Hi Valerie and welcome back to The Book Tree.
Kerry: Ride, Roll, Run: Time for Fun! is your latest picture book release. Where did the idea for this new book come from?
Valerie: The idea for this book came from watching the games children play outside and thinking about the activities I loved as a child. Ride, Roll, Run: Time for Fun! is a book that, I hope, encourages readers to go outdoors and have fun – as all children should.
Kerry: I love the diversity and inclusion in this story. Is this something reflected in your own neighbourhood?
Valerie: My current neighborhood is somewhat diverse but not as diverse as my childhood one. I believe it’s important for children to have friends in their own neighborhood, regardless of its diversity, but it’s equally necessary to travel outside of that community to expand their circle and, hopefully, meet more people from diverse backgrounds.
Kerry: Do you still hand write your ideas in notebooks like you did when you were younger?
Valerie: All of my writing is done on the computer. That’s the method that works
best for me these days. I do keep paper and pen by my bedside, so if an idea occurs to me just before I fall asleep, I can jot it down.
Kerry: How important do you think it is for young writers to understand and use rhyme in their writing?
Valerie: Children should be introduced to a variety of writing styles and have the opportunity to try them out. Rhyme is one of those styles, and I would want young writers to give it a try because it will allow them to explore language in a fun way. It also presents a challenge – thinking critically about what words fit best together, like putting together the pieces of a puzzle. I wouldn’t force young writers to rhyme if it’s not working for them, however. Even when writing poetry, children don’t have to use rhyme.
Kerry: Are there any particular authors who have inspired you on your journey as a writer?
Valerie: My mentor, Kelly Starling Lyons, has been a great source of inspiration. Her books have served as mentor texts for me, and our conversations have provided so much helpful information about writing, publishing, and book promotion.
Another author who inspires me is my agent, James McGowan. He champions my work, helps me get my writing submission-ready, and answers my plethora of questions about the publishing industry.
Kerry: What are you reading at the moment?
Valerie: Currently, I’m reading an adult book, Olga Dies Dreaming by Xochitl Gonzalez. However, some fall picture books that I’m looking forward to reading are: Hold Them Close by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow & Patrick Dougher, Not Done Yet: Shirley Chisholm’s Fight for Change by Tameka Fryer Brown & Nina Crews, and Paati’s Saris by Jyoti Rajan Gopal & Art Twink.
Kerry: Thanks so much for dropping by for an interview Valerie!
Hi Shae, and thanks so much for joining me to answer a few questions about your beautiful new book THE RABBIT'S MAGICIAN.
Kerry: This is such a quietly emotive and touching story. What drew you to writing about loss?
Shae: I never intentionally set out to write a story about loss – it was certainly not a subject I would have chosen to tackle. The story was inspired by The Law of Conservation of Energy – a fundamental law of nature, which states: Energy cannot be created or destroyed, but it can change from one form into another. I had long known of this scientific principle but had more recently come across a speech by Aaron Freeman about why you want a physicist to speak at your funeral. It was so moving, how the science-talk – which is often cold and clinical – was heart-warming.
An impression must have been made on my subconscious because a scene appeared in my mind of a rabbit looking up at the moon. I sensed he was waiting for something. The moon phases changed, and still, he waited. What are you waiting for? I wondered. And then, he told his tale. In a matter of moments, the whole story suddenly existed, like a neatly wrapped gift. No tackling involved.
Kerry: You say in your bio that you once thought about a career as a magician. Was this part of your inspiration for the characters of The Amazing Albertino and Ziggy?
Shae: In high school, we were asked to write down the career we aspired to have. I wasn’t sure, so I wrote a short-list of occupations that interested or excited me. Magician was one, author was another. The teacher looked at my list and scoffed, ‘Be realistic!’
Well, thanks for teaching your students that they can be and do anything they put their minds to! I’m on the Autism spectrum – this wasn’t known at the time, but it was so disheartening to be told that all of your special interests were unrealistic to aim for. People in positions of power/authority/influence, please use your words thoughtfully.
I still love the artform of magic, but I’ve stuck to watching it rather than performing it. Well, watching it, analysing it, studying it. Magic is an art dependent on fooling your brain into experiencing something impossible. Magic can give us that child-like sense of wonder from seeing amazing things happen right in front of our eyes. Now, sometimes I can leave it at that, and just be amazed. Other times, I am too curious and simply must know how a trick is done. I enjoy trying to figure it out.
