the low points

Saturday, 24 June 2017

soaring high before the low - barn owl pin by Jess Racklyeft

Recently, I had the most glorious news--something I've been waiting a career lifetime for. I'm still pinching myself, and the project has deep meaning to me. I might have even leapt in the air. Very soon, I'll be starting work on it, and this will be immensely happy-making.

This kind of news has happened to me before. Then not long after, it's been snatched away (for a variety of reasons), and I've found myself on the floor. This may also have happened to you. The floor is a very supportive place, non?

I have every faith there'll be no snatching, but it's been nevertheless interesting to experience quite the plummet since receiving this news. After discussing with friends, it seems this is a natural phenomenon. Just as we go up, we must come down. And of course, the creative career path is rife with intense highs and crushing lows. The rollercoaster metaphor could never be more apt.

The frustrating thing is, I'm currently working on two illustration commissions that I'm loving to bits, so I should be smiling from ear to ear. What, then, is the issue?

A Kiwi Year/A Canadian Year gadding about the globe

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

in Little Angel magazine

It's so lovely to see A Kiwi Year and A Canadian Year gadding about the interweb, scaling snow-covered mountains and hopping trout-laden streams. Seems kids everywhere are as enamoured as Tina Snerling and I when it comes to travel, exploring new places, and the joys and mind-expansion of multiculturalism.

Here are some of the jaunts the books have taken. Thank you to everyone for these lovely reviews! I hope your kids enjoy this romp around two of the most incredible countries on earth.

in New Idea magazine

A Canadian Year/A Kiwi Year on Literacy, Families and Learning

A Canadian Year/A Kiwi Year on Kids' Book Review 

A Kiwi Year on The Children's Bookshop, NZ

A Kiwi Year on The Bottom Shelf

Review A Canadian Year/A Kiwi Year on Just So Stories

Review of A Canadian Year on Hip Little One

Review of A Canadian Year/A Kiwi Year on Reading Time

Review of A Canadian Year/A Kiwi Year on In the Good Books

Chief Minister's Reading Challenge 2017

Friday, 16 June 2017

The Chief Minister's Reading Challenge is a glorious literacy initiative in the ACT, and yesterday I had the great pleasure of visiting Maribyrnong Primary School in Canberra to chat to the kids about books, books, books--and how very much squirrels love books. These are smart kids. They agreed.

What a beautiful, warm welcome and what a clutch of bright, curious, book-loving kids (a sure sign there's some phenomenal teaching going on). Kids never, ever fail to astound and delight me with their knowledge and the way they think. It was wonderful to spend time with them, and it's great to see so many schools participating in the CMRC every year--from Canberra and our region. I love it when schools place literacy as such a high priority... it's a vital life skill, after all, and can really, truly change lives.

After a wonderful introduction, I took the kids through book type, genre and the book creation process.

I have this REALLY scary shark picture in this brilliant 3D book, which I try to scare the kids with. They never scare. They just laugh. It's so annoying.

This book, Metropolis, always elicits oohs and ahhs. It's 10 feet long. Who wouldn't ooh and ahh? Who wouldn't go bananas over books, in general? They are just that good.

Big thanks to Hannah and Jo from the CMRC for organising this visit, and for coming along. If you want to learn more about the Reading Challenge for your school, just click on the poster below. It's wonderful stuff.

Imagine if... exhibition of children's book artwork

Thursday, 8 June 2017

How stunning is this original artwork by Bob Graham? It will be the featured piece in the upcoming Imagine If... exhibition, run by the National Centre for Australian Children's Literature this July/August. I'm already rosy pink at the thought of this priceless peek into the work of our divine Australian book creators.

Bob's image, above, will be raffled to raise funds for the framing of NCACL artwork for future exhibitions. Could you imagine owning it? Gasp.

