Australian Author of Children’s Books and Teen Books: 2015

Friday, December 11, 2015

2015 Adventures in the World of Kids' Books

2015 has been a HUGE year in the world of children's and teen literature. It continues to be one of the strongest and most exciting corners of the book industry. Stores are expanding their kids' and Young Adult sections, Storytime in libraries has parents queuing out the door, the #LoveOzYA movement has been a great success and more and more schools and libraries are running their own literary festivals.

Here are my highlights of the year. If you have blogged your own 2015 highlights from kids' book world, please leave a link in comments below.

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year and I hope you read some incredible books over the holidays.

Disclaimer: My life is not all as fun and interesting as it looks in these images. I've chosen the good bits because I thought you'd like those best. But there are many, many boring moments and challenges, too.

I spent March on the road visiting schools everywhere,
bringing the books to life and hopefully inspiring kids to read and create.
And sometimes scaring them.
Hosting Sydney Writers Festival Primary School Days was a particularly fun week. Such energetic audiences and some brilliant authors on the bill. (Here, with Andy Griffiths and Jacqueline Harvey backstage at Sydney Theatre.)
At SWF I had the chance to interview author Anthony Horowitz onstage each day. His Alex Rider books are still the perfect weapon to inspire late primary and high schoolers (particularly boys, I would say) to pick up a book.
In the lead-up to the festival I interviewed James Patterson at Parramatta Riverside Theatre while illustrator Martin Chatterton drew caricatures of us. It was fascinating to gain intimate insight into the world's bestselling author. The sun never sets on the Patterson empire.
Early in the year I worked with a bunch of talented folks to produce 'The Great Escape', a trailer for my book My Life & Other Massive Mistakes about a nursing home riot.

There were lots of opportunities to marry TV and books, which I love to do. It's a great way to build the profile of children's books and the importance of reading. The cool cats at the Daily Edition looked after me well.
I wouldn't be an Australian children's author if I didn't get slimed at least annually.
ABC3 had a massive focus on kids' and teen books this year, particularly in Book Week when this happened!
Who'd have thought that someone with my degree of musical talent could ever be on the Splendour bill? Anything is possible. Follow your dreams, kids. ;)
I've been working all year on stories for the next My Life book, out March 2016. 'Dr Bent' is a story inspired by my grandfather's depiction of the runner I did from the dentist as a kid. This picture hung on my bedroom wall throughout my childhood.

I enjoyed meeting this giraffe.

And this frog.
And we were very sad to farewell this guy, Boston, but very happy to have known him.
Book Week gave me a chance to catch up with Gus Gordon, whose laugh-out-loud illustrations for My Life & Other Exploding Chickens are starting to come in.
With a fun and supportive group of authors and illustrators at the KOALA Awards. (L-R Oliver Phommavanh, Me, Duncan Ball, John Heffernan, Jules Faber, Deborah Abela, Frances Watts.)
Clearly I need to stop writing outdoors. I promise it's not a spray tan.
(L-R Me, Rachel Spratt, James Patterson, Jacqueline Harvey, Martin Chatterton, Belinda Murrell.)
Excerpt from my book Two Wolves. Calligraphy by Claire Atkins who has been an enormous help and very inspiring to me this year.
Cheesy grin brought to you by the pride of standing onstage with talented creatives like Libby Gleeson and Freya Blackwood when Two Wolves won Honour Book in the CBCA Awards.

Being photo-bombed by Arts Minister Mitch Fifield and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull at the Prime Minister's Literary Awards at Carriageworks in Sydney. ;) Two Wolves was up for the kids' prize, won by David Metzenthen and Michael Camilleri's brilliant picture book One Minute's Silence.

I've spent September to December finishing off the new My Life book and continuing to work on a new middle-grade 'mortality fiction' novel. I try to work outdoors when possible. My wife, Amber, and I recently shot this video on outdoor writing to coincide with the North American release of On the Run (Two Wolves).

And perhaps the greatest achievement of the year... Raising $45,000 to buy books for kids in Nepal in partnership with Australian and Hong Kong school students and our dynamic Room to Read Writer-Ambassador team. :)))


Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Prime Minister's Literary Awards

Well, what fine news! I had no idea that the Prime Minister's Literary Awards were about to be announced and no inkling that Two Wolves would be among the nominated books. But it is. In the Children's category alongside some very fine authors and illustrators (see image below).

It is an exceptional piece of news to cap a very good year for the book. I think of the years I spent writing it at home and in cafes and on the beach and in the car and in five-minute writing dashes during school workshops asking myself over and over again, 'What is the story about? How is it me? Why do I understand this story so deeply?' It was unlike anything I had ever written and I really didn't know if it would find an audience but I felt compelled to keep writing through my fear. I was daring myself to write something more reflexive and honest and it seems to have resonated with readers.