I’m super interested in the psychology of magic and what it can teach us about how our brains work. Our eyes gather information that our brain processes and interprets to help us make sense of the world. The human brain is designed to see structure and logic. It looks for patterns and fills in the blanks. Our brain is reliant on visual cues and it likes to group and organise things in a predictable way. Magicians use this to their advantage.
Many people consider magic to be simple entertainment, however, the ancient art of illusion is helping today’s scientists learn more about perception and reality.
So, yeah, I gotta lotta respect for magicians. There’s such talent involved in making the impossible seem possible and gifting us that jaw-dropping, eye-popping wonder. Intricate moves, exceptional timing, showmanship, spatial awareness and co-ordination are but a few of the required skills. It also takes dedication, plentiful practise and majestic confidence. Top-hats off to magicians!
Anywaaayyy, getting back to the question, I didn’t consciously decide to write about a magician and a rabbit, but the characters of The Amazing Albertino and Ziggy would have certainly been inspired by my deep appreciation of magic.
Kerry: Why does the story mostly take place at night?
Shae: One of the other themes in the book is the moon and its phases – this dictated that most of the story would take place at night. In the opening scenes, when the rabbit is waiting, the changing phases are used to show the passing of time. In another part, the waning phases represent the magician’s life-force waning.
The magician describes the moon as a ‘master of illusion’ because of the ways in which it appears to change shape, but is actually always whole; appears to shine, but doesn’t really make any light of its own; is a dusty old rock, yet we see it as beautiful.
Kerry: How did you choose the other characters for the story?
Shae: Ziggy's new friends were originally jungle animals. My publisher made a great suggestion to set the story in Australia. I let Andy choose and the animals transformed into a koala, an echidna and a quokka. Presto Change-O! A simple change that adds a touch of our uniquely Aussie magic.
The character of Owl represents wisdom. He stayed the same because there are owls in Australia.
Kerry: The images in the book create such a beautiful atmosphere. Did you work closely with Andy Fackrell on the illustrations?
Shae: Paul put Andy and I in contact from the start, he was happy for us to communicate back-and-forth freely, with him copied in on our emails. So we were able to bounce a lot of ideas around and make good progress. Even though I was in the loop throughout the process, just as The Amazing Albertino surprised and delighted the audience in the story, the amazing Andy surprised and delighted me with each picture. In the opening scenes, the depiction of that darling little rabbit staring up at the moon while his ears droop down captures the sense of waiting and longing. There are some beautiful silhouette moments with the moon as a backdrop that speak of Alby and Ziggy’s close relationship. The spread of Ziggy with the stars, rainbow and flowers has a peaceful ambience in perfect alignment with the words.
Kerry: Your first two picture books were written in rhyme. Was there a conscious shift towards writing in prose for The Rabbit’s Magician or was it simply the way the story evolved?
Shae: I find that most story ideas come with an intuition about whether they’re best written in prose or rhyme. This story came into my mind in a matter of moments – beginning, middle and end – all very clearly in prose.
Kerry: What advice would you give to emerging authors who like to write in rhyme?
Ask someone to read your work
While you sit back and listen
Places where they stumble, trip
Are gonna need some fixin’
Don’t give up, though, if your words
Aren’t flowing nice and breezy
It’s known for being rather hard
To make it sound so easy
Kerry: Haha great answer! What has been the most helpful advice given to you on your journey to becoming an author?
Shae: It was advice given to me from. . . me!
As mentioned in a previous question, many years later, after that teacher told me becoming an author was unrealistic, I was fantasising about giving it a go anyway. One day, my inner voice basically just said, ‘Hey, why don’t you give this writing thing a real go? Come on, you know you want to! Who cares what that teacher said! Write something and actually send it off. Sounds exciting, right? Yeah, sounds fun! You’ve totally got this!’ There may have also been a, ‘You can do it!’ with an awkward self-high-five!
Kerry: Great advice from you to you! Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts with us Shae and best wishes to you and Andy for The Rabbit's Magician.
The Rabbit's Magician by Shae Millward, illustrated by Andy Fackrell is OUT NOW.
Published by Ford St.
With thanks to Books On Tour PR & Marketing for helping organise the interview and Ford St. for access to the book.
There were so many amazing nominees for this year's CBCA Book of the Year awards that I don't know how the judges managed to choose! But they did, and those that were announced as winners and honor books last Friday, are an outstanding collection of stories by some of our most talented authors and illustrators. Congratulations to all those who were nominated. These books are not only beautifully written and illustrated, but they are also diverse, engaging and relevant to the world we live in. If you don't have them in your collection, you need to get to your local bookshop and order them as they are definite must haves for all school libraries.
