The March of the Ants

There’s not always time to stop and think about why I do what I do. I suspect it’s the same for other book creators. And even if we did, would we be able to articulate it? I’m not sure. If pushed, I can say that I want to stimulate curiosity and wonder, as well as explore some of the amazing aspects of who we are and how we connect with our world.

But, it’s more than that, and for that I have fewer words. Which is why ‘The March of the Ants’ is such an interesting and compelling picture book. Authored by Australia’s current Children’s Laureate, Ursula Subosarsky and illustrated by Tohby Riddle and produced by the team at Book Trail Press, ‘The March of the Ants’ offers an explanation for, an exploration of, what stories and books are all about and why they are important.

The ants are off on an expedition. Each ant loads up with a tool, or some other element clearly essential for an expedition. The destination, if there is one, is not named. The leader scoffs at the suggestion that a book will be in anyway useful , but the littlest ant refuses to give it up and so, in the name of expediency, is allowed to bring it.

Every part of this book, from the golden sunshiney cover, to the marching ant textured endpapers is wonderful. Like all the best picture books, the text is deceptively simple, big ideas couched in accessible words. The industrious ants are expressive and the march through the valley of despair has so much to offer observant readers. Cooperation and teamwork are wonderful things, but we also need individuals who follow their own path and enrich us all.

Iceberg: the story of a real, live, in-the-flesh book launch.

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Organising booklaunches can be tricky at the best of times. Whatever time or date chosen, there are going to be calendar clashes, prior engagements, other priorities, venue restrictions. Add in a 5-day lockdown just as Melbourne was beginning to settle into new-normal and there was an extra level of challenge. Could it go ahead? How many could join us? How would we manage? It was Wednesday evening before we could be sure that the Saturday launch could happen. Wednesday was a day of phone calls and emails, text messages and not a little floor-pacing!

The wonderful Ella from Younger Sun Bookshop (with help from Kate and Pele) made sure it was hiccup-free. (Apart from two early attendees slipping in through a side door – yes, it was my parents!) Numbers were capped, attendee registration was required, as was hand-sanitising, masking and on-the-day registration. But, there was also a freshly-carved (as opposed to freshly-calved) iceberg, an iceberg cake, blue-and-white coconut ice, bergy bit meringues and some penguin-carrying fruit pieces!

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And there were people! Real people, in the same room, able to chat with each other. Safely distanced, waving-not-hugging people. It was so lovely to gather with friends and family and booklovers and share the celebrations for a new book. Judy Horacek did the honours, officially and fabulously welcomed Iceberg into the bookworld. Jess and I spoke a little about the making of this Iceberg, and there were quizzes with prizes.

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Just like it takes a big production team to make a book, there is a big support team of family and friends and others who make it possible to make books. Big thanks to them all. Sail on, Iceberg!

Footprints on the Moon

It’s 1969 and Sharnie has just started highschool. She feels like her world is changing too fast and in directions she doesn’t understand. Man is about to walk on the moon. War is raging in Vietnam and here in Australia opinions about local involvement in the conflict are sometimes violently polarised. The people she loves seem at war with each other and she’s not sure what to think.

A new verse novel from Lorraine Marwood is something to be savoured. Devoured and then reflected upon. Revisited. Fast and slow. This, for me, is the strength of verse novels in general, and Lorraine’s work particularly. Verse novels offer as rich a story as any novel but cut away description and allow access to readers who struggle with prose texts. They offer all readers the opportunity to experience the best of poetry, with line breaks adding extra depth of meaning. They show young poets (and prose writers) that plain language, arranged in the best way, is as powerful as fancy words. Sharnie’s uncertainties and determinations drive this novel and bring to life a tumultuous time in our history as surely as they explore a girl exploring who she is and who she wants to be. Perfect for upper-primary, early secondary readers. Out February 21.

Iceberg

Picture books do not happen overnight. No books do. But man it’s exciting when they finally do make it into the world. What begins as a word or an idea, and grows and changes endlessly before submission. This story began as a poem which was published by The School Magazine over a decade ago. This rewriting, which took the sensibility of the poem and added seasons, food webs and more, was as fraught if not more than most picture books. I knew the ‘shape’ I wanted it to have, but I wanted to add the changing light (including the Aurora Australis), the wakening of phytoplankton, the explosion of krill numbers … everything! … all the way up to the appearance of the whales, all the while playing with the wonderful language of ice and icebergs. All in a picture book length text – in this case, just over 500 words.