An award or nomination doesn't make it any easier to write the next book (I'm three-and-a-half years and four drafts into writing another book working-titled The Fall) but it does give you confidence to keep digging down into your ideas, to embrace the mystery and to know that someone, somewhere might understand what you were trying to say.

[Two Wolves came out in the US last week as On the Run. It's still set in Australia but I had to provide guidance on Caramel Koalas, Ned Kelly and thongs (Americans don't wear them on their feet). Actually, there are no thongs in the book but I use this gag in school talks and it seems to get a laugh. I will put thongs in my next book. And emus.]

Thanks to the extraordinary editorial and marketing team at Penguin Random House, Sophie Hamley and Catherine Drayton for having faith in the book. Good on the Australian government for offering such a valuable and important literary prize to Australian writers. And good luck to all the writers nominated and, please, if you're looking for something to read, take a look at the shortlist.


Sunday, November 15, 2015

The Fourteenth Summer of Angus Jack by Jen Storer review

Review of Jen Storer's The Fourteenth Summer of Angus Jack (illustrated by Lucinda Gifford) by guest reviewer Ella Sharpe, bookseller at The Younger Sun Children's Bookshop in Melbourne.

Ever since leaving England for Australia, Angus, his sister Martha and their father have moved constantly. Their latest move sees them in a dilapidated old neighbourhood next door to a peculiar old woman with a taste for sugar and a shop full of useless junk (or so Angus thinks). The summer starts off strange with weird smells in the middle of the night, snow globes that freeze you when touched and midnight serenades coming from the odd shop next door. Angus tries to tell himself it’s just loneliness and the weird neighbourhood playing tricks on his mind. But when two goblin girls rob his neighbour’s shop, Angus gets caught up in a battle of the Old Realm and the New World, of goblins and Viking magick, and it turns out he has much a bigger part to play than anyone could have ever imagined.

This book is full of vibrant characters and eerie landscapes. Interspersed with Norse Mythology and witchcraft, this is a perfect book for anyone interested in adventure, magick, Vikings and goblins.

Don’t let the slow beginning of the book put you off, it sets the tone for what is an amazing, magickal adventure!

Reading Age Recommendation – 8 +


Tuesday, November 10, 2015

ON THE RUN How it Was Written

One week to go before the US release of my Middle-Grade adventure novel On the Run (Farrar Straus Giroux), released in Australia as Two Wolves (Penguin-Random House Australia).

I've made a short video (1:45) taking you behind the scenes on the writing process of the book. I wrote a lot of it outdoors and this video takes you on to the beaches and into the hinterland of Byron Bay Australia where the book was made.


Tuesday, November 3, 2015

WIN Books!

WIN this pile of kids' and teen books by signing up for my monthly Children's Book Email News in the month of November.

My eNews is full of fun things happening in the world of kids' books, upcoming events, writing and reading tips and giveaways! In 2016 there will also be exclusive offers to eNews subscribers. (Your details will never be passed on and it's easy to unsubscribe.)

Everyone who signs up gets an entry in the draw to win this stack of books including Morris Gleitzman's striking Loyal Creatures, Nikki Gemmel's marvellous mystery The Kensington Reptilarium and John Boyne's incredible follow-up to The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas.

You can check out back-issues of my eNews here.

And you can sign up

Love you to share the competition with interested friends on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook if you have time. The draw happens 30 November and the winner will be emailed as well as being posted on this blog and on the social media accounts above.

Good luck!

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

2015 YABBA Awards Winners

Great news from the YABBA Awards, held in Melbourne yesterday. 15,000 kids vote for their favourite books in the YABBAs and Two Wolves was lucky enough to win the year 7-9 category alongside a stellar line-up of winners in the other three age-groups: The 52-Storey Treehouse by Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton, You Choose: The Treasure of Dead Man's Cove by George Ivanoff and Pig the Pug by Aaron Blabey.

A big thank you to the kids who voted. When you're writing a book you never know if anyone will read it and there's nothing better than knowing that it's being enjoyed.

If you're looking for your next great book or your child's next great book, the YABBA shortlist is a good place to find it:

(Two Wolves is released 17 November in the US as On the Run. Here's hoping it finds a life there!)


Monday, October 19, 2015

The Beauty is in the Walking by James Moloney review

Review of James Moloney's The Beauty is in the Walking by guest reviewer Ella Sharpe, bookseller at The Younger Sun Children's Bookshop in Melbourne.

Set in the Queensland countryside, this new Australian novel is perfect for lovers of Wonder and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Jacob O’Leary is in his last year of high school and nobody expects much of him – not even his mother, who has lined up a job for him at the local grocery store when high school is over. When an unknown perpetrator, nicknamed ‘The Ripper’, leaves a string of dead farm animals in their wake all fingers are pointing to newcomer, Mahmoud Rais. Jacob is convinced of Mahmoud’s innocence and angry at the town’s persecution and lack of evidence. Jacob sets out to prove Mahmoud’s innocence and in doing so achieves things no one, not even himself, thought he was capable of.