This week I got to interview the wonderful Kelly Louise Jarris about her latest book 'IMAGINE OUR SPECIAL PLACE.'
Welcome Kelly and thank you for taking the time to interview on The Book Tree Blog.
My pleasure and thanks for having me.
'Imagine Our Special Place' is obviously very close to your heart. How important was it for you to get the story out there?
This story was inspired by watching two very special people in our family go through palliative care and terminal cancer. Hearing how my sister saw her diagnosis and her positive outlook and how she coped, I saw a strength that I admired. We had small children at the time, and it was really difficult to articulate what was happening and the process that comes with this whole journey. I am hoping I have done that with this book as so many families are dealing with this daily.
The illustrations are so bright and playful. Did you collaborate closely with Sandunika Dissanayake?
Absolutely, my concept art, references and notes were very thorough. They needed to be as I wanted Sandunika to understand my vision for my story and she definitely did.
The story is very uplifting which is not what most people would expect from a story about grief. Was this intentional as an appeal for younger children?
It really was and I am so pleased that is what you took from reading my story. I think keeping a child's innocence for as long as possible is so important. My intention for the book was to get kids to use their little imaginations and hopefully create a soothing thought process for such a hard topic to talk about.
Do you share or ‘test drive’ your stories with anyone – students, family - before you submit them for publication?
Yes, always. I usually get my kids, young nieces and nephews to listen. In fact, they are already quoting lines from my next book, which I love.
What has been the most helpful advice given to you on your journey to becoming an author?
I was told early on to always surround yourself with people that have your best interests at heart and want to see you succeed and achieve your goals.'
Read the book review here.
Thanks to Romi Sharp and Books On Tour PR & Marketing for facilitating Kelly's book launch and this interview.
Follow Just Write For Kids Blog and the blogs and websites below for more reviews, interviews and information.
It's amazing when you reconnect with a group of people who are talented, enthusiastic and willing to try new things. I'm now back in the library at a local school in a part time position and have been relishing the conversations and connections with my teacher librarian networks. At a recent PD day we talked about integrating a new framework for information literacy in school libraries, and shared ideas on classroom practices and innovations with literature and technology. It's so interesting and informative to see and hear how we incorporate similar techniques and pedagogies but in different ways so they make sense for our school situations. Technology, literature, music and craft ideas were presented and everyone went away with a myriad of ideas and inspiration. What a multi faceted, stimulating and future learning focussed group of educators!
'WithThisBookWeCan' was an idea that emerged from this day. This series of podcasts will be about discovering and sharing some creative ways with technology and thinking routines to bring literature to life in the classroom. Keep a look out for posts starting in a few weeks here and on Instagram from ideator and fellow TL Lynette Barker and myself.
Kerry: Hi Valerie and thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions on your new book Together We Ride for The Book Tree Blog Bites.
Valerie: Thanks for having me!
Kerry: What was the inspiration for this newest book?
Valerie: The inspiration for this story came from seeing children ride bikes while taking my daily “mental health walks” with my husband during the COVID shutdown. In particular, there was a five-year-old girl who had just learned how to ride a bike. Learning to ride a bike – without training wheels – is such an exciting milestone for children that I decided to write a story about that experience.
Kerry: Together We Ride is written in rhyme, as was your first book Let’s Dance!. Is it difficult to write in rhyme keeping the text minimal, but at the same time essential, to the story?
Valerie: For me, writing in sparse rhyme comes pretty naturally, so it’s not difficult. I do have to make sure that the rhyme works and, of course, that the story does, too. I enjoy the fun challenge of getting both right. Writing a 50,000 word novel, on the other hand, would be difficult for me.
Kerry: How critical do you think it is for children to see themselves reflected in stories?
Valerie: It’s absolutely critical for children to see themselves reflected in stories, Kerry. All children need to know that they are seen and heard, valued and validated. In particular, I want children from underrepresented backgrounds to see themselves in stories. Here’s an article I wrote about this topic: “Why Children Need to See Themselves in Books”.
Kerry: How do you see the role of school libraries in supporting authors, reading and literacy?
