Title: What Snail Knows
Author: Kathryn Apel
Illustrator: Mandy Foot
Publisher: University of Queensland Press
Publication Date: 1st March 2022
For ages: 8-12
Type: Picture Book
Themes: Friendship, Environment, Community, Poverty, Belonging
Calling all readers 8 and above! Get your hands on ‘What Snail knows’ by Queensland author Kathryn Apel and Adelaide illustrator Mandy Foot. Kathryn Apel wrote ‘Too many friends’ a few years ago – a book about confident and popular Year 2 Tahnee who befriends Lucy, the new quiet girl at school.
‘What Snail knows’ is Lucy’s story. It is gentle, beautifully illustrated and written in short verses. Lucy is lonely and moves around a lot with her dad. Lucy’s only friend is her pet snail (called Snail) and Dad says they don’t need anyone else. This book shows how it feels to always be the new kid and have no-one to rely on. It explores what a community can do together, includes important info about the environment, and encourages bravery and kindness. In the end Lucy wonders if maybe she, Dad and Snail can stay and make a home this time – do you think they will?
Reviewed by Kylie Grant
Title: Let's Build a Backyard
Author: Mike Lucas
Illustrator: Daron Parton
Publisher: Lothian Children's Books
Publication Date: 27th April 2022
For ages: 3+ years
Type: Picture Book
Themes: Family, Backyards, Gardens, Gardening, Sustainability, Rhyming
Let’s Build A Backyard is the newly published companion book to Let’s Build A House, both written by South Australian author Mike Lucas. This latest release is a lively and vibrant account of a time spent in the backyard of the father and his young daughter from the first book, working together to create a very special place.
From the very beginning of this delightful and energetic book the young reader will enjoy the action that the clever rhyming words impart. Each step of the building a backyard journey is labelled clearly, followed by the short rhyme, and with three action words highlighted across a double page spread.
Mix in some compost.
“Use your fork to turn, turn, turn.
A little help from all the worms.
Watch them wriggle, see them squirm.”
Squirm! Squirm! Squirm!
The bright and colourful illustrations by Daron Parton complement the text perfectly and showcase the steps needed to create the new garden. This book has a very welcome and gentle introduction to the topic of sustainability for young children with mention of looking after a tree, making a possum box and a bee hotel, installing sprinklers, creating a vegetable patch, as well as adding compost.
This is a perfect book to read aloud to young children and engage them in the story by allowing them the opportunity to do the actions as it is read. A welcome addition to a home, school or public library.
Reviewed by Kathryn Beilby.
So, Danny Snell, what’ya reading?
I’ve just finished reading ‘The Mermaid of Black Conch’, by Monique Roffey, which I quite enjoyed. And at the moment I’m in between books, so I’m rereading ‘Wildwood’ by Colin Meloy and beautifully illustrated by Carson Ellis. It’s a middle grade fiction book that I bought because I loved the illustrations, but it’s a great story too.
You recently illustrated The Fire Wombat, written by Jackie French. I imagine you looked at a lot of wombats. Was there something strangely unique about their anatomy that you never noticed know before?
Yes, wombats have tails! I remember double checking this just before I was due to do some school visits, as I knew it was a question that I’d probably get asked by one of the kids.
What kind of illustrations most interested you as a child. Do you still feel inspired by that style in your picture book illustrations?
One of my favourite books growing up (and which I still have) is ‘Goggles!’ by Ezra Jack Keats. I love the way that he applies paint. I don’t paint as much as I used to but when I do I’m always searching for those same bold brush strokes. I also loved looking at details in pictures. I remember enjoying scenes where there was a lot happening, like the worlds that Richard Scarry created. Though this is the opposite of the way that I tend to illustrate. I usually try and keep things simple and uncomplicated.
Is there a young, up and coming writer you would love to illustrate for?
There are so many good writers out there. It’s always nice when I get to work with writers from South Australia. Our local creative community is very talented and very supportive.
What’s something about you that most people don’t know, but would make a great illustration?
When I was in my 20s I had a lot of very long and very curly hair. By contrast it’s now very, very short.
What’s one piece of advice would you give to an emerging young illustrator?
Always observe the world around you, and draw as often as you can. I once heard an author say, “Write what you know.” I think the same is true for illustrating. Illustrate what you know. Draw what interests you.
