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Sunday 8 April, the 'Poo Book' Blog is delighted to introduce Carolyn Denman and The Sentinels of Eden series as a part of her Books On Tour promotion.
The Book: Songlines, The Sentinels of Eden Book One
Author: Carolyn Denman
Published: Aug 2016 by Odyssey Books
Available to purchase Angus & Robertson
Paperback RRP AU$23.95
For more information on blog tours at Books On Tour please visit www.justkidslit.com/books-on-tour.
The Intro: Welcome to the first stop on the Sentinels of Eden #BlogDash for Books on Tour. The ‘Poo Book Blog' is delighted to review Songlines, Book One of Carolyn Denman's young adult fantasy series, in advance of her latest release - Sympath (Book Three).
About the Author: Like many authors, Carolyn Denman comes to writing from a diverse background. Her major at University was science and she now works as a mortgage-broker. She indulges her creativity by writing fantasy fiction for young adults and also manages to run a hobby farm, raise a family and feed 63 baby axolotls! They say if you want a job done right, give it to a busy person. Carolyn Denman proves this adage with The Sentinels of Eden, a skilfully written, speculative fiction series.
About the Book: In the debut novel of this original series, we are introduced to a world of mixed mythology and supernatural powers, juxtaposed with the everyday realities of teenage coming of age. Songlines seems at first, like any other teen angst drama, magnified by the pressures of graduating high school in a small country town. The story soon takes an interesting turn though, with a tense run-in between heroine Lainie's Aunt Lily, and mining company Kolsom. The corporate power begins exploratory sampling a little too close to Lainie's family's sheep farm, in the Victorian Wimmera region. This opens a pandora's box of family secrets including the revelation that Lainie is in fact a Sentinel of biblical Eden, and she is sworn to protect the hidden entrance to this mythological world, located in the heart of country Victoria.
Like any work of speculative fiction, the key to enjoyment is suspending your disbelief. Fantasy fans will take this as a given, but I must admit the question for me was why Eden? It's a Christian construct. Why not The Dreaming - an Indigenous Australian mythology? After all, Lainie and her best-friend Noah, have indigenous blood in their veins, and one of the senior Sentinels is a local Aboriginal elder. Still, I couldn't deny that with the legend of Eden, Denman has drawn on a familiar Western paradigm to which readers will relate. She has then infused it with the concept of songlines - the indigenous spirit of care-taking for sacred land.
Songlines is readable and relatable. It grounds a fantastical course of events in the realities of an Australian farming community, where livelihoods are hard come by and communities are small, providing a strong sense of belonging, yet also the tensions of feeling trapped. Add to this volatile mix, four teenagers with raging hormones, family skeletons and identity crises, and you've got all the ingredients of great YA drama.
Every teenager (and even some adult readers) will identify with those early turning points where we must make big decisions in life, love and career, knowing that we aren't really ready for it. Will we make the right decision? Will Lainie make the right decision? Learning she is of superhuman origin and that the fate of Eden's safety rests on her shoulders, is an intimidating realisation. This, coupled with the fact that her soulmate is her worst enemy and her long-dead mother might actually be a nymph living in Eden, you just have to feel for this girl and become invested in her story... and her fate.
Book One sets up the series beautifully and leaves the story on a suitable cliff-hanger. Will Lainie give into the temptations of Eden, or will she choose real-life and love over a fantasy world? I am definitely left intrigued to read Book Two - Sanguine - and excited to hear that Odyssey Books have backed this Australian novelist's work with the release of a third in the series - Sympath.
Recommended For: Songlines is promoted as YA Fantasy for readers 12 and over and from a reviewer's perspective, I wouldn't disagree, but I would elaborate with a comparison of a peer-title from the same publisher. Elizabeth Foster's 2017 novel Esme's Wish, is also speculative fiction. It's dosed with realism but whereas I would recommend it for late primary and early YA readers with it's friendship-focus, I would suggest The Sentinels of Eden series is for a high-school teen audience, with mature themes of emerging identity, coming of age, violence and sexual attraction.