But a picture story book needs more than words. Enter Jess Racklyeft and the team at Allen & Unwin. Jess’s ideas grew into sketches (and other technical idea-presentation forms that this non-illustrator only partially understands) and into the wonderful art that now fills the pages. Look at that colour! Look at the light, the atmosphere. Suddenly the words had music.

This is a visual ‘song’ I’m very proud of and very happy to be able to share with the world.

There’s not much that’s more exciting than holding a finished book in your hands. Except of course being able to share it.

Did you know?

I’ve been back working on my wip today and I desperately wanted to include ‘swash’, but no matter how many times I rework the lines, it just won’t fit.

UPRUSH - Definition and synonyms of uprush in the English dictionary

The shallow wave wash that pushes up the beach after a wave breaks has a name! I knew that the pull back was called backwash, but I didn’t know that there was such a thing as ‘swash’. What a great word!

Waves

I’ve finally accepted that – wonderful word though it is – there’s no room for it in this for this story. I’m a bit disappointed but perhaps now the story can move forward.

And I’ll store ‘swash’ away for use another time.

Haywire – a taster

A little taster from my novel “Haywire” which was published mid-pandemic. Notice the lovely silver sticker? “Haywire” was shortlisted in this year’s NSW Premier’s History Awards.

Tom (Hay NSW) October 1939

There is silence around the dinner table: no plate-clinking, no elbow-jostling, no open-mouth chewing, no seat-wriggling.

Nothing normal.

Mick and Pete have joined up. Joined the army. Volunteered to go fight in the war.

‘The militia?’

The militia are a sort of home army. They won’t go overseas but do stuff here. I’m not really sure what.

Pete shakes his head.

They’re going on a ship. Overseas. To fight against Hitler and the Germans. Like we see in the newsreels each Saturday.

Mum’s face is paler than it was the time I nearly cut my finger off. Dad stares into the distance. Mick’s chin is out. Pete scratches at something interesting on the tablecloth.

My big sister, Joanie, opens and closes her mouth like a landed fish. Her boyfriend is in the militia and she reckons she knows everything. But my little sister beats her.

Mary takes a big, noisy breath. ‘But people get killed at war!’

Max (Bockhurst, Germany) October 1939

I am in mathematics class, turning numbers into angles.

If I’d known what was about to happen, perhaps I would have cleared my desk.

Or told Markus Kleinitz what I really thought of him.

I know I definitely wouldn’t have worried as much about geometry.

But I didn’t know.

I thought it was a normal day.

The school secretary whispers to Mr Weber, then waits by the door. Mr Weber looks at me and I wonder what I’ve done.

‘Gruber.’ He nods in the direction of the door.

I untangle my legs and follow the secretary down the central corridor of the middle school, all the way to the office.

There at the end is my mother. Why isn’t she at work?

‘Danke.’ Mutti nods at the secretary. ‘Come, Max,’ she says and hands me my coat, hat and scarf. ‘Your grandmother is gravely ill. We must go to her at once.’

I frown. Oma died more than a year ago. I open my mouth to ask. Mutti shakes her head, just a little, but enough so I close my mouth again and wind my scarf around my neck.

Still she says nothing.

Mutti retrieves a knapsack from the snow steps and threads my arms into it. It’s heavy.

Haywire is a novel for 10+ and travels from Germany, via England to outback town Hay, where Tom, son of local baker, meets Max, German internee who arrives via the Dunera with 2500 other internees in the small, quiet inland town of Hay. Both boys are trapped in lives not of their choosing.

Available for purchase here, here, here, and independent bookshops everywhere.

Out and about

Melbourne and Victoria are slowly emerging from lockdown and it’s a wonderful thing. We’ve been able to see family and have begun to see friends again too.

On Tuesday, Sam from Wild Dingo Press and I visited bookshops – real live in person visits! It was so lovely to walk through familiar doors and chat to familiar booksellers. To talk books and sign books.

