Monday, December 19, 2011

On the Radio

As most of you will know, 2012 is the National Year of Reading. Paula Kelly (State Library of Victoria), Kujla Coulstan (On the Grapevine) and I are aiming to record a series of up to twelve radio podcasts with 3RRR over 2012 celebrating children’s books. We are planning to launch the program as a live radio show on 3RRR with Tony Wilson (and special guest/s) on Feb 16th from 7-8pm.

For the following monthly podcasts, our rough idea at this stage is to have a 45 min show where we have guest speakers from all aspects of the children’s book industry joining us and perhaps look at covering a particular theme, topic or event in each session. We also hope to have a segment on each show tracking the progress of our Australian Children's Laureates; Boori Monty Pyror and Alison Lester, as they travel around Australia.

So, while we are still at the planning and brainstorming stage, I would love to hear from anyone who is into kids books (keeping in mind that this also encompasses YA, graphic novels, comics etc) to see what it is that would make YOU tune into the show.

Here is a small list of questions I have put together but feel free to provide any suggestions - I am grateful for everything at this stage. Keep in mind that this is a radio program about kids books, but for an adult audience.

- What topics would you like covered?
(Here are some suggestions: Genre Fiction, Picture Books, Graphic Novels, Censorship, Humour, Kids Choice VS CBCA, Boys Books & Girls Books, Should My Child Be Reading Twilight, Classic Children’s Books, Books For Struggling Readers, Crossover Fiction, Local Books, Books To Film, New Books, New Authors/Illustrators, Events & Workshops...)

- Which Authors/Illustrators would you LOVE to hear on the show?
(Give me your Top Five if you like - including a couple of realistically obtainable ones. Not saying that we can’t try!)

- Would you rather a local or global perspective?
(Are you interested in books and authors publishing here as well as overseas or are you mainly interested in the Melbourne Scene?)

- Big Names or Next Big Thing?
(Would you be more interested to hear from established authors or exciting new talent?)

Any ideas for a snappy title for our show?

Other suggestions?

Thanks so much!


Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Faber Academy Writing For Children

Writing for Children with Sally Rippin
Faber Academy at Allen & Unwin is delighted to offer Writing for Children, run by Sally Rippin with guests Martine Murray and Andy Griffiths. This course will teach the skills needed to succeed and be fulfilled in the competitive and flourishing children's publishing industry.
Children are discerning readers. To write a children's book that will stand out on a publisher's desk, and then on bookstore shelves, you need to be aware of what is already out there, while creating something that reflects your personality.
This course will cover the elements required to create a stand-out manuscript. You will discover how to craft a compelling story, memorable characters, authentic dialogue and an evocative setting. You will learn about your audience and the themes and language suited to different age groups. The course will also discuss what publishers are looking for and how to convince them that you are worth publishing.
Suitable for all levels, students are encouraged to bring along their ideas and be prepared to workshop. They will leave with a holistic understanding of the children's publishing industry, as well as a full or partially completed draft. Most importantly, they will have established connections with their fellow writers and joined a like-minded community.
ABOUT SALLY: Sally has been writing and illustrating children's books for over fifteen years. She has over forty books published, many of them award-winning, including two novels for young adults. She has taught writing for children courses at the Council of Adult Education, the Victorian Writers' Centre and as a part of the Professional Writing and Editing program at RMIT University.
For more information on these courses please visit
To book please call 02 8425 0100 or email

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Countdown til Christmas...

I bought my youngest an advent calendar yesterday from the Two Dollar shop which unfortunately comes with chocolate that is inedible, even for my son who will eat almost anything that contains sugar. (It did only cost $2 however, so expecting the chocolate not to be past the use-by date was perhaps too much to ask?) Anyway, the point of me mentioning this is that it now sits on the sideboard in the kitchen merrily announcing just how few days are left until Christmas. Which, obviously for my son is good news. Me, it's a little scarier.
Christmas basically means the end of the year as far as I'm concerned and between now and then, like most people I imagine, my To Do List is looking more and more ridiculous. Aside from work deadlines (2 chapter book edits, 1 short story and a picture book dummy to complete) we have recently bought a new house. Which, of course is very exciting, until I think of how much we have to do before we even move in. It's a beautifully daggy 1950s brick house very much like the ones Howard Arkley used to paint. In fact I think this Howard Arkley image I've used might be our very house (minus the one tree in the front garden.) Having been in the same family since it was built and never renovated, everything inside and out is original 1950s. This includes the rose-print carpet throughout, the flocked cream wallpaper, and, in my 18 year old son's bedroom, 1950s racing car wallpaper, which, as you can imagine, he was thrilled about. I know retro is so hip right now but there's only so much racing car wallpaper anyone can look at for more than half an hour.
Anyway, once the carpet is out and the walls painted and I've got a few trees growing in the garden to break up that bowling-green lawn, I know this is going to be a fabulous place for us, particularly as it's nearly twice the size of where we are living now. Even though I adore our tiny little inner-city weatherboard, with two huge sons and one not far behind, we are literally bursting at the seams. And the best news is that now we might even be able to have more than one guest over at a time!
Basically, our summer is going to be spent ripping up carpet and wallpaper, packing boxes and unpacking them again. With as much writing and illustrating work as I can manage in between...
Except for Christmas day. With all my family overseas including my two eldest boys, my partner and I and our youngest are going to spend Christmas day in a tent on the beach. A little island of quiet before the busyness of the new year.
So, each time my son opens a little flap on that advent calendar and I begin to panic, I just picture that image of us on the beach in our tent and I can almost breath normally again.
I hope your summer is shaping up to be a good one and that if Santa doesn't bring you exactly what you wished for you at least get some non-mouldy chocolates in your stocking.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Only 34 more sleeps til You-Know-What!

If you missed me in Malvern a couple of weeks ago and would still like to get a signed Billie book for someone's stocking this Christmas, I will be at Fairfield Books this Saturday 26th November signing books from 11am - 12pm.
Hope to see you there!
The address is 117A Station St, Fairfield.
Ph. (03) 9482 2499
Fax. (03) 9482 2633

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Publishing opportunity for new writers!

