They say every writer is influenced by past lovers of literature, storytellers who made you think about the world and who ultimately brought about a similar love for putting down words on an empty sheet of paper.
Two great books that did this for me was the Australian author and illustrator – Dorothy Wall and Scottish author – Kenneth Graham. The former wrote ‘The Adventures of Blinky Bill’, which I read on a religious basis upon going to bed and the latter ‘The Wind in the Willows’ that caused equally as much page turning and laughter.
Both painted such vivid pictures of the characters’ daily escapades - so much so, I still pick up the books, year-after-year. Stepping back in time is always a great thing; it makes one smile, laugh and at times will bring one to tears.
However, it was not just the writing that captured my imagination. The lively, black, pen and ink drawings of Blinky Bill and his friends and too, the beautiful, wispy watercolours seen in ‘The Wind in the Willows’ are images I still so easily recall. Dad and I would often sit down on my bed to discuss the illustrators’ ability to recreate those mind-stored visions, so easily on paper.
Throughout my childhood, these were some of the books that allowed me to jump into the world of make believe – a very necessary place of existence for all children, as they grow up and quickly enter the world of stark reality. Escapism is the gift of all well-written tales and I am grateful to have had a book-learned, bookworm librarian for my father.
Unfortunately, over the years my original books have suffered greatly with my constant moving from country to country. Upon seeing these delightfully-presented new editions, I could not help, but rock on over to the checkout to lay-down my pennies. As many of you know me well, it wasn’t just for me. Being a teacher - through and through, I love the idea of introducing something new, but classic to the classroom, at the beginning of the year. I’m always thinking of how I can capture the minds of my youngsters, to spur them on to enjoy the education process.
In today’s world, when picking up a physical book appears to be a burden, let alone reading one, I do my very best to impart my love of great literature by reading regularly to and with ‘my kids’, just like my dad did with me.
You can pick up these new editions of two great classics, at every great bookstore – physical of course. ‘The Complete Adventures of Blinky Bill’ is put out by Angus and Robertson – an imprint of Harper Collins Children’s Books. This edition of ‘The Wind in the Willows’, illustrated by Graham Baker-Smith is published by Templar Books. And… need I say, ‘Both these books belong on your bookshelf for easy, family nightly-access.
Toward the small, second story theatre of ‘The Strand’, I made my way up the winding stairs to take up a seat, for the long awaited film - ‘Little Women’ by Greta Gerwig. I am particularly aware of Louisa May Alcott’s original books, having read them back to front on several occasions as a child. Being such an acclaimed piece of historical literature and a very valid one in today’s male-dominated world – I expected to see many more persons, than a grand total of - six. Anyhow…
The December launch of Little Women that we manage to receive in the Southern Hemisphere - three months after the event, has very much peaked my interest. As the shorts begin, I am reminded that this female-directed piece by Gerwig, somehow managed to be snubbed by the Academy, even though nominated in four classes. However, Jacqueline Duncan did take out an Oscar for Best Costume Design – but that was the extent of it.
Filmed in the historical sites of Massachusetts, where the fictional characters of the March family lived – ‘Jo’ is played by Saoirse Ronan; ‘Meg’ by Emma Watson; ‘Amy by Florence Pugh; ‘Beth’ by Eliza Scalan; Laurie by Timoth’ee Chalamet; ‘Marmee’ played by Laura Dern and ‘Great Aunt March’ played by the seasoned actress - Meryl Streep. These dominant characters worked side by side ‘Mr Laurence’ played by Chris Cooper; Freiderich Bhaer by Louis Garrel; ‘Mr Dashwood’ by Tracey Letts; ‘Father March’ by Bob Odenkirk and ‘John Brooke’ played by James Norton. With such a fine cast of performers, it baffles me as to how this film managed not to score better than they did, at the Oscars.
The film opens with ‘Jo’ hightailing it into Volcano publishers to sell her story, because the family are short of funds. Under normal circumstances, stories sell for $25~$30, but she is forced to sell her story for only $20, given her female character - has not ‘followed the formula’. She is instructed by the editor that the story must be ‘short and spicy’ and if the main character is a girl - she must be either - married off or dead - by the end of the script, in order for it to sell.
