Author Archives: Romi Sharp

About Romi Sharp

Qualified teacher, reviewer, writer and avid picture book fanatic, constantly immersed in the world of children's literature. Founder of My Little Story Corner and Just Write For Kids.

A Curious Tale: Interview with Longy Han

imageLongy Han loves a bit of adventure and travel, and with her natural curiosity and imagination, she aptly developed her new book series, ‘The Curious Travels of Gusto & Gecko’. Longy’s personal journey resulted in this wondrous quest between a pair of time-travelling dinosaurs, taking on the world one city at a time. The first book, bravely crowdfunded and self-published by Longy, is ‘Gusto and Gecko Travel to Kenya’.

Crafted by Elinor Hägg, the adorable, cartoonised illustrations with their bold and vibrant earth-tones sweep the pages, immediately hooking its readers in for the wild ride ahead. A naive prehistoric dinosaur pair jet off in their Rombom travel machine and enter an unknown land. Experiencing a real sense of urgency, the story takes off when a ferocious lion charges at their heels, and they dart through the plains of the serengeti. In each scene, upon encountering other African wildlife in their natural habitats, Gusto and Gecko attempt trickery to escape the jaws of the attacking lion. But no dust, hiding places, or blending in with the wildebeest crowd fool the roaring beast, until a fortuitous camouflage disguise saves their tails. A jolly celebration and a beautiful sunset conclude their extraordinary escapade on this present Sunday afternoon.

imageConnecting with themes including teamwork and courage, ‘Gusto and Gecko’ primarily aims to broaden the minds and awareness of its young readers to our fascinating world and cultures within it. This book is humorous and suspenseful with a plethora of details to explore, including the two concealed dinosaurs and their little mice companions. Flipping the ordinary and logic on its head, Longy Han has produced a wonderfully imaginative story that will have its early primary readers longing to take this tumultuous expedition again and again.

Han Creative, September 2015.

I spoke with Longy about how her ideas hatched and the plans set on her future horizon.

Congratulations on the release of your first picture book, Gusto & Gecko Travel to Kenya! Can you briefly explain your publishing process?

Gusto & Gecko was made possible through crowdfunding with the help of family, friends and the wider community. Elinor, my rockstar illustrator, was discovered through an online Facebook illustration competition that I ran.   From the get go, I wanted to challenge the traditional publishing process, bend rules and engage with the end consumers. I ran an interactive campaign so I could involve the public from the beginning to the end -people got to vote on the illustration designs which directly impacted on the creative process as well as the outcome of the book. This way, the book is not just mine – it’s all of ours.

‘Gusto and Gecko’ is a fun and lively story of discovery, friendship and shenanigans in the African wilderness. Who or what inspired you to write this story? What do you hope readers will gain from reading it?

I lived in remote Kenya for a month at an orphanage teaching kids mathematics and English (at least I tried)! At the end of my trip, I felt humbled and lucky to walk away with a really valuable life lesson: it doesn’t take much to be happy and kind to others. The animals I saw on my safari trip were also majestic. So I wanted to share my travel experiences and encourage readers to explore the world!

The illustrations by Elinor Hägg are gorgeously animated and humorous. How did the collaboration come about and what was it like to work with her?

Elinor is a graphic designer based in Sweden. I have never met her in my life but I feel incredibly lucky to join forces with her. During the brainstorming and sketching phase, we would Skype on a weekly basis and email several times a day. We brainstormed on our own first and then shared our ideas. Sometimes I come up with the most crazy ideas and Elli would have to put up with me. Overall, it went so well that she has agreed to work on the second book with me (surely that is a good sign)?!

imageWhat was your favourite part of the story to create?

The second page of the book is my favourite page – I love imagining what the travel machine (the Rombom) looks like, how it moves through space and the sounds it makes. The dotted lines actually signify the movements of the Rombom so I hope the little ones will trace those lines as they read the book.

If you could be any African animal which one would you choose? Why?