Thursday 7 December, the 'Poo Book' Blog is delighted to introduce Elizabeth Cummings and her latest picture book from the Verityville series, Brave and Strong All Day Long, as a part of her Books On Tour promotion."
The Book: Brave and Strong All Day Long
Self-published Nov 2017 by Elizabeth Cummings (author)
Illustrated by Johanna Roberts
Available to purchase online at: https://elizabethmarycummings.com/
The Intro: Welcome to the next stop on the Brave and Strong All Day Long Books On Tour #BlogDash #Day4. The ‘Poo Book’ Blog is delighted to review Elizabeth Cummings’ new picture book, based on the early life of beach trail-blazer, Fiona Borg.
About the Author: The emerging star of late 2017, is Elizabeth Mary Cummings. With two new books for children released within months of each other (Dinner on the Doorstep and Brave and Strong), and a contribution to the Creative Kids Tales Story Collection (out now), this is one busy full-time writer and self-publisher. With eight books under her belt and more on the horizon, Cummings has worked hard to hone her craft and writing business.
With Brave and Strong, the author is starting to reap the recognition she deserves, with the full support of Randwick City Council behind her publication, celebrating local hero and council lifeguard, Fiona Borg. On 12th November, South Maroubra Surf Club hosted the successful launch of Brave and Strong, accompanied by an informative article on council’s website. Elizabeth has been enjoying the promotional trail for her new, summer ‘book baby’ and storytelling sessions for the book through the Randwick Council Library network.
About the Book: At a time when the children’s picture book market is more crowded than ever, publishers are espousing the attraction of ‘authentic voices’ and are more open to stories from marginalised groups than ever before, particularly in the form of non-fiction narrative.
Brave and Strong identifies an inspirational, real-life protagonist, who represents a minority; a female lifesaver in a male-dominated field. Retelling the story of Fiona Borg’s bravery and lifelong commitment to surf and rescue, Cummings finds that ‘authentic voice’, bringing a little-known story to life in a colourful and relatable book. The moral is staying true to who you are, and overcoming social preconceptions of what girls can and can’t do.
The Plot: This is a wonderfully simple tale for young readers, tracing Fiona’s childhood in the surf, teased for her pink swimsuit and surfboard, to her early rescue successes and her determination to join the surf club. Though her notable efforts, she proves to her community that she is just as brave and strong as any of the boys and commits to a career saving lives in the surf. All this at a time when many of her female peers may have felt put off by the boys’ club culture.
Seeing the idea for this book on Elizabeth’s social media pages made me wonder why there aren’t more of these stories for children, in a culture as beach-obsessed as Australia. Cummings has hit upon a perfect niche here with not only a book containing strong role modelling for young girls but an all-important water safety message for the perils of the surf, including rips and shore dumps.
Johanna Roberts’ clear, colourful and instructional illustrations, are striking against the white background, with effective use of space in the interior pages. It was the cover, however, that instantly drew me to the book, with its use of rich blues for the ocean and the yellows and reds of the beach safety flags; an iconically Australian combination of colours.
Recommended For: Brave and Strong All Day Long is targeted at readers between 3 to 8 years and I can see it filling two purposes, if you look at the unique needs across this age group. With the rise of Nippers culture and beach safety in children of ever younger years, I would recommend this as a read-aloud book for parents of 3 to 5-year-olds. It’s a great discussion starter on surf safety.
For pre-school-aged children and the 6 to 8-year-old (self-reader) bracket, it’s a clever opportunity for parents to ask their kids how they feel about perceptions of what girls can do vs. what boys can do. Brave and Strong shows that girls can do anything they put their minds to. If beach or other sport activities are up their alley, they should pursue them without hesitation.
Teaching Points: Issues of water safety are raised in Cummings’ story and illustrated by Roberts’ diagrams of rips and rescues. Early primary teachers will no doubt find this picture book a useful resource as it encourages an awareness of the power of the surf. This is an ever-important message in a multi-cultural society with easy access to some of the most beautiful but dangerous beaches in the world.
