Monday musings on Australian Literature: Guest post from Louise of A Strong Belief in Wicker

This week’s Monday Musings is my second Guest Post in the series. It comes from the lovely Louise of A Strong Belief in Wicker. I first “met” Louise through an online bookgroup and we quickly discovered that we lived within a few hours’ drive of each other. Consequently, we have also “actually” met several times (always, to date, through her visiting my city. I must reverse the direction one day.) Louise is a warm and generous soul. She picked up (funny that!) on my love of Jane Austen, and so over the years I have been the lucky recipient of Jane Austen related gifts and of links to things Austen, the most recent being to a review of a children’s book about Mr Darcy, the duck! I value her friendship … and so was thrilled when she was thrilled to be asked to write a guest post. Her blog is wide ranging, but has a focus on children’s literature, and so that is what she has brought us today:

Five Australian Children’s Literature Authors/Illustrators

I was so incredibly excited to have Whispering Gums ask me to write a Guest Post that I immediately had No Ideas! After all Aussie kids lit is so vast! There is such a broad range of picture books, books for young readers, and YA, that it’s hard to know where to start. Of course there are some internationally known superstars writing books for young Aussies and kids around the world. But you don’t really need my help to find your way to Mem Fox, Sonya Hartnett, Shaun Tan or Markus Zusak. Not that their work isn’t worth highlighting. Of course it is.  It’s just that they are justifiably already very famous. In Australia, and around the world.

So I thought I would highlight some authors and illustrators who I’ve read and loved recently – and who deserve to be much more well-known.

Freya Blackwood

A local favourite for me as Freya lives in my town in NSW. I’ve been aware of her work for several years now and love her soft, warm illustrative style. She has an artistic heritage – a few years ago our local art gallery had a wonderful exhibition on her artist grandfather, Harold Greenhill’s work. Freya initially worked in film production and worked on Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings films, and then started off illustrating classic Australian works such as Waltzing Matilda and The Man from Snowy River. She has since worked with many of the biggest names in children’s picture books – Australians such as Libby Gleeson and Margaret Wild, and international authors like Roddy Doyle. In 2010 she won the incredibly prestigious Kate Greenaway Medal. The book she illustrated with Roddy Doyle, Her Mother’s Face, is just perfect, so incredibly moving, I think it is one of my favourite picture books ever. The story of a young girl whose mother died when she was 3. Her father is immobile within his grief and the girl wonders if she has forgotten her mother’s face. Cover blurbs are rarely correct, but I think this book is indeed “a balm to the heart, and a feather in the knickers.” Freya’s current book is the equally fabulous Look, A Book written by Libby Gleeson.

Gary Crew

Is a prolific, highly regarded, critically acclaimed Australian author who doesn’t get nearly enough mainstream recognition. He has written picture books (mainly for older children due to their content and themes) and YA books. I’ve only read his picture books so far, but there are so many gems to be found. He has written two books that were illustrated by Shaun Tan – these are extraordinary. Memorial about a tree planted to mark the end of World War I, and The Viewer, a rather grim view of world history, masterfully illustrated by Tan. Gary Crew has written a brilliant series of books dealing with endangered or extinct animals such as I Saw Nothing: The Extinction of the Thylacine and I Did Nothing: The Extinction of the Paradise Parrot. His books for older readers are apparently even darker still, and some horror titles, which isn’t really my genre of choice, but I would still trust Gary Crew to take me there. Gary lives and works in Queensland, and is an Associate Professor of Creative Writing at the University of the Sunshine Coast. Next year he will be a State Ambassador for the National Year of Reading.

Jackie French Waltz for Matilda

Bookcover for A waltz for Matilda (Courtesy: HarperCollins Australia)

Jackie French

She really is quite a big name. Her subject range is vast. Picture books about wombats and royal underwear. Nonfiction books about keeping chooks in your back yard. And a rapidly increasing range of amazing children’s fiction. She really is extraordinarily prolific. She has written more than 140 books, there really has to be something for everybody. I devoured her most recent book Nanberry a month or two ago. An incredible book that brings the first years of white settlement in Sydney to vivid life. It’s a cracking read, and a fascinating glimpse into our past. My son’s teacher has been reading his Year 5 class her Waltz for Matilda as part of their Australian history studies this year. It has taken the better part of the school year, but has held the children’s interest throughout. Jackie French lives and works in the Araluen Valley in Southern NSW.

John Heffernan

I came across John Heffernan’s extraordinary first book Spud accidentally a few years ago. And I’m so thankful that I did. It’s a remarkable, compelling page turner that I picked up after midnight one night on a whim, and couldn’t put down until it was finished, sometime after 1.30 am.  A tremendously powerful story of a blue heeler called Spud. Spud starts out her life in the city when blue heelers are fashionable pets, but she chewed too much and blue heelers fell out of fashion and she was sent to an animal shelter where a kindly old farmer buys her. Spud’s life changes when she travels into the country to go the farm and become a working dog. There are some graphic acts of both human and canine violence in this book, making it suitable for older, sturdier kids. Just thinking about the book makes me want to reread it, and this time get to read the whole series. John Heffernan is an author and farmer, working and writing in Northern NSW. He has written 24 books from picture books to YA. His picture book My Dog is a powerful, sad and very moving book for the older child dealing with ethnic cleansing.