What do you most like to do for fun that’s not illustrating?
I enjoy swimming and riding my bike (push bike). Both are good ways to get out of the studio and clear the head.
If you were elected president of the world, what would be the first thing you would change?
I’d shorten the working week. We’d then have less time to worry and more time to wander (and wonder).
Have you ever got an illustration completely wrong, but kept it and ended up secretly liking it?
I’m my own worst critic, so there’s often some element of my work that I wish I’d done differently. But I’m learning to worry less about these details (and it’s usually something that no one else can see).
What pet would you prefer, a wombat or a dog?
I’d be happy with either. But as I’ve always wanted a dog (ever since I was little) I’d have to say a dog. Apologies to our cat.
A book cover is a visual teaser. A good cover not only captivates and pulls the would-be-reader in, but also hints as to the tone and storyline without giving away the plot. So it must work hard. And, you’d think that the illustrator would need to know the bones of the story, before attempting the cover, right?
Well, maybe not.
When I first saw the cover of my latest novel with Walker Books Australia, Eloise and the Bucket of Stars, I was excited. It was perfect. It was beautiful. And it both captivated and hinted at what lay in the story. Imagine my surprise when I found out the cover had been created 5 years before it graced my story. So I asked the talented illustrator, Tracie Grimwood, how it came to be. It’s an intriguing story. So read on!
The story of how one of my paintings became the cover of Eloise and the Bucket of Stars is a serendipitous one. I was commissioned to create the picture by my cousin-in-law back in 2016, as a birthday gift for his wife. I then posted it on social media where Sarah Davis, art director at Walker Books Australia, just happened to come across it three years later. She sent me a message to ask if there was any chance it could be used for the cover of a lovely middle-grade novel they currently had in the works. When she described the central idea we both couldn’t believe what a perfect fit my painting would be. Ordinarily, I would never license a commissioned original, however I thought our niece might get a kick out of seeing “her” unicorn on a book that she is now old enough to read and enjoy. Fortunately, I had a high-resolution photograph of the artwork and Sarah made the necessary tweaks to suit the narrative and extend it over the back cover.
The following images show the process of creating the original painting. The brief was very open – a roughly A4 sized painting of whatever I wanted to paint provided my cousin’s wife and young daughter were depicted in it somewhere. So, of course, I chose to paint them searching for unicorns! The first image is of a very rough thumbnail sketch which probably only makes sense to me. I made several thumbnails, but this is the one I went with. I developed the composition over a few more sketches until I arrived at the final sketch that I drew to scale. I then painted the picture using Golden acrylic paints on 300gsm Saunders watercolour paper that I prepared with layers of gesso.
Eloise and I are grateful for your beautiful cover!
Review:Eloise and the Bucket of Stars
Author: Janeen Brian
Publisher: Walker Book Australia
Publication Date: 1 June 2020
For ages: 9-12
For readers 9+ this is a special book which I loved - I sat down to read just a little bit and didn’t get up again till 231 pages later when I was finished! The cover is gorgeous, and the story inside follows almost 13-year-old Eloise who is the oldest girl living in an orphanage in the year 1820. She is a likeable, hard-working girl who just wants to find a family and belong somewhere, but the Head Sister of the orphanage is horrible to her and there’s no hope of escape.
Despite being surrounded by younger children, Eloise is lonely, so she creeps out of bed at night to see “her own, secret night stars that listen to her whisperings and dreams”. Slowly the story builds to include a horse, realistic magic, snippets of mysterious information to be put together, unicorns, and maybe even an actual friend. I don’t want to spoil the ending, so I’ll just say with only a handful of pages left I had so many questions that were still unanswered until suddenly everything fell into place in a way that seemed to me to be just right. I hope that makes you curious enough to read it and see what I mean – you will not be disappointed!
Reviewed by Kylie Grant
Heroes, Rebels and Innovators is an inspiring non-fiction book containing seven stories about First Nation and Torres Strait Islander people from the past. The stories have been written by author Karen Wyld of Martu descent born on Kaurna yerta in South Australia and illustrated by self-taught artist Jaelyn Biumaiwai who is of Mununjali and Fijian descent.