Valerie: School libraries play an essential role in supporting authors by purchasing their books and inviting them for author visits. These books and visits also support literacy. Meeting authors can inspire even the most reluctant readers. Having diverse libraries increases the chances that there will be books to capture everyone’s interests. How books are displayed in school libraries make a difference, too. What books are highlighted? What special ways are books exhibited? Are students encouraged to vote for their favorite books or to write reviews that can be posted next to books? School librarians can also sponsor writing and drawing contests.
Kerry: Do you share or ‘test drive’ your stories with anyone – students, family - before you submit them for publication?
Valerie: Certainly, Kerry. I would never submit a manuscript to my agent that hadn’t been revised numerous times with the input of my fabulous critique partners. I’ve also shared some stories with friends because they want to see what I’m working on. However, it’s important to have people provide critique who are studying and writing in the same genre as you. Recently, I’ve been writing an early chapter book, and I wanted to know how children would react to it. I read it with my nieces, and several of my CPs read it with their children. I received such valuable feedback.
Kerry: What has been the most helpful advice given to you on your journey to becoming an author?
Valerie: Keep going even when faced with rejection. Each “no” gets you that much closer to a “yes.” If you really want to write, you’ll keep doing it. If you really want to get published, you’ll keep querying. Self-publishing is also an option, though I don’t have personal experience with it. If it is your dream to become an author, you can make it happen ... even if it takes a while.
Kerry: Some great advice Valerie and thanks so much for sharing your thoughts with us.
Valerie Bolling is the author of LET’S DANCE! (SCBWI Crystal Kite Award winner and CT Book Award finalist) and has been an educator for almost 30 years. She is a member of SCBWI, the Authors Guild, NCTE, and ILA. She is also a 2020 WNDB Mentee and 2022 WNDB Mentor and a member of Black Creators HeadQuarters, The Brown Bookshelf and Highlights Foundation’s Amplify Black Stories, and 12X12 Picture Book Challenge. In addition, Valerie is a member of three co-marketing groups: Kid Lit in Color, Soaring 20s PBs, and PB Crew 22 as well as three picture book critique groups. She has two books scheduled for release in 2022 (TOGETHER WE RIDE and RIDE, ROLL, RUN: TIME FOR FUN!), five more slated for 2023 (TOGETHER WE SWIM, NEIGHBORHOOD JAM, and RAINBOW DAYS, a Scholastic early reader series), and one for 2024. linktr.ee/ValerieBolling
Release date April 26, 2022. Published by Chronicle Books
Full review available here
Writer's festivals are the best! You get to see and hear so many fantastic, engaging and inspirational writers whose work covers anything from faith to motherhood, politics to adventure stories, history to a humous look at the human race. This year's Newcastle Writers Festival was no exception and as a volunteer I got to meet some of the truly inspirational Australian writers.
Hannah Kent held a Q & A session about her new book Devotion. It was a fascinating insight into how this eloquent, softly spoken, brilliant young woman goes about her writing process. She spoke about where her ideas and inspiration come from, how she pieces them all together, and what drives her characters in this new and compelling novel. Her use of language in the book is so intuitive and draws the reader in from the first short chapter heading 'My heart is a hand reaching'.
My other favourite session was with Monica Dux and Sarah Krasnostein. Both have released books about faith and its influence on themselves and society. It was such a funny, poignant and engaging session and both women spoke about their own faith experiences with clarity and honesty. Lapsed and The Believer are two books you should definitely read and add to your YA 16+ high school library collection if you're a TL.
I was also privileged to meet the wonderful Jane Caro. Jane has just released her latest book The Mother, which is her first fiction novel for adults. The Mother chronicles the journey a mother takes to protect her daughter after she supposedly marries the man of her dreams. Everything is not as it seems as the daughter and her children slowly withdraw from family contact. Jane has been a staunch supporter of teachers, the creative arts and education for many years .
There were so many other wonderful writers at the festival this year but it was impossible to see them all! Suffice to say if you didn't get there this year, then make sure you do in 2023!
Find out more about Hannah Kent
Find out more about Monica Dux
Find out more about Sarah Krasnostein
Find out more about Jane Caro
It's been hard to write over the last month. Christmas and family time were fantastic but Omicron reared its ugly head and everyone became wary of life again, and that small window of feeling a little like normal was gone. We were in the centre of it here in my hometown and it was scary to be looking at everyone around you every time you left the house thinking 'Do they have it? Will I get it?' But then I told myself to get a grip and think of all the amazing frontline workers - nurses, doctors, teachers, grocery store workers, truckies - who have kept us going and who have had to live with that fear in much closer circumstances than me. I also remind myself that although any death from this insidious disease is hard, there are many others in many countries around the world who don't have the wonderful health and support systems we have access to, and just the fact that we can bitch about those systems and the politicians who supposedly run them, is a luxury they do not have.
