Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas from the Raven


About this time next month What the Raven Saw will be making its way into stores all around Australia. This is very cool and I can't wait to hear what people think of the Raven and his delicious attitude (the Raven hates Christmas but he can't pass up the opportunity for people to admire him as a Christmas Greeting, so he consented to his image being used).

The latest news on What the Raven Saw:

* It has a new cover. I loved the old one but I think the new one is very striking and I love the focus on the Raven (he likes it, too).

* ASO, amongst others, have already put in an order. The publishers and I spent some of December doing up the teaching notes for What the Raven Saw. I am really happy with them and hope that they enable kids to have lots of cool discussion. There can never be too much talk about the Raven (in his opinion)

* The first review has been published. I came across it by accident but it is from a lovely children's literature reviewer and I absolutely love everything she has to say, because she seems to have got everything I was trying to do with the book. Read it here: 1st Raven review

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

First published in 2011

If you can, try to get the illustrated version of A Monster Calls – it makes the whole book a beautiful little volume to keep and really enhances the dark themes and emotions present in the book. They mimic the kind of twisted, bitter thoughts present in Connor’s mind, but overall just appeal to the idea of darkness. I think they were haunting and beautiful.

This book is dark. It is raw, it is unflinching and honest, and for all the magic realism present in it, it is a very real story. I knew what was coming – I think that it is clear what will happen from the start. But I did cry, and not even just because the writing was beautiful or it was really tragic – but just because it feels very real and laid bare. Even if you can’t relate to Connor’s sadness, and the reasons for it, I think it is easy to apply those feelings on a personal level, because as they are written they are simple and totally accessible and there is nothing forced about them.

I really loved the idea of the monster calling on Connor. I actually found the monster rather funny with his deadpan lines and how he totally discredits all of Connor’s outbursts. I thought he was kinda cool. I wouldn’t mind if he came calling on me. The ‘monster’ element is actually a really lovely, unforced example of using magic or fantasy to enhance a contemporary story – the two parts work together seamlessly.

Another aspect of A Monster Calls I really enjoyed is the way it uses the importance of stories – stories to occupy our minds, stories to cast light on our own lives, and stories to create beauty out of chaos. Connor may not like the stories the monster tells him, but he cannot deny their importance in getting him to the place he needs to be with his mother.

A Monster Calls is not a story I absolutely love or would hold dear to my heart, but it is a very special story and a beautiful idea. I think many people would cherish it as an emotional attachment - it might be one of those books that ‘gets’ them.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Talina in the Tower by Michelle Lovric

First published in 2012

Michelle Lovric is one of my favourite children’s authors working today.  I have been a big fan since I read her first children’s novel The Undrowned Child – her story-telling skills are top notch. Talina in the Tower, like Lovric’s two books before it, is written with imagination, intelligence, humour that snaps and loving attention to Venice and its history. If you truly want to escape, her books are your means to.

Talina in the Tower is set in late nineteenth-century Venice. It is described with gothic flare; on the brink of disaster and inhabited by frightened people and even more frightening creatures. I really enjoy Lovric’s cast lists. Talina is populated with vultures, sarcastic rats, cat gangs, Ravageurs (think evil, malformed wolves) and human characters even more quirky and strange than the creatures roaming about all around them. All Lovric’s characters have this gorgeous pantomimic quality this is endearing rather than over-the-top. I am actually jealous of some of the amazing character creations she comes up with. She obviously takes great joy in crafting their dialogue and it is fantastic stuff.

Talina is along the Teo mould from The Undrowned Child: wilful; clever; impudent, temperamental and brave. She has a huge heart and is wonderfully resourceful. I love girl characters like this. She is the perfect character to go on this adventure with. I also love how Lovric can so easily make ‘evil’ characters multi-faceted with just a few paragraphs.

The story is plot-heavy and full of twists and turns. It is dark and doesn’t shy away from barbaric or mature themes. But this is where Lovric’s wonderful humour kicks in. She has a great knack for capturing peripheral action, and there are some brilliant asides and observations from characters who are observing the main action (the story is told in third person). She also makes Venice and its history alive and interesting, and manages the perfect balance of fact and fiction. It took me a while to open up the book, because I knew how dense Lovric’s books can be (in a good way). But once I started reading Talina I was hooked.

If it sounds like I’m raving it’s because I am. Lovric has some of the best children’s writing out there. I only wish my own books reach the same imaginative highs as hers.