Each story opens with the narrative told from a First Nation perspective and then a brief historical summary of the First Nation and Torres Strait Islander inspirational figure. The stories include notable historical First Nation people such as Patyegarang, Bungaree, Tarenorerer, Yarri and Jacky Jacky, Mohara Wacando-Lifu, Fanny Balbuk Yooreel and David Unaipon a well-known Ngarrindjieri korni(man) who now features on the Australian fifty dollar note.
David Unaipon’s story will be of particular interest to South Australian readers. He was born on Point McLeay Mission now known as Raukken and was a preacher like his father. David’s incredible intelligence and visionary insights were spread across science, engineering and all aspects of writing. Unfortunately, he was unable to patent or build any of his inventions but that never stopped his dreaming. He advocated for co-operation between First Nation people and those not of First Nation descent and was the earliest First Nation writer to be published.
These seven stories provide the middle grade and lower secondary reader with an insight into an historical perspective of First Nation people not presented before. An important resource for all school and public libraries that will be a welcome addition to Reconciliation and NAIDOC Week literature.
Themes: History, First Nation and Torres Strait Islander People, Colonisation, Conflict
Reviewed by Kathryn Beilby
What’ya reading Mike?
I’m currently reading Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey. The reason is that my publisher, Penguin, made some comparisons between this book and my upcoming YA novel, What We All Saw. I’ve always enjoyed coming of age novels, where children find themselves in situations where they are forced to deal with something beyond their normal experiences. The book’s drama starts in the first few sentences, immediately drawing the reader in. I’m only a few chapters in, but I’m already getting a good feeling for the characters and anticipation of the events that are about to unfold.
You’re probably best known for your poetry. Was that something you set out to do, or did it happen by accident?
I’ve written poetry for as long as I remember, but I started writing funny children’s poetry when I lives in Switzerland. My family moved back to the UK a few months before me, and I started sending poetry to my young children as an alternative to reading them a story before bed. A few years later I was running the London Half Marathon when I decided to put a book together containing all my poems and sell it, with the proceeds going to UNICEF. It sold so well that I wrote more and, to date, I have written five collections of poetry.
Who is your favourite band, and is it more about the music or the lyrics?
I’m a big lover of music. My favourite musician is Bruce Springsteen and, for me, it is nearly always about the lyrics first. That’s what tugs at my heartstrings when I hear a good song. Obviously, the music has to hold something special too. I’m also a big fan of The Clash, Muse and The Gaslight Anthem for the same reason.
You have a lot of poetry collections. What is your favourite and why?
My favourite is my last anthology, Big Silly and Little Sensible. By the time I wrote this, I had learned a lot about what worked in poetry and what didn’t. Looking back at some of the poems in my earlier collections, I’m a little embarrassed. But they were all a part of a learning curve that got me to where I am now.
Do you think you would have become a children’s author if your wife, Becky, didn’t own Shakespeare’s Bookshop and love children’s books?
It’s actually the other way round. We opened the book shop when we arrived in Australia in 2010 based on the knowledge we gained from writing and self-publishing some poetry collections. In hindsight, that knowledge wasn’t great, so we had a steep learning curve when we opened. But now Becky does a fabulous job of running the shop as well as her booking agency, and I just do some of the more boring stuff behind the scenes.
Who or what inspired you to get your first tattoo?
There were three inspirations behind this. Firstly, my son was getting one for his eighteenth birthday and, as I had always wanted one, I decided to join him. Secondly, Stephen King – the tattoo is of the phrase Words have weight from his book On Writing. And thirdly, my mum. She never wanted me to have one when I was younger, and it’s never too late to rebel.
You are a dedicated fan of Steven King. How much of his influence is there in your upcoming YA release, What We All Saw?
I started reading Stephen King when I was eleven and have been an avid fan ever since. He has definitely had an influence on my writing from an early age and must have influenced What We All Saw. Several reviewers, and Penguin, have compared the book to the short story, The Body, which was made into the movie, Stand By Me. I love the way he captures the memorable childhood period of transition from primary school age into teen years in books like The Body and It. His book On Writing has a lot of invaluable advice that I used during the writing of a novel I have just finished.
Do any of the characters in What We All Saw represent yourself as a teenager?
