Alice-Miranda in the Outback by Jacqueline Harvey

Alice Miranda OutbackTitle: Alice-Miranda in the Outback

Author: Jacqueline Harvey

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Puffin

Published: 2nd June 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 384

Price: $16.99

Synopsis: A dusty desert adventure beckons!

Alice-Miranda and her friends are off to the Australian Outback! They’re going to help an old family friend who’s found himself short staffed during cattle mustering season. The landscape is like nothing else – wide open and dusty red as far as the eye can see. It’s also full of quirky characters, like eccentric opal miner Sprocket McGinty and the enigmatic Taipan Dan.

As the gang settles in at Hope Springs Station, mysteries start piling up. A strange map is discovered indicating treasure beneath the paddocks, a young girl is missing and there are unexplained water shortages. Can Alice-Miranda get to the bottom of this desert dilemma?

~*~

Alice-Miranda is back! Across the series, Alice-Miranda has grown up whilst at boarding school at Winchesterfield-Downsfordvale, and in the most recent books, is now ten, almost eleven. In her latest adventure, she is off to the outback with her father, her uncle, her cousins, and her friends, Millie and Jacinta to visit Hope Springs. It’s a new adventure for everyone, and along the way, they’ll meet characters like Sprocket McGinty and Taipan Dan, and uncover secrets and mysteries that have been buried for years, search for a missing child and follow a treasure map to something fantastic. In true Alice-Miranda style, she takes the lead, and works with her friends and cousins to find out what is going on around them.

I’m fairly new to Alice-Miranda – but the beauty of this series is that I can read them in order or out of order and still know what is going on, and who is who – having read the first book helped with this and Jacqueline puts a cast of characters for each book in the back as well, which readers can refer to every now and then whilst reading. Having read the first and most recent books – where Alice-Miranda is seven and one quarter and ten respectively, I am keen to see how she grows up.

AWW2020

Her latest adventure, in the outback, is uniquely Australian with the characters, setting and Australian slang peppered throughout. Some of the characters are Indigenous, and Jacqueline explains why they’re away at the start of the book in a respectful and simple way that readers who might not know much about Indigenous culture can understand, and then from there, go and research it for themselves and does so without speaking for the Indigenous characters. Hugh, Alice-Miranda’s father, explains things using his knowledge from the past. This forms one small part of the story – but seeing it acknowledged is important.

Characters and events that seem unrelated are – and Jacqueline knows when to drop hints, when to hold back and when to bring things to light in a way that is engaging, plot driven and makes the whole book work as a whole – and combined with her clever characters like Alice-Miranda, no fact is too small or insignificant to exclude. Everything piece of the puzzle eventually comes together, and astute readers will pick up on the clues. Whether you are able to do this, or everything comes together as a surprise for you at the end, it doesn’t matter – whichever way you read and pick these things up, you follow the same clues and path to the same conclusion, making this a fun read for all fans of Jacqueline Harvey and her books.

I loved the moment the kids had to choose a movie to watch – and the two choices referenced the Alice-Miranda series and Kensy and Max – this was lovely for readers of both series, as it shows that it is possible for each of these characters to exist in the other’s world, and from there, I wondered what would happen if Alice-Miranda were to meet Kensy and Max.

This book perfectly balanced the kids being alone and having adult supervision across the story. The kids were allowed to do their thing yet were responsible enough to follow instructions and keep adults informed. It shows that these kids are resourceful and responsible – but still kids and at times, they still need help from the adults in their lives. Jacqueline gets the balance for this right too.

I loved this one – and I’m planning to read the rest and see what else Alice-Miranda has been up to over the past ten years. This is a delightful series for middle grade readers of all ages and genders and I hope people love Alice-Miranda as much as I do.

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!

Alice-Miranda at School (10th anniversary edition) by Jacqueline Harvey

Alice Miranda 10th anniversaryTitle: Alice-Miranda at School (10th anniversary edition)

Author: Jacqueline Harvey

Genre: Fiction, School Stories

Publisher: Puffin

Published: 4th February 2020

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 288

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: A gorgeous hardback edition of Alice-Miranda at School to celebrate ten years since the pint-sized heroine bounced into our lives.

From bestselling author Jacqueline Harvey comes this new edition of Alice-Miranda at School.

Can one tiny girl change a very big school? Alice-Miranda Highton-Smith-Kennington-Jones is waving goodbye to her weeping parents and starting her first day at boarding school. But something is wrong at Winchesterfield-Downsfordvale Academy for Proper Young Ladies.

The headmistress, Miss Grimm, hasn’t been seen for ten years. The prize-winning flowers are gone. And a mysterious stranger is camping in the greenhouse. Alice-Miranda must complete a series of impossible tests. Can she really beat the meanest, most spoilt girl at school in a solo sailing mission?

Could she camp in the forest all on her own for five whole days and nights? Well, of course. This is Alice-Miranda, after all.

