wrong, I apologise, and please correct when you send this back). In this sphere, have you noticed a change in the way middle grade books are presented and recommended in your library? Has this helped kids and parents find the right books?

Julie: So, I better clarify I am a customer service librarian, not a catalogue Librarian. My focus is to help readers discover, find, and access books, as well as essential services that the library offers. I have definitely seen some great changes in the kind of books coming into the collection, as well as how they are presented on the shelf. Through the podcast, and having access to re-release books, I am also able to make some great recommendation of new release books that have only just hit the shelves, as well as some golden oldies.

8. Maven Pamela – how do you incorporate the many, many middle grade books into your home-schooling?

Pamela: Many, many, yes indeed! We start every home-school day with me reading aloud from a novel to both my boys, who are only two years apart so close enough that I don’t feel the need to do separate books. I try to choose more challenging, literary books than what they choose for themselves – a mixture of classics and newer books. How I select those is fairly random, depending on what we already have and what I think they’re ready for. I have collected quite a few books from second-hand book sales and little free libraries over time so we always have options. Other times I use the library. After the novel read-aloud, I usually read from a non-fiction book or maybe a narrative non-fiction picture book and do this for both world and Australian history and sometimes to tie in with our science nature study. We also have bedtime reading, which is the boys’ choice – they usually each have a novel going as a bedtime read-aloud. And then throughout the day they dip in and out of other books for their own reading – these are usually more light-hearted books, manga, or Pokémon or Minecraft guides.

9. Do you have a current favourite middle grade book or series, and why?

Pamela: My current favourite is Jessica Townsend’s Nevermoor series, it has so much depth to the world, the characters, the setting. You can really lose yourself in Nevermoor, which is what you want from a series.

Julie: My current favourite is Malamander by Thomas Taylor and I am reading Gargantis, soon to be released, which is the second book in the series. It is everything I’ve ever wanted in a book. A middle grade magical realism set in eerie-by the sea, a shanty town with a crumbling hotel and a protagonist with a fruit as a surname. My criteria are eclectic I realise, but I’m owning it 100%!
10. When not reading middle grade books, what is your go to genre?
Pamela: Historical fiction is my go-to but I like good writing in any genre, including non-fiction, which I read quite a bit of.
Julie: I used to love forensic crime, but that was before I adopted sleep deprivation as my eternal friend. Now I like to read all things Mystery and or Who Dunnit!

11. Best reading companion: dogs, cats, or both?
Pamela: I’m a dog person but we don’t have any pets right now. At the moment, I’m lucky to get any peace at all so I’m happy when I do!
Julie: Achoo! Neither, allergies. Can I go with the actual book being the companion?
12. Which Hogwarts house do you think you’d be in, if you’ve read the books?
Pamela: Hmmm, I want to say Gryffindor but probably Ravenclaw.
Julie: Gryffindor, although, if I did one of those tests it would probably be Hufflepuff.
13. Are there any 2020 middle grade releases that you and your munchkins are looking forward too?
Pamela: Hollowpox, the next Nevermoor book, and Remy Lai’s new release, Fly on the Wall, both of which have been postponed, which is disappointing! Mr Nine is looking forward to Allison Tait’s new series, The Fire Star in September; and Mr Seven has a few sequels he’s looking forward including Squidge Dibley Destroys Everything (by Mick Elliot), Real Pigeons Peck Punches (Andrew McDonald and Ben Wood) and Aleesah Darlison’s League of Llamas books.
Julie: Gargantis, by Thomas Taylor, The Mummies Smugglers of Crumblin Castle by Pamela Rushby, Illustrated by Nelle May Pierce.
14. When not borrowing from the library, do you have a favourite bookseller you frequent, and why?
Pamela: I try to spread the love around but in particular I like to support my local indie bookstore, Benn’s Books (Centre Rd, Bentleigh). They have a beautifully curated children’s book section.

Julie: The Younger Sun in Yarraville Vic They have an incredible selection and I have to limit my attendance so not to break the bank.

15. Book podcasts are gaining traction – and what I love about them is I can listen to them whilst doing something else, which is how I binged on your podcast and One More Page. What is it about podcasts that discuss books in particular that you think is something people are seeking out?

Pamela: That’s an interesting question. I guess for each person it depends on what they’re trying to get out of it. Some of our listeners are writers and looking to learn more about the industry and pick up writing tips. Others are teachers or librarians looking for book recommendations. The industry is quite strong (or at least was before COVID-19) and there are so many books, it’s nice to be able to cut right through the noise. I think it’s also a form of connection – when you get to know a podcast and if you enjoy the show’s format or the presenter’s voices, you feel a connection to them and want to hear what they have to say. And if the hosts are reading and discussing the same books as you are, there’s a connection there, a shared experience. As we are finding out the hard way with the pandemic, connection is a hugely important part of life. If you can get that connection on your terms – when, where and how is convenient for you – even better.

16. What book or podcast recommendations can you give readers?
Pamela: As a writer, I love So You Want to Be a Writer, particularly the interviews, they’re fascinating. For kids, my boys love Wow in the World, which is an hilarious science-themed podcast. As for books on writing, I’m currently reading Wired for Story by Lisa Cron, I highly recommend it.

Julie: Same as Pamela, above, as well as our friends at One More Page. I also love The First Time podcast, and another great one for more readers of adult mystery and crime fiction, SheDunnitShow Last but not least, another great one for adult and kids book lovers, Words and Nerds…

World Book Day 2020

Happy WORLD BOOK DAY

Today, the 23rd of April, we celebrate World Book Day, and William Shakespeare’s birthday. It is the UNESCO World Book and Copyright Day, and the National Library of Australia notes that it also marks the deaths of William Shakespeare (I know, he died the same day he was born, about fifty-two years later), and Miguel de Cervantes, author of Don Quixote. Shakespeare was born in Stratford-Upon-Avon, and I’ve done the tour of three of the historic houses linked to the playwright.

World Book Day celebrates a love of reading, and this year, they are encouraging people to share the love of reading from home – while we’re all in isolation and unable to head out. I’m doing a lot of reading at the moment – mostly for review and working on a series called Isolation Publicity series which is highlighting as many Australian authors as possible, especially those impacted by the cancellation of events, festivals and launches of their upcoming releases – some are debut authors, and some have had many works published. Yet they all need love at the moment and blogging about books and sharing books is a small way we can #StayAtHome during #WorldBookDay and share the love of reading.

So on World Book Day, grab a good book if you can and read!

Today, I have several books on the go:

The Ratline: Love, Lies and Justice on the Trail of a Nazi Fugitive (out 28th of April 2020)

Friday Barnes: No Rules by R.A. Spratt

The Monstrous Devices by Damien Love (Out 19th May 2020)

The Monstrous Heart by Claire McKenna

All four will be reviewed on my blog in the coming days or weeks, and I have many more to get through – the scheduling tool is super helpful here. You can follow progress of readers in this time via the hashtag #AustraliaReadsAtHome as well.

In relation to World Book Day, in September, The Australian Reading Hour with Australia Reads  is coming up in September, but instead of one hour, there are seventeen days of fun leading up to the main event on the 17th of September, where the aim is to have one million people reading the same book at the same time. Each year there is a different book for National Simultaneous Story Time. Your own individual hour can take place whenever and wherever you wish.

I linked these two events in today’s post because they both highlight the importance of books, reading and literacy, and so you can prepare for the September event! More information will come about this event later, about what will be happening during the first two weeks of September.