Friday, 17 August 2018

A Song Only I Can Hear

A Song Only I Can Hear by Barry Jonsberg (Allen and Unwin) PB RRP $16.99 ISBN 9781760630836

Reviewed by Khloe Mills

There is a lot to admire and like about A Song Only I Can Hear. The first thing that appealed to me was the cleverness of Barry Jonsberg’s writing. The story is about 13-year-old Rob Fitzgerald, who for the most part seems similar in tone to Adrian Mole. His witty observations certainly are on par with those of Adrian. Here’s Rob on the first page talking about his father: ‘His head is bald, and he has more chins than standard. I sometimes get the urge to put my fingers up his nostrils, such is the resemblance to a bowling ball, although I have resisted this, for obvious reasons’.

I also liked the short punchy chapters which make this ideal for the target audience of younger children. Reluctant readers of any age will also be a fan. The 275 pages aren’t so daunting to tackle when a reader can just nibble a small and tasty piece and read at their own pace.

Very soon into the book Rob falls in love with the new girl at school, Destry Camberwick. Alas, he has some steep hurdles to overcome if he is ever going to have his love reciprocated. To quote from the back cover blurb: He’s a super-shy kid who is prone to panic attacks that include vomiting, difficulty breathing and genuine terror that can last all day.
With some astute life coaching from his wise-cracking and very funny Pop, Rob embarks on a series of challenges that not only make Destry notice him, but which also help him believe in himself.

There is a major twist that explains a lot of things in the book that were hinted at but were not immediately clear. It would be giving away too much of the plot to say more and it would be a disservice to Jonsberg who has crafted the story so that the twist comes near the end.

My only negative comment is that after a while the humour seemed a little artificial. I felt that I was reading Barry Jonsberg’s lines – an award-winning writer at the top of his game - not the genuine lines of a 13-year boy. However, this is a minor issue that may not be a problem for other readers. Even if it is, I don’t think it will stop anyone from enjoying this book.

Thursday, 16 August 2018

The Fastest Ship in Space

Today’s illustration is by Yvonne Low from a book she illustrated, The Fastest Ship in Space by Pamela Freeman (Second Look Publishing, an imprint of Christmas Press, 2018).

Wednesday, 15 August 2018

Buzz Words Achievers

Cameron Macintosh has had the third book in his children's sci-fi series, Max Booth Future Sleuth, published by Big Sky Publishing. It's called Stamp Safari and is illustrated by Dave Atze. More info at

Tuesday, 14 August 2018

The Institute of Fantastical Inventions

The Institute of Fantastical Inventions by Dave Leys, illustrated by Shane Ogilvie (Harbour Publishing House) PP RRP  $14.99 ISBN: 978-1-922134-93-6

Reviewed by Julie Dascoli

For all your wildest fantasies, the Institute of Fantastical Inventions is the go to place. The more absurd your fantasy is, the more they like it at IFI.

With a huge team of scientists, headed by Director Baldy Bob, we have Leo McGuffin, the main character, Edward Bump, the child genius, Andrea Allsop, and many others. The teams put their expertise together to make the zaniest of requests come true for their clients. The outrageous requests include a person who wants a third leg that glows in the dark and a young  girl who wants steam to blow out of her ears like a locomotive.

After discovering the plans for all of the fantasies from IFI have been stolen by Pip Poplet, the villain and in secret partnership with their Director, Director Baldybob, Leo and his wacky science mates set out to catch the crook and expose the director for the traitor that he is. 

Leo’s prickly relationship with Andrea Allsop is set aside to solve the crime, and almost becomes a romance. (Not that Leo realizes it.) The Outrageous plan the scientists plot to save the company is every bit as crazy as the ideas they come up with for their clients.

This is Dave Leys’ first young adult novel. From Sydney, Leys is an English teacher who, according to him, wishes he was good at science. Undoubtedly, he has tapped into the wacky craziness that children enjoy reading, and just maybe McGuffin is his alter ego.

When I picked up this small, novel, the colourful cover with the wacky, illustrated characters, intertwined in the title, I somehow had a good idea where this story was going to take me. The black and white illustrations throughout, in a cartoon style, are funny and engaging and assist in the telling of this story: Shane Ogilvie certainly helped us know the characters.