This is a wonderfully written, distinctly Australian book that will have you guessing till the final page. Jacob is a wonderful protagonist; his desire to prove himself despite his limitations is inspiring and uplifting. You will celebrate his achievements, cry at his failures and become vehemently protective of him. This is a great read for anyone who loves a bit of mystery and an underdog rising to the challenge.
Recommended Reading Age – 12+

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Molly and Pim and the Millions of Stars by Martine Murray review

Review of Martine Murray's Molly and Pim and the Millions of Stars by guest reviewer Ella Sharpe, bookseller at The Younger Sun Children's Bookshop in Melbourne.

Molly’s life is a little unusual. Her father and brother have disappeared somewhere in Cuba and her mama makes strange potions out of weird-smelling herbs. Molly would like nothing more than to have a normal life and a normal home – like her best friend Ellen who always has an apricot muesli bar in her lunchbox instead of weird pieces of fruit (pomegranates are not appropriate for eating at school). But when Molly’s mama makes a potion that transforms herself into a tree, Molly must try to find a way to reverse the spell before her nasty neighbours cut the tree down. 

She is helped by the strange, intense Pim who spends his time looking at trees and investigating balls of dirt. But even with Pim’s help time is running out and Molly can’t remember why she ever wanted a different mama. If only she could get her back.

This is a beautiful story, by one of Australia’s best authors for children, teaching the importance of loving yourself and appreciating the things that make everyone different. Molly is an inquisitive and compassionate narrator and it is impossible not to be captivated by this magical, whimsical tale full of love, laughter and tears.

Reading age recommendation 8+

Thursday, September 17, 2015

WINNER of the MY LIFE Short Story Competition

Finally... I can announce the WINNER of the My Life Short Story Competition! After much deliberation, reading and re-reading the many brilliant stories submitted, the winner is.... Indigo from the ACT. She wins $1000 cash for herself, $1000 worth of books for her school and a signed set of MY LIFE books. The picture above was taken minutes after she heard about her win.

Indigo's story, 'Painfully True', will be shared with you in the not-too-distant future. Here's what I said about it in my comments: ‘Painfully True’ is a very funny scenario, vivid in its detail, shocking, honest, well-structured with a brilliant final line. The reader feels the protagonist’s pain but there is humour in every paragraph. And the word ‘bum’ is mentioned several times which, for a My Life story, helps.'

Thank you so much to everyone who submitted a story and please, please keep writing. Keep developing your story and making it better and better with each draft. I hope you see this as another step forward for you as a writer and I hope you feel you have improved your storytelling skills by sending in a story.

There were over 1000 entries and only one winner so missing out on the top prize does not mean that your story was not good. Many deserving entries missed out. Hit up my CREATE page for writing tips and tools and just keep on reading and writing the best stories you can: 

Good luck! I have another super-fun competition to announce when MY LIFE & OTHER EXPLODING CHICKENS is released in March 2016. :)) To hear about giveaways and new competitions you can sign up for my monthly kids' book eNews here: .

Big thanks to the team at Penguin-Random House Australia for putting up such a generous prize.



Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Ugly by Robert Hoge review

Review of Robert Hoge's Ugly by guest reviewer Ella Sharpe, bookseller at The Younger Sun Children's Bookshop in Melbourne.

In 2013 Robert Hoge wrote a memoir about growing up and living ugly. This year he has published a young reader’s edition. When Robert was born his own mother didn’t want to take him home. After a month of being in the hospital, he was finally taken home for the first time and his whole family, including his mother, fell in love with him.

Robert was born with two deformed legs – both of which had to be amputated below the knee – and a massive tumour in the middle of his face that pushed his eyes far apart and flattened his nose. Robert received special medical attention from a wonderful team of surgeons who made medical history with the operations they performed on Robert’s face and body – allowing him to live a relatively normal life.

In this book Robert defies assumptions about disability and is an inspiration to all children – be they disabled or not. He proves both his mental and physical capabilities, just not necessarily in the traditional way. Denied the opportunity to play traditional team sports that young people are involved in he takes up lawn bowls, forms a strong friendship with his elderly teammate Frank and goes on to be very successful in this field. He makes friends, pulls pranks, grows up just like any other kid and does the best thing of all – accepts himself for who he is.

This is a wonderfully accessible memoir with a great message at its heart and is something that every child or adult should read. Robert’s inner beauty shines through in his prose and, through his admirable self-acceptance and determination to not be defined as other, he has become the disabled role model he lacked when growing up.

