Would you like a book of exciting short stories where each one unfolds in real time and only takes about 20 mins to read? Do you love mystery, adventure and kids as main characters?
200 Minutes of Mystery by Jack Heath. ISBN 9781760660840. Published by Scholastic Australia.
This is the book for you! Written by Australian author, Jack Heath, here are 10 short mysteries, each involving a different tween or teenager. The solution to each one is revealed at the end of each story, but you can try to spot the clues and solve the mystery yourself. And if you like this one, check out Jack Heath’s 'Minutes of Danger' books too.
Reviewed by Kylie Grant
Welcome to my first review for 2022. Both of the fabulous books I am reviewing have a South Australian connection and were published in 2021.
Ngarrindjeri yanun Kraiyi is retold and illustrated by the students of Goolwa Primary School with Cedric Varcoe and Amanda Westley. Published by Goolwa Primary School.
The students of Goolwa Primary School have cleverly illustrated the pages of this wonderful book that explains the meaning of the kraiyi (snake). Through the explanation of each segment of the kraiyi you are able to learn the language of the Ngarrindjeri people as well as learning how they lived and cared for the land in the past and continue to do so now.
Where birds sing and wildflowers dance written by & illustrated by Jason Tyndall. Published by Nature Play SA.
This very special book has been written as a guide for exploring South Australia’s National Parks. Throughout the book are stunning photographs and hand drawn images of nature. There are detailed explanations of the plants, flowers and creatures in the parks as well as poetry and other interesting information. If you have a family member or a friend that loves walking in nature in SA this is the perfect book for you and them to share.
Who Fed Zed? Who knew there were so many words that rhyme with “Bread”? I loved this fast-paced, comical, rhyming picture book from Amelia McInerney. The award-winning author tickled my funny bone with a tale about a group of friends who unknowingly feed pet goldfish Zed some bread – ending in his near demise due to a food allergy! Although the serious message of the book is to raise awareness of food intolerances and food labelling, it is framed within a funny story that will assist children in the basic understanding of why we need to read labels carefully. (Do not feed fish flea powder...!) The story highlights how food can affect people, and indeed animals, differently. It is an easy read aloud that will have young children joining in with a giggle whilst repeating the mono-rhyming words. The illustrations by Adam Nickel are bright, colourful and simple - almost reminiscent of a fifties style American family comic. This book is sure to be a hit with parents, teachers and children!
To learn more about this book, follow the link:
Kristin Martin is a South Australian poet with two published books of poetry to her name. We asked her a few questions about what she likes to read and what inspires her poetry. To learn more about Kristin, visit her website, Poems for Kids at: http://kristinmartin.net
Of follow her on Instagram: kristinmartin_poet
What’ya Reading Kristin?
I’ve just finished reading Jaclyn Moriaty’s 4th book in her middle grade Kingdoms and Empires series; The Astonishing Chronicles of Oscar from Elsewhere. I adore everything that Jaclyn writes and love her sense of humour and her playfulness with words. I read a couple of my favourite picture books to my students (year 1s) in the last week of school: Dougal the Garbage Dump Bear by Matt Dray, and Bamboozled by David Legge. Now that it’s school holidays I’m starting on my very large to-be-read pile. The first I’ve picked up is a young adult novel, The Ghost Squad by Sophie Masson. I can hardly put it down!
Which poem do you think first influenced your love of poetry and will stay with you for life?
The first poetry book I read, or had read to me, was When We Were Very Young by A A Milne. My favourite poem was ‘Halfway Down’, about a child sitting on the stairs. When I read it again a few years ago I realised how much it had influenced my poetry.
You love micro-photography. What’s the most amazing thing you’ve learnt since looking closer at plants and insects?
I love finding insects in my garden and watching their behaviour. I’ve realised that I have at least 3 species of native bees in my garden; until a year ago I didn’t know I had any! My favourite discovery has been blue-banded bees and observing the males sleeping by holding onto a stem with their mouth.
What is the most memorable response a child has given to your poetry?
I can’t remember one in particular, but my website, Poems for Kids (kristinmartin.net) is a Children’s University Learning Destination, so I often have children writing to me about my poems. I always enjoy reading their comments and replying.
What is your most annoying habit while working on a poem?
When I write rhyming poems, I count syllables on my fingers while saying the line in my head. So my most annoying habit (according to my family) would be not listening to them when they’re talking to me, while obviously counting syllables.
You’ve recently signed a deal for your first picture book. Firstly, is it poetic. Secondly, would you rather the illustrator tried to recreate what you visualised while writing, or would you prefer to see what they imagined while reading it?
I recently signed the contract for my first picture book with MidnightSun Publishing. Yes, it does rhyme, and while I have some ideas of what I’d like the pictures to look like, I’m happy to see what the illustrator comes up with. MidnightSun publish beautiful picture books, so I trust them.
What is the most common theme of your poems?
My children’s poetry book, To Rhyme or Not to Rhyme? (Glimmer Press) contains poems about nature, and that is the most common theme of all my poems. More specifically, it’s clouds. I love clouds and they seem to inspire me to write all sorts of poems.
How do you think poetry allows a writer to express their ideas differently to other forms of writing? What can other writers learn from this artform?
Poetry gives you freedom to express your ideas anyway you like. I love that poets can break the rules of the English language (though I do love grammar rules!), and play with words and form. I think other writers can learn playfulness from poetry.
If you could have a musician put one of your poems to music, who would you want it to be?
I am not particularly musical (though I do love to sing with my students as they don’t complain about my singing), but I love the idea of someone putting my poems to music. I would be happy with anyone doing it!
If you wanted children to read one book of poetry in their lives, which one would you suggest?
I don’t have a favourite poetry book, but there are lots of wonderful children’s poetry anthologies. They are great to read as they have a variety of poets.
Who is your favourite poet?
I love lots of poets! There is no way that I could name just one. Two of my favourite Adelaide poets are Alys Jackson and Rachael Mead.
Can you recite a short poem or section that you’ve written and love, but you know will never be published because it doesn’t fit in with any others?
It’s not exactly short, and who knows if it will ever be published, but here’s a sonnet I’m very fond of that has never appeared anywhere other than in a word document on my laptop.
A Sonnet for Sunny Days
Those sunny days I force myself to write,
the words I choose revolt and run away.
And if I call them back, they start to fight
and leave their spite in scenes they’re made to stay.
These words that spar and argue on the page
then lose their joy and spontaneity.
They change their form and fill themselves with rage.
I’m left with gloom when what I’d planned was glee.
I do not like these harsh and woeful words
that pepper all my bright and lively tales.
I want my rhymes to soar like agile birds
and dive to depths of wise and worldly whales.
So when the sun is out, I walk instead,
then perfect words just leap into my head.
by Kristin Martin
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.