In this post, I am sharing two wonderful new children’s non-fiction picture books which each have a special story to tell about survival and conservation.
One Potoroo: A story of Survival written by Penny Jaye & illustrated by Alicia Rogerson
CSIRO Publishing ISBN 978486314645
This fabulous story is about a Gilbert Potoroo, one of the last survivors of a bushfire at Two Peoples Bay in Western Australia. The book tells of the journey to safety for the potoroo, which is the world’s most endangered marsupial, and the conservation efforts to save the species. The full-page illustrations are beautiful and you will learn some new facts such as how the potoroo loves to eat truffles which are the fruity bulbs of underground fungi.
Tiny Possum and the Migrating Moths written by Julie Murphy & illustrated by Ben Clifford
CSIRO Publishing ISBN 9781486314621
Tiny Possum, a mountain pygmy-possum, lives high in the Australian Alps and during the summer months must find food and shelter to survive under the snow during the long winter months. Without the migrating bogong moths as a food source the species will not survive. Along the migrating path of these moths, conservationists have encouraged residents to turn off their lights at night so the moths will not be distracted on their journey. This is an amazing story with striking illustrations.
Two very special picture books have just been released that you and your family will enjoy reading. They are both beautifully illustrated with bold and colourful images. These two fabulous books will inspire you to keep on trying and show you that you can do amazing things.
Born to Run written by Cathy Freeman and illustrated by Charmaine Ledden-Lewis tells the story of Cathy Freeman, Australia’s first Aboriginal athlete to win an individual Olympic Gold Medal. The fact that this happened at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games was even more special as Cathy’s family were there to see her win the 400m. Cathy tells us in her story that she always loved running and with amazing support from her family, friends and the resilience to overcome any setbacks, she was able to achieve her dreams. She believes that “dreams do come true.”
Little Nic’s Big World written by Nic Natanui and illustrated by Fatima Anaya is the second picture book by the West Coast Eagles AFL footballer. In this story Nic’s school is having a fete with the theme ‘The World Comes to Us’ and each child can bring their own special food, music, art/craft or sports from their family background to share with their friends. Nic and his mum bake a Cassava cake that his Bubu (grandmother) would always make. Nic loses the cake along the way but after having fun experiencing many of the activities it is finally found.
Metal Fish, Falling Snow (Cath Moore); Where we begin; (Christie Nieman); We are Wolves (Katrina Nannestad); Bindi (Kirli Saunders & Dub Leffler) Anemone is not the enemy (Anna McGregor); Ellie’s Dragon (Bob Graham); Footprints on the Moon (Lorraine Marwood); By the River (Steven Herrick)
What do you enjoy most about reading aloud to an audience?
That reading aloud has such glorious power to capture!
Whether it’s a story or a poem, if the reader is honest and immersed deeper than the words on the page, then reading aloud is capable of connecting both reader and listener and transporting them to another world.
Also, I love voice.
What was your favourite book as a young reader about a tree or garden?
Books in our home were far and few between, so I can’t name any. Though I wish I could because trees are one of my most favourite things. And gardens are the next! However, I did read The Secret Garden, The Magic Faraway Tree and The Giving Tree when I was older. I enjoyed them all, but I would loved to have read them when I was younger.
What do you enjoy snacking on as you write?
Almonds, corn-chips, fruit, cups of tea and water. Chocolate and biscuits when necessary. . . !
What’s the strangest thing you’ve done or place you’ve visited to research for a story?
I was in India and saw a turbanned camel owner walking along the side of a field with his herd. I asked the driver of the car I was in to stop and ask the camel owner if he could milk a camel so I could take some photos. Even though I offered payment for his trouble, the camel driver was not overly thrilled. It turned out that the camels had already been milked. However, he finally agreed. Using a pink strip of fabric, he tied one of the camel’s legs back up out of the way and proceeded. The milk squirted into a tin can – which he then offered to me. I was expected to drink it. I hesitated. I didn’t know what warm camel milk would taste like, but I knew I would certainly offend if I didn’t drink. What did it taste like? I couldn’t really say because I’d clamped my lips tight to the rim and barely sipped. But what I did gain were some fantastic photos, which became part of my research for my CBCA Honour Book, Hoosh! Camels in Australia. (ps: I have since had a chocolate icecream made from camel milk and it was delicious!
You enjoy doing crafts like working with broken tiles. If, instead of being an author, you made a living by selling your craft work, what craft would you like it to be, and in which country?
