Tuesday, 3 May 2016


Jackie French can write and publish books faster than I can read them. There's always many, many new books from her waiting to be read (her website lists 9 books scheduled for release this year!), as well as her extraordinary back catalogue of course. So it's never a surprise to find a new book on the shelves at the local bookshop, which is where I came across Cyclone. Naturally I picked it up straight away. Cyclone is obviously a thematic continuation where the fabulous Flood and Fire left off.

Cyclone tells the story of Cyclone Tracy which devastated Darwin on Christmas Eve 1974. I thought of Cyclone Tracy immediately on seeing the cover, but then wondered if she would write of another more modern cyclone- but Cyclone Tracy remains Australia's most devastating tropical cyclone. Eighty percent of Darwin's home were destroyed! 41,000 of the 44,000 population were rendered homeless. 30,000 people needed to be evacuated out of Darwin.

Once again Jackie French has created a moving, yet hopeful, picture book poem out of this devastation.

Outside, a giant
groans and growls,
A wind that batters,
shrieks and howls.
In December 1974 Jackie French was manning the phones in Canberra in her new job at the Depratment for Urban and Regional Development. She took phone calls from Cyclone Tracy survivors. Cyclone is dedicated to the man who told her of how his family shelter in their backyard barbecue. Decades later Jackie has told his story to us all.

The mood is inadequately captured here in my reproduction
The dark broodingness of the storm
The tiny dots of colour of 1970s Christmas lights
The warmth of the tree and light through the window

And Cyclone has been masterfully illustrated by Bruce Whatley. Bruce used black and white photos taken at the time to research his illustrations and then chose a "toned-down palette" to give a documentary vision to the images. He's captured the building storm, the fury unleashed and the aftermath in an amazing way. The whole design really works. The font is like an old school typewriter evoking the precomputer 1970s.

Teacher Notes for Cyclone.


Monday, 2 May 2016

Newcastle Writers Festival 2016

A month ago I had the great fortune to attend the Newcastle Writers Festival for the second time. I had made my first visit last year, and so I was especially keen to get back this year- and it did take  some doing. The Newcastle Writers Festival started in 2013 and it is growing in leaps and bounds every year under Festival Director Rosemarie Milsom and her amazing team.

Attending a regional writers festival is really a joyous experience. The venues are smaller, the crowds are friendlier, and you get the opportunity to get up close to the writers, both during the sessions and afterwards. Regional festivals may not attract the big international names like the big city festivals, but you have the many advantages of the smaller scale that more than compensate for the lack of international superstars. 

This year the program was expanded, and the Festival made use of the Newcastle Civic Theatre as well as the Town Hall next door. The Theatre acted as Festival Hub, the bar was open, there was outdoor seating, the weather was amazing (a little too hot actually, 35 degrees in April anyone?), Wheeler Place was transformed into a goddam piazza.

This year there were at least 5 concurrent sessions so some very hard decisions had to be made as to what to attend. I went to 7 sessions over the three days. Starting big with the opening session which had Tim Flannery hosted by John Doyle. These two are very well known to Australians for their work individually, and together. Naturally, it was fantastic. Climate change and the Catholic church have never been so funny.

I also attended great sessions with Libby Hathorn, Richard Glover, Rosie Waterland, Charlotte Wood, Marion Halligan, Jean Kent, Patti Miller, David Burton, Trinity Doyle and Fleur Ferris. All amazing discussions. But I had to miss out on Stan Grant, Todd Alexander, Drusilla Modjeska and Kerry O'Brien among many others. There were 140 authors over 70 sessions, over half of which were free. I hope to tell you more about the individual sessions that I attended, but I probably won't- last year I managed to write about one. I got up to some other stuff too, hopefully I'll have time to share that with you too.

Attending a writers festival is always enervating. There are lots of interesting people discussing interesting books and ideas, discussing complex and often controversial matters. It gives you hope that the intellectual life of our world is so much more than you see on TV, and perhaps all is not as hopeless as it may seem. I might have come home with a few more books. It's always important to support the writers who attend the festivals, who give their time and write these amazing books for us all to enjoy.

I can't wait to go back for the Newcastle Writers Festival 2017.