Some good news for yet-to-be-published writers of YA Fiction. Hardie Grant Egmont are beginning a new YA fiction collection called Ampersand that will be devoted to novels by debut writers. The main rules are that the writers mustn’t have published a novel before, and the story must be set in real life. Submissions are open now until the end of the summer, so get cracking. Details are available at Good luck!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Why I Love Mondays

How often is it that you can pick up the paper and read some good news? Well, the answer to that question is: every Monday. I feel incredibly lucky to live in a city where we have access to something as marvellous as The Zone. In my opinion, The Zone is the most innovative and positive newspaper reporting in print publication today. Where else can you regularly read about good people doing good things without fanfare or political agenda in our very own city? The Zone makes me feel proud to be a Melburnian.

Take today's interview with Kane Bowden, CEO of The Lighthouse Foundation, which offers 'shelter, food, counselling, health support and most of all, love' to young homeless people. 'He cites an abused young woman who stayed for six months, stabilised, got into university, completed her studies, landed a job in the city and then became an academic who is now teaching at a university. ''She hadn't been hugged or cuddled in her entire life. She got her first hug in the first couple of weeks from her carer.'''

I don't know whether this makes me want to laugh or cry. I do know that this makes me incredibly grateful that these kind, quiet acts of generosity aren't going unnoticed, thanks to Michael Short's empathetic, intelligent and perceptive pieces. Mondays have now become something to look forward to.

Friday, November 4, 2011

B is for Book Signing

This Saturday 5th November I will be at Books in Print in Malvern, signing Billie books from 11am to midday. If you have any Billie B Brown fans at home, please come along!
Books in Print are located at 100-102 Glenferrie Rd, Malvern.
(Between High Street and Wattletree Road)
Ph: (03) 9500 9631

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

early harvest launch

Come along and support the launch of this wonderful new magazine for children by children. Created by an editorial board of 14 upper-primary students from Melbourne’s west, the magazine includes work by bestselling children’s authors and illustrators such as Terry Denton, Sally Rippin and Sherryl Clark, as well as young authors from across Melbourne.

The magazine is the culmination of a 16-week after-school program, in which the editorial board created a children’s edition of literary journal harvest magazine. The young editors were guided through the process by professionals from the publishing industry, including editors from Penguin Australia, Hardie Grant Egmont, Dumbo Feather and Cardigan Comics.

“early harvest has been an amazing project for these young people to be involved in,” said Davina Bell, editor of harvest magazine, and Children’s Editor for Penguin Australia. “They have worked alongside publishing professionals to pick the theme, solicit, select and edit submissions, brief illustrators on artwork, and bring it all together to create a beautiful publication.

The young editorial board of early harvest will be on hand at the launch to sign copies of the magazine, along with the authors young and old, the illustrators and the publishing mentors.

Launch Details:
11 am, 12 November 2011
The Sun Theatre
10 Ballarat Street
To be launched by author Sally Rippin

Proceeds from the sale of this book support Pigeons not-for-profit writing programs for children and young people.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Fishing for thongs and other childhood games

Here is a photo of my two youngest fishing for thongs from our hammock which they have managed to string up perilously high (against a particularly ugly backdrop of our neighbour's construction sight - but that's another story). So high in fact that the littlest one needs a ladder to get up there! My thrill at watching this crazy game almost overrides my parental anxiety. Almost. But if you want your kids to play outside and use their imaginations, well, what can you do?
Here's an option just as creative and far safer (perhaps). Thanks to the fabulous blog Free Range Kids, I came across this wonderful mini-doco on a simple yet creative way to get kids involved in imaginative play. I found it very inspiring. It only goes for ten minutes and is definitely worth a watch if, like me, you love watching kids play. I almost feel inclined to set up a mini version of the playpod at home. Though on a bad day our whole house often looks like a playpod. I think the trick is to have a big space to lock all that junk away again at the end of the day...

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Some happy news

Some of you may remember when I wrote last year of visiting my sponsor child, Elizabeth, in Ghana. It was an incredible experience that allowed me to see with my own eyes how my meagre contribution had literally changed lives and also convinced me to begin sponsoring a second child as well, this time in Sri Lanka.

Well, recently, World Vision contacted me with the happy news that Elizabeth's village has now become self-sufficient and no longer needs my support. The aim of World Vision is not to provide indefinite funding but to provide communities with the skills and resources they need to survive on their own. Elizabeth and the other children in her village, now have access to education, safe drinking water and healthcare, and the community leaders have been equipped with the skills to maintain the development progress that has been made.

I felt a little sad writing my last card to Elizabeth after sponsoring her for over six years, but mostly happy that the small amount I had contributed - less than what I would spend on coffees each week - had made such a difference. So when World Vision asked if I'd like to sponsor another child in Africa, I agreed without hesitation.

My new sponsor child is a little girl called Khalif and she lives in Kenya. I always sponsor girls - having three sons of my own, it's my silly way of imagining I have daughters. I wonder if I'll be lucky enough to meet her one day?

Here are some links you might like to look at if you feel inspired to make a difference:

And if you need any more convincing, watch this:

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Big Book of Billie

So exciting. Ever since I saw the 'Big Book of Tashi' several years ago I have secretly fantasised about having a 'big book of something' - and here it is! All twelve Billie stories, along with puzzles, games and even a gingerbread recipe! What more could a girl want?

And, if you're a boy who secretly loves Billie books but is too shy to be seen reading them in front of your friends because there is a GIRL on the front cover (ie; my eight-year-old son!) here is some good news for you:

Finally, Billie's best friend, Jack gets to tell HIS side of the story. But you'll have to wait until February next year...