Even at this early juncture in the film, I am forced to accept that female characters are disposable and play little importance in the great scheme of things. Following this directed evolution of understanding regarding the level of being, position of status and understanding that women must play lesser beings – the film moves forward in a similar vein to that of the originally published books by Alcott.
We see each of the actors, develop and grow into their unique characters – ‘Jo’ and ‘Meg’ take on the responsibility of working to support the family, while their father is off at war. ‘Jo’ who is a keen writer and very much the tomboy is: highly independent, often ill-spoken and intends to ‘make her own way in the world’. This manages to get her into strife with both family and friends as she writes and sells her stories as best she can, while she also reads regularly to Aunt March. ‘Jo’ constantly stresses that ‘women have minds as well as hearts and souls’ – ‘ambition as well as talent...’
‘Meg’ is an entirely different kettle of fish. She is a budding actress, very much a traditionalist and takes on the job of teaching the nearby family of four. She also assumes a motherly approach to her siblings, while her mother is off attending to their father’s recovery – which annoys her siblings, no end.
In this film, Amy’s artistic character - who longs for elegance and high society is used to deliver messages to the audience that a woman’s role is to be seen and not heard; anything vaguely resembling a thought process, is frowned upon. She is dissuaded from pursuing her studies of fine art in France – both by Great Aunt March who now insists she is the family’s ‘only hope’ for survival and by her self-realisation that pursuing the arts would entomb her to a life of poverty. Amy delivers carefully crafted lines to Laurie when he first attempts to take her hand in marriage because ‘Jo’ has refused him. She too want’s to be ‘great or nothing’, but she is distinctly aware that for a woman - marriage is an ‘economic proposition’. She is there to prop up a man, bear children under his name alone and is unable to make ‘means of her own’. Hence, Amy learns to play by the rules in order to get ahead in life. She states, ‘One of us must marry well’ – ‘I won’t be a commonplace dauber’.
For the youngest of the family – Beth March – life is short lived, but her message to embrace life for what it is; to appreciate all that is given and to return that gift of giving to those less fortunate, is important. She is the peace maker and pianist in this tale and shares her gift of caring for others openly. One can not help, but love her for what she represents in mankind. She delivers hope, understanding and a quiet admission that each and everyone of us needs to be ‘seen and heard’, in some manner or another. She is the energy that gives ‘Jo’ her reason to write; ‘Meg’ her reason to love and forgo her acting career; and ‘Amy’ her reason to seek comfort in the smaller things of life. Her love of music, calmly bonds the family beyond death. The family easily reminisce whenFreiderich Bhaer comes to visit for ‘Jo’, but takes time out to play Beth’s gifted piano from Mr. Laurence. Time stands still, as the family are reminded of Beth and her quiet, unassuming soul.
Great Aunt March played by Meryl Streep reminds us all that as women, we must compromise and so often forgo our dreams in order to get ahead. She represents the monarch of the family – wise by seasoned existence, bitter at seeing the world the way it is and unforgiving to those who can not see the writing on the wall. Even young ‘Jo’, who is so independent to live life on her own terms; who states, ‘if I’m going to sell my heroine into marriage for money, I might as well get some of it’; eventually sees the light and chases after a male – despite being sick and tired of hearing that women were only good for love and love alone. It seems ironic that Gerwig’s film ends on such an anti-climax whereby we expect the heroine to find her man. Needless-to-say, we expect the March family to live happily ever after, but do they? Will they not want to seek andpush the boundaries of what is expected for a female? Will they be content to remain wall flowers?
If you or your kids are avid Harry Potter fans and would like to enjoy a jam-packed evening of magical fun, consider joining us at the sixth annual 'Harry Potter Book Night' event, on Thursday the 6th of February, 4~8 pm at the Toowoomba Regional Library.
You'll be able to celebrate the 'Triwizard Tournament', with more than just wand making and potion classes. Put your hand up for Potter Trivia, a scavenger hunt or the great Wizard's Chess Challenge and Potions Show.