Running from Monday 10 July to Wednesday 30 August at the University of Canberra, don't miss this glorious opp to immerse yourself in picture book illustration glory. Details on the exhibition, its location at UC and the raffle, can be found here.Yes, you can buy raffle tickets even if you don't live in Canberra, so hop to it and good luck (gasp!).

Bob Graham (image credit: Carolyn Graham)

Ask Tania: Coping with publisher critiques at conferences and festivals

Sunday, 28 May 2017

WARNING: this post is frank!

Dear Tania
I recently travelled to Melbourne for the KidLitVic Conference and had a really great time meeting up with people I've known for a long time, and sucking in all the information I could. To be honest, it was a bit overwhelming, and then I sat through a manuscript critique with an editor who was either having a really crabby day or just wanted to be mean. It left me feeling disillusioned and disappointed that someone who's meant to be a professional couldn't even say something good about my work.
I'm just not sure how to take this and I feel like giving up.

Dear Disappointed,

First and foremost, YOU ARE NOT ALONE!

Everyone receives 'bad' critiques. Everyone. From emerging to published, experienced creators. Everyone's work falls across the desk of someone who doesn't get it, doesn't resonate with it, or just plain doesn't like it.

The subjectivity that comes with this territory is ENORMOUS. I cannot overstate this enough. I've spoken before about a junior fiction/middle grade book I shopped around to four large publishers who each came back with entirely, and I mean ENTIRELY, different feedback. There was not one single parallel on anything each of them said. It was actually quite remarkable how divergent their comments were, to the point where what one publisher loved and thought worked brilliantly, someone else thought woeful.

quacking through a quakerview with the queen quacker--Jen Storer of Girl and Duck

Friday, 26 May 2017

You know those dreamy goals you add to the bucketlist in your mind? New York Times Bestseller List. An Haussmann apartment in Paris. The thighs of an athlete with five per cent body fat. Interviewing for Girl and Duck in the Quackerview series of inspirational videos.

Last weekend, while in Melbourne for KidLitVic, I had the great honour of achieving the latter (still working on 1, 2 and 3), entering Duck Pond HQ to chat with the queen of the quackers, Jen Storer, Children's Author and Chief Inspirationalist at Girl and Duck. My goodness, we had fun. Like, seriously. We could have talked for HOURS--or weeks even. Maybe even years.

We talked books, industry, writing, illustration, honing your craft, conferences, career isolation, career progression, picture book collaboration and construction, transitioning from writer to illustrator and much, much more (like, seriously more). We laughed, we gasped, we drove points home and nodded in ferocious agreement. It was a fascinating discussion and I'm loving the bloopers at the end!

Huge thanks to Jen, Dulcie Duckworth and the Drake (videographer, editor, IT, brilliant cook and gorgeous soul) for putting together a beautifully-crafted, slick production that was so much fun, my mouth is still sore from smiling.

Jen's inspiring and informative videos--her Questions and Quacks, and Quackerviews--can be accessed by subscribing to Girl and Duck. Subscription also allows you entry to The Duck Pond on Facebook--a truly priceless community of like-minded peeps, offering support and inspiration for your children's book journey.

Click on the image below to subscribe (free!) to Girl and Duck and exponentially forward your children's book journey.

Thanks, Jen!
x o x

Works-in-progress, KidLitVic and Crystal Kite!

Monday, 22 May 2017

It's all too much. I have to get my head out of the clouds and my feet on the ground!

Still coming down from our beautiful May Gibbs event with the National Centre for Australian Children's Literature, the memory-making has continued this past week with some very happy news and an overwhelming trip to Melbourne and a slew of delightful happenings and encounters. Where will I begin??

Right. Let's start here...

An Evening with May Gibbs - pure bliss

Friday, 12 May 2017

Belle Alderman, Jane Brummitt, me
There was a full house at ALIA House last night for An Evening with May Gibbs organised by the amazing Belle Alderman of the National Centre for Australian Children's Literature. Who could resist sitting in on the unveiling of a divine original May Gibbs artwork, gifted to the Centre by Jane Brummitt?

