Peas, Lizards and The City

I had the pleasure of chatting to Chris Coleman at ABC Canberra on Tuesday May 25 2010. Any chance to talk about books, I’m there.

Deborah Abela

Author of Max Remy Superspy series, Jasper Zammit (Soccer Legend) series and The Remarkable Secret of Aurelie Bonhoffen.

Two Peas in a Pod written and illustrated by Chris McKimmie

(Allen and Unwin)

Early childhood picture book ages 3-6

Chris McKimmie has captured perfectly the sometimes chaotic yet wonderfully imaginative world of a young child’s mind. Marvin’s best friend Violet calls him Marvin the Marvellous and the two go together like roundabouts and swings, a pair of wings and the oo in moo. Mum tells him they are like two peas in a pod. Even their pets are best friends. But when Violet tells Marvin they are moving to the moon, her house is packed up and they leave. Marvin is left desolate so far away from his best friend and at the end of winter, just as Marvin was about to put Violet in with the forgets, Mum buys him a ticket on Koala Airlines to visit her. There is a scribbly, childlike nature to Chris’ drawings (which he created with a little help from his kids) and the exaggeration that comes with childhood is splayed across every page. ‘We have all lived together in Raven Street since dinosaur time. Almost.’

How to Talk to a Frill-Neck Lizard written James Moloney and illustrated by Simone Linehan (Part of the Mates: Great Australian Yarns series)

(Omnibus Books)

Junior novel Ages 6+

Bern and Cody are two brothers who live on a cattle station with their frill-neck lizard called, Tarantula. During a visit from their Uncle Mo, Tarantula eats Bern’s homework on insects. While chasing him to get it back, they discover just how fast a frill-neck lizard can run. Uncle Mo suggests they enter him in the local lizard races, but the boys don’t think Tarantula would like it. A few days later when they arrive home from school, they can’t find their pet. When Mum calls them to go into town for the races, they realise Uncle Mo is already there and they know immediately where their pet has gone. The race begins and even though Tarantula wins, scruffy Uncle Mo doesn’t quite have the victory he’d hoped for, thanks to a jar of cockroaches Bern brought with him. Simone’s illustrations of the dusty Australian town leap off the pages with a colour and energy that perfectly match the cheekiness of the two boys and their pesky pet.

The City written and illustrated by Armin Greder

(Allen and Unwin)

Picture book older readers Ages 11-16

Armin Greder has a way of creating whole moods from his drawings and stories. A woman who lives in a city, where winter would sometimes last three years, decides she wants to protect her son from ‘the terrible things that happen in life’ and moves to a place where there are no roads, no bridges and no fields. Here she cares for her boy and keeps him safe from harm. One day, a lost group of travellers, dressed in bright clothes and carrying musical instruments, asks for directions to the city. This is the one colourful illustration in the book. The boy is intrigued and asks his mother if one day they could go to the city too? One moonless night, the boy’s mother dies. He is lost and even beyond the grave, her fear-filled voice still holds sway on his life, until he decides to ignore her warnings and begin the journey to the city. This book looks at what can happen when we let fear rule our lives. How it can tie people to dark and desolate places, with no hope and very little colour. It’s only that fear is ignored, that we step into a future with any kind of confidence and hope.


Governor-General Invites Me To Her Home

What a great last few days! I’ve been swanning around the Sydney Writers’ Festival and getting blissfully lost listening to authors from all around the world. Some highlights were David Vann, Willy Valutin, David Marr, Ross Fitgerald, Annabelle Crabbe (she interviewed Tony Abbott who didn’t take audience questions and had me looking at my watch to see how long we had left.) Rupert Thompson, Joe Meno, Christopher Hitchens. Gosh so many interesting speakers.

But another personal favourite of this year’s Festival, was being invited to Admiralty House by her Excellency the Governor-General to give some writing workshops to around 90 kids. What a place! Do you think she’d let me and my friends stay overnight one weekend?

I had the pleasure to be there with the lovely lasses below. From left to right: Zoe Walton (Fab publisher Random House) Linly Goh (SWF organiser extraordinaire) Belinda Murrell, Kate Forsyth and me…the three lucky authors!

Brilliant! Thanks to all the kids who were there. It was so much fun to be with such keen and talented writers.

Ciao  then!

Wobbly Streets, Trick Riders and Creepy Stuff

These books were reviewed on ABC Radio Canberra Drive Show with Louise Maher on Tuesday May 11 2010

Books reviewed by Deborah Abela

Author of Max Remy Superspy series, Jasper Zammit (Soccer Legend) series and The Remarkable Secret of Aurelie Bonhoffen.

Wibbly Wobbly Street written by Trudie Trewin and illustrated by Cheryl Orsini


Picture book 4+

Wibbly Wobbly Street is a very special street in Squareton. It wobbles and weaves through a town of mostly straight, flat and tidy streets. And that is how the people who live there like it but, the councillors aren’t quite so fond of this peculiar street. They decide it’s spoiling the town and needs to be ‘rectangle-fied’. They call in the street-straightener with his rulers and tape measures to give it a wibble-ectomy. The tractors struggle to pull the street into line and it looks as if they might fail, when Wibbly Wobbly Street snaps into line and looks like all the other streets. But deep underground, something shudders and shakes and with a mighty twang, the street springs back to its wobbly self, ‘just a wink more peculiar than before.’ The residents of the street throw a huge party and, in spite of their grumpy selves, the councillors find themselves joining in. The illustrations have a bright, 50’s feel and are a treasure hunt to look at because each time you get a little closer, you find something else to giggle at or admire. 