Any great wizard needs a few good reptiles for understanding potions, so there will also be a Reptile Show and an Owl Show to make sure your feather friends are doing the right thing. And for those who might need a thing or two, to stock the Wizarding cupboards - you won't be disappointed with the 'Magical mini-market'. I can't think of a more worthy Wizarding event, for any young wizard.
However, you will need to book in advance for: Potions classes, Wand making and Harry Potter Trivia. Please flick an e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org
So, before I say, 'Petrificus Totalus' and render you totally incapacitated, put this date on your refrigerator and be prepared for an evening of Wizarding fun!
Every year is a great year, when it comes to award-winning books and their writers. Yes, everyone wants to win, but you know that isn’t going to happen. There are some great reads out there and some very talented illustrators that put their mark on children’s books, to help them make the grade of award winning material. Because after all, it is a team effort and without the illustrators, well…maybe the book might not have even got a mention.
Let’s take a look at some great books!
1. The first on our list is ‘Hello Lighthouse’ – a hardcover book, published on April 10, 2018. Written by Sophie Blackall, this two-time award-winning Caldecott Medal book, transports us back to the seaside occasions that many of us, grew up with. Yes, a stroll down memory lane for me, too. All those bundles of shells, I could never collect fast enough.
Anyhow, this little nautical picture book wonder, projects the changing of seasons and keeps alive the very lonely task of lighthouse keeping. We view vast, isolated beach scenes; drifting icebergs; rolling fog and surplus water abound. We watch the keeper and his family boil water for the consumption of tea; light the lamp’s wick and even view entries in a precious logbook that details the purpose and existence of the lighthouse. A lovely tale - complemented by clean, precise pen and ink, watercolour illustrations that all readers will just adore!
2. Our next beauty, is the hardcover 2019 Caldecott Honour Book – ‘Alma and How She Got Her Name’, published on April 10, 2018. Written by debuting author ~ illustrator Juana Martinez-Neal, the story explains to children the importance of receiving their name. Our main character is an unfortunate young girl who has received a total of six names – Alma Sofia Esperanza Jose’ Pura Candela. She - like many children, questions the hows and whys of receiving her name. This book makes light of the fact that sometimes, even though names might seem long, unnecessary, peculiar, weird and downright unfair – they were all chosen with love and are indeed perfectly suited to the beholder. In this case, Alma’s father explains that Sofia was her grandmother – a lover of books and flowers; Esperanza – her great grandmother who longed to travel; Jose’ – her grandfather who was an artist. By the end of the book, all names have been explained and Alma realises that possessing those names, sort of describes her personality - perfectly.
The tale touches on a very poignant, subject matter for children; the educational benefits are huge, with the illustration doing it fine justice. This is definitely one for the bookshelf.
3. Following is the 2019 Newbery Honor Book – ‘The Night Diary’, a hardcover book written by Veera Hiranandani, published on March 6, 2018. This book is not only a Newbery winner, but also
an ALA Notable Book; a Malka Penn Award Recipient; a New York Times Editor’s Choice Pick; a Junior Library Guild Selection book; named Best Book of the Year by Amazon; has received numerous great reviews from the likes of Kirkus, The New York Times, NPR, School Library Journal and even The Washington Post.
To put you in the picture of just how well regarded this book is, Kirkus Reviews stars this book and states it is “A gripping, nuanced story of the human cost of conflict appropriate for both children and adults.”
Set in India, in 1947 at the period of newly found independence, the country is in much turmoil. Now separated into two countries – Pakistan and India - Muslims and Hindus struggle to find peace and the borders are littered with hundreds of thousands of corpses – individuals killed for wanting to cross the border.
Our twelve year old protagonist – Nisha – half Muslim and half Hindu, no longer recognises her country or where she belongs, after the exit of British rule. When her father decides it is too dangerous for them to remain in what is now Pakistan, Nisha and her family embark on a long and arduous journey across the border. In essence, they become refugees, outcast from their own country – stateless. Without a true homeland and her mother whom she lost as a baby, Nisha struggles with her identity and sense of purpose. Hence, the story is told through the letters she writes to her mother in, ‘The Night Diary’ as goes in search of home, self and country.
