Deb’s ABC Canberra Book Reviews

Once a fortnight I review books on ABC 666 Radio Canberra Drive Show with Louise Maher. Louise is just gorgeous and is a lover of kids’ books so it’s a complete pleasure to be able to chat with her about some recent releases. The reviews are every second Tuesday at 3:20pm.

Jasper and Abbey and the Great Australia Day Kerfuffle

Jasper and Abby and the Great Australia Day Kerfuffle by Kevin Rudd and Rhys Muldoon illustrated by Carla Zapel

(Allen and Unwin)

Picture book suitable for ages 4-6

When Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and his family moved into the Lodge, so did Jasper the cat and Abby the dog. Soon after, children began sending the PM letters asking about his pets and the antics they got up to. Rhys Muldoon heard some of these stories and decided to write a book with the PM about the two pets. On the morning of Australia Day, the grounds of the Lodge are bustling with activity: there are farmers who have brought food from all over the country, nannas from Nambour who have knitted the flag and the best cake maker in Canberra had baked an enormous cake iced in green and gold. But then begins a kerfuffle. The marquee collapses, sausages are snaffled and the day is in danger of being ruined. Jasper and Abby discover who is the cause of all the trouble, but when they try to intervene, find themselves blamed for all the mess and are confined inside. When they see even worse trouble brewing from their window, they escape to try and save the day. Proceeds from this book will go to the Centre for Community Child Health, which researches many problems faced by children, such as obesity, language and literacy delay, that are either preventable or can be improved if recognised and managed early.

Australia at the beach

Australia At the Beach by Max Fatchen and illustrated by Tom Jellett

(Scholastic Books)

Picture book

A young boy holds his new flippers and waits impatiently while dad and mum pack the car for a day at the beach. It’s hot and sunny and when they get there, the beach stretches far and wide and is filled with families, boogie boards and sand castles with a bucket that ‘makes the turrets and a cuttlefish boat.’ There’s a kiosk with its sweets and fizzy drinks, picnics spread over blankets and excited games of beach cricket. Tom Jellett has drawn very funny comic-strip tips on how to change out of your togs behind a towel, how to cross hot roads and how to get an ice-cream if you’re a dog. This is a busy, bustling celebration of the beach and even though some of us may have an annoying little brother who does everything from pouring sun-cream instead of mayonnaise on the salad to losing his sandals and bathers, it’s still a day to remember.

Cicada Summer

Cicada Summer written by Kate Constable

(Allen and Unwin)

8-12 year olds

This January, the Aurealis Awards were announced in Brisbane. Established in 1995 it recognises the achievements of Australian speculative fiction which can include science fiction and fantasy. Cicada Summer was shortlisted in the Best Children’s Book category, along with Gabrielle Wang’s Ghost in My Suitcase, Jen Storer’s Tensy Farlow and the Home for Mislaid Children, and The Remarkable Secret of Aurelie Bonhoffen by me, Deborah Abela.

Eloise’s mother died a few years ago and since then, Eloise has spent her time saying very little, drawing a lot and doing all she can not to think about her mother. Her father has spent his time moving cities, quitting jobs, finding new girlfriends and projects before dumping them for others. His latest project is to build a convention centre in his hometown of Turner, where he dumps Eloise with her grandmother, Mo, while he tries to make his latest plan happen. Mo wants little to do with Eloise who spends her time exploring the area when she comes across the old mansion her dad wants to tear down. It’s here she steps into another time, when the mansion is a grand artists’ retreat and meets the owners’ daughter, Anna. Slowly through her friendship with Anna, Mo and Tommy the boy next door, Eloise eventually finds her voice, realises remembering her mother is easier than trying to forget her and creates a place for her, Mo and her dad which they can finally call home.