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Back in town

Aki and I arrived back in Melbourne last night after a whirlwind tour of Victoria and NSW talking about all things Billie B Brown to hundreds of very excited primary students. As it turns out, Aki looks remarkably like Billie so for all the youngest kids hoping to see the actual Billie, Aki fulfilled that need quite nicely. Plus she can draw up a storm. We had so much fun. I hope we can tour together again one day.
Today the lovely Sue DeGennaro and I will be doing a couple of sessions on picture books at The Thousand Words Festival at the Northcote Town Hall at 11.30 and 12.30. It should be a great festival this year.
Then Monday - don't forget! - it's the once only production of the animated versions of The Rainbirds and The Night Garden at the Melbourne Recital Centre. I have seen a preview of the show and it is really something quite magical and would be a beautiful thing to do on the first Monday of the school holidays with your littlies. Tickets are still available. Happy holidays!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Get Reading tour

I'm back in Melbourne and straight to bed with a fever and a throat so sore I can barely swallow. Obviously the combination of ten straight days of talking and hundreds of snotty little darlings coming up for cuddles has finally taken its toll on my poor immune system.
I only have this weekend to get better though because first thing Monday, Aki Fukuoka, the lovely Billie B Brown illustrator, and I are hitting the road again travelling around Victoria and NSW with this year's Get Reading! campaign.
If you want to know where Aki and I will be each day, click here or here.
And don't forget to read Aki's blog posts about her first Australian school visits last week. It looks like she had a wonderful time!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Heading North

... And for any Queenslanders reading this blog, I'm heading up to your sunny state this Sunday. (Woo hoo!) I will be at the Ipswich Literature Festival from Sept 5th to the 13th, and also squeezing in a day at the Brisbane Writers' Festival on Sept 9th. Love to see you!
And if you can't make it in person, don't forget to check out Sheryl Gwyther's wonderful blog which, is ALMOST as nice as being there.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Book signings and author talks

For any Billie fans, I will be doing a book signing at Collins Book Store in Northland on Saturday 27th from 1pm until 2pm.
For anyone who'd like to hear me chat about Angel Creek, I will be at the Melbourne Writers Festival on Tues 30th, 10am at Art Play.
Lastly, if you'd like to hear Gabrielle Wang and I chatting about books, writing and just about anything you want really, we will be at the MWF on Wed 31 at 11.15am.
Hope to see some of you there!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Back on the road again...

Well, like many other children's authors, I am gearing up for several solid weeks of school talks around Melbourne and interstate, everywhere from Pakenham to Geelong, Ballarat to Ipswich. I love visiting schools, especially when I get to meet my young readers or test out my ideas on a ready audience, but I do find it exhausting. To me, giving 'author talks' is more like doing a performance, and at most schools I'll do three or four in a row. Often my audience is very young so to keep the littlies entertained I find myself contorting my voice and face into so many different expressions that by the end of the day my voice has diminished into a raspy squeak and even my face hurts and I am wondering how on earth Justine Clarke makes it look so easy.
There was a time when I was younger and more sprightly (in the Olden Days) when I seemed to have limitless energy and would do school talks all throughout the year, whenever my booking agency asked me to. However it eventually got to the stage where I was spending more time talking about what I do than actually getting it done, so now I try to limit my public speaking gigs to one solid block around Book Week and do them all in one go.
I also do this because I am finding it harder and harder to change gears from my outward extroverted performer self to that quiet introverted self I need to create. Sometimes, even if I know I have a public speaking event in a week I have set aside to work on a book, I can often sense an underlying hum of agitation that stops me from completely losing myself in my work.
Having said all this I am also terribly grateful for all my school bookings and public speaking gigs because for many years they have provided the butter to put on my family's bread. Those writing books that describe the 'perfect writing life' are quite laughable really: A log cabin in the woods, long uninterrupted days with a glass of red wine and an intelligent adult conversation in the evenings before settling back down to work. I can only suppose that these people have very rich patrons and definitely no children because I certainly don't know any writers who have that kind of life. Even the most 'successful' ones. In fact the most successful writers I know, men and women, have worked the hardest and often juggled all kinds of things to be able to create a writing space for themselves. These are the writers who inspire me the most.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Faber Academy Writing For Children

It's been hard to keep this to myself over the last few months but now everything has been confirmed I am able to share my exciting news.
Late last year The Faber Academy got in touch to see if I would be interested in teaching a course in Writing For Children. Even though I love teaching, I had recently given up my position at RMIT to spend more time on my own work, so I admit at first I was a little reluctant to commit myself to more teaching so soon. But after doing a little google-work and seeing all their other fabulous creative writing courses held in exotic locations led by jaw-droppingly impressive writers, my initial hesitation quickly faded.
The course will begin in February next year and will run for three months at the fabulous Donkey Wheel House (pictured - check out the link to see the great stuff they do). It's going to be a great course, lots fun, lots of reading and lots of workshopping, with guest speakers and excursions and lots of great discussions about kids lit. I can't wait!
Click here for all the course information and details on the application process.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Musical Picture Books

Just a little taste of an extraordinarily beautiful adaptation of "The Night Garden", by Elise Hurst and "The Rainbirds", by David Metzenthen (illustrated by me.) This will be a wonderful family-friendly event held during the September school holidays, combining animation with live and recorded classical music.
So far I have only seen snippets of what will be the whole performance, but it has been incredibly exciting to see two of my favourite picture books brought to life. I can also tell you that this is a true labour of love by MRC education co-ordinator, MaryRose Harrison, musical director, Jo Beaumont and animator, Diana Ward, yet, at this stage there will only be one Melbourne performance - September 26th, at the Melbourne Recital Centre. So make sure you get your tickets! I will be there with as many children as I can drag along with me. I can't wait to see it all come together on the big screen!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Picture Books and Picasso

Earlier this year, I was asked to write a short picture book text for an illustration competition run by the State Library to coincide with their children's book illustration exhibition: "Look! The Art of Children's Picture Books Today".
Each month, a new section of the story was released and children were invited to send in their interpretations of the text. It goes without saying that it was VERY difficult to choose the winning entries as the work was so diverse and so lovely and sometimes the other judges: author/illustrator Anna Walker and author/publisher Jane Godwin and I would disagree. But I think you'll agree that the finished books in all three age categories are simply stunning.
Click on this link to look at the e-book, and make sure you read all the way through as the different age groups are all bound up together.
As an illustrator, I find children's artwork constantly inspiring: the spontaneity of their line work, the freshness of their ideas. Looking at children's drawings helps loosen my rigid adult way of seeing the world. As Picasso once famously said: "All children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up."

