Q&A: Zanni Louise, picture book author

Picture book author Zanni Louise interviewed by a kid book bloggerMy first interview (with illustrator Jules Faber) went so well that I thought I’d give it another go. This week, I’ve got picture book author Zanni Louise in the hot seat. Her new book Archie And The Bear, illustrated by David Mackintosh, is out now.

I thought it would be quite a helpful interview for lots of kids, as many of us have to write a picture book for a school assignment at some point or another. I’m sure Zanni’s answers and tips will help!

Have you always loved writing?

“Yes. I am sending you one of the first stories I ever wrote (see below).

“I think I was about six [when I wrote this]. Before computers were cool, I sat at my dad’s clunky typewriter bashing out ‘literature’. I wrote stories and plays all through school, and university. I even studied some writing subjects. But I never entertained the thought of being a professional author. I just sort of rolled into it.

“I began writing training and education material when I moved to the North Coast NSW about eight years ago, then I began blogging, and one thing led to the other, and now I write thousands of words a day, in some capacity.

“I do love writing, yes. I love the rush of it, and the ease of it. I am quite expressive, and writing is my preferred tool. When I got into fights with mum or dad as a kid, I used to write lengthy letters to them to make up for the fighting. They’ve kept them all.”

What made you decide to write picture books?

“I was blogging about parenting, when someone contacted me to see if I’d be interested in interviewing [famous Australian children’s author] Mem Fox. I did the interview, and it got me thinking that maybe I could start reviewing books and interviewing authors on my blog. I was being sent box loads of picture books a month, and the more I read to my children, the more I wanted to write them myself.

“A picture book is a very clean format. You can express a big story, and beautiful story through very few words. The pictures  say so much, and add something that words can’t. Most of my favourite books are picture books.”

How many picture books have you written?

“Many. Two published, one coming out with Scholastic in the next year or two, and hundreds more in manuscript form on my computer. Too Busy Sleeping was my first picture book.”

How do you go about writing a picture book – where do you start?

“I like to free-write. I start with an idea, and start writing. I see where the story takes me. Sometimes, it has a natural story arc, and the story comes to life on the page. That happened with Archie.

“Sometimes, though, the story takes years to tease out. I’ll have an idea, and will try it in one way, but nothing comes of that. Then I try a new direction. And another. And then at some point, it may be a story I’m proud of. Many of those works in progress are idle on my computer.”

When you wrote Archie and the Bear, did you have an idea in your head of what Archie would look like? Does he look like that?

“Not really. I kind of imagined him in a full body suit I think, but it’s hard to remember. David has illustrated the real Archie now. It’s a bit like when you see a movie of your favourite book, and then you can’t remember how you used to imagine the characters.”

Are you working on any new books at the moment?

“Always. I am sketching out new picture book stories most days, and am waiting on feedback for some longer stories for independent readers. I am also in the very early stages of nutting out a middle grade fiction.”

You can find out more about Zanni Louise on her website here.

You can buy Archie and The Bear here.

Q&A: Jules Faber, Illustrator

A Q&A with Jules Faber, illustrator of the Weirdo series This week, I’m doing something a little bit different, and I’m excited to present my first interview! Jules Faber, the illustrator for the bestselling Weirdo series (among other things), was kind enough to agree to be my first victim er, interviewee.

What made you get into illustration?

“When I was 4 years old, I lived in a family with five older brothers and two younger sisters. It was noisy and I didn’t always like it noisy. I discovered a television program called Mr Squiggle and watching him draw (with his nose!) on a board before a picture magically appeared out of a few lines was very exciting. I wanted to make that magic happen so I started drawing too. I haven’t stopped since!”

How long have you been professionally illustrating for?

“I started fulltime professional illustration in 2004 so this is my 13th year. I did it for many years before but it was more part-time but I did work fulltime in animation for a year in 2002.”

How did you go from it being a hobby to being a profession?

“I used to draw for fun and after seeing other people making comics and having fun doing it, the idea started to grow on me. I joined some web forums and the Australian Cartoonists Association and got excited about the possibility of doing it for a job, just as I had imagined I could way back when I was 10 years old!

“I went to college and studied Animation for three years before graduating and getting a job working on a Disney program (it was called The Proud Family). I did that for a year before realising that I wanted something with more variety. So I left and started working fulltime for myself. It also took a lot of practice over the years to get from hobby level to professional level.”

Do you have a favourite thing you like to draw?

“Of all things, I think I like to draw animals best. I used to draw them more realistically and find that really fun. But I also love illustrating kids’ books because I can have so much fun doing it. I usually have at least one book on the go at a time but sometimes as many as four!”