The book is partly autobiographical, more around the locations within the story than the characters: the grass roundabout outside the house I grew up in; the wood we used to play in; the river; the old manor house we were warned to stay away from. But I suppose the narrator, Sam, probably reflects some of my own views of the world when I was eleven. Or at least of how I remember them.
If you wanted a giant caricature of yourself painted in a public place, who would you ask to do it and where would it be located?
Salvador Dali on top of the Nakatomi Building from Die Hard.
What is the most common distraction when you’re writing?
My job. I work full time as an engineer, so it does tend to get in the way. And my cats who like to lie on the keyboard. I think a whole chapter of my latest manuscript has been written by one of them.
Title: Big Love
Author: Megan Jacobson
Illustrator: Beck Feiner
Publisher: Walker Australia Studio
Publication Date: 27th October 2021
For ages: 2-5 years
Type: Picture Book
This gorgeous picture book has been nominated for 2022 CBCA Book of the Year - Picture Book, and it's easy to see why! The gorgeous illustrations are bright, bold and layered. Big Love describes how big some things are—the house, the town, the world—but none are as big as my love for you! Parents reading stories to children promotes bonding, and facilitates important conversations, including answering the question, 'but how much do you love me?' Big Love answers just how big a parent's love is, in a beautifully lyrical, well designed picture book that is likely to be a favourite to read over and over again!
That Thing I Did
By Allayne Webster
That Thing I Did by South Australian YA author Allayne Webster is I believe Allayne’s tenth fabulous work. She has written some memorable and marvelous books, but this could well be my favourite of hers yet.
That Thing I Did is a naughty, riotous, road trip, romp which feels very familiar, like an 80s comedy movie, and yet fresh and edgy at the same time. This is a hard trick to pull off. It’s also funny, like properly funny, like snort soft drink out your nose funny. But it will also give you the feels, in all the right places, and many of the wrong places, sometimes simultaneously.
Taylor, and his neighbour, “I see dead people” Chip, are the perfect duo to lead this buddy comedy, traveling in a hearse (of course) and picking up along the way a ragtag group of memorable characters, each more brilliant than the last, and I can’t go past without mentioning a stand out–garrulous granny Daisy, an unforgettable character who will stay with me for a long time. But I must say there are things she does in this book that I cannot un-read!
That Thing I Did is like Perks of Being a Wallflower meets Porky’s. It’s like Driving Miss Daisy, if Miss Daisy lived her life as an adult film star, and still dabbled. If this review has not convinced you to read one of the funniest, freshest, friskiest books of 2022, I don’t know what will!
I give this book 4.9 Chupa Chups out of 5 (once you read the book this reference will make sense).
That Thing I Did is available NOW!
Title: Your School Is the Best
Author: Maggie Hutchings
Illustrator: Felicita Sala
Publisher: Affirm Publishing
Publication Date: 29 December 2021
For ages: 3+
Type: Picture Book
Cockroach returns in this fabulously funny tale of a school day with a difference. He loves to experience all the things that his favourite human does, so he and the family hitch a schoolbag ride, ready to be part of show and tell…
After discovering activities such as counting, reading, and science, the cockroach family decide to join in hide and seek, much to the teacher’s dismay when she discovers them in her lunch!
The illustrations are hilarious in this book. Look closely at the detail for the perfect Australian schoolyard scenarios… right down to the “Shapes” in the teacher’s lunchbox!
Cockroach and family hide and play all around the school, sharing much of their story with enthusiasm and humour through the pictures. The story text is short and sweet, with themes of resilience and humour when things sometimes don’t go to plan.
Highly recommend – 5 Stars *****
"It's 1665 and rats have infested homes and alleys in Marie's town. A plague is upon them..."
The Rat-Catcher's Apprentice
by Maggie Jankuloska
Published by Midnight Sun Publishing
And what a wonderful tale this is. There were aspects of it I felt echoed my own novel #acardboardpalace - a child in poverty, at the mercy of an adult boss, wanting for something more, set in France... I love that it portrayed violent acts like whippings, and didn't shy away from speaking of witch hunts, nor the disposal of bodies (plague victims.) In context, and done with a light touch, what better way to educate our kids about the historical practices of a bygone era? Kids can handle it. If they're like I was as a kid, they'll be fascinated by it.
📘Finally...how about that cover?! Just gorgeous! 😍 Congratulations Maggie!