For more information on blog tours at Books On Tour please visit www.justkidslit.com/books-on-tour.
Friday December 8
Creative Kids Tales – www.creativekidstales.com.au
Julie Anne Grasso – www.whenigrowupiwannawriteakidsbook.blogspot.com.au
Friday 1 December, the 'Poo Book' Blog is delighted to introduce Karen Hughes and her fourth novel in the Kalika Magic series, The Howling Sands, as a part of her Books On Tour promotion."
The Book: The Howling Sands
Kalika Magic, Book 4
Self-published, Nov 2017 by Karen Hughes
Available to purchase online at: www.kalikamagic.com
The Intro: Welcome to the final stop on the Kalika Magic Books On Tour #Blog Blitz #Day5. The ‘Poo Book’ Blog is keen for its chance to review Karen Hughes’ 4th instalment in the Kalika Magic fantasy series, for middle-grade readers, The Howling Sands.
About the Author: Having started her own community newspaper at the age of ten, Karen Hughes’ early love of writing never dissipated, nor did her entrepreneurial spirit. Ten years ago, she embarked on writing the Kalika fantasy series, which has been likened to The Chronicles of Narnia and Emily Rodda’s Deltora Quest. In 2017, she is self-publishing the fourth book in this popular series and taking her message to the middle-graders of Australia, through school visits and creative writing workshops, which can be booked through her beautifully designed website.
Talk about a fantasy fiction empire in the making! Formerly practicing as a senior lawyer in Canberra, Hughes now enjoys the life of a writer and a professional speaker/facilitator, whilst basing herself and her family in the beautiful environs of the Hunter Valley. It's the perfect place to let her ever-active imagination, run wild.
About the Book: ‘Whirling sand ghosts, secret potions and a furious firebird… The adventure continues in The Howling Sands.’
I’m not sure if you get much better than this for a teaser. It offers the suggestion that you are being drawn into a continuing saga and at Book 4 in the series, this is most certainly the case, with further instalments planned for 2018 and beyond.
I need to preface this review by admitting I would have benefitted from reading Emerald Child, The Shaman’s Secret and The Sorrow of the Waters, before embarking on The Howling Sands. This doesn’t mean that it can’t be read as a stand-alone adventure but there is a great deal of assumed knowledge in Book 4, as with any good fantasy saga. I’d suggest that you either start collecting the books from the beginning, if you know you have a mature and engaged, young reader of fantasy on your hands. Or, dip your toe in the water with Hughes’s latest tome and if your child loves it, they can play an exciting game of catch-up, before Book 5 is released.
When I spoke earlier of books ‘Kalika’ has been likened to, the first thing that came to mind for me, was Tolkien's The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings series. This legendary writer and his books, represent what the fantasy genre is all about: - an extraordinary web of characters, the presence of mythical creatures, complex worlds, societies, cultures and languages, the threat of impending battle and good vs. evil.
In just the space of one 360-page book, Hughes employs and manipulates all these classic ‘totems’ of the genre; no mean feat in terms of storytelling. And by all suggestions, the continuing narrative that has come before, establishes the never-ending quest, to no lesser a degree.
The Plot: Though I enjoyed the book, it is not easy for me to sum up the plot of The Howling Sands. As reader, I had the feeling that a lot was happening ‘off camera’ or ‘stage left’, to borrow terms which may help to convey the impression I was left with. The book’s promotional blurb sums it up best…
One hundred years ago, the mysterious Veladin vanished into the earth. Now Kai, Indie, Nima and Jabar must ﬁnd them, or they’ll never see Shaman Yanti again. The desert sands are shifting. Time is running out. Their only hope is a reckless wind spirit, but even the wind has secrets …
The pace of Kalika Magic stops for no one. Once you embark on this adventure, you’re in for a wild, suspenseful ride and when I say things happen off camera, it means that the author doesn’t spoon-feed her audience. There are parallel streams of events to keep up with and frequent shifts in the narrator’s spotlight. If something important happens to one of the five young heroes (Indie, Jabar, Kai, Nima or Willem), when they are not in the spotlight, we find out in retrospect. There is no dilly-dallying with back story and the characters just get on with it. After all, it is up to them to save the world, before the Maleficent-esque villain Sofia, destroys it.