Sunday, 1 May 2016

45 + 47 Stella Street And Everything That Happened

I've been intrigued by this book ever since I saw the cover quite some time ago. It's quite distinctive. The story actually starts right there on the cover which is rather fun. Our narrator, 11 year old Henni is so keen to get going with the story that it starts on the cover. Stella Street is a typical street for an Australian childhood. The neighbourhood kids roam in a gang, everyone gets on, and life is pretty good. Kids always know their local neighbourhood best. 

Stella Street is our native habitat. We know it off by heart! We know who will buy raffle tickets, who has loud parties and who will complain! We know where all the dogs live, including Barking Africa. He barks like CRAZY! Nobody gets past him. We know the walls for hitting a ball, all the good climbing trees, the short cuts and the long cuts. We know who makes good biscuits. We know where to ride our bikes to avoid the steep hills, and where the milk thistles grow for Claire’s canary. We know which drains block in heavy rain, where Mr Whippy stops, and the best places for roller blading. We know who gets drunk, which trees the cicadas will crawl up, and the best roof to watch the fireworks from. 

But things always change, and Old Aunt Lillie at Number 45 dies. Her house is sold, and the Phonies move in. And suddenly there is trouble in the neighbourhood where there was none before, and it's up to the kids to sort it out. What are the Phonies up to? And where do they get all their money?

Henni has a wonderful, disorganised but observational style. 

The library’s warm and quiet, except when this smelly old bloke sits near me sometimes. He has a whistle in his nose when his breathes, but he just reads the racing results and nicks off.  

I think everyone knows that man. I certainly do.

Elizabeth Honey was a new Australian author for me. I know I'll read more of her books. I wasn't all that surprised to read of her Blyton-esque inspiration for Stella Street - a gang of kids (and a dog) having an adventure in the Aussie suburbs. Originally published in 1995 Stella Street definitely still works today, although the kids would Google things instead of researching at the library. Elizabeth Honey was playing with the form of books before it became mainstream, playing with font, illustration and found objects. 

Naturally I love a piece of Paris
wherever it appears


Thursday, 28 April 2016

50 Books Every Kid Should Read Before They're 12

Hot off the press at Common Sense Media is this list of 50 Books All Kids Should Read Before They're 12. It's an interesting list. Essentially compiled by senior editor Regan McMahon. She has specifically tried to be more inclusive of content and genre, it's still primarily American in focus. Not an Aussie title to be seen sadly.

1. Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus - Mo Willems 

2. Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site - Sherry Duskey Rinker

3. Goodnight Moon - Margaret Wise Brown

4. The Very Hungry Caterpillar - Eric Carle

5. Where the Wild Things Are - Maurice Sendak 1963

6. Harold and the Purple Crayon - Crockett Johnson

7. The Tale of Peter Rabbit - Beatrix Potter

8. The Cat in the Hat - Dr Seuss

9. Frog and Toad are Friends - Arnold Lobel

10. Madeline - Ludwig Bemelmans

11. The Complete Tales and Poems of Winnie-the-Pooh - A.A. Milne

12. Mercy Watson to the Rescue - Kate DiCamillo

13. Ramona the Pest - Beverly Cleary

14. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl

15. Ivy + Bean: Book 1 - Annie Barrows

16. Stuart Little - E.B. White

17. Where the Sidewalk Ends - Shel Silverstein

18. Charlotte's Web - E.B. White

19. Coraline - Neil Gaiman

20. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's/Philosopher's Stone - J.K. Rowling

21. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe: The Chronicles of Narnia, Book 1 - C.S. Lewis

22. The Tale of Despereaux: Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup, and a Spool of Thread - Kate DiCamillo (see my review)

23. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll

24. Anne of Green Gables - L.M. Montgomery

25. The Bad Beginning: A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 1 - Lemony Snicket

26. Big Nate: In a Class by Himself: Big Nate, Book 1 - Lincoln Peirce

27. Bridge to Terabithia - Katherine Paterson

28. Bud, Not Buddy - Christopher Paul Curtis

29. Diary of a Wimpy Kid - Jeff Kinney

30. The Hobbit - J.R.R. Tolkien (see my review)

31. The Lightning Thief: Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 1 - Rick Riordan

32. Little House in the Big Woods - Laura Ingalls Wilder

33. Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing - Judy Blume

34. A Wrinkle in Time - Madeleine L'Engle (see my review)

35. Esperanza Rising - Pam Munoz Ryan

36. Hold Fast - Blue Balliett

37. I Am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World - Malala Yousafzai and Patricia McCormick

38. Inside Out and Back Again - Thanhha Lai (see my review)

39. My Side of the Mountain - Jean Craighead George (see my review)

40. Revolution is Not a Dinner Party - Ying Chang Compestine

41. Walk Two Moons - Sharon Creech

42. Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl - Anne Frank (see my review)