Jane, May aficionado (and related by marriage), Nutcote saviour and impassioned advocate of May's legacy, travelled from Adelaide to donate the artwork. We sat in rapt awe as she spoke of May's life and work... it never fails to astound me how much I learn from Jane each and every time she speaks, and how further I fall down the rabbit hole of admiration for May and the incredible person she was.

Margaret Hamilton and husband Max also travelled from Pinerolo in the Blue Mountains for the event. Margaret was also involved in saving Nutcote and it was so wonderful to have her in attendance.

Belle opened proceedings then Jane spoke, followed by a few words by NCACL Chair John Faulks and the grand unveiling of the artwork (covered by the beautiful May quilt I won in a raffle run by  NCACL last year, and which I donated back to NCACL! I mean, was fate at play or what?).

John Faulks

The work is from Gumnut Babies, Angus and Robertson 1916, May's first published book in Australia (along with Gumblossom Babies). It's vibrancy is what struck me the most--so bright and lucid--and clearly something that's never really captured in reproduced work. If you're ever in Canberra, you must pop into the NCACL at the University of Canberra, to view this spectacular piece. Your heart will race out of your chest.

Jane Brummitt

After the unveiling, I spoke on writing about May for younger children, the importance of writing biographical books for children about women (in a market flooded with books about men) and my passion for May's work and life.

NCACL will be publishing our talks--both mine and Jane's--in their upcoming journal, so look out for that one.

Above, leafing through my 1977 copy of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie Find Ragged Blossom.

Above, having our May-original-work moments.

Huge thanks to Leanne Barrett for the photos and to everyone who came along last night. I was so honoured to be part of this amazing event (and the brilliant long-table dinner afterwards!) and this evening was truly me a life moment for me, that I'll never forget. New friendships forged, old friends reunited, serendipitous connections galore--all, I am certain--orchestrated by that beautiful, long-gone and dreadfully missed May on high. Last night was a celebration of her life, inded.

a busy bee month or three

Thursday, 4 May 2017

Well, hello, sailor! That's not snow in the above image, but nevertheless, winter has certainly arrived in Canberra. It's been the oddest start to the season. Usually, ANZAC Day heralds its arrival, on the button, with temps literally plummeting that very night. This year was close--about two days late--but the odd thing is that most of our deciduous trees were still in full leaf. And many of them still are.

Oddest of odds. But, you know, thank goodness there's no global warming or anything like that. Eye roll.

While the weather has been chilling out, I've been head-down, proverbial-up. I don't know about you, but for me, work comes in waves. Sometimes tidal waves, and I'm riding the crest of one right now. I'm okay--really (she says, running screaming for the hills). But seriously, I couldn't be happier. I'm doing what I love, but as seasons slip out of whack and time appears to be quite literally speeding up, I'll admit to begging for more hours in the day.

So, what's been happening? Well, I'm now in full flight with a book for the National Library of Australia (above image is a sneak peek). It's a collaboration with the incredible Jackie French (life thrill!) and is 160-odd pages long, so there's a lot of work involved, and I'm loving exploring digital illustration at even greater levels. I'm also monoprinting a storm on the kitchen table, for colours and textures, and gosh, it's fun. It's like an adult kinder painting session. The results just seem to 'work', you know? Divine skies of inky black and ochre landscapes appear in such beautiful ways when you don't think about it too much.

I've also been squirreling away on my very first children's wall map! This one is for Hardie Grant Travel and it's been an absolute dream to work on. A Tassie peek, above.

You know those things you've always been obsessed with? For me, it's maps, calendars, ABC books, just to name a few. So creating my own map--wow--such a joy. As ever, I'm reminded of how little I know about our country and I thought I knew a lot, after writing several Aus books and seeing so much of it when I was gadding about the place as a flight attendant back in the day. But yet again, I've learned more than a few something wonderfuls. Such a rewarding experience.