Martine Murray

I have no idea how Martine Murray escaped my gaze until this year – but she did. Until I came upon The Slightly True Story of Cedar B. Hartley. I love books written in a quirky first person voice, and Cedar B. Hartley gives us that in spades. Cedar’s is a wonderful, observant funny tale of a young girl growing up in Melbourne and doing some circus tricks. There is a great followup book too – The Slightly Bruised Glory of Cedar B. Hartley. Interestingly, I read that Martine Murray feels another of her books, How to Make a Bird, to be her best. I haven’t read that one yet. There is always something more to look forward to. Martine Murray is an author and illustrator who lives in Melbourne.

23 thoughts on “Monday musings on Australian Literature: Guest post from Louise of A Strong Belief in Wicker

  1. What a great introduction to some unknown Australian (unknown to me anyway). NOw that baby is on the way I am going to have to start learning more about children’s fiction (although I know I awhile to go!) so I really appreciated this post. Sounds like you guy shave bilt up a great friendship, that;s ncie to see too 🙂

    • Well it’s just the right time eh? One of the best things about having children – besides the children themselves – is the opportunity to discover and rediscover great kids lit. I read to my kids for years because we all loved it. Louise has some new ones for me too …

      Oh, and yes, we do have a nice friendship now … Louise has even, in her inimitably generous way, sent chocolate to my chocolate blogging daughter!

    • That’s how my interest in kids books was rekindled after I had my son (soon to be 11). I was looking for great books to read to him (something that we still do), and I became more aware and more interested with each passing day. For quite some time I’ve been reading them for my enjoyment as well as his.

  2. Hi Ms Gums,

    You are more than welcome to ask advice, but I usually fly by the seat of my pants! I know that you need the original circle of fabric to be four inches 10cms wider in diamteter than the cup, and all mistakes are hidden by the button in the centre1

  3. Interesting. I passed these recommendations on to my DIL (who teaches the 6 granddaughters), after determining that most of the authors seem to be represented on Amazon.

  4. Louise has chosen some interesting authors. I wonder if she considered James Roy? He visited us here in Switzerland a few weeks ago as the German translation of Town had been shortlisted for the German Youth Literature Prize in the Young Adult category and so he was in Europe for the Frankfurt Book Fair. Alas he did not win. Town is a collection of short stories with some characters reappearing in other stories from different points of view – subtle but interesting. Roy is a highly entertaining speaker and our students from 14-18 enjoyed hearing about his writing process.

    • Hi Glenda. Sadly I haven’t read any of James Roy’s writing as yet. But I was extremely lucky to meet him at an event a few weeks ago. He had just returned from Germany actually! He had the German copy of Town on display- I think it has a much better cover than Australian cover! I had a wonderful chat with him. He’d really enjoyed his time in Europe recently, and is a very interesting man. It is a shame that he didn’t win a prize. I bought a copy of Town that day (English, not German), and look forward to reading it. I think it’s great that you and your students have already had an opportunity to read his work, and meet him. That’s fantastic.

      • Hello Glenda (again … at least I think you’re the HGHS Glenda?). Nice to hear from you. I’ve heard of Roy but haven’t read him either. Are short stories popular with that age group?

        • Hi Sue – yes same Glenda. Afraid I usually lurk rather than comment 😦
          We don’t read short stories as part of our curriculum (I do wish we had time to include some, although I often read “The Gift of the Magi” to my classes at Xmas), so Town was a different experience for them. The students preferred some stories over others – as James’ work is character-driven rather than plot-driven some preferred those with more action in them. Town was part of a school-wide summer read for grades 11 and 12 and Hunting for Elephants for grades 9 and 10, so we didn’t formally study it in class.

      • Wow. I guess that’s an example of serendipity. James sent me some fabulous photos he had taken while he stayed with us – sunsets and Mt Pilatus. He had an interesting conversation with my husband who is a Vietnam Vet. James said he interviewed 10 vets as research for the character of the uncle in Hunting for Elephants and had different responses from them all. My husband gave him a different one again!

        • Oh good, I’m glad it’s you … and glad you’ve commented again. LOL re serendipity … don’t you love it?

          I think short stories are great for senior high school and university. I got into them at university when I wanted to read some fiction but not get distracted by a long book. (I also read some in 6th form after doing Voss. I liked it so much, as I recollect, that I read White’s short story collection, The burnt ones.)

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  6. At first I was mortified to think I’d only read Jackie French, but thankfully I believe I have read the Cedar B Hartley one, though no the follow up. I must put in a vote for Elizabeth Honey, though! I can’t even count how many time I read 45 + 47 Stella Street and Everything That Happened. (Hi I’m Henni I’m high I’m Henni I’m high I’m Henni I’m high hi!

    • Hi Hannah, again that’s one that’s on my radar, but I haven’t read it yet. Reading schedule all “booked up” sadly for the next 6 months or so, maybe after that. 45 +47 is actually in the 1001 Childrens Books You Must Read Before You Grow Up List that I am trawling my way through. So I will get to it at one stage, there’s just too many books to get to reading is the problem of course. It’s nice to get such a glowing recommendation for it.

      • There’s also the sequel Fiddleback, and while Honey wrote many others 45 was always my favourite. Don’t Pat the Wombat and What do you think, Feezal? were fun too though!

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