So - it's cup half full for me. I'm home with family after years of living abroad, I have a very nice roof over my head, plenty of food and drink (despite the rush on sausages and toilet paper - seriously!), a new puppy who is just the cutest thing, and I've have decided to put head down and bum up and write as many positive and uplifting stories as I can to help make 2022 a better year than the last.
Hi Michelle and thanks for joining me to answer a few questions about your wonderful new book Sass and Traz Save The Library.
Kerry: Firstly, where did the idea for this book come from?
Michelle: I have been writing this book in my head for a long time. It is a love letter to libraries to thank them for being a safe space when I was growing up. Book characters are among some of my best friends and I hope readers will find some new friend in this book.
Kerry: Is the Ms Burns in the book very similar to the real Ms Burns?
Michelle: Ms Burns was my librarian in primary school. She was from America and had a laugh that filled up the whole library. Unlike the Ms Burns in the book, she wasn’t tall and didn’t have fake eyelashes, but she loved books and inspiring children more than anyone I had ever met.
Kerry: I love the way you talk about libraries being safe spaces and describe it as ‘a haven’ for Traz. Was the library your safe haven growing up?
Michelle: I was definitely one of the kids who spent nearly every lunch hour in the library, especially in high school. It was a place I visited my fictional books and escaped from reality for a while. Filling my head with fiction and non-fiction books was an important part of shaping who I am as a person and how much I value critical and creative thinking as well as education for all.
Kerry: Why twins as the other main characters in the story?
Michelle: This was a throwback to the books I loved as a child where the main characters were twins and always had the best adventures. My younger brother and I are very different, and I wanted to show that just because you are twins, doesn’t mean you think or act the same. I love the idea of twin telepathy and I have friends who are twins who tell me that it definitely does exist.
Kerry: Diversity is a key component in many of your stories including this one. How important is it for you to bring diversity into a story?
Michelle: It is very important to me that kids of all abilities can see themselves reflected in the books they read. I was very lucky as a child that I felt represented. It wasn’t until I became an author that I realised that not all kids were as lucky as me.
Kerry: What advice would you give to aspiring authors on incorporating diversity into their own writing?
Michelle: Start writing from a place of personal experience, but don’t be scared to reach out to diverse cultures and abilities to understand the world from their point of view. I think writing what you know is the most important place to start for any aspiring author, but I also think there is great potential to share our gift with others who don’t have a voice and help them represent themselves as well.
Kerry: Are the books and people you’ve brought to life in the story - literally! - ones that were your favourites growing up?
Michelle: I have loved pirates ever since I watched the Pirate Movie on repeat in the eighties. I was obsessed with King Arthur and the knights of the round table at University, when I was studying history, but have yet to find a movie that can live up to the books. Einstein’s theories have always been a fascination, as are all the historical figures who changed our world. There were so many more that I wanted to add, which will hopefully find a place in book 3!
Kerry: Ms Burns describes the books as ‘treasure’ to Blackbeard and his pirates. Is that how you see books too?
Michelle: Books are the best kind of treasure because they are different things to different people. They give us each exactly what we need.
Kerry: You’re a Children’s Rights Queensland ambassador and an Australia Reads ambassador. What drives your passion to be involved with these organisations?
Michelle: I am passionate about working with organisations that champion the rights of children, give them a voice and supply them with the tools to be the best they can be, regardless of economic or cultural barriers.
Kerry: In the book, Sass mentions ‘. . . we don’t even have a library at school anymore.’ What are your thoughts about the role of libraries and librarians in schools?
Michelle: It is a sad reality that some of the new schools I visit don’t have a full-time librarian, and some even don’t have a library. Books will always have a place in education, no matter how advanced our technology becomes. The benefits of reading a physical book on a young brain cannot be duplicated or improved on a device. Librarians are more than keepers of the books, they are the key holders and they can unlock confidence, inspiration and motivation for the kids who need it the most.
Kerry: Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts with us Michelle and best wishes for Sass and Traz Save The Library.
Published by Daisy Lane Publishing and OUT NOW. A must have for your younger readers library collection.
With thanks to Books On Tour PR & Marketing for helping to organise the interview and Daisy Lane Publishing for access to the digital copy of the book. Link to review here.