~*~

Alice-Miranda Highton-Smith Kennington-Jones is seven and one quarter, and off to boarding school at Winchesterfield-Downsfordvale Academy for Proper Young Ladies – the same school her mother, aunts, grandmother and great-grandmother have all attended. Except she’s heading off earlier than her relatives did. When Alice-Miranda arrives, she notices something is wrong – the headmistress, Miss Grimm has not been seen for ten years, she has to deal with Alethea Goldsworthy and her tantrums and attitude towards everyone in the school. Soon, Alice-Miranda has warmed the hearts of everyone at the school – except Miss Grimm who demands Alice-Miranda must complete a test, a camp-out and a sporting event to prove she belongs at the school.

AWW2020I read this because I was sent the nineteenth book, Alice-Miranda in the Outback to review, and have Alice-Miranda in Scotland as well, and even though I have heard Jacqueline say they can be read in any order, I wanted to at least read the first book to get to know the main characters who appear across the series and what they do, and where they started. It is one of Jacqueline Harvey’s popular series, and preceded Clementine-Rose and Kensy and Max. It is just as delightful and takes different characters and plots throughout each series and makes them work seamlessly.

Alice-Miranda is adorable and fun – she’s smart, and everyone loves her and can do anything she sets her mind to. She doesn’t let anyone tell her she can’t – and it was lovely to see a character with varied interests represented for younger readers and readers of all ages and genres. Alice-Miranda is the kind of character who is instantly comforting and someone you always want to be around. She cares about everyone and takes an interest. Her kindness is infectious on each page as she explores her new world, makes friends and brings the school back to life. She deals with Alethea gracefully, and in doing so, proves that honesty and integrity is more powerful than paying for power and respect. It shows that doing the right thing and being kind is often the best way to go and showing a bit of compassion also helps.

I’m looking forward to reading more about Alice-Miranda and her friends, and their adventures. It is a delightful series for all readers of middle grade books, and deftly brings this amazing young girl to life in a magical way. I loved reading this book, it sets up the world of Alice-Miranda and her school and friends perfectly, and with eighteen and soon to be nineteen books in the series, she’s gone on many adventures, and positioning them all in a different setting is lovely. The charm in this story shines through Alice- Miranda and her bubbly personality and the way she makes everyone around her smile and feel at ease. It is a story that shows you can do anything, and setting your mind to a task can give you confidence. Yet at the same time, you can also be scared, or worried. You can be smart, sporty – whoever you want. Be true to yourself and like Alice-Miranda, you will find the right path for you. I look forward to reading more of these books in the future.

 

Edie’s Experiments: How to Make Friends by Charlotte Barkla

Edies Experiments 1Title: Edie’s Experiments: How to Make Friends
Author: Charlotte Barkla
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Puffin Australia
Published: 4th February 2020
Format: Paperback
Pages: 240
Price: $14.99
Synopsis: A new school, a classroom full of potential new friends and a science kit. What could possibly go wrong?
I’m Edie and I love science. So when I started at a new school, I decided it could be one giant experiment.

Can I give you some advice? Avoid sliming your entire classroom. You could end up in trouble with your teacher, your new classmates and the principal.

Between the great slime fiasco, the apology cookie surprise and the wrinkle cream mix-up, I’ve discovered making friends isn’t an exact science!

~*~

Edie is about to start a new school – and she is uncertain about her new school and making friends. Yet she’s not sure how – until she decides to run a series of experiments to impress her new classmates and teacher – they all start well, but end in utter disaster, and start causing trouble for her at school with her teacher, her classmates and her principal. All Edie wants to do is make new friends – and her heart is in the right place, even though her execution might not be. She hopes she can fix things for everyone – but as she discovers during her experiments, there doesn’t seem to be a science or formula to making friends.

Edie’s story will be familiar to kids who have started a new school or moved somewhere new – and it explores the struggles of fitting in with new people and what is expected in the classroom, at school and with everyone. The rules of how to behave in order to fit in and make sure you’re doing the right thing are explored through Edie’s eyes as she tries to do whatever she can to make friends and get to know people.

AWW2020She has other obstacles – Annie B seems to like her, but Emily James who seems nice at first, starts to turn on Edie, and Edie misses her friend, Winnie. Edie is a delightful character, who is passionate about science and fun, and really, really wants to make friends and fit in. I loved that her parents were so supportive and talked her through things and made an effort to understand her – this showed a positive relationship that made the book even more powerful.

Even though Edie’s main love is science – kids who might have different interests will be able to relate to her, and it is also nice to see young girls represented in a variety of different ways in today’s children’s literature, especially books written by Australian authors. This is a really cool trend to be following as a blogger and reader, and the familiar spaces of school bring children into the story naturally with the setting, and then bring in different interests, diverse characters, and many other aspects that are growing and evolving in books. It is an interesting time to be reader and reviewer – across the board, as we see stories told from perspectives that ten years ago even, might not have been done. Books like this, whilst possibly aimed at girls interested in science – can be read and enjoyed by anyone because it also explores universal themes of school, fitting in, family, friends and fun, and being yourself – messages and themes that stick with us throughout our lives and that are not limited to being a kid. This is why I enjoy reading books for younger readers as well – the universal themes that we all grapple with.

