Monday, February 28, 2011

yippee calloo callay!

hooray for shaun tan - what a clever man to win an academy award for his film of
the lost thing
this makes me tres happy and proud.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

when one is inbetween bookshelves...

it gives one the excuse to get bugger-all work done.

Friday, February 25, 2011

review : angel creek

Angel Creek, Sally Rippin (Text Publishing)

On Christmas Eve, Jelly and her cousins Gino and little Pik find a baby angel with an injured wing in a storm water drain down at the Merri Creek*. Not a cute cherubic angel in a gown that you might see in religious paintings, but a feral scrap of a thing – a tiny ferocious angel-child in a tattered dress, with wings something like a pelican. They decide to hide the angel in the toolshed at the local primary school (closed for the summer) and help fix its wing – keeping it a secret from their parents, as well as the aggressive high school boys on bikes that threaten Jelly.

Like a freshly hatched duckling who thinks the first thing it sees is its mama, the angel attaches itself quite viciously to Jelly and will only respond to her – which makes Gino jealous. Pik doesn’t quite understand the secret and tells people about the angel, but they just say “isn’t that lovely” and tell the angry Jelly and Gino that if Pik wants to believe in angels then he is allowed to.

Jelly doesn’t seem to notice her (sometimes offhand and selfish) wishes coming true, in ways she would have never consciously intended – such as when she wishes something would happen to keep Gino and Pik from leaving – The angel stirred and a shiver passed through it like the faintest breeze – and Nonna gets sick and is taken to hospital.

Angel Creek is a really beautiful exploration of a time of change for a young person – Jelly has had to move house and is facing her first year at high school when the summer is over. There's the story of the boy who drowned down the creek, the understanding that Nonnas won't live forever and those butterflies when maybe, just maybe, you've got your first crush on a boy. All these extra flourishes give Jelly's story that little extra oomph. Exquisitely written, and exploring the loss of innocence, kindness, kinship and a certain kind of faith, this book is fantastical (but not fantasy, it’s firmly rooted in reality), effortlessly metaphorical and a little bit magic.

*The kids were not supposed to be down at the creek, but it was a too fascinating and exciting place not to explore. This is true. I live near there. It's scary and smelly and awesome.

girls in publishing

the girls at black inc have written a brilliant review of the alien onion-featured 1974 novel girls in publishing.

check it out if you want a laugh.

they lived - and loved - by one rule:
there's more to a book than its cover...

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

review : how to say goodbye in robot

How to Say Goodbye in Robot, Natalie Standiford (Scholastic)

I looked at the dead Goebbels. The moment seemed to call for a bit of ceremony, a gesture of some sort. So I stiffened my limbs and held my hands flat and straight, like a mime. With an expressionless face I jerked my hands over the gerbil's little body and squeaked, "Ee er oo. Ee er ee. Eh-eh."
Mom lifted her head. "Oh my God," she said. "What are you doing?"
"I'm giving the gerbil a final benediction," I said. "In Robot."

All fantastic young adult books are equal, but some are more equal than others.

This is such a book. How to Say Goodbye in Robot stands out heads, shoulders, antennae above the rest as an extremely well-written and superbly-crafted novel. It explores love and loss, families and friendship, our place in the world and a sense of belonging - as well as the connections we make along the way. It's so easy to read that I think readers might miss just how deliberate and necessary everything in the book was.*

Beatrice's mother calls her heartless. (Bea bangs on her belly to try to hear the hollow clang of her empty robot self.) Bea puts herself to sleep at night by imagining her own death in various dramatic scenarios and by listening to late-night radio talkback shows, and when she and her parents move to Baltimore she meets the prickly and unfriendly Jonah who introduces her to the strange and wonderful nocturnal community that make up the Night Lights, his local radio talk-back gang. Jonah and Bea strike up a fairly tumultuous, but significant, platonic relationship.

Jonah was nicknamed Ghost Boy by his classmates long before Bea arrived in town, when, following the deaths of his mother and disabled twin brother Matthew in a car accident, he became withdrawn and not-entirely-there. He comes to life with Bea and when it turns out that his brother may not actually be dead at all, but shut up in an institution somewhere at the behest of his father, Jonah truly comes alive and the two of them concoct elaborate plans to find Matthew and maybe even bust him out.