‘Resilience, self-conﬁdence, and having the courage to follow your heart are major themes in my books,’ Hughes says. This is evidenced on every page of The Howling Sands, with child protagonists who are real and flawed, yet strong, defiant and fiercely loyal. Good role models for the target audience, who will be lapping up every twist and turn.
Recommended For: Karen Hughes’s series is marketed for middle grade readers from 9 years of age and upwards. Following on from earlier impressions in this review, I would take this further and describe it as a dense read, for keen and mature readers, the likes of whom may be devouring the Harry Potter series or classics like The Wizard of Earthsea of 'The Rings' (which inspired the author).
The Howling Sands and its fore-runners are for true-fans of the fantasy genre. It’s an intelligent read and won’t patronise its young audience with over-exposition. You need to concentrate and you need to keep up. For those that do, it’s a gripping and rewarding read, that is likely to foster even more devotees of Hughes’ work.
If your child is an advanced reader at nine and loves alternative worlds, don’t hold back, though I would equally say that Kalika Magic could enter Young Adult territory, or appeal to the adult appreciator of fantasy fiction. Would love to hear your views; please feel free to leave a comment.
For more information on blog tours at Books On Tour please visit www.justkidslit.com/books-on-tour.
Words and Illustrations by Anne Helen Donnelly
Self-published Nov 2017 by Donnelly. Available to purchase online in paperback, via Booktopia for AU$16.50.
About the Author
If you’ve been following the Just Write For Kids’ Books on Tour page, you might be pleasantly exhausted from the whirlwind that is author Anne Helen Donnelly, and her Ori’s Christmas Blog Tour. Last week was a great, fun launch (online and at Dymocks Sydney CBD), for the second in Donnelly’s Ori the Octopus series. I’m not going to even try to top that with my review but I’m keen to add my voice to the praise for this driven and en-pointe new author, whose self-published books have hit the mark with children’s librarians and bookshop owners. Following an astounding 49 author visits for her first book, Ori the Octopus, Anne is virtually booked out with live storytime activities for her new Christmas book, all over Sydney. See dates and appearances here.
Born in Malta and moving to Sydney in childhood, Anne’s life has been interesting and full. She is a busy mother of two, who has likened her multi-tasking skills to an eight-armed octopus (ala her protagonist Ori). I’m sure many mums can agree with this sentiment! After moving on from a career in the health management, Anne has been inspired by motherhood to write stories and perform for children (as a children’s entertainer) and take her love of illustrating further, by training in Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop. We have these graphic design skills to thank for Anne’s beautiful fusion of hand-painted and computer drawn pictures, in the Ori books. The colours used and the expressions on the character’s faces are super engaging for adults, so I can only wonder at how children must see them. I know they captured my four-year-old son’s eye.
About the Book
But what of the book itself? I would sum it up for parents as a smart piece of publishing. If you are looking for a Christmas-themed book to put under the tree, Anne Donnelly’s offering matches it with bigger-named authors on bookstore shelves. It has beautiful production values, with glossy pages and a very cool, pull-out craft mid-section. This colouring and cutting activity comes with easy-to-follow instructions on how to make your own Ori Christmas decorations for your tree. As an author, Donnelly is all about interactivity for kids and her style promotes engagement and learning through play and fun, rather than didacticism.