Little Else written by Julie Hunt and illustrated by Beth Norling

(Allen and Unwin)

Younger Readers

Times are tough for Little Else and her grandmother who live in Stony Gully. The drought has been hard and money is scarce. When Sam Strong arrives at their door recruiting for Ma Calico’s circus, Little Else knows this is her chance to make their lives better. She soon meets the cantankerous owner herself, who teaches Little Else to perform tricks on horseback. Little Else is a natural, partly because of her abilities as a horse whisperer. She makes friends in the circus, both animals and humans alike, but when she realises Ma Calico has no intention of paying any of the performers, she searches out the meanest bushranger around to make Ma pay her dues. This is a cute story about a plucky little girl who not only achieves her aim of helping out her grandmother, but also solves the mystery of the disappearance of her grandfather in a clever story twist. If young readers enjoy this one, they’re in luck, this is the first of three adventures of this little girl, each sprinkled with lively colour illustrations throughout.

Short and Scary: A whole lot of creepy stories and other chilling stuff edited by Karen Tayleur. Creators include Marc McBride, Susanne Gervay, Carole Wilkinson and many, many more.

(Black Dog Books)

Older readers

The great thing about a book of short and scary stories, is that you can dip in and out as your desire for scaring dictates. This book has a selection of stories from a bountiful collection of Australian authors and illustrators. There are clowns, zombies and loads of things that go bump in the night. Often in old and gloomy houses. Childhood imaginary monsters come back to haunt and untrustworthy tooth fairies sneak in at night. I am reluctant to point any out because I can’t mention them all but Sally Rippin’s Bonnikins is wonderfully scary, Susanne Gervay has written an eerie moonlight mystery and Barry Jonsberg tells a spooky tale of what happens to a girl who gets a not–so-cute doll for her birthday. All loads of dark stormy fun for those who like a scare.

ABC book reviews: Bears, Rangers and Paradise

These books were reviewed on ABC Radio Canberra Drive Show with Louise Maher on Tuesday April 27 2010

Books reviewed by Deborah Abela

Author of Max Remy Superspy series, Jasper Zammit (Soccer Legend) series and The Remarkable Secret of Aurelie Bonhoffen.

The Other Bears written and illustrated by Michael Thompson

(Fremantle Press)

Picture book

Writer and Illustrator Michael Thompson must have had a lot of fun creating this book. A group of koala bears, who are not bears but tailless, tree-dwelling marsupials, settle in for a day at the beach. To mum and dad’s horror, they are interrupted by a whole swag of other bears. Panda bears with their strange ears and shoes, polar bears with their claws and giant coats and black bears with their band instruments, making a tremendous noise. But with each new arrival, the youngest koalas find something new to love…the food, the music, the jokes and the fun! Finally, grumpy mum and dad stop their grumbling to see how happy their kids are with the other bears and their bad moods melt away. The illustrations of all the different bears each with their own talents are very cute, but the end page with all of the bears crowded together in one giant party is the cutest of all.

Ranger in Danger: Part 1 Diablo’s Doom written by Sean Willmore and Alison Reynolds

(Five Mile Press)

Adventure series 9-12 year olds

As a kids’ author, I have met many young male reluctant readers who can be enticed into reading by two forms of books: the graphic novel and choose your own adventures, or as the Ranger In Danger series is called, decide-your-destiny. This series has loads to get those kids reading and was the brainchild international park ranger, Sean Willmore, a fierce campaigner for wildlife conservation. The book begins with an invitation to the reader: an email to be a guest ranger in Makari National Park in Africa. As you read, you are stopped at various points in the action and given alternatives as to what you can do next, with twenty possible endings. Along the way, there are criminal poachers, wild rhinos, stampeding elephants and the constant threat to rangers’ lives. You learn fascinating facts about the wildlife as well as the dangerous work many rangers do to save the animal. Sean has also started The Thin Green Line Foundation, that looks after the families of rangers who have been killed in the line of duty.

Little Paradise by Gabrielle Wang


Teen Readers

Inspired by the true story of her mother, Gabrielle’s novel tells of 17-year-old Australian-born Chinese girl, Mirabel. Spirited, smart and showing signs of being a highly talented dress designer, Mirabel meets and falls in love with JJ, a Chinese soldier, stationed in Melbourne during WWII. But when he returns to China, Mirabel discovers she is pregnant and despite pressure from her family, she keeps the baby and leaves Australia to search for JJ. China, however, is in the grip of a civil war, creating an atmosphere of suspicion, fear and the constant threat of danger. Mirabel’s determination and courage in the face of so many obstacles propels the story. From the constraints placed on women of that time, to the search for JJ in a country in turmoil and the prospect of returning to an Australia gripped by the White Australia policies, Mirabel’s quest is not an easy one. This novel is a fascinating glimpse of a period of time in two very different countries from a girl wedded to both.