A giant hippo! How awesome would it be to lie or roll around in wet mud all day? I’m also pretty clumsy so being a hippo means no one can tell if I accidently slipped in the mud or if it were a planned maneuver!

What do you love most about Kenya?

Joie de vivre in the Kenyan people, especially the kids.

What do you love most about writing for children?

Every time I pen a story, I feel liberated – like a kid again where curiosity knows no bounds, imagination runs free and absurdity is accepted, treasured and enjoyed.

imageYou are currently planning another crowdfunding campaign for your second book, Gusto & Gecko Travel to New Orleans. What can you reveal about this next title in the series?

The next book will be set in New Orleans. This year is the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and I want to, through storytelling, celebrate what a beautiful and truly fascinating city New Orleans is. After all, it is the birthplace of jazz, home to authentic Cajun and Creole cooking and breeding ground for dangerous alligators!

Gusto & Gecko’s first stop is none other than the quintessential Café du Monde, best known for its signature beignets. As Gusto devours the hot, crispy, sugar-dusted beignet, nothing will prepare them for what happens next! Will you travel with us?

What else can we look forward to from Longy Han and her adorable friends, Gusto and Gecko?

A lot more absurd and fun-filled stories about countries around the world!

Thanks so much for talking with me, Longy! 🙂

Longzhen Han also has a vision to invest in the future of our next generation by giving back to the community. She is running a ‘BOOK FOR BOOK’ promise where every purchase made via the current crowdfunding campaign will include a donated copy to a child in need. Please head to the Gusto and Gecko campaign to make a pledge. You can also find more information about Longy and her book series at her website and facebook pages.  

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Picture Books in the Eye of the Beholder

To begin my journey towards becoming a published picture book author, I became an avid (perhaps compulsive) reader of the genre. Yes, it has definitely helped having two young daughters around as an excuse for my weekly loitering in the kids’ section of the library. Anyway, I also began writing formal reviews around 18 months ago, in the hopes that studying these beauties would ingrain some wisdom and impart a whole bunch of amazing writing skills. Well, let’s see if some of it is getting through! These are my findings on what makes for a successful picture book. What features do you look for?

1. Front Cover / Title.
imageCan you judge a book by its cover? I say, if it’s love at first sight, then YES! I’m drawn to immediate eye-catching qualities, and those covers that reflect a glimpse of the adventure that awaits inside. Titles, too, should be catchy, humorous, thought-provoking and/or teasers! Think ‘Pig the Pug’ (Aaron Blabey) with his adorably ugly, bulgy-eyed, squashed face that so boldly graces its bright red cover, and a title that intices the reader to find out more. On the opposite spectrum ‘I Don’t Like Koala’ (Sean Ferrell and Charles Santoso) poses dramatic impact with its simplicity of a boy throwing a toy across a white background. With these examples, the visual expressions paired with the interesting titles say it all.

2. Opening / Closing Lines.
The opening line MUST win you over from the outset. I love those that grab your curiosity by the horns on first inspection. And the closing line… It should encapsulate everything explored, challenged, and triumphed. Really, the pair should work together; the story is like fastening a bracelet with its hook (opening) and its clasp (closing), and all the jewels and charms inbetween.
One of my favourites would have to be ‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar’ (Eric Carle):
Opening – ‘In the light of the moon a little egg lay on a leaf.’
Closing – ‘…he was a beautiful butterfly!’

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3. Re-readable Story.
imageRe-reading the books allows you to get the most out of the experience. But with kids, if it doesn’t grab them the first time, then you’ve got no chance of a repeat reading. Stories with humour, suspense, imagination, emotion and depth, thought-provoking sub-plots and surprising secret details, as well as plays with words, are winners when they still grab you upon second, third or one hundreth reading. ‘Scary Night’ (Lesley Gibbes and Stephen Michael King) is a great example of a book that evokes excitement, interactivity and curiosity in its plot and language, with little elements in the drawings that encourage hours of perusal.