A great read for all ages, all genders – anyone really, who loves a good yarn.

The Besties Make A Splash by Felice Arena and Tom Jellett

the besties make a spalshTitle: The Besties Make A Splash

Author: Felice Arena and Tom Jellett

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Puffin

Published: 28th April 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 80

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: From the author and illustrator of the popular Sporty Kids books comes an exciting new beginner-reader series that celebrates the everyday adventures – at school, at home, in the backyard, even in the living room! A funny, sweet series about kids being kids, where imagination and play rule!

Oliver and Ruby have been besties forever . . .
Oliver and Ruby love going to the beach – swimming in the surf, wading in the rockpools and eating ice-cream! And it gets even better when their funny friend Zac and the coolest girl in school turn up. But what if your bestie is having more fun with someone else?

~*~

Another really great early reader’s book for kids aged five to eight years old, the next book in The Besties series delivers a fun, fast-paced and quirky story for kids. Again, it displays diversity – mainly racial and gender at this stage, to show that friendship can cross many kinds of boundaries.

Oliver and Ruby always have fun together, and in this installment, they head to the beach to swim together in the rock pools when Zac and Isabella show up – Zac splashes with Ruby, and Isabella and Oliver go for a walk. Yet Zac and Isabella soon find that they’re not having that much fun with Ruby and Oliver. Ruby and Oliver don’t enjoy the ways Zac and Isabella have fun. So will they realise that they really do have more fun with each other than other people?

This book is a great story about friendship and trying new things and it also says it is okay to go back to what you like, and what you know if you don’t enjoy the new thing. It is about the power of friendship and what it means to know who your friends are and the sharing of interests that can bring friends together.

It is a fun book, aimed at early readers, and might even be a bit more of a challenge for those seeking a story with a little more to the story, yet still like shorter chapters and simple vocabuluary.

Another great book for early readers to enjoy and learn how to read with.

 

Aussie Kids: Meet Eve in the Outback by Raewyn Caisley and Karen Blair

meet eveTitle: Aussie Kids: Meet Eve in the Outback

Author: Raewyn Caisley and Karen Blair

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Puffin

Published: 31st March 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 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 Eve from Western Australia.

Hi! I’m Eve.
I live at a roadhouse in the Nullarbor. We don’t get many visitors. But today my cousin Will is coming. We’ll have so much fun!

~*~

The Aussie Kids series is a new and continuing series for this year, where each state and territory will be represented in a story about where they live. In Meet Eve in the Outback, readers take a journey to the Nullarbor in Western Australia, where they will meet Eve and her cousin Will for a day in the vast outback that covers much of our continent. Eve is excited to show Will and Nan around her outback home – to see the kangaroos, and the wildlife that calls the vast expanse home, to introduce them to the people she knows and to share her world with him.

Taking place over a single day, this story shows one of the ways  life is different for children, and compares it with cousin Will – who lives where dolphins play in the river.

Along the journey, Eve, Dad and Doug show Will how their farm works, what they do every day and tell him stories about their land and what is around it.

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Each of these stories can be read alone, as each is its own contained story and is aimed at early readers aged five to eight years old, with simple, two-colour illustrations, short sentences and simple vocabulary that will make this series the ideal place to start growing confident readers, whilst teaching them language, and help them learn about Australia and diversity so they can go further and explore these themes in more challenging books as the years go on.

With thanks to Pengiun for sending me this and another in the series to review.

Aussie Kids: Meet Katie at the Beach by Rebecca Johnson and Lucia Masciullo

Meet KatieTitle: Aussie Kids: Meet Katie at the Beach
Author: Rebecca Johnson and Lucia Masciullo
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Published: 31st March 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 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 Katie from Queensland.
Hi! I’m Katie.
I have a wobbly tooth that won’t come out! But it’s not going to spoil my trip to the beach. We’re going to eat mangoes and play beach cricket!
~*~

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Katie is about to leave for the beach – but her wobbly tooth keeps bothering her, and Dad wants to pull it out for her, poor Katie is very upset at him for this. So they head to the busy Queensland beach near the flat she lives in with her parents and siblings, where she’ll play in the sand, build sandcastles, play cricket and swim.

While she does this, Katie forgets all about her loose tooth, until she discovers it has fallen out during lunch. The family launch a desperate search for it before they head home – but where has it gone, and will Katie ever find her tooth?

Another great story in the Aussie Kids series, exhibiting the diversity in place and people across our vast nation. Of course, these books only touch on a fraction of this diversity, and there is much else to discover and read in other books and series beyond these books. Yet they are a good introduction, and a good way to encourage reluctant or early readers to take that first step into independent reading.

These books certainly give children exposure to words, vocabulary, and diversity, as well as story construct in a simple and easy way. They can be read alone, or with someone, as a learning tool or for fun, and hopefully both together. A great example of just some of the diversity in this vast country, and a good start in exposing kids to this and allowing them to grow their literacy skills.