This project is due out in time for Christmas, so probably by early December.

May is KidLitVic month! The conference is 20 May at the State Library of Victoria, and I'm heading down a day early to catch up with my industry soul sisters. I'll be popping in for a quack with Jen Storer and will be chillaxing and talking shop with Nicky Johnston and Dee White and other friends, not to mention the oh... 972 people I'll be catching up with and/or meeting for the first time!

I'm also excited to be catching up with some gorgeous publishers, which is always a glorious thing. It's going to be a mind-popping weekend and I'm already hyperventilating.

At KidLitVic, I'll be showing my first EVER portfolio (to delegates and publishers). Not very stressful. Jess Racklyeft and I have been swapping folio peeks for advice and insights, to make them the very best they can possibly be. Here is a peek at my 'cover page'.

And on that note, I seem to have 'lost' the folio I bought last year. Most would think it's difficult to lose an A3 size folio, but it's not anywhere sizable enough to host it. I really must stop putting things in safe places. Truly.

I've already had my postcards printed (below, front and back) and now, of course, I already want to update them! Seems authors and illustrators are peas in a pod. Always, always editing.

What else?

I'll be having my very first greeting cards published soon--for Nuovo group. I never dreamed that would happen! And I'll be working on some more these coming months.

My daughter is about to do the car thing. You know. Own. Drive. That's totally sidled up on me.

I want to go to Europe. But that's not going to happen anytime soon. Melbourne on the 19th is a nice runner-up.

When I get back, I shall be head-down again, keeping snug, fighting butt spread and illustrating my heart out. I also hope to rework some junior fiction these coming months, so if you happen across any spare hours, could you please pop them in the post to my PO Box? You'll find the address under 'say hello'.

I hope you're keeping snug and are head-down doing what you love.

x x x

PS: found the folio (sheepish grin)

Make 'em Read: more ways to encourage reading in kids

Saturday, 22 April 2017

{first published in Maeve magazine, summer 2011}

Opening scene: Six-year-old curls up in sunny corner like a cat, book clutched in hand. Cue music. Small hand reaches out and strokes cover illustration dreamily. Hand moves to edge of cover. Music swells. Hand opens book. Title page appears. Child tumbles inside and is forever lost.

Alice falls through the darkness and lands on a pirate ship with a long silver swagger. A snake slithers down the mast, deep into the jungle where a baby deer scampers past a giant rolling peach. On a snow-capped mountain, a yodelling princess calls to her nanny as she floats away, clutching an umbrella. A lion roars. A treetop spins – a new world appears… and life will never be the same again.

Life-changing, breathtaking, transforming, enlightening – books open the brains of our children like a can of beans and cram wonderful stuff in there. Books stretch the synapses in the brain. They shuffle perception, expand the imagination, drag emotion through the wringer and provide a place of solace, comfort, hilarity and fantastical adventure.

But books aren’t flash dandies. They are patient and humble. Undemanding. In a world crammed to bursting with flashing with electronic gizmos that drain the creative life force from our offspring, getting kids to engage in the written word (and its inherent lack of flashing lights and sound bytes) and kick starting the LCD screens of their own imagination can be quite a Mt Everest feat.

Whether your children are book-shunners or book-devourers, these ideas are sure to unlock an unparalleled appreciation and hunger for stories. Open wide – come inside. It’s magic.

Poppets (age 0 – 2)

Babies in-utero-young are the perfect age to start with a book. The tone, cadence and language rhythm permeating the watery environment of an unborn child will prepare them for many years of bedtime storytelling. Comforting, familiarising and entertaining, read books with rhythm (think Dr Seuss and Lynley Dodd) and use plenty of tonal variation and expression.

For newborn babies, give books as a welcome gift or have a baby shower of books, proffering your own vintage faves or modern loves. Don’t stop at baby board books – treasured classics baby can grow into are just as important.