I’ve always liked making things, crafting and creating with all sorts of bits and pieces. I knitted my first jumper at nine and sewed my first dress aged eleven. But nothing has come close to my enjoyment of creating mosaics, using recycled materials; broken crockery, old jewellery and discarded tiles etc. So if I were to take on another craft, it would have to be something to do with recycling unwanted ‘treasures’ and using my own designs. But my heart is with mosaics. I love pottering about my little studio (made with recycled materials!) down in the backyard, beside the chook pen. So, I reckon I’ll stay there!
Check out Janeen's mosaics: www.janeenbrianmosaics.com.au
When you were at school, was there ever something that made you feel different to other kids that you worried about, but when you became an adult, it turned out being a good thing?
I loved doing things well and it didn’t bother me how much time I spent achieving that. I wasn’t trying to be perfect, I just enjoyed being proud of what I’d done. And subsequently, I was easily crushed by criticism or remarks that I felt were unjust. I had to learn that some people who criticised often didn’t care about things that were important to me or never took the risks that I did.
When you look back now over all the books you’ve written, do you think there’s a message that you’re proud of that you may not have planned on when you started your writing career?
I think it would be to live a full life, using all your senses and opportunities.
How have children’s books and stories changed since you were reading as a child?
Children will always be engrossed in stories, but I think they don’t press their own PAUSE buttons as readily as when I was a young reader. With less distractions, it was easy to make a choice to read and give yourself more time to get into a story. Reading takes time and concentration and perhaps books these days reflect that children’s other interests have a pull on both their time and concentration. So, to engage children, there is more immediate action in the writing, more illustrations, and more choices as to how children receive stories; books, audio or other, varied devices.
What is the strangest thing you’ve seen or which has happened while you were at a library?
A cat called Dewey used to wander about in the local library and would happily sit on anyone’s lap and purr with contentment. Then one day, he was no longer there.
To learn more about Janeen, visit her website: www.janeenbrian.com
Did you know that there are only 14 species of Handfish that are found in Australian waters? The majority of the species are found in Tasmania, with the Spotted Handfish, Red Handfish and Ziebell's Handfish listed as critically endangered.
There are two new books for younger readers that share some interesting information about the unique Handfish.
Hold On! Saving the Spotted Handfish was shortlisted in the 2021 CBCA Eve Pownall award category of the CBCA Book of the Year Awards. It is a factual fiction book which tells us all about Handstand, a Spotted Handfish, who lives in the waters off Tasmania. He is tiny, just measuring 13 cms, and walks along the seabed on his hands (pectoral fins). He does not have a swim bladder like other fish so cannot always swim away from danger. The Spotted Handfish was one of the first marine species to be on the Threatened Species Red List as his habitat is threatened by introduced predators, climate change, fishing nets and dredging, pollution and rubbish as well as anchors from boats. This is a great read and the illustrations are vibrant and full of life. You will learn all about this amazing creature that has survived since the time of the dinosaurs.
Coco, the Fish with Hands is the first book in the Endangered Animal Tales series. It tells you the story of Coco, the Spotted Handfish, who goes on a long journey to find somewhere safe to lay her eggs. Coco usually lays her eggs around a sea squirts or sea tulips but the Northern Pacific sea star has eaten many of these plants so Coco must find somewhere else to go. Along the way she is in danger from crabs but she cleverly outwits them! Coco eventually finds a mate and lays her eggs in a safe place. The Spotted Handfish stays with her eggs until they are hatched. Did you know that the babies are called fry and are only 6mms long? How tiny! The illustrations are bright and colourful and this is a lovely story to learn some new facts about a very clever little marine creature.
What's happening to protect these unique fish?
The National Handfish Recovery Team (NHRT) was formed in 2014 and coordinates the research program for the three species of handfish in Tasmania. You can find out more about their projects here.
Year 4/5 students at St Joseph's School Tranmere came up with an interesting and unique way to celebrate this year’s Book Week theme.
They created these great displays of garden themed miniature worlds and labelled their works in Italian.
If anyone else would like to share their activities for Book Week, we’d love to see them.
‘Hollowpox – the hunt for Morrigan Crow' by Jessica Townsend. I love these kinds of books with magical realism and this series is simply fabulous.
What do you love about reading to children?
Their excitement, their reactions and how they will always expand upon the story in their own way – it’s priceless!
What was your favourite book when you were little?
I don’t recall having many books as a child, I can’t remember any to be honest. My most memorable books would be a very thick copy of A. A. Milne’s ‘Winnie the Pooh’ when I was 7 years old which I bought from the school book club, and the complete series of ‘The Black Stallion’ by Walter Farley.
When you’re working do you listen to music? Eat? Have a pet on your lap?
I generally have music playing and always two border collies at my feet.