4. Relatable Characters.
imageWe connect with characters who show different facets of human nature and overcome internal and external struggles in pleasing, fascinating ways and with universal appeal. For instance, parents and children can relate to the everyday challenges seen with the lovable, strong-willed Alfie in ‘Hurry Up Alfie’ (Anna Walker), as well as those that open our eyes to a world beyond our own, such as the generous Bridie in ‘Bridie’s Boots’ (Phil Cummings and Sara Acton), and the diverse cultures seen in ‘An Aussie Year’ (Tania McCartney and Tina Snerling).

5. A Unique Idea.
How clever are these creators to come up with something that is like nothing we’ve seen before?! I’m thinking of heartwarming stories that explore relationships in difficult circumstances (‘When I see Grandma’, Debra Tidball and Leigh Hedstrom), interactive language and unique artistic media (‘I’m a Dirty Dinosaur’, Janeen Brian and Ann James), and inventive ways to be hilarious (‘My Dad Thinks He’s Funny’, Katrina Germein and Tom Jellett).

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6. Language.
The language and the illustrations work together in tandem with their ability to tantalise, entertain, interest and arouse emotion. Whether it’s rhythmic, alliterated, repetitive, or questioning, every word, every meter, every refrain needs to be exact. A couple of picture books in this class are the poetic ‘The Duck and the Darklings’ (Glenda Millard and Stephen Michael King), and the exquisite ‘Teacup’ (Rebecca Young and Matt Ottley).

Image from Itty Bitty Book Van.

Image from Itty Bitty Book Van.

7. Illustrations.
imageThese are the driving force of the humble ‘picture’ book. Children’s book artists are completely brilliant with their mind-blowing ability to create captivating, striking, expressive, textured, detailed and varied images, with their clever use of colours and movement. Too many to name, and each with their own unique styles, here are some of my personal favourites: Freya Blackwood, Anna Walker, Matt Ottley, Shaun Tan, Bob Graham, Gus Gordon, Alison Lester, Bruce Whatley, Andrew Joyner, Peter Carnavas and Renée Treml.

What do you think makes for a successful picture book? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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More Books to Light Up Our World

Our literary professionals are awe-inspiring. Their ability to write, illustrate and market these books to foster a love of reading and learning throughout the nation, and the world, is remarkable. The potential they have in capturing young people’s hearts and minds is nothing short of extraordinary. Having some of these wonderful books celebrated and acknowledged in the Children’s Book Council of Australia Book of the Year Awards is certainly a positive sign of their credibility.

Following on from my previous ‘Books Light Up Our World’ reviews and activities list, here are a few more to discover to help celebrate a love for reading.

 

Shortlisted Picture Book of the Year.

Shortlisted Picture Book of the Year.

Fire, Jackie French (author), Bruce Whatley (illus.), Scholastic Press, 2014.

Review – Literally lighting a world before our eyes, burning through our hearts is the highly evocative and devastating story of loss, courage and regrowth following a natural disaster. With French’s mesmerising poetry that simply takes your breath away, paired with Whatley’s grippingly haunting, bleeding and volcanic spreads, ‘Fire‘ engulfes the land, and our emotions. From pain comes strength, and we are uplifted by the human spirit, the power of love and the rebirth of a new dawn.

imageEducational ActivityLanguage.

Acrostic Poem. Use the word BUSHFIRE (or your choice) to write a poem (acrostic or other), utilising symbolic language representing the events in the story.

For more Fire teaching notes please click here.

 

Shortlisted Picture Book of the Year.

Shortlisted Picture Book of the Year.

The Duck and the Darklings, Glenda Millard (author), Stephen Michael King, (illus.), Allen & Unwin, 2014.

Review – This book is sure to strike up a spark in your heart. From total desolation comes a story of hope and triumph, with an exposion of warmth. Living in the land of Dark, Peterboy brings the dazzle and glimmer to his Grandpapa’s eyes with a treasured scrap of wonderfulness; a downy-hearted duck called Idaduck. As Grandpapa restores Idaduck’s health, his glow of forbidden fondness (happy memories) is also restored, and in consequence, their world becomes strangely bright once more. Captivating, poetic text and striking, bold illustrations make ‘The Duck and the Darklings’ an award-winning book of depth, wonder, radiance and immense significance.

imageEducational ActivityLanguage, Science.

