The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr Morris Lessmore by William Joyce (Simon & Schuster Australia)

20 Jul

Shaun Tan’s The Lost Thing won best short animated film at the 83rd Academy Awards, based on his illustrated book. In reverse, The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr Morris Lessmore won best animated short film at the 84th Academy Awards and has now been made into a picture book, probably mainly because of its huge success as an interactive app.

The loved characters, scenes and idiosyncrasies are re-visited in the picture book. Morris Lessmore is a profound character who loved words, stories and books. ‘His life was a book of his own writing, one orderly page after another. He would open it every morning and write of his joys and sorrows, of all that he knew and everything that he hoped for.’ It sounds idyllic until the intrinsic rule about a narrative needing conflict disturbs the peace as early as the second page – when the wind blew and blew. Morris Lessmore’s house flew like Dorothy’s in the Wizard of Oz and everything he knew was scattered, even the words of his book. He followed an amiable book to a wonderful library where he became immersed in books.  At one point Morris is lost inside the books and dangles from the letter ‘J’ because he is so intent on his reading. Students could be directed to these metafictive pages, where attention is drawn to story itself as an artefact to question the relationship between fiction and reality. This device is also used by Jodi Picoult and Samantha Van Leer in Between the Lines and they use the letter ‘J’ as a hook for a character to hang from as well.

There are few books for children which successfully feature an adult main character. This book achieves this, partly because Morris Lessmore has child-like qualities. Read this poignant picture book which, along with the movie and app, celebrate and cherish stories and books.

by Joy Lawn, Children’s Literature Consultant


Grace Beside Me by Sue McPherson (Magabala Books)

13 Jul

Published literature for young adults by Australian Indigenous authors has taken a significant step with Grace Beside Me. The storytelling is compelling, while thoughtful, and the voice is memorable. We discover Fuzzy Mac (named for her hair) and her life in episodic chapters which form a whole narrative. Fuzzy is an authentic character: a character that seems impossible not to find living in a country town somewhere in the mountains.

Because her mother died from a heroin overdose, Fuzzy lives with her grandparents: Pop who loves words and is understanding and wise, and larger-than life Nan who has strong opinions and language, and grounds Fuzzy in the facts and truths of life. As Fuzzy get older, Nan gives more information about her mother, the sweet Koorie girl who took the wrong path but loved her baby daughter. Fuzzy’s sense of identity and strength is honed by her grandparents. She shares their ethos about community and avoids some of the traps set for teenage girls with no lack of authenticity, and real angst in one shocking scene. Grief is also genuine about racism and the treatment of Indigenous people and Kevin Rudd’s Apology forms a core of one chapter, ‘Sorry Day’.

Fuzzy and her family are all guardians of stories, believing that, ‘It’s the listening and telling of these stories that bring our people close, both young and old. Stories keep our culture strong and our faith alive.’


The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf (first in ‘The Tribe’ series; published by Walker Books) is another new recommended novel by an Indigenous author, Ambelin Kwaymullina. It is aimed at a younger readership and the style is very different from the realism of Grace Beside Me. Ashala Wolf is set in a post apocalyptic world after the Reckoning, 300 years earlier, which caused some people to develop special abilities. Ashala is the sixteen year old leader of The Tribe, a group of Illegals with abilities. Like the characters in Grace Beside Me, Ashala and her tribe believe that the world can’t be changed with violence, but through ideas.

by Joy Lawn, Children’s Literature Consultant

Broken by Elizabeth Pulford, illustrated by Angus Gomes (Walker Books Australia)

23 Jun

BrokenApparently many years in the making, Broken is a gripping, finely crafted ‘mise en abyme’ – a story within a story where the inner story, set inside a comic book world, is framed by the outer story of Zara who is in a coma. A newspaper article at the start of the book lets us know that Zara was on the back of her brother Jem’s motorbike when he swerved to avoid a toddler. Hailed as a hero by the toddler’s parents and the media, Zara doesn’t know that Jem, the keeper of her secrets, has died and she is still searching for him in her comatose state. She enters a comic-book world which is shown in graphics and with a different typeface. Here she encounters Jem’s favourite comic superhero, Hoodman, and the angel hero, Dark Eagle. Chased and confronted by the evil Morven, she uses her artistic gifts to draw and erase doorknobs and windows as she seeks and escapes. Her coma state doesn’t stop her from some awareness of the real world, where conversations are shown in italics, and her terrifying back-story is also merged into the narrative with extraordinary skill. Images of doors, especially a  blue door, rooms, a cupboard, a pathway of shells, water and glass and dark and light provide clues as to what has gone before and develop the tale without interrupting the lucid style.

Walker Books has also recently published another book for mid secondary readers which celebrates the power of art to unlock and enhance life; The Colour of Trouble by Gerry Bobsien. Both these novels are deserving of very wide readerships and Broken, in particular, should be lauded as an exceptional work.

by Joy Lawn, Children’s Literature Consultant

The Red Wheelbarrow by Briony Stewart (University of Qld Press)

7 Jun

Young children love to play in small spaces. Two sisters spend almost the entire book in a wheelbarrow. Every illustration shows a special moment in time; each is often only subtly different from the one before. The older sister lifts the younger into the wheelbarrow to begin a time of giggling, shared lollies, an upset and making up. Some chickens also tell their own story on the opposite pages while one independent or inquisitive chook ventures closer and closer to the girls, perhaps attracted by their beguiling company and antics.