This is a great read for both boys and girls between the ages of 8 to 11 years. The wacky adventure and sense of humour will keep them reading on. It’s a book suitable for readers of David Walliams and those who enjoy light mystery/sleuth bookswith a crazy slant -- lovers.



Monday, 13 August 2018


A children's picture book needs to strike a balance between the written text and the illustrations. The text should be able to be divided up evenly, with an equal amount of text on each page. Each page - or each double page spread - has a sentence or two, or a paragraph. Each of these sentences or paragraphs must lend themselves to an illustration, and so the written text should provide a variety of scenes, characters, or actions. You could think of this as writing "captions" for the (not-yet-drawn) pictures.

 However, these "captions" must flow, as they should in any other well-written story, 
The problem with many picture book manuscripts submitted to publishers is that writers do not give sufficient thought to the role of illustrator as co-creator of the finished book. 

Publishing Manager of Penguin Books, Laura Harris, has said that one of the main reasons picture book texts get rejected is that “the writer doesn’t give the illustrator enough to work with.” A writer needs to read her text with the eye of an illustrator, looking at each and every paragraph to consider what pictorial images might complement them. If she cannot imagine illustrations for each paragraph, then she can be said to have failed the illustrator, and so she must re-write.

In her book Making Picture Books (Scholastic Australia 2003), Libby Gleeson writes: “In the best picture books, the illustrations are absolutely necessary. They carry parts of the story or the narrative and in some cases the language is dropped, and pictures alone are all that is needed. The process is like a film where words and pictures work together but sometimes silence is a powerful way to tell part of a story.

A picture book is not the same as an illustrated short story: in the latter words alone could tell the story and the illustrations simply break up the words or decorate the text. Illustrations in a successful picture book not only complement written text; they can, as Gleeson says, take the place of text, interpreting and extending the meaning of what the writer is trying to say in a way that might never have occurred to the writer (or to her editor). Colour – or lines or shapes - in artwork, for example, might convey personalities of the book’s characters, be symbolic of a mood (doom or humour) that the writer wishes to capture, produce an illusion (say of movement and surprise) or convey greater level of meaning.

To provide an illustrative brief or to instead allow the illustrator total freedom to make his interpretation is a problem which often besets a picture book writer. Many editors do not like writers to provide illustrative briefs. Illustrators like Shaun Tan say, “Manuscripts that pre-suppose or suggest what the visuals might be in advance, or even the breakdown of text per page, are quite uninviting to me.” In most cases where a writer has provided an illustrative brief, illustrators have totally disregarded them and gone on with their own interpretation of the written text. In any case, what is sure is that it is the written text alone which an editor judges as acceptable or not. If a creator submits a poor text accompanied by brilliant illustrations, then no matter how impressive the illustrations, the editor will have no hesitation in rejecting the submission.

And what of a picture book text? Illustrator Ann James says, “To write a picture book the writer knows less is more, but that each word is potent and a cue for interpretation by the artist.” She knows that the successful picture book writer needs to provide a strong, rich and streamlined text. Author Alan Baillie adds to this: “A picture book can only be about five hundred words, which means that every word has to pull its weight. The tension, the atmosphere, the characters, the humour.”

In general, the picture book writer needs to remember that the text is short and some of the story is contained in the illustrations. She needs to keep the language simple and direct. Not to overuse adjectives and adverbs. Not to clutter up sentences. To use simple – (as opposed to complex) verbs that are also appropriate. And, too, the writer needs to forget about descriptive language – for description is the illustrator’s domain.

Finally, here is what some Australian illustrators say about picture book texts:

Kerry Argent: “I like a text to move . . . minimal enough so that I can create extra layers and stories, visually.”

Shaun Tan: “I accept manuscripts ... that give much room for me to play and to tell my own stories visually, (that have) a certain ambiguity . . . that resist being fully explained.”

Ron Brooks: “To make a book, the words have to turn my heart around, make me go hollow in the belly, weak at the knees.”