Light up a room with your very own homemade candle. Materials include wax flakes, pre-waxed candle wicks, container for candle, crayons, essential oils (optional). For instructions please click on She Knows.

For more The Duck and the Darklings teaching notes please click here.

 

Shortlisted Early Childhood Book of the Year.

Shortlisted Early Childhood Book of the Year.

Pig the Pug, Aaron Blabey (author, illus.), Scholastic, 2014.

Review – Well, what can we say about this little pug? I’m sure you all know the story well… A greedy, selfish, bulgy-eyed, maniacal dog who refuses to share nothing but insults with his flatmate sausage dog, Trevor. How does this book coincide with the theme of ‘Books Light Up Our World’? Let’s see. Pig steals all the limelight. He has a flash of craziness in his eyes. The highlight of the story is his utter misfortune, involving a bright, sunlit window and the reference to the phrase ‘when pigs can fly’. And the fact that through the darkness of Pig’s heart there is a little glimmer of hope that he has learnt a lesson… Aaron Blabey’s hysterical rhyming text and eminently vivacious illustrations definitely fire up its readers with the inexplicable placing of a soft spot for our furry friend (or foe).

 

imageEducational ActivityLanguage, Science, Art

Help Pig the Pug to fly! Design and construct a straw rocket that can propel Pig through the air. Draw and cut out a picture of Pig the Pug. Roll up a strip of paper to fit long-ways, stick it at the back of the picture and fit over a straw, sticking down the top end. Blow through the straw and watch Pig fly!

For more Pig the Pug teaching notes please click here.

 

Shortlisted Early Childhood Book of the Year.

Shortlisted Early Childhood Book of the Year.

A House of Her Own, Jenny Hughes (author), Jonathan Bentley (illus.), Little Hare Books, 2014.

Review – Audrey requests the most extraordinary favour of her happy-go-lucky father, which if anyone received would certainly light up their world. When Audrey proclaims that she is too small for her current abode, a house high up in the backyard tree sounds perfect! Her handy dad fulfills all her wishes, from the marvellous spiral staircase, an over-hanging snorkelling tub, a spot for sipping tea and a comfy blue bed. It’s spectacular, but all that independence and responsibility is perhaps more than Audrey can handle. Was building Audrey’s heavenly, light-filled tree house the most brilliant idea afterall? Endearing dialogue between Audrey and her accommodating dad, and breathtaking, vibrant illustrations make ‘A House of Her Own’ an energetic and sunny book of love, dedication and achieving magnificent heights.

image image imageEducational ActivityLanguage, Science, Technology.

Design and construct your own magnificent tree house filled with light using a box, paper rolls, textas, egg cartons, pipe cleaners, other craft materials. Use a torch and/or mirror to glow or reflect light. Discuss your own needs and create places to bathe, cook, sleep, entertain, and of course, a spiral staircase! Write labels on a diagram and/or a sentence explaining how this house of your own is your ideal dwelling.

 

Have you created or seen fantastic book ideas for a book that you love?

Look out for the announcement of the 2015 Winning Books of the Year from the CBCA tomorrow!

Which book are you tipping for a win?

 

 

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Books Light Up Our World – Picture Book Reviews and Activities

Book Week is hosted annually by the Children’s Book Council of Australia and this year marks the 70th anniversary celebration in honour of the inspirational work of Australian authors and illustrators. By promoting books we, as parents, educators, writers, children’s literacy advocates, are encouraging children to read and inherit a love of books, and a love of learning.

In 2015, Book Week will run from August 22nd – 28th with the brilliant theme of ‘Books Light Up Our World’. Over two posts I will provide descriptions of picture books I love and related educational activities, including some of the shortlisted titles in the running to win in the CBCA’s Book of the Year Awards, plus a few extra goodies you might like to explore. Enjoy!