Has drawing for Weirdo been different to drawing for other projects?

“Most every project I work on is different from the others and Weirdo is no exception. Weirdo was my first foray into big league publishing, so I wanted to be extra careful while drawing it. That meant I did several drafts and it took me a while to visually represent some of the characters.

“Now things are different as I’ve done a lot of different sort of books since then. With my second series, the Kaboom Kid, I drew the characters in a totally different style so it didn’t just look like the Weirdo universe. Now I try to make each book look different but I think my own style still comes through anyway.”

Are you working on any new projects at the moment?

“As a general rule, I’m always working on new projects. in 2016 I drew eight books and a cover for another, which means I’m often working on books concurrently. At present though, since you asked, I am working on Weirdo 9 and The Stinky Street Stories 2.

“Coming up later this month I’ll be drawing my first book for grown-ups with Dr Karl Kruszelnicki (which is exciting, because I saw one of his books over 20 years ago and have wanted to draw one ever since. I actually credit Karl with inspiring me to consider illustrating books! So it’s one of those lovely life achievement moments where something comes full circle).”

Weirdo 8: Really Weird is out now! Buy it here.

You can find out more about Jules Faber on his website, here

Review: Bro

book review Bro by Helen Chebatte, reviewed by a kid book bloggerTitle: Bro

Author: Helen Chebatte

Publisher: Hardie Grant Egmont

About the book: In a school divided into racial gangs, there are three unspoken rules:

  • Stick with your own kind
  • Don’t dob on your mates (or your enemies)
  • Respect the family.

But fight clubs, violence and racial prejudice get in the way of these rules. Romeo Makhlouf knows to follow these rules, but when he gets into a fight with another boy, the rules become so much harder to follow.

What I thought: This confronting book feels like a modern-day version of The Outsiders, with its gangs, love and engrossing plot line. Set in Australia, it feels realistic and very close to home.

I didn’t really connect with a lot of the characters, possibly because they were the tough guys of the school, who started a lot of fights, but I still really liked the book. It was an interesting insight into racism in teenagers.

I think a lot of boys would really enjoy Bro, although Romeo is in year 10 so it feels like an older book. I would recommend it for ages 14+. Anyone who enjoys reading books by S.E. Hinton, or very Australian books, would like this one.

Buy Bro here.

Review: Thirst

Thirst by Lizzie Wilcock reviewed by a kid book bloggerTitle: Thirst

Author: Lizzie Wilcock

Publisher: Scholastic

About the book: Fourteen-year-old Karanda Hooke is on her way to her sixth foster home when a crash leaves her stranded in the Central Australian desert with a backpack, a bottle of water and an old picture of her mother.

She realises that this could be her escape from the foster system, but there is one slight problem. Eight-year-old Solomon wants to tag along.

What I thought: I thought this book was really well-written, because it kept me interested, unlike most ‘wandering through the desert’ books. I hesitated before picking it up, because I thought it might be long and boring. But I was hooked before I knew it because the writing was so good.

I particularly liked the character of Solomon, with his knack for survival and vast knowledge of plants and animals.

I would recommend this book for ages 10+ as some themes in it might upset younger children.

Buy Thirst.

Review: The Mysterious Benedict Society

The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart, reviewed by a kid book blogger.Title: The Mysterious Benedict Society

Author: Trenton Lee Stewart

Publisher: The Chicken House

About the book: Four children with unusual gifts and talents are called in to do a top-secret mission after completing an elaborate and difficult test, set by the mysterious Mr Benedict.

They must infiltrate a prestigious and secluded school to find out why secret messages are being sent out.

What I thought: This book was full of twists and turns and had me engaged right from the start. It kept me interested throughout the whole book and there were no dull bits – I couldn’t wait to get home from school and read it in bed.

I liked all of the characters, even though they are very different. The book was easy to read, but had sublte undertones of more serious themes. It’s shelved under junior fiction, but it feels more grown up than that.

I would recommend this book for ages 11+ because I feel that younger readers may not stick with the long book of nearly 500 pages.

Buy The Mysterious Benedict Society.

Review: The Amateurs

The Amateurs reviewed by a kid book blogger | bookboy.com.auTitle: The Amateurs

Author: Sara Shepherd

Publisher: Hot Key Books (Allen & Unwin)

About the book: It’s been five years since Aerin’s sister disappeared, and a year since she was found dead in the forest near her house. Police have long-since closed the case but her murderer was never caught. Then she meets, via an amateur sleuth website, Seneca and Maddy, amateur crime solvers, who turn up and put the case on its head.

