Gary Crew is an author I first discovered through his picture books, most notably The Watertower. The Children’s Writer is the first novel I’ve read by Crew. The characters in his novel are really hard to like, with all their human imperfections, but despite that, or maybe in spite of that, I really enjoyed this book in the end.
Charlie Bloome is a uni student and an aspiring writer who all of a sudden finds himself in danger of losing his girlfriend Lootie to Sebastian Chanteleer, a children’s writer with a strong distaste for children. The charm of this book is the fact that these three main characters leave a lot to be desired. The flaws in these characters make them jump off the page, as though they are real people, and not fictional creations. Their imperfections made me take a good hard look at myself whilst I was reading. All the more so because I am a writer myself, and Sebastian Chanteleer embodies the fears and insecurities of a writer, albeit in him, those fears and insecurities manifest in smugness and snobbishness.
I personally feel that Crew is at his best with picture books, and while this novel was interesting, the plot didn’t pull me in and hold me there until the end. There were times I put it aside in frustration halfway through a chapter; although after a day or so I felt the need to pick the book up again. So while it was a novel I could put down, it wasn’t a novel I could put down and never pick up again. Once I started reading, I needed to know what happened in the end. And, for me, endings make or break a book. There have been many books I’ve loved until the ending, where those final pages have culled the book from my list of favourites. Similarly, books which had only mildly kept my interest have completely changed my opinion in those last few words, propelling the book onto my list of favourites.
While I wouldn’t call The Children’s Writer one of my favourite books, the ending features an unexpected twist, and overall it is a compelling read, exploring what it means to be a writer and what it means to be a reader.
Published HarperCollins, 2009
There are books I re-read which I loved as a child, and I love to re-read them because of the nostalgia attached. I get to relive my memories of the book. I also sometimes read books by authors I loved as a child, books which I didn’t read as a child, seeking to rekindle my love for that author in a new book. But more often than not, I find the book not nearly as exciting as I would have found it as a child. It takes a special author who is able to capture the imagination of children and adults alike, and Morris Gleitzman is an author who achieves this feat seamlessly.
Boy Overboard is the story of eleven-year old Jamal and his nine-year old sister, Bibi. They both love soccer and want to be famous soccer players to make their country, Afghanistan, proud. But they are forced to flee when the government discovers the secret school their mother has been running. Together with their parents, Jamal and Bibi escape the country and end up on a boat to Australia.
Gleitzman has the most amazing knack for seeing the world through the eyes of a child, and showing the reader the world through his young protagonists’ eyes. A child reading this book will perceive and trust and accept Jamal’s opinions about the world; an adult reading the book will recognise the gaps and misunderstandings in this boy’s perceptions. On the one hand, an adult reading Jamal’s story will be touched and heartbroken at his extravagant plan that becoming a soccer superstar will make everything okay again, and on the other will find solace in the fact that, for the moment at least, he is sheltered from some of the realities of his situation. That this young child is able to see past hopelessness and hold onto some sort of hope.
Boy Overboard is a moving story about the sacrifice and hardships asylum seekers who attempt to make it to Australia by boat go through, told through the eyes of a child. But at its core, the book is about so much more than that. This is a story of two kids with big dreams and big hearts who, apart from living in and having to escape from a war torn country, are no different to kids anywhere else in the world.
Morris Gleitzman was one of my favourite authors as a child, but I love his writing more and more the older I get.
Puffin Books, Penguin Australia, 2001
June’s book club book is Burial Rites by Hannah Kent. Really looking forward to this one! Happy reading!
Whenever I see or hear the word Grug, a warmth of nostalgia floods through me. I learnt to read on Grug. And once I could read, I kept re-reading the Grug books, because the stories always made me smile. Each time I picked up one of the books to read, I’d read through it once, get to the end, and then flip straight back to the first page to read the story over again.
Grug is a strange little creature. Ted Prior’s beloved character was born when the top of a Burrawang tree fell to the ground. Prior created Grug in 1979, and the books continued to be published until the early 1990s. In 2009 Simon & Schuster reprinted the series, and more Grug stories have been created since then.
I can’t pinpoint exactly why I like Grug so much. Perhaps it is because he looks so different from any other character in any book I’ve read. Or maybe it is because Grug is usually perfectly happy on his own, doing the things he loves. It might even be the fact that no matter what problem Grug faces, he always comes up with a solution and manages to sort things out. Or maybe it is simply because although each story is so short, they are so satisfying to read and the illustrations so full of life.
Whatever the reason, late last year a box set of Grug including a plush Grug toy was released and I’ve been itching to buy it ever since I saw it. I want to place Grug up on my bookshelf along with my Grug books, so that every time I glance at my bookshelf I’m reminded of my first experiences reading, my recollections of these wonderful little stories, and why I still can’t stop devouring books, one after another after another.
Grug, 1979- 1992, Hodder & Stoughton Australia
2009- present, Simon & Schuster
The two books I’m reading this month seem to share a common theme, and while reading those books I remembered a beautiful picture book, created by Czenya Cavouras when she was only fourteen, which also captures the experience of the refugee seeking asylum in Australia.
Rainbow Bird is a story told from the perspective of a child, who leaves her home country to come to Australia and on arrival is placed in a detention centre. The text on each page is limited to one short sentence, but together with the illustrations, nothing more is needed. The brilliance of this book is that it was created by a child with the intention of helping other children to learn about and experience what some children have to go through to be safe. Living in a safe place should be a right but it is a privilege.