 © Dianne Bates

Articles as interesting and informative as this, appear in every issue of the Buzz Words magazine, along with markets, opportunities, competitions, interviews and much more. Write to us and we'll send you a free copy to check out Australia's premier magazine for those in the children's book industry.

Sunday, 12 August 2018

The dog with seven names

The dog with seven names by Dianne Wolfer, (Random House) PB RRP $16.99 ISBN: 9780143787457

Reviewed by Pauline Hosking

A puppy is born on a cattle station in the Pilbara. The runt of the litter, she is cared for by Elsie, the daughter of the station owner, and receives her first name – Princess. In February 1942, with the Japanese air raids moving closer, the family leave the Pilbara and go south for safety leaving Princess in the care of a kind drover. Later Princess (now named Flynn) flies with the Flying Doctor Service and stays in Port Hedland hospital, calming and giving courage to those hurt and in danger. The little golden-eyed dog, a cross between an Australian terrier and a dingo, has many adventures and is renamed many times before reuniting with Elsie.

The book gives well-researched information about the Japanese raids on Darwin, Wyndham and Broome. There’s also mention of the secret airstrip constructed at Corunna Downs by the US Army.

Events are related by Princess in the first person. According to Dianne Wolfer’s acknowledgements, The dog with seven names was one of two creative works accompanying research into anthropomorphism in Australian children’s literature. While much of what Princess recounts seems in keeping with a doggy view of the world, some of her wider understanding of places and events is problematic. However, this will not worry young readers who will enjoy the tale of a cute and brave animal in a time of war.

The author supplies a detailed timeline connecting World War II events to the story and some pages of additional historical information. These make the book a valuable classroom resource for students studying recent Australian History.

Saturday, 11 August 2018

High Five to the Boys

High Five to the Boys (a Random House book) HB RRP $29.99 ISBN 9780143791782

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

Seventeen men and women on the Random House publishing team volunteered to write the biographies of dozens of Australian men who are featured in this book which follows Shout out to the Girls published earlier this year. All the men depicted – some Anglo, some Aboriginal and some from migrant backgrounds, some deceased, most still living – are honoured for the contribution they have made to our society.

Fifty men, all prominent in their respective fields, are listed in the contents. Many, such as John Curtain, Michael Kirby, Weary Dunlop and Steve Irwin, are household names but others – Eddie Ayres, Troye Sivan, Briggs and Elvis Abrahanowicz to mention just a few – are lesser known. Each of the book’s sections offers a high five (defined in the book as ‘a public salutation to express gratitude or solidarity’) – to sportsmen, politicians, activists, engineers and philanthropists, and more.

One man who intrigues and who deserves a high five is David Walsh (1961-) whose winnings at a casino made him a millionaire; Walsh used his wealth to founded MONA, The Museum of Old and New Art, which has since become one of his home state’s foremost tourist attractions. Another man is Taj Pabari who has educated more than 100,000 children in how computer tablets work and how easy they are to build. Jordan Nguyen has invented a wheelchair which works by mind-control. There are so many fascinating stories in his book!

 Accompanying the story of each of the mean's achievement are coloured portraits by  numerous illustrators employed in the book such as Andrew Joyner, Andrew Weldon, Tohby Riddle and Tom Jellett. Most of the illustrations are cartoons but some, such as that of Harley Windsor (figure skater), John Curtin (politician) and Paul De Gelder (Navy diver) are realistic. 

There are many stories like Walsh’s which give a background to the man’s achievements. Other positive role models depicted in High Five to the Boys are businessman and philanthropist Mei Quong Tart, biomedical engineer Jordan Nguyen, activist and mental health advocate Jason Ball and comedian and environmental campaigner, Craig Reucassell. This list only scrapes the barrel of many fascinating short biographies which are sure to be read avidly by boys and young men interested in not only amazing Australians, but the occupations they are engaged in, such as fashion designing, architect, justice -- and more.

The book is designed in-house by Astred Hicks who has used bright pink fly pages and strong, bright coloured pages to introduce each man. Certainly, the book which has highlighted many lives and was created by many, is sure to find a welcome spot in school and home librarians. Full marks to Random House which is donating all royalties from the sale of the book to The Smith Family.