The plot may sound far-fetched, but it all works. The real joy of this book is that it's a complete depiction of life. The relationship between Bea and Jonah just driving the plot through such a rich world and this is what makes the book ring so true and feel so real: the girls from school, Anne Sweeney and AWAE, and the boys, Tom and Walt; the Night Lighters (especially Kreplax and Don Berman, my particular favourites); and Bea's sad parents. The reader is thrown right into the action, we don't get a lot of unnecessary exposition and Standiford doesn't ever linger on, or overstate any one point. Everything comes together to demonstrate the singularity of people and also how important it is to connect and share with one another.

This is a heartbreaking, but also a (an?) hysterically funny novel. Reminiscent of John Green's brilliant Paper Towns and the bittersweet Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli.


*other books I feel this about: King Dork by Frank Pullman, When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead and the brand new Angel Creek by Sally Rippin

Sunday, February 20, 2011

review : 13 Words

13 words, lemony snicket and maira kalman (harper)

this book contains thirteen words. they could have been chosen at random - thirteen flips through the dictionary, thirteen finger jabs at thirteen words (with your eyes closed for extra random choosings) for these thirteen words could hardly bring a story together...could they?

they can!

what do a convertible, a baby, a haberdashery and a mezzo-soprano have in common?

the answer is lemony snicket.

the bird is despondent. the dog wants to cheer the bird up. when cake doesn't seem to work completely, they have to come up with something else. a goat in a spiffy jacket is there to help out.

"Do you know what's great?" says the goat.
"A hat. Nothing cheers folks up like a hat."
"That's a swell idea," says the dog.
"Let's go someplace we can buy a hat."

the story is delightfully silly, but also very lovely. adults will get just as much - if not more - enjoyment out of it as children. i actually haven't yet read this one to a child, so am not sure how they will respond. there is a clever use of repetition and it reads very well aloud (i read it out to myself). there is also a pondering, philosophical feeling to it and surely we will all recognise ourselves in that despondent blue bird.

it's beautifully produced. the illustrations by maira kalman are simply spectacular with many, many references to artists and literature (most that i don't recognise specifically but in a hazy i'm sure i saw that in a painting at the musee d'orsay/national gallery/tate modern kind of way, but what fun to work it out over time) and the colours! oh the colours! it's a treat for the eyes.

this review makes me happy. i think 13 words should have instant classic status also. and i felt the same about the composer is dead (which i talked about here and here a little bit too).

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

and also, puppies:

she said 'do me a favour if you wanna be my saviour then you're gonna have to learn how to sing'

It's been one of those weeks where there's many many things to do, places to go, people to see, coffees to drink and books to read.

Coming up on bean there, read that there are lots of reviews of very exciting and wonderful books. Here is a taster:

How to say goodbye in robot, Natalie Standiford

One of the best and most beautiful books I have read in a while. It's an intelligent and heart-rending story about Bea aka Robot Girl and what happens when she tried to befriend the prickly and odd Jonah, also known as Ghost Boy. Kind of Paper Towns meets Stargirl.

The Confessions of the Sullivan Sisters, Natalie Standiford

After Robot I had to go and read anything, anything else by Natalie. This one was quite different, but extremely hilarious and equally well written. Someone has offended Lou Almighty and must confess or else the entire Sullivan family will be cut from her substantial will.

Angel Creek, Sally Rippin

Jelly, languishing in that summer between year six and year seven, is hanging out with her cousins Pik and Gino down the Merri Creek when they find a baby angel with a broken wing. It's absolutely marvellous - for those middling readers and for grown-ups too. I kept expecting Cedar B to pop around the corner...

The Our Australian Girl series

The historian in me (lying essentially dormant since honours ended in 2007) gets a sense of glee when fab historical fiction comes out for young Australian readers. These four books were all brilliant. More on them later.

Yellowcake, Margo Lanagan

Still reading...don't interrupt. Margo's stories blow me away, no exceptions. But my lovely pal Clare describes this collection even better than I think I will be able to when she said (in her Bookseller and Publisher review, latest edition Junior term 1): "Each one is truly elegant, possessing a haunting, often unnerving quality that leaves the innards of the story lingering long after the last page is turned."

Other Very Exciting Things emerging in the next little while...

  • I reviewed A Pocketful of Eyes (Lili Wilkinson) and The Dead I Know (Scot Gardner) for the next Junior edition of B+P and cannot wait to share my thoughts on those when I can.
  • The Reading Matters conference is coming up in May. Get tickets, ok?
  • Literary anthology Visible Ink will be launched at the John Curtin on March 2nd from 6.30pm. I've worked really hard on this. Come see.
  • How to say goodbye in robot is available at the Younger Sun Bookshop in Yarraville. Go there and buy it.

