The months over the summer school holidays are usually pretty quiet in children’s publishing. After the frantic lead-up to Christmas, with new titles by big-selling authors and the plethora of Christmas-related titles and gift books hitting the shelves, things settle down pretty much almost until March, with the first trade titles starting to trickle through in late January and February. Over at the day job, where throughout the year we receive a steady number of deliveries of children’s and young adult books every week, I don’t think we had any at all in January, the odd single title in February, and then BAM! March arrived and I had two great big boxes on my desk.
So it’s no real surprise that things have also been a bit light on the review front for children’s books in the past couple of months, but what it has meant is that some bloggers/reviewers have headed back to revisit some older titles and some classics. Author Natasha Lester at her blog While the Kids Are Sleeping, revisited Seven Little Australians in a blog post fittingly titled How Not to Cry when Reading to your Children:
I knew I was in trouble as the baby waddled off into the bush and Judy raced after him.
Now, Seven Little Australians is a life-long favourite book of mine: my blog name and online handle is Misrule (MsMisrule on Twitter), named after the nickname given to the home of the recalcitrant Woolcot children in Turner’s 1894 classic, and I’m always thrilled to see it still being read, even with its at times challenging language from a time long gone. I admit I was surprised that Lester found an avid audience for it in a 4 and a half and 6 year old, but I guess that simply only reinforces the book’s timeless—and ageless—appeal. And oh, what a gorgeous hardback Classic edition Penguin have given us!
I was very excited to discover a blog called Dinner at Caphs, where the all-but anonymous blogger has set herself a 2013 reading challenge of rather a different complexion than the AWWC—in this, Canberra’s centenary year, our blogger intends to spend the year only reading fiction set in Canberra. Fascinating! I wonder if there is indeed a year’s worth of Canberra titles for her to read? And that’s not knocking Canberra—I’m very fond of the place, having spent four very happy years there in my adolescence. I still have family and friends there and am a regular visitor and defender of our Fair Capital. And so I was thrilled to see a review of a book that was actually published in the year I was in Year 10 (1979, you do the maths!), which I have never before seen. No surprises there really—it’s a book about a horse, and I was not a horsey girl. (I’ve never even read Black Beauty!) The Gundaroo Pony, written by Libby Anderson, with illustrations by Ronald Revitt, was published by the Australian National University Press. Our blogger notes that the passage of time may not have dealt all the kindly with the book:
The Gundaroo Pony has a narrow naivety that may be a product of its time, or its childish focus, or more probably both. I don’t feel particularly qualified to review children’s books, although this one reminds me of the quaint, starchy, goody-two-shoes Milly Molly Mandy stories I loved as a kid. I wonder how many children’s authors would write like this today, (only?!) 34 years later? (Full review here.)
Not too many, probably, at least, not those that get published.
(And, as an aside, this post got me thinking about other children’s books set in Canberra. Jackie French writes about Canberra/the ACT a bit—there was an unforgettable story in her first collection, Rain Stones, about the Brindabella Ranges around Canberra actually being sleeping dinosaurs. Dr Kerry White‘s Australian Children’s Fiction: The Subject Guide only lists 6 titles under the subject heading Canberra, ACT, but that only takes us up to the mid 90s, so if anyone can think of more Canberra-based children’s novels, please post them in the comments.)
Other readers dipping back into the past (although the far more recent past than 1979 or 1894!) include:
- Sally from Oz, who says Phredde and the Ghostly Underpants: a story to eat with a mango by Jackie French (2005) is a ‘must have’
- Narrelle M. Harris at Mortal Words, who reviewed Leonie Norrington‘s astonishingly assured debut novel, The Barrumbi Kids (2002)
- Maree Kimberley reviewed Nette Hilton‘s 2006 novel Living Next to Lulah (older children and YA) at goodreads
- Subversive Reader reviewed Libby Hathorn’s 2008 Georgiana (another title at the top end of children’s) and was pleasantly surprised by Elise Hurst‘s 2003 Maximilian Jones
- Subversive Reader also took a shine to Jackie French’s non-fiction 2007 Gold, Graves and Glory (Fair Dinkum Histories)
- Mel Reviews Books gave Isobelle Carmody‘s 2009 Little Fur: The Legend of Little Fur 4/5 stars
More recent chapter books and longer fiction and poetry reviewed in February include the following:
- Sally from Oz called The Secret of the Swords: Sword Girl 1 by Frances Watts a ‘magical adventure’.
- Subversive Reader: Jennifer Walsh‘s The Tunnels of Tarcoola
- Emma at My Book Corner was excited about the 3rd title about The Grimstones, Whirlpool, by Asphyxia
- Shelleyrae at Book’d Out was impressed by What the Raven Saw by Samantha-Ellen Bound
- Emma at My Book Corner loved Violet Mackerel’s Possible Friend by Anna Branford and Sarah Davis (ill.) (and who can blame her!)
- The under-rated Julia Lawrinson gets some affection for Chess Nuts from Subversive Reader
- Read in a Single Sitting called Lorraine Marwood‘s poetry collection Note on the Door and Other Poems about Family Life ‘mischievously eclectic‘.
The lovely Our Australian Girl series got a lot of love from Subversive Reader:
- Meet Alice and Alice and the Apple Blossom Affair by Davina Bell
- Meet Rose by Sherryl Clark
- Meet Letty by Alison Lloyd
- Meet Poppy by Gabrielle Wang
Picture books were also reviewed:
- Subversive Reader did a special ‘Grandmother Edition‘, reviewing Dancing with Grandma by Rosemary Mastnak and Button Boy by Rebecca Young and Sue deGennaro (ill.). Christina Booth‘s Kip was also recommended.
- Emma at My Book Corner called The Treasure Box by national treasure Margaret Wild (illustrated by rising national treasure Freya Blackwood) ‘delicate’ and ‘carefully crafted‘.
- Subversive Reader thinks Alison Lester‘s Noni the Pony is gorgeous and absolutely loved Amy and Louis by Libby Gleeson and Freya Blackwood. Don’t we all—on both counts!
- Also at Subversive Reader: an appreciation of Come Down Cat! and also of The Boy and the Toy, both by Sonya Hartnett and Lucia Masciullo (ills)
- Giraffe Days recommends Mem Fox and Helen Oxenbury‘s Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes for a baby shower gift
- And finally, My Book Corner said Bronwyn Bancroft‘s Remembering Lionsville was ‘gorgeously vibrant… and filled with gentle narrative‘.
About Judith Ridge:
A friend once called me the Swiss Army Knife of children’s books. I’ve been a teacher, editor, critic, writer, and arts program manager, all focusing on literature for children and young adults. I am a Churchill Fellow and I wrote my MA thesis on feminist criticism, narrative theory and fairytale retellings for teenagers. I’ve just finished my 4th stint as judge on the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards. I am currently working on a novel for children, and I recently had my first poem for children published in The NSW School Magazine. My current day job is here. You can read more about me here.