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Reasons We Lie

Speaking of lying, click here for a fascinating interview with psychologist Dorothy Rowe, recorded earlier this year at the Perth Writers' Festival.
The summary reads: "From everyday fibs to grand-scale public deception, renowned psychologist Dorothy Rowe explores the reasons we lie and constructions of truth."
It's an hour long interview but absolutely worthwhile and Dr Rowe is an inspirational woman.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Liar, liar, pants on fire!

Here is Aki's latest blog post about illustrating The Little Lie.
Some of these Billie stories stray so close to home it's almost embarrassing. Yes, I once cut my own hair, yes, I craved to be a teacher's pet, and, yes, I was known to make up the odd story once in a while... My poor parents. I can't tell you how many times they pulled out that old "Boy Who Cries Wolf" story in the hope of curing me of my... tendencies towards an overactive elaboration.
How could they have known that one day this is how I would make a living?
So, what's the biggest fib you've ever told?

Thursday, June 9, 2011

A Week in Shanghai

Well, I had all good intentions of posting lots of photos and updates while I was in Shanghai but of course had forgotten one teensy problem. Blogger, Facebook, Google, Youtube - all no-goes in China, despite the fact that anyone can pay for a computer program to circumnavigate the government's strict censorship laws. It still astonishes me that this country, so modern in so many ways, can still be so archaic when it comes to freedom of speech and access to information. But that's another day's rant... So, here are a few belated updates on my week in Shanghai.

Firstly, I spent three full days at Yew Chung International school, giving talks and running workshops with their primary students who were delightful. Yew Chung is completely bilingual, with all subjects being taught in Chinese and English. All the same, it was lots of fun to get kids drawing - a language that crosses all cultural boundaries.

Thursday morning was the official opening of the Australian Illustrator's exhibition at the Shanghai Children's Museum, where Ann James and Alison Lester were presented with portraits by an enthusiastic group of kindergarten students who had sat impressively still and quiet all throughout the long and formal speeches.

Then the weekend was busy at the Children's museum: Ann Haddon giving tours of the exhibition, Leigh Hobbs running Old Tom drawing classes, Ann James running painting workshops and me running collage workshops with local children and their parents, amazed that I still had enough rusty Chinese to get by.

After long days, evenings were spent wandering along the Bund, sipping cocktails at the Peace Hotel or gorging ourselves at restaurants, and we still managed to squeeze in some shopping whenever we had a free moment. So much so that I could hardly close my suitcase to come home.

I feel extremely lucky to have been a part of this wonderful exhibition and, judging by the enthusiasm of local parents, teachers and publishers, let's hope it paves the way for many more Australian-Chinese cultural exchanges to come.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Swimming With Stories

This time next week I hope to be munching on dumplings in the steamy city of Shanghai with Leigh Hobbs, Alison Lester, Ann James & Ann Haddon (the fabulous Books Illustrated crew). It will have to be very quick munching though, as Ann and Ann have jam-packed our week with school bookings, teacher information evenings and, most importantly, lots of workshops with local kids at the Shanghai Children's Museum. Over the weekend of the 4th and 5th of June, the Anns will be showcasing a broad range of Australian illustrators at an exhibition at the museum called Swimming With Stories, while Leigh, Ann J and I run illustration workshops. Shaun Tan's 'The Lost Thing' will also be showing at the museum, just in case the Shanghainese weren't already impressed enough with all our Aussie talent on display. Goodness, I almost feel an oi! oi! oi! coming on! If I can squeeze in a free moment between dumpling-gorging and work, I'll try and post some pics.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

A Father's Plea

Last night, along with 700 others, I braved the rain and the cold to go to RMIT's Storey Hall to hear Dr Izzeldin Abuelaish interviewed by Jon Faine. Dr Abuelaish is a Palestinian doctor who was living in Gaza and practicing in a hospital in Israel treating both Israelis and Palestinians. In January 2009, three of his daughters were killed when Israeli tanks shelled their upstairs bedroom. (Click here to read more).
Despite his personal tragedy, Dr Abuelaish is a passionate advocate of peace. Listening to his heart-breaking story, this is the part that was the most profoundly moving. As my sister and I made our way out of Storey Hall to our tramstops in the cold wind and the drizzle, we agreed the most important message we could take away from Dr Abuelaish's powerful address was that the wish for peace wasn't a naive one. Despite feeling overwhelmed and powerless in the face of war and all the hate that rages throughout the world, Dr Abuelaish called on every one of us in that hall to hope for peace and to spread this message, to educate ourselves and our children and to make our votes count.
As Dr Abuelaish signed my book, wanting to find some small way to connect with this awe-inspiring man, I asked him if he would manage to squeeze in a little bit of a holiday while he was here. He looked up at me with weary eyes and said no, all he wanted was to get back to his children. Back home, walking quietly through my sleeping house, I lingered longer in the doorways of my own.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Sugar and Spice or Frogs and Snails? What Are Little Boys Made Of?

Robyn and Alison both left very interesting comments on my last post and I found myself writing a very long and drawn-out reply, so I thought I may as well write another post in response. I'd love to hear your thoughts on this and to continue this discussion.

Both Robyn and Alison wondered if the Billie books had been published with more gender-neutral covers if they may have attracted more boy readers. I discussed this with my publisher recently and she conceded that without the covers the Billie books may have been more appealing to boys, as Aki's internal illustrations are not particularly 'girly', nor are my stories.

But the more I think about this the more I am unsure if this would have made much difference.

All the research shows (and this includes the research I do with my own three sons!) that if there is a female on the cover - no matter what the colour scheme, design etc, many boys still won't pick it up. And publishers are very aware of this. For example, Suzanne Collins' 'Hunger Games' trilogy offers two alternative covers: one with Katniss (the female protagonist) and the other with Peeta (her male sidekick) to make sure they don't lose any prospective male readers. The Hunger Games trilogy is jam-packed with action and violence - themes usually associated with 'boys' fiction' - but has been hugely popular with both sexes.

So, in relation to this, the main question for me is why is it OK for a girl to be in touch with her 'masculine side' but not ok for a boy to be attracted to more 'feminine' things? Why is it that a little girl can wear pants and climb a tree but a little boy can't wear a skirt and play with dolls? And who determines what is a 'boy thing' and what is a 'girl thing' anyway?