What I thought: This book was full of so many secrets and twists, it was impossible to know who the murderer was until the end. I really enjoyed having that element of trying to match your wits against the characters to see who could solve the crime first, but I admit I didn’t see the twist coming!

I really liked how all the voices sounded very real and contemporary, and how the point of view changed, so you could see every character’s perspective on the case.

This book contains very strong themes, coarse language, references to drug use and strong violence. It’s definitely not for readers under 14.

Buy The Amateurs.

Review: Friday Barnes Girl Detective

Friday Barnes Girl Detective reviewed by a kid book bloggerTitle: Friday Barnes: Girl Detective

Author: R. A. Spratt

Publisher: Random House Australia

About the book: When 11-year-old Friday Barnes solves a bank robbery, she uses the reward money to send herself to the most exclusive boarding school in the country.

Friday is shocked to discover that the school is full of crime. Soon students are paying her to investigate everything from missing memorial clocks to a Yeti running around the school.

What I thought: I thought that this book was a very interesting, easy read. I could relate to the character of Friday because I, too, love detective novels. The story seemed to move along and there were no boring bits.

This is an entertaining, enjoyable read for both boys and girls of 9+ and fans of Encylopedia Brown will like it. There are six books in the series, with book 7 due out later this year.

Buy Friday Barnes Girl Detective.

Review: Escape From Mr Lemoncello’s Library

Escape From Mr Lemoncello's Library, reviewed by a kidTitle: Escape From Mr Lemoncello’s Library

Author: Chris Grabenstein

Publisher: Yearling (Random House)

About the book: Kyle has never loved libraries, but he has always loved boardgames. When he discovers that the world’s most famous game maker has designed the town’s new library, and the winners of an essay contest will get to stay overnight in the library on opening night, he is determined to win.

During the lock-in, he will need all of his smarts, courage and determination to escape from Mr Lemoncello’s library.

What I thought: This book had me on the edge of my seat, wanting to know what would happen next and how the clues fit together. It’s a mystery and an adventure all wrapped up together. I particularly liked the character of Mr Lemoncello because he reminded me a bit of Willy Wonka.

I also liked the literary references scattered throughout the book. Let’s just say, the book was so interesting that I struggled to put it down and read it very quickly.

I would recommend this book for ages 11+. If you like mystery stories, adventure stories and puzzles, you will love this book.

Buy Escape From Mr Lemoncello’s Library.

Review: Gangsta Granny

Gangsta Granny by David Walliams, reviewed by a kid book bloggerBook Boy Jr (aged 10) is back this week to review a very funny book by David Walliams.

Title: Gangsta Granny

Author: David Walliams

Publisher: HarperCollins Children’s Books

About the book: This is a crime novel but with a twist because the criminal is none other than a Granny. Ben finds himself trapped in a world of surprises and mystery after he discovers his Granny is a thief.

What I thought: This book twists and turns from page one to the very end. It is very enjoyable because a) it’s good to find a new author that I like and this is the first David Walliams book that I have read (not the last!) and b) it is VERY funny.

There are some illustrations, to help keep things even more interesting, and the story is very fast-paced. My favourite character is Granny, because she reminds me of my Gran (not because my Gran is a thief but because she’s very exciting and fun to be with).

I would recommend the book for boys and girls who are aged 8-10. If you liked Artie and The Grime Wave by Richard Roxburgh, you would like this book.

Buy Gangsta Granny.

Review: The Yearbook Committee

The Yearbook Committee by Sarah Ayoub, reviewed by a kid book bloggerTitle: The Yearbook Committee

Author: Sarah Ayoub

Publisher: HarperCollins Australia

About the book: Five teenagers from different walks of life are thrown together in their final year of high school to work on the school yearbook. There’s Matty, a loner; Ryan, the school captain; Tammi, the popular girl by association; Charlie, the newcomer; and Gillian, the MP’s daughter. Together, they learn that the Yearbook Committee is more than just about putting together the yearbook – it’s about forming friendships.

What I thought: I thought this book was funny, emotional and, at times, sad. I really connected with all of the characters because they felt so real – like you were in the room talking to them. Each character narrates throughout the story, giving different perspectives to events that unfold. I liked how each character told their own part of the story because it helped develop the characters more and show who they really were.

I would recommend this book for ages 14+ as it contains coarse language, adult themes and drug use. If you’re looking for a starkly realistic but also entertaining novel about friendships, hardships and contemporary Australian teenage life, then this one is for you.

Buy The Yearbook Committee.