Reading age recommendation – 8+


Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Helix and the Arrival, by Damean Posner, review

Review for Damean Posner and Jules Faber's Helix and the Arrival (Random House Australia), by guest reviewer Ella Sharpe, bookseller at The Younger Sun Children's Bookshop in Melbourne.

Helix is a caveboy on the verge of becoming a caveman. His Arrival is only a few weeks away, where he will go into the woods to hunt a beast to bring back to Rockfall. But how will he be able to pass when all he’s managed to hunt so far is a rock gerbil (which he then released)? Helix should be preparing for his Arrival but he is more interested in the forbidden world outside of his home in Rockfall. Is the Dark Side, where people are banished, really as terrifying as they say? Are the people from Newstone, where the caves are bigger and the people cleaner, really as dumb as the keeper of stories would have Helix believe? And do the River People from the Lowlands, sworn enemies of the mountain folk, really grow from mud?

When Helix’s friend’s father, Ugthorn, is seriously injured Helix makes the decision to travel to the Lowlands to find help. With his friends Ug and Saleeka, and a tale of miraculous medicine from the Lowlands beyond, Helix crosses the river into a world that is more different than he could have ever imagined. Helix, Ug and Saleeka’s adventure will have extreme consequences for their way of life, that will echo through the mountains for eternity.

This is a light-hearted, entertaining and engrossing read that is difficult to put down. If you like history, adventure and discovering the truth, then this book is for you. This is the first novel of Australian author Damean Posner and I can’t wait to see what he comes out with next.

Reading Age 9 +


Monday, August 31, 2015

Children's Book Week 2015

Congratulations to all the teachers, librarians, authors, illustrators, Melbourne Writers Festival staff and volunteers, parents, kids and teens who made this the best Book Week ever. Thanks for all the work you do to inspire young readers to pick up a book and tell their own stories.

Here is my Book Week 2015, kicking off with the CBCA Awards above. (Pic courtesy of Lu Smith, CBCA Vic. You can see lots more pics and my wrap-up on the presentation here) and continuing with school visits and festival fun.

An interview with the lovely Millie from NBN about the Two Wolves and the CBCA Awards.

The amazing view from ABC Brisbane studio on Monday afternoon, talking about the CBCA awards, the value of kids' books and inspiring children to read.
My first cake of Book Week. I managed to halve my cake consumption this year, thus staving off diabetes for another year. (But this caramel Minion cupcake was delicious, thanks to the staff at Our Lady of Angels school in Brisbane.)
Schools interpreted the Book Week theme of 'Books Light Up Our World' in lots of inventive ways. Here, a planet Earth light globe.
I spied my first Honour Book sticker on a copy of Two Wolves. :))

I was lucky enough to get hold of an advance copy of John Boyne's follow-up to The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. It's called The Boy at the Top of the Mountain and I think it's every bit as good.
I spied my son reading Jack Heath's new one, The Cut Out, which he is urging me to read and says it's one of his favourite books.
I set off for Melbourne Writers Festival, this year coinciding with Book Week.
6:28am Wednesday morning. The view from the amazing Sofitel Hotel. (We do it pretty hard, kids' authors.)

I spent most of my time at MWF speaking at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image and wandering their extraordinary book store between sessions.
I shared a couple of sessions with the lovely Lili Wilkinson (new book Green Valentine just out with Allen & Unwin).

Write Across Victoria session with Lili Wilkinson, Skye Melki-Wegner and Elizabeth Flux, talking about how we started out and presenting the winners of Express Media's young writers competition.

Part of ACMI's David Bowie exhibition.

At the Booked Out speakers agency party with Gus Gordon and Serena Geddes. Lots of fine authors and illustrators made it along including James Moloney, Kirsty Murray, Shamini Flint, James Phelan, Andrew Macdonald and lots more. Great to catch up with Booked Outers, Simon, Lauris, Hannah, Esther and the gang who connect us with schools and readers.

So good to see this bloke, Gus Gordon, the other half of My Life Tom Weekly's brain. He's a thoughtful, funny and talented man and I feel lucky to create the series with him and consider him a friend.

I was slimed by the lovely hosts at ABC3. Thanks Grace and Tim. Am planning my revenge.

Writing morning pages on the 37th floor. Looks like a Spiderman set.

'Your Life & Other Stuff You Made Up' workshop at Melbourne's ArtPlay studio. Fantastic space to work in with some very creative and inspiring young writers.

The best part of Book Week is bringing stories to life and testing out new material on young readers. I had a ball. Thanks to everyone who came to see my sessions and who gave such enthusiastic feedback on the day and on Instagram afterwards. It was a week I will remember for a long time.

Next up? Sleep. Then, writing a book. I think I'll go into semi-hibernation so that I can dive down into a story that I've been playing around with for about three years. I'm pretty excited about the possibilities. Who knows what might happen? I'll let you know in February.
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