 

Scary Night is shortlisted in the Early Childhood category.

Scary Night is shortlisted in the Early Childhood category.

Scary Night, Lesley Gibbes (author), Stephen Michael King (illus.), Working Title Press, 2014.

Review – This book can’t light up your world more with its complete darkness, under the pale moonlight! An utterly spooky yet courageous story of Pig with a parcel, Hare with a Hat and Cat with a cake traipsing through perilous forests, crocodile-infested waters, cemetaries and bat caves to a most mysterious destination. Gloriously animated illustrations and rollicking, rhythmic text have already sparked the curiosity and delight of many young (and old) readers across the country.

imageEducational Activity –  Language, Arts.

Draw and cut out character pictures or silhouettes and attach to sticks to create your own stick or shadow puppets. Retell or recreate the story for dramatic play. Create a mural background for stick puppets, or shine a torch as you action your shadow puppets against the wall.

For more Scary Night teaching notes please click here.

 

Go To Sleep, Jessie! is shortlisted in the Early Childhood category.

Go To Sleep, Jessie! is shortlisted in the Early Childhood category.

Go To Sleep, Jessie!, Libby Gleeson (author), Freya Blackwood (illus.), Little Hare, 2015.

ReviewGo To Sleep, Jessie! will light a fire in your heart. It’s such a sweet and gentle story of a little girl feeling the angst as her baby sister has trouble settling down to sleep. Gleeson skillfully masters the raw emotions of these girls (and their parents) in this all-too-familiar situation. Equally so, Blackwood’s illustrations capture this light and shade perfectly both viscerally and literally in her colour palette. A completely warming and enlightening story of sisterly love.

imageEducational ActivityLanguage, Arts.

Design and make a dreamcatcher to soothe baby to sleep. The patterns in your design also create pretty patterns when the light shines through! Sing lullabies to help calm your little brother or sister for bedtime.

Find instructions from Laughing Kids Learn here.

 

imageSummer Rain, Ros Moriarty (author), Balarinji (illus.), Allen and Unwin, 2015.

Review – This book lights up a beautiful serenade of native Australian animals across the stunning landscapes of the Northern Territory. From the dry morning sun the land awakes to bounding kangaroos, turtles and lizards, and when the summer rain splatters on the dusty earth, flowers burst and leaves dance, brolgas strut and dugongs dive. The vivid and striking Indigenous illustrations and poetic language certainly emanate joy and energy to light a glimmer in any readers’ eyes.

imageEducational ActivityLanguage, Art, Nature.

Create a poster / mural divided into Dry Season and Wet Season with painted scenes and animals in bright colours. Write descriptive sentences about the scenes using verbs and adjectives. For example, “…the sun beats with steamy heat.” “Wattles burst in fuzzy gold.” Discuss the differences between Dry and Wet seasons. How would each feel / affect the animals?

 

imageDigby’s Moon Mission, Renee Price (author), Anil Tortop (illus.), Create It Kids, 2014.

Review – A young, curious boy sets out on an adventurous mission to illuminate a moon that appears only a sliver of its former self. With a team of gourmet chefs (his friends), a glorious catapult contraption and a trusty measuring tape, Digby plumps up the moon in the most creative, and comical, way. The wonderfully whimsical and energetic illustrations beautifully compliment this ingenious story with all its teachable moments and themes referencing time, measurement, moon phases, rhyming words, friendship and working together. An absolute delight for preschoolers that will, just like the real moon, light up their world.

imageEducational ActivityLanguage, Science, Art.

Create eight (or four) phases of the moon by cutting out the shapes separately on black cards. Phases include new moon, waxing crescent, first quarter, waxing gibbous, full, waning gibbous, third quarter/half, waning crescent. Hang up the moon phases on a window or around a lamp to see them glow. Discuss and label the different phases and their shapes. Monitor the moon each night and record it in a diary.

More reviews and lessons here

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Read about Jenny Graham’s experience at a presentation by CBCA judges on these prestigious awards here.

 

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