Ori’s Christmas follows the tale of Ori, a natural giver who invites his ‘under the sea’ friends to celebrate Christmas together. They are all keen but come with stipulations on how they want to celebrate for the day, making it a hard act for their kind friend Ori, to juggle. With so many conflicting demands, it’s easy to imagine Christmas Day might be a disaster but luckily, Ori has gentle powers of persuasion and helps his friends to recognise that compromise is the key to achieving a great outcome for all. The narrative is well-constructed and the learning process for the characters, is an example to little readers in working together for the common good. A nice message wrapped in child-friendly, Christmas fun.
With its bright colours, use of bold shapes, read-aloud and ‘learn as you play’ qualities, Ori’s Christmas is a terrific book for 3 to 5-year olds. It has the pre-school demographic down pat and Donnelly works hard to make sure that she is out there meeting the parents and the kids, through live readings and book signings. The book also provides useful parent and teacher notes to prompt discussion points with your child. The author’s website is an extension of her books, with Ori videos and downloadable colour and craft activities. Very comprehensive Miss Donnelly and a model to other aspiring authors on how to market your children’s books. I will be watching the ‘Ori space’ with interest and look forward to the next instalment in the series in 2018.
Follow Anne Helen Donnelly on Facebook.
To be Published Nov 2017 by Lilly Pilly Publishing, Hardback (AU$29.95)
About the Author
The first book for an emerging author is a monumental thing. The build up to launch day is a bundle of excitement and expectation. The recent Facebook posts of debut author Michelle Wanasundera, have been a joy to read, as she primes her beautiful new ‘book baby’ for launch into the world.
This new book bub is Bubbles and Puddles, with poetry by Wanasundera and illustrations by interior designer and children’s book artist Thana-one Yazawa.
Reading Michelle’s bio puts her book into perspective. She lives in the Blue Mountains with her family; the most perfect place to indulge a love of nature and creativity. Career-wise, Michelle has studied psychology, philosophy and children’s meditation. These skills infuse her writing, with insight into how a child’s mind works and an endless appreciation of the calming wonders of the natural world.
About the Book
Published in glorious hardback, Bubbles and Puddles makes a statement with its visually -leasing balance of rich colour illustrations and white text backgrounds, for its blocks of poetry. The publication’s design is striking and reminds me of those books from childhood that I wanted to retain as keepsakes, to dip in and out of at my reading leisure. The picture books that impacted me as a child were often anthologies of poetry, fairy tales, nursery rhymes or Aboriginal legends but publications like this almost seem to represent a dying art. It is therefore wonderful to see this genre making a comeback with books like Bubbles and Puddles and Magic Fish Dreaming by June Perkins, to name just two.
With scope for classroom and library readings and helpful ‘Teacher’s Notes’ for each poem, this dreamy verse collection is grounded in an understanding of child psychology. It deals beautifully with issues like childhood anxiety (Belly Bubbles) processing big emotions (Waterfall), as well as appreciation for giving to others (Rainmaker) and allowing yourself to ‘be’ in the moment (Little Lights). Wanasundera is a talented poet and while she has a good command of rhyme, also employs free verse, which keeps the collection from falling into any sing-songy traps that would undermine the importance of its messages. Every full-page illustration is a celebration of the poetry within and I hope that Wanasundera and Yazawa continue their partnership which is seemingly a match made in heaven.
The Poo Book Blog would heartily recommend this collection of holistic poetry for sensitive and creative children, of primary school age. Keen readers ages 5-6 will need their parents help and there is a lot of text, so breaking it down to one or two poems before bed, may be the best way to foster appreciation and a love of repeat reads. For middle-primary readers, able to read independently and developing an interest in poetry, this book is the kind I can see them reaching for frequently, depending on their mood and which poem resonates on any given day. The dream-like illustrations (which conjure up fairy tales of yore), are pure escapist joy and will help ensure this book’s long shelf-life, along with the heartfelt verse, which pays tribute to the way the author’s daughter, Amali, views the world.
Congratulations to the Author/Illustrator team on the soon-to-be launch of Bubbles and Puddles and I look forward to seeing the book’s buddy, Hugs and Bugs.
Follow Michelle on Instagram at michellewanasunderaauthor.