Can you tell us a story about you researching for your story?
I love the research part of stories – talking to people, learning new things, finding inspiration when you least expect it. For ‘Lucy and Copper’ I spent a day with a little girl named Chiara and her pony Smudge. It gave me insights into their relationship, all the quirks that can’t be told in words. These inspired a lot of the images.
You see books as very important – I can tell that from your website. What would you say to parents just starting out - introducing stories and story time to their new baby?
Picture books open up a child’s world. They are never too young to start looking at books – they are the window to literacy. It’s how babies learn to associate the image of a cow with the word ‘cow’. Literacy today is about so much more than words and books are where it begins. The earlier a parent can start reading to their little ones the better. It not only builds their connection but also a child’s curiosity, imagination, knowledge, and confidence to explore everything the world has to offer.
When you are working, do you think back or check-in on when you were little?
No, but I do check back in on when my son was little and the different stages he went through growing up, and I ask his opinion a lot. Details for instance – children love details and it’s like they have a radar for homing in on things. I always make mock-ups when I start working on a new book, once the drawings are complete. With ‘Joey and Riley’ I had drawn cardboard rocket wings on the go-kart. This go-kart appears in two places – once on the farm and once after Joey has moved to the town. I had left them off the image from the town scene and my son picked it up when I read him the mock-up book. So of course, I had to put them in because I just knew then that another child somewhere would also pick that up. These are the little things that adults miss.
Do you ever make mistakes and have to start again? Do you do drafts?
Mistakes are basically learning opportunities, but deadlines don’t allow for too many of these! With every book I do I complete storyboards, character studies and complete drawings before commencing the finished painted artwork. With each stage I work very closely with my editor/publisher so any little changes can be made as it progresses. This avoids major changes at the painting stage.
Can you tell us one of the best things that has happened since you started your work with children’s books?
Being able to do author visits in schools and see children’s responses to my books first hand. To see how much children connect with my characters and stories, feel their enthusiasm and excitement, and know that what I do inspires a child’s own creativity. I recall a few years ago, I had two days at one particular school, speaking to every class. On the second day a teacher made a beeline for me and thanked me profusely. There was one student in a class on the first day who they had struggled for a very long time to communicate and connect with. After my session he started drawing and talking about what he was drawing – it unlocked a door that that teacher and others, hadn’t been able to get past. If I have to speak to 10,000 children to reach that one, it is so worth it. It is worth all the long days and late nights.
What is the best thing you have heard from a young reader?
Children come out with the funniest things sometimes like, ‘are you rich? Because I want a job that makes me lots of money’, ‘I can draw Valiants really well’, ‘can you draw a poo on the end of the elephant’s tail’, and ‘have you met Andy Griffiths?’ but honestly, the best thing is when they tell me they never want to put my book down – that’s heart melting stuff.
What’ya reading, Bren?
I'm reading The Heart's Invisible Furies by John Boyne, which starts in post war Ireland and goes the whole lifetime of a young man from pre-birth to death. It's one of those novels where you don't really understand what you're reading when you set off but you understand that it's heartachingly honest and full of flawed people, and you slowly fall in love with many elements of it during the journey and when you finish, you feel like the character is an old friend and you just left his house for the last time.
What do you enjoy snacking on when you write?
Sesame curry peanuts. I'm addicted to them.
What risk have you taken with your writing that has paid off?
I took on environmental themes which are sometimes seen as scary for children, and I took on the challenge of telling these stories in unusual future voices. My stories are set in a very different future and I wanted them to feel like another time with a different kind of voice. The risk is that many readers have set ideas about what is appropriate for children, and how stories should be written.
Why did you choose to become an author?
It's a form of creativity that's always interested me, and I've tried other forms of creativity but always come back to writing. I just love to create stories. As a farm kid, having people sitting around telling stories after a long day of shearing etc. was one of my favourite things.
Is there a book by another author you would recommend everyone should read?
I really loved This is How We Change the Ending by Vikki Wakefield. I just love how she's captured the hopelessness of growing up in poverty, of having poor parenting, of how all encompassing poverty traps are. It's heartbreaking. I loved that novel.
In Dog Runner, did you envisage the Ella in a specific part of Australia, and if so, can I ask where?
I feel like it's somewhere between Shepparton and Wangaratta. Dookie, maybe. Shepparton is famous for canned fruit.
Were there any real-life dogs which you used for inspiration for the dogs in Dog Runner?
I went to a forest in Logan to see The Sled Dog Racing Queensland people practising running their dogs through forest trails, so that was wonderful. There was also a twitter account I followed where a girl had four malamutes, a brown, a grey, a black and a much larger one who was tall like an Alsation. So I kind of modelled the family dogs on three of her dogs. I've grown up with dogs and so I found it easy to write in the dogs.