Readings Kids https://www.readings.com.au
The Little Bookroom
Pictures and Pages


There’s no doubting that there are many people and places that have had tougher lockdown experiences than I have, but doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate being able to leave home for more than the four reasons.
I love wandering about and seeing unexpected things. All add to the ‘filling the well’ that I find so important for writing. This image is from the gallery under Flinders St that leads to the station. The title for the exhibition, or for this window, is ‘Structured Layer by Layer’ and features the work of Penny Sharples (on wall), and mosaics by Luna Cameron-Parrish. I like the calm of the painting and the contrast of the layers in the mosaic with the wall tiles of the tunnel.
I saw this before the subway art, but it fits really, being so many layers. So many posters layered on top of each other, but peeling away to show what else is there. Like a paperbark tree.
This lane, between Bourke St mall and Little Collins, is usually full of photographers taking pics of the graffiti. There’s a quietness here, despite the shouting of the colours.
Shops are opening slowly, but there are lots of empty ones too. This is a favourite streetscape, between Collins and Flinders Lane. I overheard snippets of conversations between vendors and customers like whispers or memories. I love that the world lives here.

On the RRRadio …

Georgia Ward-Fear and I have been chatting on the radio with Shane Huntington. Neither Georgia nor I could be there live, so we Zoomed in. It was a good half-way method. We could see each other but it was an audio interview (which went out live). Whoever thought of this idea is to be applauded!

It also meant I didn’t need to put on shoes and it didn’t matter that it has been time + several months since I had a haircut!

If you’d like to listen to us chatting about our Wild Dingo Press book Aussie Stem Stars: Georgia Ward-Fear, here‘s the link. You’ll meet the wonderful Georgia and get a small taste (or not taste) of cane toads, and why goannas are no longer eating them.

Thanks Shane!

Kookaburra competition results are in!

Thank you so much to everyone who entered our Kookaburra competition, for your imagination and skill. We were overwhelmed by the quality and number of entries in both categories. Thank you to the parents and teachers who supported their children/students.

Congratulations to our winners, for their imaginative and lyrical new verses

Emily (9, Forest Hill VIC)

Kookaburra sits in the empty playground

wishing there were children to make a sound

Come everybody, come everybody,

when this lockdown ends.

and Noah (Yr 2 St Pius X Unanderra NSW)

Kookaburra sits on my garden shed

Eyeing off my food like he wants to be fed

I give in kookaburra, you win kookaburra

I’ll leave some out at tea

Congratulations to our artwork winners for their creative and original artworks:

Quentin (Yr 2 Our Lady of Lourdes PS NSW) 

and Petra (Yr 1 Brunswick Nth PS Vic)

Congratulations too to Yr 5B at St Joseph’s Catholic PS Como-Oyster Bay NSW for submitting 36 verses – a clear winner for the most entries from a single class (verse) and to Yr 1/2AL at Avalon PS NSW for submitting 22 artwork entries, the most for a single class and school. Prizepacks are being sent to both classes.

Tannya and I shortlisted 5 entries in each category before choosing winners. Choosing a shortlist was tough but choosing winners was even tougher.

Each of the entries on the shortlist deserves a Special Mention.

Writing Special Mentions:

Amali (Year 6, William Clarke College Kellyville NSW),

Kookaburra sits in the hot gum tree

Tryna find shade cause it’s a hundred degrees

Search kookaburra, search kookaburra

Burnt your feathers must be

Hamish (Yr 2, Camberwell PS Vic)

Kookaburra soars through the dusty sky,

Looking down on rivers and lands so dry.

Fly, Kookaburra, fly, Kookaburra,

Watch the scene from high.

and Iyah (Yr 2 Our Lady Star of the Sea PS Ocean Grove Vic)

Kookaburra sitting in the big gumtree

Laughing at you and looking at me

Why kookaburra? why kookaburra?

Tell your story to me!

Artwork Special Mentions:

Eliana (Age 4 Jacks Avenue Kindergarten Dingley Vic),

Yaami (Prep Watsonia Heights PS Vic)

and Maxim (Yr 3 St Therese’s Catholic PS Denistone NSW)

Thank you so much to Tannya for cohosting and cojudging our Kookaburra competition. To learn more about Tannya, you can visit her website.