43. Wonder - R.J. Palacio (see my review)

44. Ender's Game - Orson Scott Card

45. The Fellowship of the Ring - J.R.R. Tolkien

46. The Hunger Games, Book 1 - Suzanne Collins (see my review)

47. Legend, Book 1 - Marie Lu

48. March: Book One - John Lewis and Andrew Aydin

49. The Outsiders - S.E. Hinton

50. To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee


As always some titles I've never heard of before- I've included the covers of those books. 10% are new to me!

Friday, 22 April 2016

Joan of Arc. The Story of Jehanne Darc

I'm really quite obsessed with Joan. It's an impossible story. Fantastic. Extraordinary. Almost surreal. But it seems to be real. So I was keen to read this book when I found out about it. Joan of Arc was Lili Wilkinson's first book. It was commissioned, and so far remains the only non-fiction book that she has written. I was very pleased to find that my library had a pack with the book and an audio version. I made the most of my recent trip to Newcastle and listened to the audiobook three times!

Fifteenth century France was quite a different one to the France of today. Much of Northern France was under English control. The Hundred Year war between England and France was three quarters of the way through when Jehanne Darc was born in 1412.

Legend says that when Jehanne Darc- Joan of Arc- was born at midnight on 6 January 1412, all the roosters in the village crowed, as if they were heralding a new sort of dawn. 
The story starts and ends at a rather obvious place, Joan's very public death in the Old Market at Rouen.

People who watched Joan die claimed that they saw angels around her head; that a dove flew from the heart of the fire; that the words Jhesus-Maria were written in the flames; that a halo appeared above her head; that her heart remained full of blood, even when the rest of her was reduced to ashes.

Joan's" trial" was pure farce, as I suspect many medieval trials were.

The man chosen to break Joan was the Bishop of Beauvais, Pierre Cauchon. Cauchon was 60 years old, a Burgundian, and a very intelligent, cunning and cruel man. Cauchon had been promised by the English that if he could find Joan guilty, he would be made archbishop of Rouen. 

Any wonder that Joan was found guilty then? She did make him work for it even though the odds were seriously stacked against her.

On the prosecution side, there sat a cardinal, six bishops, 32 doctors theology, 16 bachelors of theology, seven doctors of medicine, and 100 other clerics. On Joan's side, there was just Joan. 

Once again Charles, the king that Joan put on the throne, comes under heavy criticism.

From the day Joan was captured, till the day she died Charles made no attempt to help her. The laws of chivalry stated that any noble or captain could be ransomed, but Charles never offered to ransom Joan. 
Charles waited 21 years to save Joan. He then wrote a letter to the pope seeking to have an official trial of rehabilitation, which could officially annul the Trial of Condemnation where Joan was declared a heretic.

I've seen many images of Joan before,
but not this one I think

The structure of the audiobook was a bit confusing at times, as there are historical notes and asides liberally peppered throughout the narrative- which is of course obvious in the book format but not so much in the audio. Covering interesting topics such as Women in Medieval France, Saints especially Saint Michael, Catherine and Margaret who spoke to Joan, these notes give an invaluable historical background to Joan's story. Lili Wilkinson also uses many primary first hand accounts of Joan's life, actions and her trial which while fascinating, did not always slip easily into the audio either. This book is the second I've read about Joan that strongly recommends Regine Pernoud's Joan of Arc by Herself and her Witnesses. I must have it. Lili Wilkinson did a great job of telling Joan's story, I look forward to reading some of her fiction too.

French Bingo 2016


Saturday, 16 April 2016

Forage 2016

It seems rather incredible that another Forage has come and gone. I've had a happy association with this amazing event for 6 years now. Forage grows from strength to strength every year, it is one of the major events of Orange Food Week each April. It's always a sell out.

From humble beginnings in 2011, Forage has grown year by year. Today there were 1,500 enthusiastic Foragers making the most of lovely autumnal weather and the incredible food and wine on offer.

Loaded up with food and wine tickets
CanapĂ© 1. A lovely fresh start. 