It seems to be that slowly, the public are asking more and more questions about what happens to asylum seekers on their arrival to Australia, but it is books like Rainbow Bird, told with the hope, innocence and belief of a child, which reminds us that this issue is more than just political fodder. These are individuals who have been running for their lives, searching for a safe place, and holding on to the hope that Australia will be the sanctuary they’ve been looking for.
I’ve always loved this book for the sheer fact that it is so Australian. I mean, a book which mentions Vegemite sandwiches? A book which mentions possums eating Vegemite sandwiches? It doesn’t get much better than that. I have a jar of Vegemite in my cupboard and hear possums scurrying up trees at night. This book doesn’t deliberately play on Australian clichés of the bush, the outback and kangaroos. Possum Magic celebrates everything which in quintessentially Australian in a genuine way.
This book is Mem Fox’s most loved and most celebrated, both in Australia and overseas, and it is easy to see why. It is a story about love, and about protection, and Julie Vivas’ beautiful illustrations bring Grandma Poss and Hush’s world in the Australian bush to life. I have memories of reading this book at home with my parents, at school, and even by myself, experiencing Hush’s story over and over again.
Mem Fox is one of Australia’s most celebrated children’s writers, and it is easy to see why. Her books are full of energy, of love, of loss and even nonsense, when necessary. She has the ability to engage children and adults alike, which takes a lot of skill and care. I was lucky enough to hear her speak about her writing when she visited my university, and she is just as passionate and vibrant and full of energy in real life as she is in her books. She gave a reading at that talk, despite the fact she was speaking to a roomful of adults, or in spite of the fact she was talking to a roomful of adults. She read Where is the Green Sheep?, and kept turning up the nonsense and silliness of her reading to match the book with each page. She had a room of adults completely absorbed in her children’s book.
Possum Magic is my favourite Mem Fox book by a long way. There is something special about finding a book which speaks to you on so many different levels, and it is even more special when you find a book which does so when you are a child.
First published by Omnibus books (imprint of Scholastic), 1983
The cover image used here is from the 25th Anniversary Edition of the book, published 2008.
This will be my last post for the year, and what better way to finish off than with a good Aussie Christmas book?
Michael Salmon’s The Australian Twelve Days of Christmas was one of my favourite Christmas books as a kid, and for a long time I thought that this Aussie version of the Twelve Days of Christmas was the version. I knew nothing about partridges in pear trees. For me, it was all about a Kookaburra in a gum tree. I used to read this book three or four times in one sitting, and not only at Christmas time, either. I was never one for sticking to reading Christmas books only at Christmas.
The book even inspired me to make up my own version of the Australian Twelve Days of Christmas, which I proudly typed up on our brand-new computer (our first ever) and printed out on our trusty black and white printer. I can remember getting stuck for things to write about, because I didn’t want to copy Salmon and unfortunately he’d used up most of the Aussie animals. So I was stuck writing about beach balls and cricket bats.
But what I really loved about this book was the Aussie representation of Christmas: the beach, summer, the ocean, gum trees instead of pine trees- these are the things which characterise an Aussie Christmas. It is fun to read about white Christmases, but there is something nice about picking up a book and seeing a representation of what Christmas is really like in Australia. People who live in countries where Christmas falls in winter cannot imagine having Christmas in summer, but, for me, I can’t imagine having Christmas without hot weather, the cricket and summer holidays.
Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas, and thank you to all my followers! I have some exciting new things planned for the blog in the New Year, so I’ll see you all in 2013.
Happy holiday reading!
Peter Antill-Rose & Associates Pty Ltd, first published 1988
I read this book over and over and over again when I was younger, before abandoning it for books more my age. Having not read the book for years, it was a set book on a children’s writing course I took at uni last year. I re-read the book and fell in love with it all over again. This time, however, it was a new experience: I found myself so close to tears at one point that I couldn’t stop one solitary escapee sliding down my cheek.
The book begins on Christmas Day, with 12-year old Colin feeling hard done by after his eight-year old brother Luke gets everything he wants for Christmas, while all Colin gets are daggy school shoes. But then, Luke faints. And soon after that he’s diagnosed with terminal cancer. Colin’s parents send Colin to relatives in England in an attempt to shelter him from the reality of what’s going on at home. But Colin has a plan: to find the best doctor in the world and bring him back to Australia so he can cure Luke’s cancer.
Gleitzman has an amazing gift of writing about the real world in a way which is accessible for kids, seamlessly combining the dark subject matter with humour. The joy of re-reading this book was discovering all the jokes which washed completely over my head as a kid, and realising just how talented a writer Gleitzman is. The heroes of his stories are always kids, who tackle challenges which some adults balk at with an unwavering optimism.
As a child reading the book, I loved the crazy plans Colin concocted to try to help his brother. I loved his sheltered, wrapped-in-cotton-wool cousin, Alistair, and the way Colin never got deterred when his plans fell apart. As an adult reading the book, I love the way Gleitzman captures Colin’s parents’ anguish, and that Colin, in his loveable naivety, is the one to comfort them. I love the sadness in the book I couldn’t quite detect when I was younger, but which now leaves me almost in tears. I love that Gleitzman isn’t afraid to tumble headfirst into these subjects, and nor should he be. He always produces a quality children’s book which adults could learn a thing or two from as well.
Blackie and Son Limited, 1989 (Great Britain)
Pan Macmillan, 1990 (Australia)