What indigenous foods have you eaten and enjoyed which might surprise people?
Yams! I love all yams and sweet potatoes, give them all to me!
You’ve had considerable success writing about environmental themes. Was there a time, place or event that led you down this path, and do you think you will always weave these themes into whatever stories you write?
When I started out there weren't many environmental-based stories around but suddenly they're everywhere... so I think society decided it was important and that's where the success in these themes came from. I just write what I think is interesting, what I want to explore and what is on my mind. I like to focus on the future, on where we're going, like most people who write science fiction do, so I think I'll always be thinking about what comes next. Maybe it came from a childhood under the threat of the cold war and always being worried about the future. I see that same kind of worry in today's children about the environment and the need to explore what a changed future might look like.
Could you give your readers a sneaky hint at what your next book will be about?
I've teamed up with Zana Fraillon. We're each writing a character born 100 years apart. We're bringing you a novel set in a post-pandemic, post-city world, one where surviving humans have learned their lesson. But it turns out history truly won't stay buried.
Kathryn (who just loves non-fiction!) recommends these two fabulous animal non-fiction texts that children of all ages will find fascinating. Both were written and illustrated by Australian creators - Sami Bayly and Philip Bunting.
The Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Ugly Animals written and illustrated by Sami Bayly is a simply stunning book prefect for all of you who love to read about unusual and unfamiliar animals. Each double page spread has a large and striking drawing of an ugly animal with easy to read facts under the headings of Description, Diet, Location/Habitat, Conservation Status plus Fun Facts.
The world’s most pointless animals written and illustrated by Philip Bunting is a new release that you will find filled with funny and interesting facts. The simple drawings are surrounded by text and handwritten labels that at times are both clever and entertaining. In Philip Bunting’s humorous style, he has crossed out the animal’s scientific name and replaced it with his own version. For example, the Guinea pig’s scientific name is Cavia Porcellus, but Philip has called it Squeakius fuzzballi!
Each of these fabulous books will be a great help if you need to write an animal information report or if you just want to read, read, read for fun and new facts.
Sean Williams is an established Australian author with a range of works ranging from young adult fiction to TV scripts. The What'ya Reading? crew caught up with Sean to find out more about him.
What’ya reading, Sean?
I’m reading Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë and loving it. Why? Well, it’s a classic, for starters, and books don’t become classics by accident; it’s been on my to-read list for longer than I can remember. A lot of my students have studied it, so I thought I’d better catch up with them.
I’ve actually been on a bit of a retro bender for a while now, juggling modern books with Jane Austen, Mrs Gaskell, Georgette Heyer, and so on. I think it’s important to go backwards sometimes in order to go forwards (picture a car that’s stuck in the mud). I’m also writing a book set in that kind of period, so it totally counts as research (the fun kind).
What was your favourite book as a young reader?
I have three books I loved as a young reader and which I still return to every now and again. They’re for slightly different ages and probably chart my maturation as a reader. A Weirdstone of Brisingamen by Alan Garner is a book that starts off totally kid-friendly but goes into some very, very dark places along the way. The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper is the same: it looks like a book for younger readers, but it’s so grim and wonderful, full of magic and incredibly adult darkness. The third book is A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin, a story that really crosses the bridge from childhood to adulthood. Take the depth of mythology and dragons from Tolkien (minus the sword-waving) and add a school for magic, and you get one of the most moving tales about growing into power ever written.
These three books, for me, really defined what fantasy could do, and shepherded me unknowingly into writing stories of my own.
Do you like listening to music as you write? If so, what do you listen to?
I love listening to music as I write! Always and forever. But I can’t listen to music with lyrics or anything too boomy or I get distracted. My quest for the right kind of music to write to has been long and has morphed into writing my own. I have several albums now, under the name “theadelaidean”. You can find a playlist on Spotify if you’re curious. Think long, slow drones and very little in the way of melody. It’s also great to sleep to (but not while you’re working, of course).
What risks have you taken as an author that paid off?
Oh, there are so many. Writing short stories. Writing a novel with someone else. Writing poetry. Writing a novel in the Star Wars universe. Writing about something that really upset me. Writing romance. The list goes on.
Probably the biggest risk I took was to decide I was going to try writing in the first place. That was a huge leap, one I can’t now believe I had the courage to make!
Why do you think books are still as important as ever?