Char Sui Canowindra Pork on Crispy Wonton Salad with
Five Spice Dressing
Highland Heritage Estate
 We Forage through the lovely Central Tablelands.

Canapé 2. Big on taste.

Country Terrine and Toasts with
Pureed Pickled Pears
Michael Manners
Three kangaroos entertained us early on. It's really quite dry and dusty this year. 

 But there are splashes of perfect autumn colour.

The soup station is the first big station where people start to linger. I can never photograph soup in a cup all that well, but the Chinese Carbeen Chicken and Apple Soup was fab. Union Bank Wine Bar.

Intrepid Foragers heading for station 4 and the pies.

Pie- the pie was especially fabulous today. Perfectly flaky pastry and particularly delicious filling.

Wild Mushroom Pie with
Roasted Leeks and Dutch Cream Potatoes
The Agrestic Grocer

Bucolic beauty abounds.

I do love a new variety of fruit. Kanzi apples are delicious! A lovely Gala Braeburn hybrid. 

Main Course- amazing falling apart lamb. 

Slow Cooked Lamb Neck with
Smokey Parmesan Polenta and
Slaw and Maple, Rosemary and Mustard Mop Sauce
Smoking Brothers Catering

I wasn't drinking (although everyone else does...)

There's two or three fabulous local wines
at every station.
Brangayne's Tristan a very popular
accompaniment to lunch. 

Sorbet- this was outstanding.

Hand Pressed Shiraz Sorbet
Vindevie Vineyard

Sadly it was too dark for me to take a decent picture of the fabulous dessert from Edwena Michell Catering- Hazelnut and Brown Sugar Financier with Roasted Figs, Borenore Strawberries and White Chocolate Cream. That cream was amazing. I didn't get to the cheese station this year, but it was another sensational day, with bus loads of merry Foragers heading back into town with memories of another fabulous Forage.

Looking back at previous Forage experiences... it's really fascinating to see both the different foods and wines, and also the fluctuations in the landscape, green and lush some years, browned and dusty other times. 

I can't wait for next year already.

Saturday Snapshot is a wonderful weekly meme
 now hosted by 
This post is linked to Weekend Cooking
a fabulous weekly meme at BethFishReads

Thursday, 31 March 2016


I want to like graphic novels, I really do. I try them from time to time, but never seem to have much luck. They're ok I guess, but the story always seems a bit disappointing somehow. Why not write prose and write a really good story? What is the advantage of the format? Does it go beyond enticing reluctant readers? El Deafo didn't really hit the mark for me last year (see my review), but I did quite like French Milk a few years ago (see my review) although that's a much more obvious topic for me.

I've seen the covers of Raina Telgemeier's hugely popular graphic novels about the place recently, enough to get me curious about her work. Clearly I'm quite behind the times, Raina has  dominated the New York Times Graphic Novel list for the past few years, and her books tend to stay up there for over a 100 weeks. My library had a copy of Drama sitting on the shelf so I borrowed it recently, and read it in the past day. Graphic novels certainly are quick reads! And that's a good thing, a nice quick read for those times when you need to read something between other meatier reads.

Drama tells the story of Callie and her friends and fellow students at Eucalyptus (!) Middle School. Callie is a 7th grade student, and a keen participant in the drama group at the school- she loves theatre, she loves her role as set designer, and wants to work in theatre as a set designer when she grows up. The school is doing a play called Moon Over Mississippi and as with everything the production has some drama of it's own along the way too. All set amongst a background of first crushes, some dating problems and confusing times in friendships.  Naturally I liked the Les Mis references.

Drama is certainly inclusive, the kids depicted are from all sorts of backgrounds. Sometimes we learn this from their names, other times from the colour of their skin. Although I guess if graphic novels use colourists, then the colourist decides skin colour, not the author? I really do wonder how the colourist/author interaction works. I only learned that colourists existed a few months ago when I read El Deafo (see my review). So who decided that Callie had purple hair? That seems kind of important.

I found a rather fascinating description of Raina's work process on her blog- check it out, it's fascinating. Oh, and here she explains the interactions with her colourists, also fascinating, and an explanation as to why colourists even exist- as Raina says that it would take her an extra 6-9 months to do the colouring herself! Wow, it's clearly a process I have no idea about- I find it incredible that it could take so long. You can hear a great interview with Raina Telgemeier here.

I have Smile in the house, I'll try and read it soon.