4. From the pain and agony of human suffering through war, we now turn our attention to the hardback book - ‘The Rough Patch’ – written by Brian Lies, published on August 14, 2018. This Caldecott Honor and ALA Notable book deals is a personal story that works through the themes of friendship, love, loss, hope and renewal.
The protagonist – Evan and his dog are inseparable. They do everything together from eating ice-cream to caring for their prize-winning garden. One day the unthinkable happens – the dog dies. Understandably, Evan is inconsolable; he destroys the garden, which then becomes overgrown with weeds and prickles.
However over time, Evan is drawn to the garden’s unusual, but natural beauty. It reveals a special kind of magic – the ability to drawn one out of isolation by way of growing a huge pumpkin. Evan takes it to the county fair, where friendships new and old are kindled.
The healing power of nature is truly a magic to behold and so too are the breathtakingly, beautiful illustrations that accompany this book. Brian Lies is a magician extraordinaire and should be proud of such a memorable tale.
5. My last book selection is written by author-illustrator - Grace Lin – ‘A Big Mooncake for Little Star’, a hardcover picture book, published on August 28, 2018. This award winning Caldecott Honor book tells a wonderful tale of the cycles of the moon and the importance of mooncake.
Of course, I’m going to recommend this one big time - as my family have grown up eating such delights, that and all the other delicious foods we traditionally consume at Korean thanksgiving - Chuseok. Like many Asian countries, China included - the harvest moon festival holds particular importance to the preservation of culture, family and traditional bonding.
Little people just like the young character – Little Star - in this heart-warming story, enjoys nibbling on the baking, before all is said and done. It takes me be to when my son, could not wait to sample the cooking. Anyhow, there is a twist to this tale, what happens when you eat all the mooncake? Well, you will just have to read the book. 😊
‘A Big Mooncake for Little Star’ is a delightful book – tastefully illustrated in dark colours to highlight, both the enormity of the mooncake and the fact that it goes missing, during the night.
We hope you have enjoyed a stroll through some really interesting books, by some truly talented authors and illustrators; all contributing well to the world of great literature!
Yes, 2019 is coming to a close and although this end of the publishing world has been slow going, there is always the incoming year to make amends - to put things right.
We don't always get given our ducks in a row; sometimes our ducks are flapping, honking resting in the straw and definitely not always flying straight as we intended. I guess that is the way of the world and the way of the world of business. Ah, the chances one takes in becoming an entrepreneur...
However, nothing stays the same forever - eventually the tides turn; eventually the seasons change and the fruits of ones labours stays steadfast on the branch of success and will ripen fully.
So for 2020, as I wish for ELK Publishing to ripen its fruit fully, I too wish the same for you in your corner of the world. I pray all runs smoothly for you - I pray you find balance between business and family; find balance among spending time with colleagues, your family and yourself - because you too are important. Without the right frame of mind there is no family, no business and no going forward in your business. Yes, I believe the right frame of mind and balance are the key elements in my festive greeting, this year. :)
and the direction you seek to travel,
will bear easy roads.
Writing a book doesn't have to be a difficult task. Yes, it can be time-consuming, but if it is something you really enjoy - writing a book as well as illustrating it, can be extremely rewarding - especially if you know, you have done the lot.
I think the hardest part, has to be slotting in regular periods during the day or evening to partake in the act of writing. It is really easy to get side tracked and say to yourself, 'I'm not really in the mood to write,' or 'I'm stumped - so I won't write today'. Both are not really useful to developing consistent opportunities to write. A little everyday gets you into good habits; just like brushing your teeth and yes, you'll get so expert at it, your work will begin to shine. You just have to make time, no matter how small.
150 words written everyday, over the course of a month will give you a 4,500 words start on a YA novel - usually around 60,000 words. This means you'd just about be finished writing your book, in 1 year. If you put in double the effort each day - you'd be finished in 6 months - double that again and you'd be done in 3 months!
Remember, the 10,000 hour rule will only make you accomplished, three times that will bring you to virtuoso standard. :)
Halloween is meant to be fun - full of dressing up; enjoying pumpkins and sweets and finding infinite homes to visit that have joined in the fun of making an awesome scary scene! Enjoy, but be safe!