Older infants from three to nine months thrive on visual and audio cues, so books that stimulate and offer bright contrast are perfect. Child’s Play have a series of baby books that feature interactive titles. Pop-up books are also totally engaging, though keep them away from little fingers!

Toddlers rough and tumble their books, making board books essential. It’s vital children are allowed to immerse themselves in books without parents fussing over bent pages. While I personally kybosh drawing in books, giving them a well-loved, dog-eared appearance is what it’s all about. Go ahead and let them devour their books – both literally and figuratively. If you’re feeling precious about a particular book, save it for later.

When reading to toddlers, pick your time and place. Bedtime is perfect but also choose quiet times during the day, after lunch or before naps. Don’t force a toddler to sit and listen to a book. If they can’t focus, try again later. Half a book read is better than no book read.

Keep piles of books in play spaces for children to browse through at their bidding.

Select books yourself but also ask your child to choose. And be prepared for repeat-reading demands. It’s normal, it’s nice (okay, perhaps a little mind-bending) but repetition is critical for comprehension, word retention, reading skills and pure enjoyment. Sorry, but you’ll be reciting Little Miss Spider verbatim in no time.

Keep reluctant readers engaged by using major (and often embarrassing) vocal expression and lots of loud noises. Gasps, laughter, yelling, clapping and voice changes are hugely effective.

Use props – musical instruments, toys, food, hand signals and physical movement. Get up from your chair and encourage your little one to stomp along on that bear hunt or munch through that watermelon like a caterpillar.

When you’ve finished reading, hand the book to your toddler to ‘read’ themselves. Do this every single time you read a book.

Chatterboxes (age 3 – 5)

This age group are often voraciously addicted to books, particularly picture books, interactive books and rhythmic readers. Expose them to junior fiction at this age, even if you are the one doing the reading. Be sure text is relatively minimal and drawings are included on every page.

Continue reading to this age group but encourage child interaction by pointing to words and commenting with more detail on pictures. Ask your child to read the odd word themselves.

At the end of a book, ask simple questions about the story. This helps kids become even more involved.

Using vocal inflection and voices for characters is still highly effective. Encourage kids to create their own onomatopoeia – splash! woosh! crunch!

Saturate them with non-fiction books – this age loves facts and figures, especially atlases, cooking, craft, travel and books that show how things work, like the inner workings of the body, machines, buildings. Books showing people are particularly entrancing – this is an ideal time to introduce the mind-expanding diversity of other cultures.

Creative Masterminds (age 6 10)

A huge shift occurs in this age group, when children morph from picture books to chapter books, junior fiction and beyond. Take advantage of the large variety of ‘in-between’ books by matching the tone, style and reading competency with your child. Many of these books come in series – try the first of the series, then invest in the rest if they hold interest.

Books like the Battle Boy and Zac Power series are ideal for boys in this age group who struggle with reading; these books offer storylines with large font and short chapters, studded with cool graphics and older-boy speak.

Allow your child to choose books. Don’t have delusions of grandeur about your daughter falling in love with Anne of Green Gables just like you did – it probably won’t happen (try again later!). Show your child a variety of options and allow them to be drawn to the books that hold their interest (yes, yes, even if it’s always soccer or ponies).

Children of this age continue to enjoy having books read to them, although the continued use of physical and vocal antics can be distracting; children are now able to imagine for themselves how books should look and sound. Tone it down.

Graphic novels are fantastic for both boys and girls who become overwhelmed with pictureless fiction. Storylines can be sophisticated yet the text is broken by brilliant illustrative work that adds another dimension to the reading experience. Even comics are perfectly acceptable so long as they’re complemented by a relentless offering of other more substantial books.

Humour is an enormous advantage and is sure to attract even the most reluctant reader. All things gross, freaky, silly, marvellous and whacky is perfect for both boys and girls. Try Roald Dahl, Dave Hackett and Jeff Kinney.