Dreaming of Amelia

Dreaming Of Amelia written by Jaclyn Moriarty

(Pan Macmillan Australia)


Two new HSC students, Riley and Amelia have received scholarships to transfer from the bad school down the road to the prestigious Ashbury High. They are immediately tagged as beautiful, brilliant and possibly even evil. The staff and students become obsessed by who they are, what dark things may lurk in their pasts and whether they are connected to mysterious happenings on campus.

This very clever and bewitching novel mostly takes place during an HSC English exam on gothic fiction. Through the exam papers of several students, stories of their last year of school unfold: with a very gothic flavour. There is a beautiful weaving of a story of a young Irish convict, the uncovering of a frightening past and a storm-lashed ending that will test each one of these students as they face the final moments of their school lives.


Where the Teacher/Librarians are

There has been a very scary trend in schools over the last few years to trade the position of Teacher/Librarian for other staff or expenses. Can you imagine the principal deciding to trade her/his position for a new photocopier or extra admin staff? Why is the role of Teacher/Librarian not valued for offering someone who:

develops and expands current collections of resources and materials including online materials.

guides students to finding information

creates a safe, enticing and exciting environment to learn, dream and enjoy

knows their collections and can cater to the interests, needs and abilities of the students

provides backup and support to teaching staff

As a kid, the library was the safest place in my world. With its green carpets and sunken carpeted wells filled with cushions and long lines of curved shelves filled with books on whole worlds…and they could all be mine with the showing of my tattered and overused library card. I remember sitting in the large circular well while the librarian perched on the island in the centre and read passage from the newest arrivals. She knew which part to read and where to stop, knowing we were busting to know more.

The link between illiteracy and the prison population is huge. The link between literacy and achieving good results across the curriculum is irrefutable.

We need strong well-loved and cared-for libraries filled with Teacher/Librarians who aren’t simply tossed aside as a budgetary stopgap. We need kids who can’t only read and are hungry to read more, to know more, to want everything that’s possible for their futures and to look to it with excitement. Our school libraries with their wonderful librarians are a key factor in making that happen.

If you’d like to know more or offer your support, go to The Hub, Campaign for Quality School Libraries in Australia…

Happy reading!

Valentine’s Day and the Year of the Tiger

Not a bad day to start a blog…all that love and tigerishness mixed together. Sorry to William Kostakis if this has taken me a long time to start and if I take a while to get the hang of it…

It’s humid and rainy in Sydney and I’m at the computer working on new ideas for my next novel. It’s exciting and daunting all at once. So many ideas and for the moment I’m happy playing with all of them…but know pretty soon it’ll be time to settle on one.

My latest novel, The Remarkable Secret of Aurelie Bonhoffen was inspired by my Nanna’s stories about friendly ghosts. So Aurelie lives on a Brighton-esque seaside pier which, she discovers, she shares with ghosts. Friendly ones. This was a hard one to write because I started it in a busy year and hadn’t properly planned it before I started. I didn’t know the characters before I was supposed to be writing about them.  Good to learn that’s not the way to get my brain to work at its brightest. After several difficult drafts (the first of which my previous agent hated!) my wonderful editors Zoe Walton and Brandon VanOver helped bring my little girl into her own. It was shortlisted Best Children’s Book 2010 in the Aurealis Awards and has just been sold into America. I think my Nanna would be chuffed!

So my latest novel was a product of my under planning for Aurelie…with over 100 pages of planning notes I was ready to begin. It’s called Grimsdon: The Children of the floods. It’s about flooded cities, lost children, evil harbour lords, flying machines and, of course, sea monsters! This has been lots of fun to write. The third draft has just been handed in and Brandon and Zoe seem pleased. Phew!

The other amazing news is that Zoe has asked the brilliant Zdenko Basic to illustrate the cover and he has accepted. If you don’t know his work, he did the wonderful cover for Kate Forsyth’s very lovely, The Puzzle Ring. You can find more of Zdenko’s work at:

Isn’t he brilliant! I can’t wait to see him work his magic on Grimsdon.

So back to the computer now to play with more of those ideas.

Happy Valentine’s Day and Kung Hei Fat Choy!