Books are important because they deliver stories. That probably sounds like I’m splitting hairs, but I do think it’s important to distinguish the two. Stories are universal: every culture has them; humans have always had them, even if they’ve changed shape and size, depending on what’s popular at the time (think of the difference between a haiku and an epic fantasy series). Stories are a way of passing down knowledge and understanding from person to person and down the generations.
The means of transmitting them, on the other hand, are always changing. Once upon a time, stories were spoken aloud. Then came writing, printing and then all the modern technologies we have today, like e-books and (full circle) audiobooks. All these technologies are at heart delivery systems for story, which is what really matters.
So stories will always be important, whether books are superseded by something or not. TV shows, movies and games are all candidates.
What inspired you to write about the experience of having a disability?
I’ve been interested in deafness and Deaf culture for almost twenty years, but not from any personal experience with hearing loss. I originally started researching with the thought of writing a big, fat, post-apocalyptic thriller where everyone loses their hearing. The more I dug into it, though, the more it seemed exploitative, and the more interested I became in just one of the characters: a young guitarist who struggles to maintain his relationship with music when he can’t experience sound. Eventually, I ditched the whole end-of-the-world scenario and decided to write about him and only him.
It wasn’t until later that I realised what it was that drew me so powerfully to this project. I suffer from chronic pain, and for a while there it looked as though I might have to give up writing, which was a deeply depressing scenario. So there I was, a writer facing the prospect of being unable to write . . . thinking about a musician who can’t hear . . . and when you factor in that writing music is my other creative pastime . . . well, it’s really a no-brainer how I ended up there.
My experience of disability is different to that of the protagonists of Impossible Music, but the novel comes from the same deep emotional well.
What are your thoughts on diversity becoming the 'norm’ in literature?
I am one thousand percent for it. Reading broadens the mind--so only reading about people just like me defeats the purpose. It’s also good for writers to stretch their creative muscles, along with their research abilities too. The saying “Write what you know” is often used as a reason not to write outside your own “type”, but I think that’s a cop-out. What does it mean to “know” something? It might mean you’ve lived it; it might also mean you’ve researched it exhaustively until you feel confident that you’re accurately representing a true facet of it.
Stepping out of your comfort zone is a very important part of becoming a good writer, and this is one way that can be achieved.
What are your favourite diverse books?
Oh, there are so many. Around the time I was reading A Wizard of Earthsea (a book full of dark-skinned islanders, btw) I tried to read Alex Haley’s Roots and got about halfway through before it overwhelmed me (I was eight years old). Even so, it had a huge impact on my developing mind, exposing me to African American histories and cultures I had never really heard of before. A favourite from later in life was Bob Shaw’s Night Walk, a sci-fi novel about a man who loses his sight. When I was researching Deafness for Impossible Music, I particularly loved Train Go Sorry: Inside a Deaf World by Leah Hager Cohen and Rebuilt: My Journey Back to the Hearing World by Michael Chorost. YA novel Future Girl by Asphyxia is a recent favourite.
What was your mindset about how to approach the issue of ‘own voice’ when you started Impossible Music, and what did you learn about that by the time you'd finished and put it out to the world?
At every stage, I’ve approached the process respectfully and with great care--because that’s how I’d want someone to treat my story, if our positions were reversed. There are societies like Deaf Can Do and Sign Language Australia who are, in my experience, good places to start, very open to answering the questions of and providing resources to people wanting to know more. They also run Auslan classes, which I recommend for more than just research: it’s an astonishingly rich and subtle language that works very differently from those of the Hearing world. At every stage in my research, I had to accept when I was getting things wrong and work hard to correct those errors. When talking to people who are living the experience, their world always trumps mine. If any errors remain in the book, on the other hand, they are mine, not the people who were so generous with their time and insight.
The bottom line is that I had to get out there and engage with the people in the community I wanted to represent--which was hard for someone as shy as I am, but totally worth it.
What advice would you have for any writer planning a story of diversity which does not come from their own voice?
Don’t be afraid to give it a try but do so with an open mind. Be prepared for surprises and challenges that come from inside you as well as outside. That frustration you’re feeling when you’re trying to understand from outside your own experience? That’s nothing compared to the frustration coming the other way. Be humble, and kind, and patient. And please do accept if a story is off-limits. Sometimes, walking away shows the ultimate respect of all.
The Hachette Australia Prize for Young Writers is open to all Australian secondary school-aged students.
There are three categories: Fiction, Creative Nonfiction and Poetry. Entries can include writing for readers of any age.
The prize winner in each category will receive:
The prize is judged by representatives from Hachette Australia and Express Media.
Entries for the 2021 Hachette Australia Prize for Young Writers are now open and must be submitted before midnight (Sydney time) on Thursday 12 August.
Find out more here.