Wordless picture books are fantastic at this age, as they enhance an understanding of story through visual literacy. This is priceless for a child's imagination and their ability to absorb nuance.

Know-It-Alls (age 11+)

By this age, you want to give jaded, seen-it-all-before tweens and teens something a little more out-there. Many kids are more than ready to read young adult and even adult books by the age of 14 and 15, so you’ll have to just get over it and go with the flow. You can’t make them cling to the Wombles forever.

The middle fiction and young adult book markets are absolutely brilliant in their quality and variety. Kids will want to read what their friends are reading, but also encourage them to look further afield and read independent, unsensationalised talent (which is considerable). Movie tie-ins are popular at this age, so pounce on the correlation quickly.

It’s a mistake to think children are past picture books at this age. There are many brilliant books (think Shaun Tan, John Marsden, Mark Wilson and Nathan Jurevicius) that take on older themes and do them beautifully for older readers. Graphic novels are ideal now, too.

Tips to Open your Child’s Brain and Pour Stories In
  • Visit the library monthly. Book it into your schedule. Don’t forget to take the kids.
  • Ask your child to name the author and illustrator of their books. Show them where the title and subtitle are. Talk to them about the verso page (publication page) and endpapers. Take them to author/illustrator websites. Show your children books are not just flat, inert objects, but living, breathing creations made by real people and often with years and years of hard work.
  • Browse publisher websites for new releases that might entrance your child. Bricks and mortar bookstores can’t possibly carry everything and so many brilliant books are missed, especially those released by indie publishers. They say books have a shelf-life of yoghurt, too, so they'll quickly disappear unless they're classics.
  • Frequent children’s literature blogs for the latest on new books and priceless advice. My website Kids' Book Review is a perfect starting point.
  • Host a book swap if your child’s library is seriously depleting.
  • Let children of all ages catch you reading. Often.

An Evening with May Gibbs--not to be missed

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

I am beyond excited to reveal this glorious one-off event--an absolute must-attend for anyone who loves children's books and the work of May Gibbs. Jane Brummitt, co-author of May Gibbs: More than a Fairytale (Hardie Grant), who is related to May by marriage and was instrumental in saving Nutcote in Sydney many moons ago, will be in Canberra to donate an ORIGINAL piece of May Gibbs artwork to the National Centre for Australian Children's Literature. Yes--original!!

Jane will also be speaking at the event, and I am honoured to be speaking alongside her. It's going to be such a memorable evening and I so hope you can make it. Details below.

May's legacy lives on, thanks to amazing people like Jane.

Still Touching Hearts: An Evening with May Gibbs 
5.30pm - 7pm
Thursday 11 May 2017
ALIA House, Deakin, Canberra
Cost: $15, $12 CBCA members

Join the National Centre for Australian Children’s Literature Inc for Jane Brummitt's presentation of May Gibbs’ original preliminary artwork from Gum Blossom Babies (1915) to the Centre and talks by Jane Brummit: Gifts from May Gibbs and Tania McCartney: Mamie: a celebration of May's life for modern children.

Harry Hartog Booksellers will be selling books on the evening, including the CBCA shortlisted titles, books by May Gibbs, Tania McCartney and Jane Brummitt.

Places limited. RSVP by 9 May 2017 to

autumn creeps into Canberra

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Autumn in Canberra is finally creeping in--a month late, but nonetheless beautiful. Autumn and Spring in Canberra are so utterly breathtaking. I feel so lucky to live here and be so close to nature--both in the surrounding countryside but also in town.

Tomorrow, husband and I are heading to the National Gallery and Portrait Gallery to douse ourselves in art, then enjoy a brilliant coffee at the many and sensational cafes we have here (seriously--the cafes here at that good, only rivalled by Melbourne in my humble opinion).

I hope you've had a lovely Easter and have enjoyed the breaking of chocolate and spiced buns with loved ones. It's a magical time of year.

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