And with no more to-do, here is the latest Darren Hanlon film clip, directed by Natalie van den Dungen, for the song Butterfly Bones*:

*if you don't like it i will be forced to believe you have no heart. truly.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

review : the boyfriend list

the boyfriend list, e lockhart (corgi)

ruby "roo" oliver got dumped by her boyfriend and then her friends and then started having panic attacks which led to her seeing a therapist and starting 'the boyfriend list' (which caused more problems there for a little while).

this is a great little book, roo is an extremely likable narrator - not unlike that star among stars, the luminous miss georgia nicholson. roo's fifteen, has lunatic parents and a gang of girlfriends and a wide array of young men in her life. over the course of the book we hear about the fifteen most significant boys - who range from kindergarten paramours to imaginary boyfriends to first kisses to friends' brothers to the real deal.

lockhart manages to give roo a voice that rings true, that gets across her self-pity and desperation when she loses not only her boyfriend, but also her three best friends. she (that's lockhart) uses a quirky footnote method to give even more insight into roo's thought processes and to give us a little more info. but as a reader i never got bored or sick of roo's troubles because, while she did feel pretty sorry for herself, she was constantly trying (sometimes unsuccessfully) to see how things might have got so messed up.

this is gorgeous, funny, smart stuff.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

that merry old creek

have been down the merri creek looking for angels*...

i hope they can swim.

*inspired by my sneaky preview copy of sally rippin's angel creek which is an impeccably beautiful novel.UPDATE: i have a written review of this darling book here.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

baby baby baby baby oh baby...

in honour of baby bug being born today, here are some of my favourite baby books and favourite books about babies (and also a little carpenters 'superstar' singalong):

each peach pear plum, janet and allan ahlberg

in which all your favourite nursery rhyme characters spy each other in various places and then eat plum pie at the end.

the very hungry caterpillar, eric carle

in which a brand new and very hungry caterpillar gorges himself on lots of different foods, feels sick and then eats one nice green leaf, feels better and then becomes a butterfly.

banana!, ed vere

which contains only two words: banana! and please.
to be read aloud with gusto and preferably actions too.

a bit lost, christ haughton (not technically a baby book, but a kids' book at least)
a little owl tumbles out of his nest 'uh oh!' and asks a rather dim-witted (though very helpful) rabbit to help him find his mummy.
"biscuits are our favourite!"

mahalia, joanne horniman

one of the best. matt is bringing baby mahalia up by himself after mahalia's mum emmy couldn't cope anymore and left.

i've talked about this one before, here.

dear nobody, berlie doherty

a beautiful dual-perspective novel about a young english woman whose life is turned upside down by realising she's pregnant. she writes letters "dear nobody" to her unborn baby. it's also about the baby's father, who doesn't know about the baby and who is trying to build a future for himself.

one night, margaret wild

very moving and fast-paced free verse novel. this book is about families, friendships and responsibility and the consequences of one night.
(these books are all about unexpected babies, even though baby bug was very intentional)

Friday, February 4, 2011

review : boys don't cry

boys don't cry, malorie blackman (doubleday)

to set the scene: it's england. a boy is waiting (literally at the door) for his a-level results (like VCE if you're from victoria or HSC if you're from sydney or NEWTs if you go to hogwarts) and his old girlfriend turns up with a baby in a pram.

same old, same old?

think again.

just like nick hornby's slam turned the teen pregnancy story on its head, blackman's book is more than it seems. boys don't cry is a very readable book about two brothers facing (separate) major obstacles in their lives, their changing relationships with their widowed father and the lad culture they are part of with their mates at the pub.

dante's been left holding the baby - although actually, he's left the baby screaming in the pram, too afraid to hold it - and it looks like his plans for university and a career in journalism are in ruins. dante's brother adam is the easygoing one - handsome, gregarious and friendly. adam is also gay and very happy to be, even though dante and his dad keep asking whether this 'phase' is going to be over soon and even though adam cops a lot of trouble from dante's 'friends'.

over the course of the book these three men face challenges and heartbreak and learn a lot about each other and themselves. and while the voice and the dialogue aren't totally natural, and sometimes come across as stilted, this is still a very lovely and thought-provoking read. it's heartwarming and very enjoyable.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

what excitement!

due to be published in june this year.
you can read steven's blog post about it here.