My 8 year old son recently told me he was told off by his friends in class for using a pink texta and they insisted he change it to black. Is our cultural homophobia so great that an 8 year old boy can't even use a pink texta!? For me, this is where the true problem lies.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Is the Hungry Caterpillar a boy or a girl?

Tune into the Book Show on Radio National* next Monday morning to hear Leigh Hobbs and I interviewed for a story on gender imbalance in children's literature.
This is an article that ran recently in the Guardian. To be honest, the story was an eye-opener. I have been reading a fair bit in blogs recently about gender imbalance in the adult publishing world (see Rachel Power's excellent post here) but hadn't considered it might be happening in children's publishing too.
As a children's author I aim to create strong female characters and sensitive boys to balance out the gender stereotypes that can often appear in kids' lit. Billie B Brown is probably the most obvious example, though looking over my body of work I notice that this combination appears regularly. As a mother of three sons, Billie is as much based on their childhoods as mine, though infuriatingly my 8 year old son explains that while he loves the stories he wouldn’t be caught dead reading them in public because there is a girl on the front cover (see Melvin Burgess’ comment in the Guardian article – a well-known truism among children’s authors). Admittedly, this is also partly due to the packaging and marketing of the Billie series, which is primarily directed towards girls.**
Returning to Burgess' comment, and in defense of the children's publishing industry, I think it is important to recognise that there has definitely been a recent push to try get boys hooked on books as, in general, girls are more inclined to read - and continue reading - whereas boys are often more reluctant. This might partly explain the disproportionate amount of males in contemporary children’s literature, even if it doesn't necessarily make the findings in the above article excusable. However, it's also important to remember that research shows that the most powerful way to get young boys reading – even more than creating books that “boys will like” or identify with – is for them to see their father reading. Or at least other males. Reading needs to be seen as something blokes do. Sadly, without this, boys will continue to assume that reading is a ‘girls’ activity and the children's publishing industry will have to continue to bend over backwards to try to attract boy readers any way they can.

*Or click here and I will add a link to the podcast after Monday.

**To counteract this I am currently in the process of creating a series of books from Billie’s best friend, Jack’s, point of view, which will still explore very similar themes, but from a boy's perspective. I will let you know my son's verdict when they come out.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

More Aki sketches and a new Billie

Click here for more gorgeous Aki sketches. I don't know about you but I never get sick of seeing Aki's work in progress. Thanks Aki for posting.
And here is a glimpse of the next Billie book due out next month.
"Billie has broken her arm! It's going to be the best story ever for Show and Tell. Especially if she adds in a crocodile..."

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Ode To My Son

Tomorrow my oldest son will turn eighteen. In honour of this momentous occasion I would like to share a few things I have learnt along the way:
1) Teenagers are not as scary as they look.
Having started young, most of my friend's children are still toddlers or in primary school. They ask me, "What is it like having a teenager?"
I answer, "It is still your child, just in a different body."
2) It doesn't matter how cool or young or hip you think you are, in your teenager's eyes you aren't. The sooner you accept this the better.
3) Even though he is now twice my height and shaves he still wants cuddles.
4) A houseful of boys soon becomes a houseful of men. (!)
5) Despite having birthed him and bathed him and fed him, and having lived with him for the greater part of the last eighteen years, I realise I only know, and can only ever know, one small part of my son.
This was brought into stark reality last Saturday night when, after eighteen years of avoiding the inevitable, I decided it was time for my son to have a proper birthday party. My son let me know that he would like to invite fifty (!) of his nearest and dearest, and as our home is a small as a matchbox (see point 4) we hired a dance studio above a Mexican Restaurant.
From the sidelines, I watched my son in awe as he chatted, danced (my son dances!) and later made a speech. Watching him speak in front of all his friends allowed me, for the first time, a glimpse of who my son is in the world. He was so funny and smart and confident. His friends laughed and cheered all throughout the speech and then embraced him at the end.
And I realised, at that moment, while there are times where I have been everything to him, there will also be times where I can only watch him from the sidelines, and hope that I have done enough things right for him to go out into this world without me.

Monday, April 25, 2011

More Aki pics and some exciting news

Click here to see some more of Aki Fukuoka's gorgeous Billie sketches. This time for The Big Sister. I love seeing the way Aki's illustrations develop. I am such a fan of her work.
Recently, one of the Billie B Brown books, The Secret Message, was chosen for the 2011 Get Reading! campaign. This year's '50 Books You Can't Put Down' list features 35 Australian titles, with 13 of the 50 titles being children's/young adult books. This is obviously very exciting news, but for me, the best thing about this news is that Aki and I might get to do some gigs together and finally meet in person. Aki lives in New Zealand, so up until now we have only been able to correspond by email or through our blogs. Wouldn't it be fun if Aki and I could do some Billie events together? If this happens, I will definitely let you know. Fingers crossed!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Aki Fukuoka's preliminary sketches

For anyone who is a fan of Aki Fukuoka's gorgeous Billie B Brown illustrations, click here to see her preliminary sketches for The Secret Message.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Billie, Blondie and Birthdays - or how to survive a party with a hundred and one six-year-olds.

Who would have thought when I woke up last Sunday morning that later that very day I would be dancing to Blondie in The Victorian State Library with a sea of six-year-olds?
As part of the Wheeler Centre and State Library's inaugural Children's Book Festival, last Sunday we celebrated twelve months of Billie B Brown with a one year birthday party.
I was hoping for a good turn-out but had completely underestimated just how many excited little Billie fans I would encounter. It was a wonderful, if not slightly daunting, surprise. Immediately I began to worry about how on earth I was going to run all the party games I had planned when even getting all those dozens of kids to sit in one big circle nearly required a sheep-dog. But, we managed, and before long all the kids were sitting in an almost circle ready for the first game.
First up was pass-the parcel. But it was so noisy in that great big echoey Experimedia room jam-packed with excited children and parents that nobody could hear when the music stopped or started. The children were fabulous though and I am frankly quite amazed that the whole thing didn't end in tears.
Next, we played musical statues. But with so many more kids than I had anticipated, all of them grimly determined to win the prize, it took forever to eliminate the 'not winners'. Poor Jen, my publicist, was almost in tears herself after having to pull out kids each time the music stopped. Being a mother, I am made of tougher stuff. Having said that, we did actually end up with three winners but that was mainly because we ran out of time to play all the other games I had planned. Fortunately, I still managed to squeeze in a reading of The Birthday Mix-Up, though I think a 'shouting' would be a better description of what I did, and I'm still not sure that the kids in the back heard everything I said. Next time I will definitely request a mike!
It was a great day and hugely successful according to this article in The Age.
I finished up by signing what felt like hundreds of Billie books and meeting some adorable girls (and the odd boy) and their families.
So, thank you all so much for coming.
And hopefully see you all again next year when Billie turns two!

