Tuesday, November 27, 2012

What do kids think about?

I love my youngest son's school. I love everything about it: the teachers, the principal, the art room, the library, and the playground with it's veggie patch and mulberry tree for climbing. I couldn't think of a nicer place for my son to spend his days acquiring life skills and his '3 Rs'.
Often there are some really fabulous artworks and installations done by the kids throughout the school. This one (main photo) is a piece of sticker art, on the side of a portable, which has transformed it into a 'Wonder Wall'. Each of those little squares of paper contains a question from a child like: 'I wonder why the sky is blue?' and 'I wonder what makes the birds sing?' and other such charming philosophical questions.
Lately, though, I've noticed the questions have begun to degenerate. I couldn't stop giggling when I read some of the more recent additions to the Wonder Wall, especially because they seemed so much more like the kind of questions I reckon my kids would really ask.
Here are a couple, I particularly liked:

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Some good news for Billie B Brown readers

I've had a few emails recently from parents/grandparents/other relatives, desperate to track down the first Big Book of Billie for Christmas. It actually sold out last Christmas, but yesterday I received this happy news from my publisher:

"Due to overwhelming demand we've just hit reprint on the Big Book of Billie #1! It's actually a Big W exclusive until December 1st. After that it should be available from all good bookstores and leading department stores including Big W, Kmart and Target."

So, a nice little stocking filler for anyone who's already finished reading the Big Book of Billie 2?

There has also been a little confusion as to which stories the two big books contain. So, to set the whole story straight, here is a list (you will see there are four stories that double -up.)

Big Book One: The Bad Butterfly, The Soccer Star, The Midnight Feast, The Second-best Friend, The Extra-special Helper, The Beautiful Haircut, The Secret Message, The Big Sister, The Birthday Mix-up, The Best Project, The Little Lie, and The Spotty Holiday. Also includes bookmark and activity pages.

Big Book Two: The Birthday Mix-Up, The Little Lie, The Best Project, The Spotty Holiday, The Cutest Pet Ever, The Copycat Kid, The Pocket Money Blues, The Deep End, The Night Fright, The Missing Tooth, The Bully Buster and The Perfect Present. Also includes activities and a paper doll.

Happy reading!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Zoo talk at the Wheeler Centre

Sadly, my zoo residency is drawing to a close. At the end of this month the only garden I will have to wander through is my own treeless backyard, the only animal sounds I will have to write by will be those of my neglected children.

But, fear not, dear reader, the happy news is that Cate Kennedy, Estelle Tang, Judy Horacek and I will be sharing our zoo stories on a panel at the Wheeler Centre next Wednesday night! Do not miss it. We will be wearing animal suits. (Maybe)

*I cannot guarantee that the photo above is of this year's Zoo Fellows.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Exciting news and baboon's bottoms

Well, lots of good things have been happening to me at the Melbourne Zoo lately, but one of the most surprisingly lovely of them all happened early last week, during feeding-time for the baboons. I had been marvelling over their red bottoms, as we all do, when I received a phone call from Text Publishing to let me know that Angel Creek has been shortlisted for the NSW Premier's Literary Awards. Sometimes my life feels so supremely marvellously absurd.

I am so wonderfully, gratefully thrilled that this little book has not gone completely un-noticed as it's a very special book to me. Today, doing a bit of an internet-search/procrastination, I found these judges comments, which provided a little more bubbly excitement for a dreary Monday morning. I will be flying up to Sydney on Nov 30th for the awards night, so be sure to tune in after that to hear about all the glitz and glam.

Jelly is disheartened that her family has moved ten suburbs away from her friends.  Even worse, she must endure another dreary visit from her relations over Christmas. But then Jelly and her cousins discover something in the local creek that changes everything. A bird?  No, it seems to be an angel — a baby angel with a broken wing. Suddenly there is a magical focus for their enforced time together, and, in caring surreptitiously for the enigmatic creature, they find a different way of being together — and of growing up.

Told with evocative prose, this well-paced original story blurs beautifully between realism and fantasy: is the angel real or not?  Perhaps readers never know for sure, but there is no doubt about the well-drawn characters and the believable family dynamics in this quietly compelling novel. A myriad of relationships subtly criss-cross the narrative like the strands of a spider’s web, practically invisible, yet giving the writing a quiet strength and integrity. As the story gently addresses issues of responsibility and different kinds of love and care in relationships, it pulls readers along with a compelling, suspenseful story.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Waiting For Butterflies

As most of you probably know by now, I am currently Writer-In-Residence at the Melbourne Zoo. Earlier this week, I was asked to turn up for a photo shoot with the meerkats for the Herald Sun, along with the three other writers involved. As it happened, my son's school was closed for a teacher's strike, so I decided to bring him along to meet the meerkats, then spend the rest of the day with me at the zoo.

'OK,' I said, once the photo shoot was over. 'I'll follow you. It's midday now and the zoo doesn't close until 5pm. Here's the map - we'll go wherever you want.'

I feel like I'm always rushing my youngest, so every now and then, if it's at all possible, I like to let him go at his own pace. We began by wandering through the elephant trail, then on to the butterfly enclosure. It was a very hot day, and the butterfly room was steamy, so once I saw my son wasn't in a hurry, I found a bench and sat down to watch him.

'How are you going?' I asked after a few minutes. 'Ready to move on?'

He was standing arms out, waiting for a butterfly to land on him. He shook his head gently. 'No,' he said in a quiet voice. 'I can only move when a butterfly lands on me.'

Really? I thought, already battling feelings of impatience. 'Hey look, there's one on your hat!'

My son rolled his eyes upwards. 'Nup,' he said, barely moving his lips, lest he scare off the butterfly. 'That doesn't count. It has to land on my arms.'

Now, there are many things I can learn from my son. The first of them would obviously be patience. I like to think I had it as a kid, too, but I sure could do with a top-up every now and then. I decided this would be a perfect zen practice for me. I wouldn't check my phone, I wouldn't rush my son, I would just sit and be at one with the butterflies - for as long as it took. After all, if a nine-year-old boy could do it, surely I could?

An hour and a half later, still ensconced in his butterfly game, my son had only rounded the first corner. There were three more corners to go. I am ashamed to admit that he had beaten me. I made some lame excuse about needing to go to the toilet or needing a drink or something like that, and tried not to lose my temper when he vehemently protested, 'But I'm not even halfway!'

I have no idea how long it would have taken us to get through that damn butterfly enclosure if I hadn't rushed my son. Maybe he might have given up in his own time? Maybe we'd still be there now? Me, dozing on the floor amongst all those broken butterfly wings. My son still waiting patiently, arms outstretched, like some blooming zen master showing up all my inadequacies.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Ghouls in the Hood

There seemed to be a teensy bit of Halloween Grinchness going around Facebook last night. Seriously guys, from a kid's perspective, what is there not to love? Dressing up? Lollies? Wandering the streets with a gang of buddies on your own? (Or at least with a parent at a discreet distance away to give you the impression you are on your own.)
We have only been in our new neighbourhood for six months. We'd seen a few kids in the street, but not officially met many of them. Last night they came crawling out from everywhere. For my son, who can be a little shy, it was a perfect opportunity. Wearing a monster's mask, he was welcomed right into a gang of ghouls and I trailed happily behind watching them swap lollies and knock on doors with welcoming pumpkins out front.
Who cares where Halloween originally comes from and whether it's commercial or any of that other stuff - for a nine year old boy on a warm spring evening it was pure magic.