The action is shown in, what are basically, frameless panels surrounded by crisp white space. The focus is then put clearly on the characters, with room for children to add to the story from their own experiences or imaginations.  This wordless picture book would also make a beautiful silent short movie.

by Joy Lawn, Children’s Literature Consultant

Surrealism for Kids by Queensland Art Gallery (Qld Art Gallery and GOMA)

26 May

Surrealism for Kids has been shortlisted for the Children’s Book Council of Australia 2012 awards in the Eve Pownall Information Books category.  It certainly deserves to be there. It also won the Bronze award in the international 2012 IPPY Awards (Independent Publisher Book Awards) for children’s interactive books. A number of important surrealist artists are showcased in this book in minimal, child-friendly text, and captivating art activities are also suggested. The authors from the Qld Art Gallery have devised very appealing tasks and even provide quality photocopiable pages to assist and inspire.

The Qld Art Gallery has also published two other books for children, both brimming with creativity and ideas. Drawing Life for Kids: My Art Journal is the scaffold for a personal journal where short suggestions and engaging background photos impel kids to put their mark on the page. For example, ‘Write a secret note to pass to your friend’ shows a paper aeroplane next to an unfolded and slightly crumpled plane template which is begging to be written on. ‘Draw the messiest spot in the house’ shows a doll’s house with empty rooms waiting to be filled by young artists. The book is structured around some information about artists including Margaret Olley, ‘Home Sweet Home’ and René Magritte, ‘My Imagination’.

Interesting artists are the focus of 21st Century Art for Kids. Australian and other contemporary artists and their work are shown in photos. There is also an activity for each artist. For example, Pierre Bismuth from France likes drawing onto the TV screen; following an actor’s hand or James Bond’s nose, to make a pattern. Children are encouraged, not to draw on the TV, but onto beautiful art (or other) catalogues. These catalogue backgrounds can possibly be the catalyst for ideas.

Upcoming books to look out for will be published with the gallery’s Prada exhibition in July and the 7th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art in December but the books do stand alone from the exhibitions.

These books could engender a life-long interest in the visual arts. They are aimed at primary school age (or younger) but will also appeal to teens and would be ideal to leave on coffee tables.

 by Joy Lawn, Children’s Literature Consultant

Metro Winds by Isobelle Carmody (Allen & Unwin)

12 May

Metro WindsAlthough there are subtle differences between place and style, the stories in Metro Winds explore the archetype of the quest through the lens of speculative fiction. The fantasy stories, ‘The Wolf Prince’, ‘The Girl Who Could See the Wind’ and ‘Metro Winds’ are the book’s highest points. Perhaps incidentally, these three stories have female protagonists but they also emulate the conventions of ‘quest fantasy’. Significantly, they describe a search for identity and place. For example, the girl in ‘Metro Winds’ is wrenched from her home beside the ocean and taken to the city, where her windows are painted shut. She later experiences an epiphany and discovers her true self in the surreal, untamed metro.

The three stories with male protagonists are linked by air travel in the real world. Each of the protagonists has travelled from Australia, or a similar place, to Europe. Airports are waiting places. These stories share that weariness: time has changed and folded; a task must be achieved. In ‘The Dove Game’, the man is keeping a rendezvous in place of another man who died amongst the eucalypts. ‘The Stranger’ is in search of vampires in Greece and ‘The Man Who Lost his Shadow’ enters an even darker place. All the men are seeking, and all believe they must cross time and space to fulfil their quests. Their worlds are those of ‘real’ places while the fantasy stories, particularly ‘The Wolf Prince’ and ‘The Girl Who Could See the Wind’ move from the real world to the secondary world of fantasy. Willow, the girl who could see the wind, is taken to an Australian-like place from her northern hemisphere home by her grieving mother. This new place becomes home but the park she sees from her window, and is not meant to enter, is not in a dimension that most others can see. The young woman in ‘The Wolf Prince’ becomes a princess in the land of faerie, which sits physically beside her Venetian-like city. She is able to move between the two places after fulfilling the tasks that allow her to transform her prince but where does she truly belong?

Many of Isobelle Carmody’s themes, motifs and concerns from her acclaimed Obernewtyn Chronicles appear in Metro Winds. These include dreams, secrets, beasts and misfits. Some of the short stories are for older readers – mature secondary and adults, but the others will beguile all readers of sophisticated speculative fiction.

by Joy Lawn, Children’s Literature Consultant

Tanglewood by Margaret Wild & Vivienne Goodman (Omnibus Books, Scholastic)

2 May

Tanglewood is the only tree on a remote island. In its lonely state it calls to the passing wildlife but no one answers or keeps it company. During a storm, a seagull fell into the heart of Tanglewood. Seagull could only stay for a day and a night and then it had to return to its family. ‘Family is love and friendship. Family is everything’, it said. Seagull promised to return but seasons passed and Tanglewood waited and waited. Tanglewood’s strong emotions of loneliness and hope make the reader long for it to find a friend. The written text is placed on the pages effectively, especially brief sentences alone on the page which make a dramatic impact – ‘But nobody ever came.’

The illustrations are almost photo-realistic but are more emotive because they have a slight other-worldly effect. Panels are used successfully; particularly the bleak panel in the middle of the page which shows Tanglewood’s roots when they stop searching for water. When Seagull leaves, there is a long panel of the sea which emulates the empty horizon. The slow passing of the seasons is shown by a grid of small panels. These panels also deliberately slow down the reading.

Tanglewood is aimed at children in primary school and is likely to be a CBCA Notable Book in 2013.

 by Joy Lawn, Children’s Literature Consultant