Friday, April 1, 2011

The POTS Club

Being the eldest of three girls, it never occurred to me that I would have sons. I simply assumed I would have three daughters like my own mother did – but obviously things don’t always turn out as planned. So, instead of swapping clothes, shoes and secrets, I find myself grappling with muddy soccer boots, smelly socks and testosterone swings.
After my third son was born, a fellow parent of three sons said to me: ‘Welcome to the POTS club!’
‘POTS club?’ I asked.
‘Parents Of Three Sons,’ my friend explained.
‘So... what happens if you have decide to have another child?’ I asked.
My friend looked at me, shaking her head, sagely. ‘Nobody ever tries.’
Being a mother of three sons turns you into a particular kind of person. You bond very quickly with other families of boys. Only POTS understand the noise, space and quantity of food boys need. Staying with friends who aren’t POTS requires a huge amount of planning and preparation. You can’t exactly call it a holiday.
Once, I was foolish enough to take up the offer of childless friends in Sydney to stay at their place rather than rent a motel room. Despite the rotten weather that week, I felt obliged to take my sons outside all day and every day, to the local park to burn off energy. After all, watching three boys wrestling in the middle of the loungeroom floor doesn’t appeal to everybody. Particularly the childless. Then, at the end of each day, I would feed my boys loaves of bread in the car before we went in to dinner to fill them up so they wouldn’t wolf down our host’s beautifully prepared meals in two seconds flat. It was exhausting.
When you go away with POTS, it’s merely a question of working out how many trays of meat and boxes of Weet-bix you should bring. As long as you’re equipped with plenty of meat and carbs, as well as a couple of footballs, you know you’ll be right.
But there are wonderful things about raising boys, too. Many, many wonderful things. My eldest son turns eighteen this year, yet he is still so full of love and affection towards me. Every morning he lumbers out of his bedroom like some kind of reeking Frankenstein for his morning cuddle. He lopes around in saggy jeans and a beanie in the middle of summer looking like a hooligan, yet he will jump up from his seat on a tram for an old lady without any prompting. Future girlfriends: he also cooks a mean chicken curry and even cleans up after himself!
My middle son will be fifteen this year, but every afternoon when he gets home from school he takes his seven year old brother out into the garden, to dig for worms, take apart an old toy or build a birdhouse. Sometimes they even play dress-ups and my oldest son will film them and make hysterical movies we all watch together.
My grubby, wrestling little boys are growing into beautiful young men: funny and gentle and kind. Now I can’t imagine having three more lovely children. What’s more, while my once smug friends of daughters have begun complaining about their increasingly difficult relationships with their teenage girls, my sons continue to be exuberant, loving and uncomplicated.
So, for any other other POTS out there, don’t feel daunted. Despite what people may lead you to believe, being a parent of three sons can be extremely rewarding. Just as long as you feed them lots and take them outside to kick a footy around every once in a while.

(This piece was originally written for: - a new parenting blog created by my Billie B Brown publishers, Hardie Grant Egmont)

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Ten more sleeps!

Only ten more sleeps! Hope you can come. Click here for more information about the Children's Book Festival.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

B is for birthday!

You are invited to a party!
When: Sunday April 3rd, 2.30 - 3pm
Where: At the Victorian State Library, Experimedia, as a part of the inaugural Children's Book Festival Family Day
Why: Billie B Brown will be celebrating her first birthday and the launch of her new book The Birthday Mix-Up.
Come along for games, activities, readings, book signings and lots more Billie fun...
Hope to see you there!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Ingredients for a happy Saturday

My favourite way to begin the weekend: a cup of tea in bed with the Saturday Age. Extra sweet this morning to stumble across this lovely review:

"The angel in Sally Rippin's latest book is not the angel of current popular culture imaginings. While an entirely original creation, it's closer to David Almond's eerie 'Skellig' than to the mass-produced, cookie-cutter angels that are pouring out of so many mediocre writers. Rippin's angel is a mangy, feral being, wild and inarticulate, yet somehow beautiful.

Jelly has just moved with her mother, father and Nonna from the outer to the inner suburbs, into a new house that backs on to the Merri Creek in Melbourne's north. She's to start at a new high school in the new year and is on the cusp of great change. Christmas should be a respite, but when she and her cousins Gino and Pik find an injured angel in the creek and decide to rescue and heal it, the pace of change accelerates.

Nonna is taken to hospital, Jelly and Gino confront the local bullies, Jelly feels the butterflies of potential adolescent love, and all the while she is looking after this wild creature, thinking about what she wishes for.

Although the angel is fantasy, the novel is otherwise entirely realistic. Jelly is a finely portrayed pre-teen, and Rippin is equally adept at capturing subterranean emotion as she is at creating authentic family relationships and writing evocative descriptions of place.

This novel for children in the middle to upper years of primary school (older readers will appreciate it too) is anything but feral, mangy or inarticulate - it is as beautiful and mysteriously magical as the angel."

- Lorien Kaye, Saturday Age, March 5.

Friday, March 4, 2011

The Big Sister

Poor little Billie, she has been rather overshadowed by Angel Creek this week. In all the excitement of the arrival of my newborn I completely forgot to mention that there is a brand new Billie out this week, too!
Oh well, like any big sister would know (sigh) it's all about the baby!

