An acorn full of fabulous – ‘Violet Mackerel’s Pocket Protest’

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If you’ve got a girl of about four or older, and you haven’t met Violet Mackerel yet, you definitely should. The books are in a series, but you don’t need to read them in order. Standalone or not, you will be swept away by their charm.

Book 6 is ‘Violet Mackerel’s Pocket Protest‘, written by Anna Branford and illustrated (here in Australia at least) by the brilliant Sarah Davis. When the beautiful simplicity of the writing combines with Davis’ vivid illustrations, you’re on to a winner.

‘Pocket Protest’ follows Violet and her friend Rose as they attempt to save the local oak tree from being cut down to make way for a carpark. They meet discouragement and setbacks along the way, but they stay true to themselves and keep trying.

It’s a wonderful book to introduce environmental themes to kids. It also has diverse characters (race, financial status, deafness) that are treated the same as all the others, again a very positive model for young kids.

Brief breakdown

  • 10 Chapters, 108 pages (yes that’s about 10 pages per chapter if your maths-head has clocked off for the day)
  • Illustrations on most spreads
  • Primary problem Chapters 1-10
  • Secondary problem Chapters 4-9
  • Both problems successfully solved, some adult help but mainly due to the girls’ actions.

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How to balance hot YA Book Boyfriends with positive self-esteem – the electric ‘Obsidian’

Beautiful face. Beautiful body. Horrible attitude. It was the holy trinity of hot boys.

obsidian_coverThis is Katy’s p27 take on Daemon Black, one of the most entertaining Love Interests I’ve met in a while. I’ve been reading ‘Obsidian’ by Jennifer L. Armentrout, and it’s got me thinking about how to create the perfect YA Book Boyfriend.

Adding romance elements to YA can make your book HOT. But this isn’t just about book sales – if you’re writing for teens you need to be considering their self-esteem, and modelling positive relationships.

I also see three elements to a great YA Book Boyfriend, but I think Katy got them wrong. As a character, she’s supposed to get it wrong. We, the readers, are the ones who need to see it right.

Elements of a hot-dayam Love Interest:

  1. Instant (mutual) attraction
  2. He acts like a jerk most of the time
  3. There is a good reason why, and we readers get hints about this early.

I’m not saying this is the only recipe for romantic tension, but it’s one that’s worked time and again. But don’t miss the important fourth element – your MC’s self-esteem.

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Editing: How to turn your manuscript mistakes into opportunities for awesome

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You’ve all been there. Late at night, at your desk, final check of your latest Work In Progress. You’re pretty happy. Close to hitting that big green metaphorical button that says GO FOR IT!

Then something makes you frown.

There’s a mistake… <head meets desk>

Happened to me last week. My kick-ass group of teens were driving across South America, hell-bent on getting evacuated the heck out of there because, you know, stuff was going down. But then I re-did my calculations and realised their car was going to run out of fuel 300 km before the town they actually refuel at. Ouch.

I was facing a plot crisis.

Solution? Brainstorm what to do, and reject all your initial ‘ordinary’ options

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Open your heart with ‘Sister Heart’

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A powerful, empathy-inducing book, ‘Sister Heart’ by Sally Morgan beautifully tackles the terrible truth of the Stolen Generations. It is aimed at kids aged 9-14. This book had me crying and questioning and hugging my own little girl close.

I invite all Australians to read it, indeed all people. This story surpasses country or race to resonate deep inside what makes us human.

The narrator is a young Aboriginal girl taken from her family and placed in an institution far south of her home. Her voice is unique, her struggle in the face of unassailable odds is vivid, the friendship and support she finds from others like her is heart-warming.

This whole book is a triumph of character and voice.  Continue reading

3 of my fave picture books to inspire imaginative play, and how they do it

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Imaginative play is a vital learning tool for kids. One of the great ways to inspire and encourage imaginative play is to read books that incorporate it. As a mum of a voracious book-devouring 4-year-old, I’ve met quite a few picture books. And here are three of my favourites for inspiring the imagination. They each do it in unique ways, that align with how children are learning about play at different ages.

The first two came out in the 80’s, which just proves that great literature stands the test of time! So, what do these books do that I find so wonderful, and that keeps my daughter asking for them time and again?

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How characters can make your book a lemon

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Made by me using Pablo

In the last few weeks, I’ve read two books that failed to hit the mark for me. And when I say failed, I don’t mean in a grand and epic fashion. I mean in a baffling and miserable sludge puddle.

Both books were fantasies, from bestselling authors. Fair share of hype. Great covers. Reputable publishers. Promising plots. Great writing. Rock solid world-building.

Total disappointments.

I tried, I really did. I’ve loved other books written by these authors. I read all the way through both of them, hoping to hit that point where the plot starts to consume me and the characters become real. And then the last pages came, and with them that sense of how many hours of my life I couldn’t get back.

Eager to salvage something from the mess, I pinpointed what I didn’t like about them. In my opinion, both books lemoned in two key ways:

  1. The main characters.
  2. The love interests.

And when I write it like that, it starts to make sense. So… what made these characters so unlikable?

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How Fornasier Saved the Cat: the beautiful ‘The Things I Didn’t Say’

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If I was Kylie Fornasier, and this was my book, I would be so damn proud. ‘The Things I Didn’t Say‘ had me completely absorbed into the very heart of the narrator. When I put the book down I’d often feel like I couldn’t talk.

Just like Piper.

How did Fornasier do it? Sure, it’s written in first person present, which is a good start. I’ve been known to take a break from a book and be all jittery because somewhere out there Cato and half a dozen other tributes are lurking and all they want to do is knock my bow-and-arrow wielding self into oblivion. So, yes, first person present POV is a great way of immersing a reader.

But there’s more here. I was so taken by this thoughtful and clever book, once I finished and blew my nose a few more times, I analysed the innards out of it to try and pinpoint what made it work for me. Turns out Fornasier Saved the Cat. Don’t know if it was intentional, but it worked.

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