Monday, February 28, 2011

Angel Creek book launch

Well, the big day has come and gone and hopefully my little books are flying out there carried by the warm strong winds of the most wonderful book launch I have been a part of - thanks to the marvellous people at The Little Bookroom and my fabulous cheer squad at Text. So many lovely faces and heartfelt, tear-inducing speeches - and cupcakes! With gold sprinkles! I have never made a cupcake in my life but I figured if I could write a book how hard could baking a cupcake be? For goodness sakes!
For any of you as daunted by baking as I am, the trick is: follow the recipe! It's amazing how well it works!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Today's Anatomy Of A Novel guest... is me!

Angel Creek will be in bookstores as of next Monday and just to add to the excitement, the very lovely Simmone Howell has added me to her brilliant Anatomy of a Novel series. Check it out here.
Text have added some great teacher's notes to their website, too.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Home-made birthday presents are always the best

It's my birthday today and look what my lovely son made me. It's a vast improvement on those pasta necklaces. I never could find a dress that went with macaroni!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Oh those troublesome books again!

Always nice to see YA books making the news. Less so when would be book banners start raising their fists again. Compared to some countries, Australia seems to have a very healthy attitude towards diverse and challenging YA and children's books. It's very rare to hear stories of Australian parents or teachers gluing the pages of sticky sex scenes together or burning Harry Potter books at the stake. (Although admittedly local YA author, Robyn Bavati, recently found herself defending her YA novel, Dancing in the Dark, against a group of outraged adults in the Jewish community.)
So, it was surprising to see this article appear in yesterday's Age (17/2). Fortunately, there was an excellent response swiftly published in today's Age (18/2). Let the debate begin, I say! Your thoughts?

Monday, February 14, 2011

Pretty in Pink or How I Wished I Was John Hughes' Love Child

I am going through a big 80s phase at the moment. It might have something to do with watching my own son hurtle through his teenage years (can he really be turning 18 in a couple of months?), but recently I have been having terrible cravings for John Hughes movies. As a teenager, I adored these films. John Hughes seemed to understand teenagers in a way that no parent or teacher ever could.
I was almost too afraid to go back and watch all my teenage favourites: Pretty In Pink, Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, in case with my cynical adult eyes I would be disappointed; they hold such a dear place in my heart. But I have to say I have loved revisiting every minute of them. The clothes! (as a teenager I modelled myself on Molly Ringwald - pictured), the music! (Simple Minds, Spandau Ballet, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark), but most importantly the characters. John Hughes knew how to create a guy you couldn't help but fall in love with. Whether it was the wounded bad boy (Judd Nelson) in The Breakfast Club, the sensitive rich boy in Pretty in Pink (Andrew McCarthy) or the heart-breakingly obsessive nerd (Jon Cryer - pictured) or Sixteen Candles (Anthony Michael Hall). Even though you knew Molly was better off without any of them, every one of his characters had me aching, then and now.
It's hard to believe with such an overwhelming plethora of Young Adult books available today, that this genre was still cutting its teeth when I was a teenager. You could almost count the YA authors on one hand, but there was some great stuff being produced in film as well as literature. Like many teenagers, my parents quickly became obsolete once I realised they didn't know half of what they claimed to and a lot less about teenagers than they thought they did. As far as I'm concerned, it was John Hughes and Judy Blume who got through my teenage years. Even if the stories they told were a world away from my own reality.
Don't worry, I'm sure my own teenage son feels the same way about me. I only wish I could know who his substitute parents are.
But that's his story.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Internet-free Sundays: Day One

Well, we survived our first Full Family Internet-Free Sunday (or FFIFS, as I might begin to fondly call it.) The Sunday after I set the challenge didn't really count because my two older boys were away for the weekend so last Sunday was officially 'Day One' with all my boys in tow. After the first few 'What are we doing today?' and 'I'm bored' conversations and a few irritable retorts from me, here are three unexpectedly lovely things that happened:
1) We went to a Chinese New Year garden party and my 17 year old son decided to join us. Normally, he'd stay at home and just sit on the internet all day, but as that option was out of the equation, I guess he figured even a garden party full of uninteresting adults would be better than staying at home on his own. Outcome: I got a full three hours out of them before the 'when are we going' chants started up. Gosh, teenagers! They can be rattier than two-year-olds!
2) I had some leftover Chinese dumpling mix and wonton skins that didn't get used up at the party so when I got home I started making dumplings for our dinner. With nothing else to do my three sons sat around the table and helped me. Voluntarily. And we CHATTED. Yep, nothing short of a miracle. But the best is yet to come.
3) Not having two hundred and fifty-three friends waiting for them to hurry up and finish their dinner and get back online meant that my sons sat at the table until even I had finished eating! And then - yes, this is the part you've been waiting for - we played a board game. No, not Twister - I just put that image up there to make you laugh. Scattegories. It was almost fun. Except I noticed that my oldest son was particularly aggressive and competitive and sometimes seemed a little out to get me. But - hey - it's only day one. They're bound to be a bit jittery the first few days. Baby steps.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Chinese painting workshops for kids

Happy New Year of the Rabbit!
If you haven't yet been to the Look! exhibition and you are interested in kids' books, particularly the illustrations, I suggest you get yourselves down to the State Library and wander through this inspiring exhibition. I'm sure you'll find plenty of your favourite picture books and illustrators on display. I even have a couple of illustrations in the show - from my very first picture book, 'Fang Fang's Chinese New Year'.
While you are there, don't forget to watch the video presentation towards the back of the exhibition, where several picture book artists talk about the techniques they use in their work. Here's a shortcut. (Scroll down to the bottom of the screen to see the three minute videos.)
In conjunction with the exhibition, the State Library are running free workshops for kids over several weekends. I am teaching two Sundays of Chinese brush and ink workshops later this month. If you have kids who think might like to try something new, book them in!
The details are below:

Painting with Sally Rippin

Sunday 13 February 2011, 11:00am - 12:00pm
Sunday 13 February 2011, 1:00pm - 2:00pm
Sunday 20 February 2011, 11:00am - 12:00pm
Sunday 20 February 2011, 1:00pm - 2:00pm
Cost: Free
Tel: 03 8664 7099
Venue: Queen's Hall, Level 3

Join Sally Rippin to explore the art of Chinese brush-and-ink painting. Make your own pictures using ancient techniques that are fun to do, and learn about Chinese art and culture.

Recommended for children aged five to 12 years.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

And here it is!

Just received my preview copies Angel Creek in the post today. SO exciting! I love the cover with its shiny gold bits. The gold doesn't show up well on a scanner, so here is a very ordinary iphone snap of it on my bedspread, nevertheless capturing it in all its shiny glory.
Only twenty-eight sleeps til it's out in the world! Yay!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Last night down by the Merri Creek

This is the story I wrote for The Age last summer, which became the inspiration for my children's novel "Angel Creek". I have been working on "Angel Creek" all year, and next week I will hold a finished copy in my hands. For such a small book, it has had a long history.
I had been struggling for over three years with various incarnations of angel stories and had recently discarded a second YA novel that just wasn't working. As well as all the thousands of words and enormous amount of time lost, so too was my confidence diminishing. Writing a novel about angels was proving to be far more difficult than I had first thought.
Why angels? I promise my obsession began long before the publication of the Stephanie Meyer series and the successive paranormal romance boom. In fact, if anything, this sudden interest in all things otherworldly only made me lose faith in what I was doing all the more. I definitely didn't want to be seen as a band-wagon-jumper-onner!
The truth is I had become obsessed with the idea of creating young angels symbolic of a severely repressed adolescence, almost Amish-like, and what would happen once they were let loose in a godless world. But two novel drafts later, I still hadn't managed to make my story work. So, last summer, when I was asked to write a story for The Age again, my head was still full of angels. To brainstorm a fresh story, I took my youngest son for a walk along the Merri Creek. And it was from a walk with my seven-year-old, seeing the world through his eyes, that this story was born.

Last Night Down by the Merri Creek

Pik, Gino and I climb over my back fence and shimmy down the bank towards the Merri Creek. It’s Christmas Eve. This year we’ve had rain and the creek is flowing fast, and all the rubbish from the city is pushed up onto the banks or caught up in the reeds.

Gino’s the first to take off his shoes. ‘Look at all this junk,’ he calls. ‘Bet there’s some cool stuff here.’ He walks along the riverbank lifting up tangles of plastic and string with the end of his stick. There’s a road bridge up ahead and the streetlamps light up the path. Not under the bridge though. At night the tunnel yawns blackly like the mouth of a beast.

‘Hey, let’s go in,’ Gino dares.

‘Cool,’ Pik says, but I can see he doesn’t want to. Me neither, but I’m not going to let them think I’m scared just coz I’m a girl.

We follow Gino along the bank towards the tunnel. A car clacks across the bridge but otherwise there’s no one around. Over the noise of the cicadas we can still hear our parents in my backyard, laughing loud and silly.

At the mouth of the tunnel, Pik and I hesitate as we watch Gino swallowed up by the dark. But then his voice calls out, ‘Not scared are ya?’ and I grab Pik’s hand and pull him in behind me.

After a while I can make out Gino’s form crouching by the water. He turns and beckons to us, then puts his finger on his lips for us to be quiet.

‘What is it?’ I whisper.

‘Dunno. Some bird, I think. Caught up in the rubbish.’

‘Don’t scare it,’ I say. ‘Maybe we can get it out?’

‘Gimme your stick,’ Gino says.

I hand Gino the stick and crouch down by the water’s edge to watch. Pik crouches next to me. I can hear his breathing.

Gino leans out across the water and hooks the end of the stick under a pale-coloured wing. It’s huge. I know all the birds that hang around the creek and I’ve never seen a wing that big. The bird flaps frantically and the three of us fall back onto our bums, laughing nervously. I’m trying not to laugh too loud coz I’m worried about that poor bird. I’m hoping we can save it.

‘Maybe we should get Dad to help?’ I say. ‘Or wait till tomorrow?’

‘It’ll be dead by tomorrow,’ Gino says. ‘Come on.’ He begins to wade out into the water. The creek is flowing fast and I know that I am breaking every rule my parents have ever given me by letting this happen. I look at Pik before I step into the icy water and see the whites of his eyes in the dark. Mud oozes up through my toes as I wade out after him. Gino is close to the bird now, which seems to be trapped behind a rock. As I approach, he bends down to study it. Suddenly, he reels back, arms like windmills. ‘Oh my god!’ he gasps. ‘It’s not a bird!’

I feel my heart thump about wildly in my chest. I don’t want to believe him but something in his voice has turned my skin cold. I peer over the stone into the rushing water and in the shadowy depths I see the pale, pale face of a young boy staring up at us. His eyes are like glass.

‘I’m getting Dad,’ Gino says. He is already striding back through the water and I hear the fear snag his voice. On the bank, Pik starts to bawl. I can’t take my eyes off the boy’s face. I know I should feel frightened but somehow I can’t turn away.

‘Get my dad, too,’ I say. ‘I’ll stay here. Hurry!’

I hear the squelch of their feet as Gino and Pik leave the tunnel and run back along the creek. I turn away from the boy’s face to examine the tangled wing. Something is not making sense. Then, I understand. I call out to Gino and Pik but they are already too far away and my voice ricochets around the tunnel over the noise of the rushing water.

The angel looks up at me with frightened eyes. I perch on the rock to steady myself and try to unwrap some of the rubbish caught around the wing. But when I pull at the plastic, his other wing comes thrashing out of the water. I let go. ‘Hey,’ I say softly. ‘Keep still. I’m trying to help you.’ I stroke his feathers and the angel stares back at me, his peaked chest palpitating like a frightened bird.

Looking more closely I see that one end of the plastic is caught around the rock. I take hold of it and unwind it carefully, my hands dipping in and out of the creek. The angel keeps still, looking up at me through the murky water, its eyes bright and wild. There is only one last piece to go and the angel will be free.

The water in front of me rears up, there is a flash of light and for an instant I am blinded. I hear a whoosh of wings and he is gone. In the distance I hear the voices of my dad and the others running towards the tunnel as a single white feather spins slowly down into my lap.

They never believe my story. Not Mum, not Dad, not even Gino and Pik. But I still have that feather. And no one’s ever found a bird that matches it.